Potential vulnerability to climate change, 2009


Observations for policy

When considering the varying degrees of adaptive capacity, climate change may potentially trigger a deepening of the socio-economic imbalances between Northern and Southern Europe.

Territorially differentiated adaptation strategies seem to be important, for instance in tourist resorts of Mediterranean regions, but also in the Alps, as both types of regions are identified as particularly vulnerable. Moreover, agglomerations – mainly in the South – have to be mentioned. They are vulnerable for several reasons, of which urban heat might be the most relevant one from a long-term perspective as this poses not only risks for human health, but also leads to additional energy demand for cooling and as a second order effect possibly to frequent power failures.

Policy context

Climate change is a major global challenge. This has been acknowledged by a range of leading policy documents, including the Europe 2020 Strategy and the Territorial Agenda 2020. It is also reflected in the proposed investment priorities for the CSF Funds 2014-2020 (i.e. European Regional Development Fund; European Social Fund, Cohesion Fund, European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development, and European Maritime and Fisheries Fund). The overall thematic objectives have a clear focus on climate change adaptation and risk prevention. This is further elaborated within the investment priorities of the specific funds.

To design appropriate policy responses to the challenges of climate change, sound knowledge is needed about the regional differences. The ESPON Climate Project conducted for this purpose an innovative, integrated and pan-European climate change vulnerability assessment with a clear territorial dimension.

Map interpretation

The effects of climate change (will) vary across Europe and take different expressions in different regions. The map shows the potential vulnerability of regions to climate change, taking into account the potential impacts in a region as well as the regional adaptive capacity. The results reveal a clear North-South division. The Mediterranean and South-East Europe may be expected to be particularly vulnerable whereas the regions in the North show low or only a marginal vulnerability to climate change.

The reason for this difference is partly due to the comparatively higher adaptive capacity of Scandinavian and Western European countries which lowers the potential impact projected for these regions. The low vulnerability of regions in Poland and the Baltic States on the other hand is mainly a result of the expected lower impacts of climate change.

Related to specific types of territories, agglomerations, mainly in the South, seem to be particularly vulnerable due to their increased social sensitivity, i.e. the effect that climate change can have on the population concerning public health and personal mobility. Senior citizens living in urban areas are especially sensitive to heat. The projected climate changes will most likely exacerbate their living conditions. Apart from the latter aspect, urban heat will also lead to additional energy demand for cooling and as a second order effect possibly to more  frequent power failures.

Mountain areas like the Alps also show a medium to high vulnerability to climate change due to their strong economic dependence on summer and/or winter tourism. Winter tourism there is expected to experience a decreasing attractiveness because of the decrease in days with snow cover, shortening of the touristic season and an increasing occurrence of natural hazards.

The densely populated regions along the Dutch coastline stand out as being very vulnerable due to projected sea level rise and related increases of flood hazards and coastal storm surges. The same applies to other coastal regions in Norway.

Concepts and methods

Vulnerability is calculated as the combination of regional potential impacts of climate change and the regional capacity to adapt to climate change. The impacts were calculated as a combination of regional exposure to climate change (difference between 1961-1990 and 2071- 2100 climate projections of eight climatic variables of the CCLM model for the IPCC SRES A1B scenario as well as resulting inundation depth changes for a 100-year return flood event based on river flooding projections of the LISFLOOD model and coastal storm surge height projections of the DIVA model adjusted with a 1 m sea level rise) and most recent data on the weighted dimensions of physical, economic, social, environmental and cultural sensitivity to climate change.

Adaptive capacity was calculated as a weighted combination of most recent data on economic, infrastructural, technological and institutional capacity as well as knowledge and awareness of climate change.