Key Policy Messages & Conclusions

The seven climate change projects covered in this report have produced a range of good results aimed at tackling the complex challenge of climate change at the local and regional level. Collectively, the results have demonstrated the benefits of taking early action on both mitigation and adaptation. In some cases this is motivated by EU or national requirements to take some sort of action on climate change. And in many – if not most – of the cases, project partners demonstrated (or even learned for themselves!) that proactive efforts on climate change bring a wide range of co-benefits. Examples of these are economic savings through more efficient use of energy or quality-of-life improvements through green infrastructural approaches to cooling in cities and towns. It is these kinds of win-win situations that are motivating stakeholders and policymakers to make greater efforts on climate change. The concrete examples, support tools and methodological approaches generated through the actual experiences of local and regional authorities working on the INTERREG climate change projects are a valuable contribution to climate change action in the EU and should be further recognised as such in an effort to motivate action in all parts of Europe.

Taking this into account, a number of recommendations aimed mainly at local and regional authorities, but also the EU and the future European Territorial Cooperation programmes are given below. The recommendations stem from the lessons learnt in carrying out INTERREG IVC climate change projects, and are organised according to the core themes used in the analysis of project practices and outputs.

1. Making the case for climate change action

As climate change is a relatively new policy field for most of the regions, understanding how it translates into concrete mitigation and adaptation solutions is crucial. All the INTERREG IVC climate projects addressed this issue in one way or another. This solid understanding and, where possible, demonstration of the risks of non-action and also the gains to be made from taking a strategic, coordinated approach to climate change action has been identified as a core prerequisite for coordinated climate change action by the projects.

A common challenge at local and regional levels is to identify concrete opportunities for reducing GHG emissions into practical measures. These may include, for example, improvements in energy efficiency in the building sector, cleaner public transport, and the use of renewables to shift to low-carbon development. Many of the INTERREG IVC climate change projects implemented demonstration actions that illustrate how abstract climate objectives can lead to measures for protecting the environment, improving quality of life and achieving economic gains from systematic carbon reductions such as reduced energy costs and low-carbon jobs created. These actions are also useful communication tools for building social and political consensus for the shift towards a low-carbon economy, particularly by highlighting the potential benefits.

On the adaptation side, it is clear that regions need greater access to information and methods for understanding climate change impacts and the specific vulnerabilities of their communities. As climate change is long-term in nature, demonstrating the benefits of action can be very challenging. The EU Strategy on Adaptation to Climate Change recognises that important work needs to be done at local and regional levels as this is where impacts will occur and will need to be managed. Knowledge gaps include how to analyse and make use of ecosystems and improve the approaches taken (e.g. in agriculture, forestry, water management and flood prevention). At regional and local levels, technical solutions and tools to support decision-making have helped to bridge the gap between climate-related problems and the design of realistic policy measures. The technical decision support tools identified by RegioClima are valuable in this context.

Continued action is clearly needed in this area, particularly the types of bottom-up, grassroots efforts that clearly demonstrate the benefits of climate action and contribute to clarifying the mystery around the topic.

A number of recommendations can be made in this regard:

  • Demonstration projects with genuine added value should be captured and showcased in such a manner as to emphasise both the full range of benefits (environmental, social and economic),  and the ways in which those actions set the stage for future planning and policy-making at the local level.
  • There are a number of EU initiatives described in this study that can help to share this experience, along with future cooperation projects to be developed under the European Territorial Cooperation funds for 2014–2020.
  • Local and regional authorities should also take advantage of the information available via portals such as Climate-ADAPT, which includes adaptation case studies as well as tools and methodologies supporting adaptation planning. They should also take the opportunity to share information on adaptation to climate change through this web portal, including case studies, adaptation options, guidance documents and other material.
  • The gap between scientific knowledge and policy-making on climate change is important, as this policy field is so dependent upon accurate information. Demonstration projects can help to clarify concepts on both sides of this gap.

2. Stakeholder involvement and policy networks

Tackling an issue as complex and cross-cutting as climate change requires sincere efforts to build consensus across stakeholders, and to cooperate with a new range of institutions, disciplines and people. Local and regional authorities frequently need to reach outside their typical collaborative networks in order to make real progress in this area. The GRaBS project, which carried out pilot adaptation action plans in 11 local and regional authorities across the EU and developed a methodological approach to this, noted that a key pre-condition for successful strategic planning in this area is getting buy-in both from local planning authorities as well as a broad selection of professional disciplines, including the scientific research community.

