On 11 December 2019, the European Commission (EC) presented its Green Deal (GD) – a new political strategy that should lead the continent towards sustainability and prosperity. Echoing proponents of ecological economics, the European Green Deal recognises that natural resources have become “the new limiting factors” (Daly, H. 2005) and proposes 50 specific counter-measures.
The suggested actions are organised around eight pillars (GD, p.3):
- Increasing the EU’s Climate ambitions for 2030 and 2050 (with an ultimate goal of climate neutrality by 2050)
- Supplying clean, affordable and secure energy
- Mobilising industry for clean and circular economy
- Building and renovating in an energy and resource efficient way
- Zero pollution ambition for a toxic-free environment
- Preserving and restoring ecosystems and biodiversity
- Fair, healthy and environmentally friendly food system
- Accelerating the shift to sustainable and smart mobility.
Although the general idea is praiseworthy, there is, however, one significant shortcoming of the GD that cannot be attributed to the notoriously vague nature of political concepts at an early stage: the GD makes way too little mention of climate change adaptation (CCA) and resilience (DRR).
In particular, in the description of the Europe’s climate ambitions a careful reader can find a brief mention of “a new, more ambitious EU strategy on adaptation to climate change” (due 2020/2021 (GD, p.5). With regard to risk management, in the section on mobilising research and innovation, the paragraph on accessible and interoperable data promises to “boost the EU’s ability to predict and manage environmental disasters” through combined industry-science expertise (GD, p.18). This implies availability of high-quality climate impact and loss data which is indeed one of the most urgent and steadily repeated requests of the DRR community (Poljanšek et al. 2017, DRMKC forthcoming). But, basically, there is not much more on the topic of climate adaptation and resilience, unfortunately…
This understatement is problematic for at least three reasons.
First, it ignores the harsh reality that many of the most serious consequences of climate change – more frequent and harsh floods, droughts, heatwaves – are unavoidable because the 1.5 degree threshold has already been exceeded in all territories worldwide. In this situation, an effective climate policy requires more than just emission control and renewable energy. Policy must also reduce the risks that are already plaguing the world in many different places and that will continue occur in the future on an unprecedented scale. The failure to mainstream CCA and DRR on a broad scale NOW will threaten the sustainability that the GD aims to achieve.
Second, adaptation represents a great opportunity for an overarching societal pro-climate political alliance. In the past, climate policy has not been of great importance to many voters, and conservative voters in particular. While there is a growing social consensus that climate change is a real and current problem that deserves government attention, it is often difficult to activate all groups of society around global mitigation strategies such as carbon budgets and low carbon development plans. Put simply, many individuals struggle to imagine how these programmes can actually improve their daily lives. Adaptation completely turns this perception around by funding highly visible projects that address the immediate concerns of the community. From building new defences in flood-prone communities to creating cooling zones in urban heat islands, adaptation projects improve resilience, highlight the immediate effects of climate change, and enable incumbent politicians to be seen to improve conditions for their constituents as well as the world at large.
Third, adaptation is currently the most feasible international policy response to climate change. The world’s most vulnerable islands and low-lying countries in Africa and Asia have already indicated that they will make climate resilience, alongside clean energy investments, a key component of the policy proposals during the coming sessions of COP under the Paris Agreement (PA). GD would benefit from a growing momentum towards building resilient infrastructure, and support provision for financing adaptation projects at an international level. A well-balanced approach of mitigation and adaptation within a climate resilient infrastructure debate would benefit the sustainability of GD beyond Europe.
In summary, the GD barely touches the topic of CCA and DRR, but both fields are as important as emissions mitigation efforts in order to attain the overarching goal of sustainability. As a result, we plead for active involvement of the CCA and DRR communities in delivering GD proposals triggered in a top-down and bottom-up manner.
EC launched a platform – Have your say – lighten the load – where all stakeholders are invited to get involved in the process of initiating sustanability transformation.
The EC interchange with stakeholders should be further strenghtened by the European Climate Pact to be launched in March 2020. City networks like Convenant of Mayors should receive particular attention which gives hope for a rapid application of innovative adaptation and risk management solutions in urban areas.