A strategic approach to adaptation in Europe


Adaptation to climate change will be a permanent feature of decision making from now on. As such it is important to go about it in a strategic, rational way. This paper explores the key elements of a strategic approach to adaptation and applies them to Europe. A strategic approach to adaptation involves setting priorities, both spatially (where to adapt) and inter-temporally (when to adapt). The paper reviews the available evidence to indicate geographic adaptation priorities. In terms of inter-temporal priorities, it recommends fast-tracking two types of action: Win-win measures that yield an immediate return, such as water efficiency, and strategic decisions on infrastructure and planning that have long-term consequences for Europe’s vulnerability profile.

A strategic approach to adaptation involves careful project design to ensure adaptation measures are costeffective (how to adapt). An important complication in this respect is the deep level of uncertainty that still exists about future climate change at the local level. This puts a premium on flexible designs that can be adjusted when new information becomes available. The final element of a strategic approach to adaptation is division of labour between the state on the one hand, and private actors (households and firms) on the other (who should adapt). The paper argues that the traditional functions of the state – the provision of public goods, creation of an enabling environment and protection of the vulnerable – also apply to adaptation.

Samuel Fankhauser and Raluca Soare