Climate change mitigation for example will, at a minimum, involve the energy sector, housing, transport and agriculture — a broad range of stakeholders with diverse interests. Adaptation also cuts across socio-economic sectors. The challenge is to understand this and to build working coalitions both within and across institutions, and also with relevant stakeholder communities.

Techniques for identifying the appropriate people, establishing networks and highlighting the co-benefits that climate change brings are some of the approaches used by the INTERREG IVC climate change projects to engage key stakeholders in climate change actions. The EKKO (Energy Concepts for Municipalities process is an example of how municipalities in the Burgenland region (an RSC partner) are involved in achieving the region’s strategic energy goals.

Political support at the decision-making level has also been recognised by the projects as a key starting point. To address this need, two of the projects created cross-cutting forums that aimed to engage the support of politicians for climate change action. These are the Planning and Climate Change Coalition (GRaBS) addressing adaptation, and the Norrbotten and Västerbotten Energy and Climate Offensive (ClimAct), which covers low-carbon actions.

Key recommendations in this area are:

  • Authorities must reach out to a wide range of stakeholders — including many they may not be accustomed to working with — to build a sound, scientific basis for climate change planning and action. There are good practices that demonstrate the value of this and provide examples of how to do it, but the first step is recognising and prioritising the need for this method of working.
  • The policy-making and the scientific and research communities each need to focus on the quality of mechanisms for sharing information in this regard. Information also needs to be framed in a convincing manner, such that it can convince political decision-makers of the extent of the risks that non-action will pose. The use of future EU funds for research, mainly through the Horizon 2020 programme, will be targeted to addressing the need for better interfaces between science, policy-making and business. Local and regional authorities need to stay informed of this progress and consider ways to translate this progress into policy-making approaches in their own territories.
  • Local authorities should consider joining one of the EU initiatives that fosters political commitment to climate change action at the highest levels and provides support and monitoring for planning and implementation. These include the Covenant of Mayors for sustainable energy plans and a forthcoming initiative for climate change adaptation.

3. Strategic and action planning

Whilst one-off demonstrations and building consensus are critical starting points, tackling climate change will require sound, comprehensive strategic planning at all levels of governance, including the local and regional. Climate change objectives, targets and responsibilities at the EU level are the direct competence of the Member States — but the extent to which regional and local authorities have competence and responsibility for climate change varies considerably. In addition, experience in planning and taking action on climate change varies widely between regions and localities; thus there is considerable potential for the exchange of experience and the transfer of good practices from more to less advanced areas.

All of the INTERREG IVC climate change projects addressed strategic planning for climate change in one way or another. The GRaBS and RSC projects developed methodological approaches to planning for adaptation and a shift towards a low-carbon economy, respectively. These and other examples, tools and methods developed by the projects can serve as a valuable basis for support and learning across the EU. At the same time, this has been one of the most challenging areas for regions and local authorities to address, mainly due to a lack of clarity in competence for climate change across levels of governance and sectoral authorities. In some cases, this has prevented project partners from acting on good planning practices, as they are not certain of their own authority to do so.

The recently adopted EU Adaptation Strategy calls for all Member States to adopt comprehensive adaptation strategies; it will monitor progress on these initiatives over the coming years. This is supported by EU guidelines, which are available through the Climate-ADAPT web portal. In all Member States, regional and/or local authorities will play a role in this, ranging from local and regional strategic planning to the implementation of plans developed at higher levels of governance. It is important that they understand this role and are empowered to carry it out effectively.
 
With regard to strategic planning, the following recommendations have emerged from the study and experience of the projects:

