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EU Adaptation Strategy: mountain regions almost forgotten?

The European Commission adopted its Strategy on Adaptation to Climate Change on February 24, 2021 (repealing the 2013 Strategy). The new EU Adaptation Strategy laid out the vision putting the European Union on a pathway to a climate-resilient society, fully adapted to the unavoidable impacts of climate change, with reinforced adaptive capacity and reduced vulnerability in line with the Paris Agreement and the proposed European Climate Law.

How does the European Union intend to better adapt to climate change?

The objective of the new Strategy is to progress swiftly toward the 2050 resilience vision by making adaptation action smarter, more systemic, faster and stepping up international action on adaptation. This translates into improved knowledge and data, support to policy development and climate risk management at all levels, accelerated adaptation action across all sectors and further international cooperation.

The Strategy recognises that mountainous areas are among the most vulnerable environments to climate change, with islands and outermost regions, and recommends strengthening cooperation and data comparison in cross-border mountainous areas facing common risks.

Another interesting measure will be the establishment of a European climate and health observatory under Climate-ADAPT platform, in order to better assess the impact of climate change on health – such as the consequences of forest fires on human health.

The European Commission also reminds readers that innovation on climate issues will be tackled through Horizon Europe Mission on ‘Adaptation to Climate Change’ – which should contribute to providing an adaptation toolbox to practioners – and that forest resilience will be addressed in the awaited EU Forest Strategy for 2030.

No considerable attention to mountain areas

Euromontana welcomes such a Strategy but regrets a low attention and lack of a clear vision on more vulnerable regions to climate change, such as mountain areas, compared to urban and low land areas, and non-EU countries. In mountains, climate change impacts act faster than in other regions, with considerable effect on water quality and availability, ecosystem services, natural disasters (such as avalanches, windstorm and land sliding) and economic sustainability of relevant sectors such as the winter tourism. These changes in mountains are all extremely likely to have a cascade effect on lowlands regions and hence require a timely and coordinated response by the European Union.

Moreover, the new EU Adaptation Strategy could have clarified some points. The European Commission for instance commits to “climate proof” all EU policies without providing details on how to concretely implement it and coordinate with other policies. Coherence between EU policies is crucial to adapt to climate change effects; Euromontana especially recommends paying attention to other policies such as tourism and mobility policies. Still, the new EU Strategy for Sustainable and Smart Mobility (December 2020) for example did not provide dedicated measures to enhance the sustainability of mobility in rural and mountainous areas and more efforts in climate proofing will therefore be needed.

For more information, see Euromontana’s 2020 position “Face the challenge of climate change in the mountains: adaptation for future generations”.

The Commission will encounter with the Member States to discuss about the implementation of the new Adaptation Strategy in the next meeting of the Environmental Council in June 2021.

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9 March 2021

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