Skip navigation
Group of people viewing a model display of the Nya Slussen project at a workshop.

Four local approaches to climate change adaptation

Start reading

Four local approaches to climate change adaptation

Who bears the responsibility for climate change adaptation, and how can we manage conflicting interests? A recent RISKSEC2.0 workshop highlighted diverse strategies from four European cities. Here are the key takeaways and comparisons.

Mathilda Englund, Karina Barquet / Published on 22 February 2024

The EU’s strategy on adaptation to climate change emphasizes policy coherence across Europe, yet significant differences persist. Understanding these varied approaches is key to enhancing the effectiveness of adaptation strategies.

The RISKSEC2.0 project examines climate change adaptation in four European municipalities, exploring whether local strategies are driven by risk or security narratives. Experts and practitioners from Dordrecht (the Netherlands), Halmstad (Sweden), Stavanger (Norway) and Bergen (Norway) recently compared their local strategies at a workshop.

Major differences emerged, including the involvement of different actors, types of solutions implemented and resources utilized. Here are some important takeaways.

How is adaptation localized?

While nearly all participants considered adaptation to be a strategy to tackle climate risks, its operationalization varies across municipalities.

In Halmstad, adaptation strategies are focused on spatial planning to safeguard vital societal functions and infrastructure from climate impacts. Similarly, in Dordrecht, adaptation efforts aim to create more space for water, considering the Netherlands’ competing demands for land use due to a growing population and limited available resources.

In contrast, the municipality of Stavanger treats adaptation as a general risk management issue. The risk management team took a lead on adaptation as it began to climb the local agenda, primarily due to a lack of ownership by other municipal departments.

Who is responsible?

Since the impacts of climate change are primarily felt at local level, municipalities play a central role in adaptation. But the degree of responsibility and action scope for local authorities varies widely between countries and communities.

In Sweden, the responsibility for protecting individual properties lies with owners and insurance companies. Therefore, with a residential area prone to flooding, Halmstad municipality can only undertake adaptation efforts that benefit the community at large, not specific private properties.

In the Netherlands, by contrast, Dordrecht is legally obligated to protect private properties from rainfall exceeding 16 mm. Failure to fulfill this duty entitles residents to take the municipality to court and seek compensation for any damages.

In Bergen, Norway, the municipality steps in to protect private properties when the solution falls beyond the owner’s jurisdiction. For instance, Bergen municipality intervenes to shield residential areas from heavy rainfall runoff from publicly owned hillsides.

Funding sources

During the workshop, participants noted that adaptation funding often exceeds local budgets, necessitating creative solutions from local government.

In response to this financial gap, both Norwegian municipalities seek external funding opportunities. Stavanger, for instance, has developed climate dashboards and risk assessments with support from the EU and the Norwegian Environment Agency.

However, external funding can pose challenges. Dordrecht’s reliance on such funding has trapped it in a cycle of pilots and living labs, with limited budget for long-term adaptation solutions.

Halmstad received national funding to integrate climate risks into its land use plan. Yet there is no specific funding for implementing adaptation measures. While there are national grants, their variability makes long-term planning challenging.

Addressing a wide range of complex challenges

The workshop highlighted that adaptation, while primarily addressing climate risks, also involves navigating a spectrum of complex challenges. These include reconciling conflicting goals and interests, short planning horizons, clarifying roles and responsibilities and contending with uncertainty. Recognizing and tackling these multifaceted issues is crucial to developing effective adaptation strategies, which are essential for fostering resilient and sustainable societies in the future.

Design and development by Soapbox.