Proposed EU Green Paper on Adaptation to Climate Change

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Green Paper on Adaptation to Climate Change

On 29 June, 2007 the European Commission adopted its first policy document on adapting to the impacts of climate change. The Green Paper "Adaptation to Climate Change in Europe - Options for EU Action" (the Green Paper) builds upon the work and findings of the European Climate Change Programme. The Green Paper argued that Europe faces with a twin challenge: deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, and adaptation to the changing climate conditions. The paper describes possible avenues for action at EU level in order to initiate Europe-wide public debate and consultation. A major conference launching the public debate on adaptation in Europe took place in Brussels on 3 July, 2007. A web-based public consultation is open from end of July until end of November this year. Four regional workshops took place in Finland, Portugal, UK and Hungary during the autumn of 2007.

EUCC- The Coastal Union submitted web-based comments on the EU Green Paper on Adaptation to Climate Change in Europe, as well as participating in the Regional Stakeholder Workshop in Lisbon. Submission was made on coastal related topics such as agriculture, fisheries, marine resources, and tourism. The written comments were also submitted which are the basis of this article.

Important topics and gaps in the Green Paper are: 1. The Mediterranean region, which includes southern Europe, northern Africa and the Middle East. 2. Agriculture, which is defined to include aquaculture, coastal and marine uses, wetlands, as well as forestry, grasslands, and subsistence and commercial agriculture. 3. Biodiversity, which includes ecosystem goods and services such as fisheries, marine resources, and tourism, and with a focus on vulnerable coastal and marine ecosystems. 4. Pollutants and climate change interactions, which includes contaminants and changing uptake rates and transport pathways, and nutrient-based eutrophication. 5. Adaptive management and governance, including the proposed European Advisory Group for Adaptation to Climate Change and integrated coastal zone management.

Mitigation measures in or affecting coasts and marine areas were also discussed throughout these comments. These mitigation measures can include renewable energy production, low carbon energy, energy conservation, bio-energy and bio-fuel production, and carbon minimization and sequestration. At the European level, the distinction and interaction between adaptation and mitigation measures is not always clear. For example, an energy policy designed to mitigate carbon, such as energy and agricultural policies encouraging bio-fuels, could have the inadvertent effect of intensifying eutrophication and climate interactions; or alter land uses, reduce wetlands and thus result in additional emissions of carbon dioxide (carbon), methane and other greenhouse gases.

EU White Paper on Adaptation to Climate Change

The EU White Paper on Adaptation to Climate Change was issued in April 2009 and begins the difficult process of unifying European legislation and policies to effectively respond to climate change. This is a complex process that has not yet occurred for other countries and regions, and it is likely that the EU approach will have international influence and imitation. The White Paper includes a focus on integrated approaches to fresh and marine waters and coasts, and preserving biodiversity and ecosystem conservation. A policy paper on water, coasts and marine issues was also issued simultaneously by Commission staff, indicating again the emphasis placed on these issues.

The challenge within Europe is to simultaneously understand climate impacts, and develop and implement legislation and policies to facilitate adaptation to change. This challenge is occurring during a period of more rapid and extreme climate change than forecast in the 2007 IPPC Fourth Assessment, and during a period of global recession and fiscal restraint and cost cutting that affects all levels of government within Europe.

The EU White Paper on Adaptation to Climate Change is a framework on how to reduce Europe’s vulnerability to the impact of climate change. Despite a long period of consultation, the White Paper is still in its preliminary stages. It is designed to evolve as more evidence arises, and as integrated legislation and actions become possible. European efforts will complement action by member states, and support wider international efforts to adapt to climate change in developing countries. This framework is also part of an overall EU initiative under the UNFCCC for a post-2012 climate agreement that addresses both adaptation and mitigation.

The White Paper has a phased approach. The first phase from 2009-2012 will be used to prepare a comprehensive EU adaptation strategy. This strategy will be implemented in the second phase that begins in 2013. Phase 1 focuses on the existing four pillars of action: 1) building a solid knowledge base on the impact and consequences of climate change, 2) integrating adaptation into EU key policy areas; 3) employing policy instruments to ensure adaptation, and 4) increasing international cooperation on adaptation. European, national, regional and local authorities must cooperate closely for the first phase to develop a comprehensive adaptation strategy.

Some of the most pertinent measures for coasts and marine areas are discussed below. Existing EU polices will facilitate adaptation. In particular, the White Paper requires adaptation for coasts and marine areas be considered in the Integrated Maritime Policy and the Marine Strategy Framework Directive, and for the Common Fisheries Policy and Common Agricultural Policy.

Climate impacts and adaptation will also be considered when implementing the Environmental Impact Assessment, the Strategic Environmental Assessment Directives, and spatial planning policies. The key importance of the Water Framework Directive and the Integrated Coastal Zone Management Recommendation is recognized. In order to ensure a coordinated and integrated approach to adaptation in coastal and marine areas and to take into account trans-boundary issues, the Commission will develop guidelines on best adaptation practices in coastal and marine areas.

Climate change will be integrated in the implementation of the Marine Strategy Framework Directive, which requires the achievement of good environmental status for EU's marine waters by 2020. Full implementation of this Directive will increase resilience in the marine environment and facilitate adaptation efforts. The Integrated Maritime Policy will provide the comprehensive framework for the integration of adaptation efforts into policies and measures.

The White Paper requires a coherent and integrated approach to maritime and coastal planning and management, including the Integrated Coastal Zone Management Recommendation being fully respected and strengthened. The follow-up to the Roadmap for Maritime Spatial Planning will also incorporate adaptation to climate change into maritime and coastal management.

Over the near term, adaptation will be integrated into existing EU water legislation and policies, in particular in the development of river basin management plans under the Water Framework Directive. Guidelines and a set of tools, including guidance and exchange of best practices, will be developed by the end of 2009 to ensure that the River Basin Management Plans are climate-proofed. Enhancing the efficiency of water uses, and measures to boost ecosystem storage capacity of water will also be considered

The Water Framework Directive is complemented by the Floods Directive, and the policy on water scarcity and droughts, which provide a more specific framework for adapting to the key water-related impacts of climate change. Climate change will be considered in the implementation of the Floods Directive. More generally, there will be an assessment of the need for further measures to enhance water efficiency in agriculture, buildings and households.

The White Paper contains many references to agriculture and fisheries, and the ecosystems upon which they depend. Climate change and agriculture uses of water will be considered under the Common Agricultural Policy. Similarly, climate change will be considered for European fisheries and the reformed Common Fisheries Policy. Additionally, there are specific provisions to address biodiversity loss and avoiding ecosystem feedbacks that can accelerate climate change. Specifically, there will be draft guidelines by 2010 concerning the impact of climate change on the management of Natura 2000 sites.

A Clearing House Mechanism is proposed as an IT tool and a database on climate change impacts and best practices, and some preliminary surveys and development has already occurred. The clearing house must be established by 2011 and would contribute to the Shared Environmental Information System, which is an initiative by the European Commission and the European Environment Agency to establish an integrated and shared environmental information system. The clearing house would also rely on geographical information provided by the Global Monitoring for Environment and Security.

Underlying Rational for the Green Paper and the White Paper on Adaptation to Climate Change

Over the last few years the EU has financed several large research projects on regional climate modelling and impact assessment. Projects have produced high-resolution maps representing the projected changes in climate variables, such as mean temperature and precipitation, and projected impacts, such as agricultural yields, conditions for tourism, cold- and heat-related mortality and biodiversity losses. Under IPCC scenario (SRES A2) whereby no action is taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, mean global temperature increases by about 3.4°C by the 2080s compared to 1990 levels. Under this scenario, nearly all European regions are expected to be negatively affected and up to half of Europe’s plant species could be vulnerable or threatened by 2080.

Climatic changes are occurring globally and regionally. In Europe, accelerated levels of change are occurring in Scandinavia, Greenland, and Iceland; in mountainous areas, and around the Mediterranean Sea. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report of 2007 describes significant climate change for Europe. Changes in the northern regions of Europe are summarized in the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment Scientific Report of 2004, and in the EU green paper and associated documents. A new priority area is the Mediterranean and southern Atlantic region of Europe which, similarly to the Arctic, can be viewed as a climate change “hotspot”.

The EU papers on adapting to climate change are the culmination of extensive scientific research, expert review and consultation, and agreement across EU departments and member states. They are integrated documents and approaches that confirms the significant impacts of climate change in Europe, and recommends integrated adaptive and mitigation measures. Though the scientific research in the papers is limited to the political boundaries of Europe, many of the observations can be extended to adjacent areas in the Baltic, Black and Mediterranean Seas. For example, the greater impacts noted for the south Atlantic and Mediterranean regions of Europe are also applicable to northern Africa and the Middle East.

In the Mediterranean region; climate changes are characterized by higher temperatures, including heat stress and extreme temperature events, lessening year round precipitation, and declining precipitation in mountainous areas. The Mediterranean region is also vulnerable to the cultural, economic and social impacts of climate change. For example, this region is largely dependent on agriculture, fisheries and tourism; and at different stages of economic and political development. Throughout the Mediterranean, there is already the need for adaptive measures for all aspects of the terrestrial, coastal and marine environment for the present, near and longer term, irrespective if mitigation efforts are eventually successful. Similarly to the rest of Europe, this region will require adaptive measures to support appropriate governance, the formation of necessary institutions, and for full communication to and participation in climate change measures by all economic sectors and members of civil society.

Consider the example of agriculture which underpins and affects most land and marine uses within Europe and the Mediterranean region. Agriculture is defined to include aquaculture, farming, forestry, grazing and wetlands; their underlying aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems, and the ongoing goods and services they provide. Effects, for instance, in forests, grasslands and wetlands are relevant for coasts and marine areas. Forests and grasslands play an important role in combating drought and desertification, while wetlands are fish and avian breeding areas. Forests, grassland and wetlands sequester carbon, methane and other greenhouse gases, while providing ecosystem goods and services and supporting local economies.

Food security incorporates the safety of the underlying food, as well as the underlying need for reliable food supplies, particularly in those countries where a significant proportion of the population relies in whole or in part on subsistence agriculture. Negative impacts quickly ripple and magnify throughout the society. For example, at this time drought in Morocco has decreased the availability of grain from rural areas, which led to increased imports of grain and higher food prices, particularly for bread, and riots and social unrest in urban settings. Food safely is one aspect of food security and becomes a bigger issue as water shortfalls, higher temperatures, and invasive species lead to greater risk of disease among human populations, livestock, fish and crops.

Climate changes will have significant effects on agriculture; biodiversity and local populations, particularly in coastal regions with local and subsistence agriculture and uses, and where multiple uses and users co-exist. Improving the efficiency in water use and the overall tolerance of terrestrial and coastal ecosystems against abiotic stresses (drought, heat, fire, and salinity) and biotic stresses (including bacteria, pests and invasive species) represents a key necessity for future sustainability.

The scope of the climate impact will require immediate focus to minimize the economic and environmental impact; local and regional migration, and political instability. In all societies, climate change affects human beings and communities that are the most socially and economically vulnerable, and the least resilient. So climate change becomes a human rights issue as well as an environmental and economic issue.

Throughout Europe and adjacent areas, the challenge will be to ensure that appropriate adaptation can occur. Adaptive measures have to be identified, understood and developed, till mitigation can limit or reverse the pace of change. Land and marine uses and management will need to be modified, in consideration of existing and future climatic changes. Adaptive measures must include the social and economic dimension, and appropriate and effective governance at a local, regional and European level.

In additional to considering adaptation, it is important to also consider opportunities for carbon minimization and sequestration across all land and marine uses, and some means of calculating and transfer that benefit to the users, to encourage this vital function. This becomes an equity issue between Europe and less developed adjacent countries, particularly for the Mediterranean region.

Land and marine uses are crucial in carbon minimization and sequestration, and therefore farmlands; forests; grasslands; estuaries, lakes, rivers, and wetlands become crucial in the fight to combat global warming. The state of knowledge is evolving rapidly for carbon sequestration. For example, there has been growing knowledge of the important role that estuaries and wetlands play in sequestering carbon and other more volatile greenhouse gases like methane (LULUCF Sourcebook, Timothy Pearson, Sarah Walker and Sandra Brown / Winrock International).