  • Clarity of competence across authorities is an important pre-condition for confident and comprehensive strategic planning, especially for regions, which often fall in-between the more clearly understood roles of national and local authorities. National authorities should ensure that regional and local authorities clearly understand their roles in contributing to EU and national climate objectives and targets. Regional and local authorities, on the other hand, should put all possible means in place to fully exercise their competence and take action for climate change at local level.
  • For many regional and local authorities, external funding is required to carry out strategic planning for climate change, particularly when research and assessment is required as a basis for decision-making. The EU adaptation strategy notes that the LIFE climate sub-programme will dedicate funds for this. Other EU funds, including the Cohesion Policy and rural development programmes also offer potential support for regional and local authorities to support their efforts on strategic planning and planning support work on climate change. This needs to be taken into account in the programming of funds, including the concentration of spending on objectives targeting low-carbon economy and climate change adaptation.
  • Technical support, including education for staff who are unfamiliar with climate change issues, is often easily available and underused. On adaptation, a good example is the EU’s Climate-ADAPT web portal and also national climate change information portals, which have been developed or are under development in nearly all Member States.
  • With regard to broader planning, including sectoral plans, Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA), which is a procedure required by EU law (Directive 2001/42/EC) for the assessment of the environmental impacts of certain plans and programmes, has been identified by the projects as a key tool for integrating climate change considerations into other policy areas. Authorities should consider the guidance recently issued by the European Commission DG Environment on integrating climate change and biodiversity into the SEA. This targets the specific challenges of integrating climate change mitigation and adaptation into the procedures.
  • Wherever possible, Member States and regions should consider the natural environment, including the role of ecosystem services as a natural buffer against the impacts of climate change, in planning for adaptation to climate change. Results from the INTERREG IVC climate change projects show that such green infrastructure solutions are generally cost-effective as well as beneficial for the environment and for the community. The recently adopted EU communication on green infrastructure (Green Infrastructure (GI) (COM(2013) 249 final)) contains a strategy for integrating this concept into future EU policies and funding instruments, in particular with regard to climate change mitigation and adaptation.

4. Implementation measures

Implementation measures are the core action items required to produce results. Most of the measures identified by or through the climate change projects considered in this study have focused on education and awareness of the population or key groups, such as the private sector, as well as approaches to financing climate change. The approaches adopted by the INTERREG IVC climate change projects reflect this need to change the behaviour of citizens, businesses, academia, etc. This has been undertaken through educational activities as well as promotional campaigns and various financing mechanisms. Practices for engaging members of the local community in climate change issues, identified by POWER, are some examples in this context.

Many of the lessons learnt from the projects show that a lack of funding is an obstacle, both for the development and implementation of strategic plans targeting climate change. Cohesion Policy funds, which target regional development and the Europe 2020 objectives, are an excellent opportunity for many EU regions to access funding for action on climate change. The 20% target for climate change mitigation and adaptation across the EU budget, plus the creation of specific thematic objectives for low-carbon economy and climate change adaptation (see Chapter 2), mean that there will be increased emphasis on climate change during the 2014–2020 programming period.

Key recommendations in this area are:

  • The efforts of the INTERREG IVC climate change projects on education and raising awareness, particularly within the POWER and RSC projects, are important examples and can serve as a basis for similar efforts in other EU regions. These are key parts of climate change planning and, in some cases, are pre-conditions for successful planning processes. Further efforts to encourage low-carbon consumption and production choices among the public and in the business sector are also needed. Accessing funds for such measures has often been identified as a barrier by project partners.
  • This is an important area for future interregional cooperation within the climate change topic. As climate policies and their regulatory and incentivising measures become more developed and sophisticated, there will be increased potential for learning through experience sharing and the joint development of innovative policy ideas across regions and local authorities. This can extend beyond the current focus on education and awareness-raising into other types of policy measures, such as governance approaches, trans-boundary cooperation mechanisms, and approaches to integrated policy-making across sectors and the process for getting large-scale infrastructural solutions underway and funded.
  • The use of EU funds should be maximised in this area, so as to target funding needs at the local and regional levels for support on climate change action planning and implementation of measures. Through this, Cohesion Policy can co-finance a range of climate change-related initiatives, such as investments in pilot technologies, disaster and risk management plans and mechanisms and, where eligible, infrastructure. In rural areas, the rural development programmes of the Common Agricultural Policy can address climate change measures.
  • Member States and regions also need to take care that climate change concerns — both low- carbon issues and vulnerabilities to climate impacts — are taken into account in all areas of public funding, particularly in places where EU funds constitute a large share of public development spending. For example, investment programmes and projects should be reviewed to ensure that they do not negatively impact the territory’s carbon balance through increases in energy consumption. They should also consider the long-term impacts of climate change on all investment areas, particularly in areas such as infrastructure, health care and agriculture.
  • Ideally, all spending programmes for EU funds should be grounded in comprehensive and well-founded climate change strategies backed up by credible scientific research. SEA can be an important tool in this regard as it is aimed at identifying the environmental impacts (including climate change) of plans and programmes. Where climate strategies are not available, SEA can be useful as a catalyst for bringing a climate change perspective to the spending programme.
  • For the recommendations on EU funds, Member States, regions and other stakeholders should consult the technical guidance recently released by DG CLIMA on integrating climate change adaptation in programmes and investments of Cohesion Policy and under the CAP rural development programmes for 2014–2020.

5. Measuring and monitoring progress

The availability of data and information about climate change impacts has been identified as a key challenge for regions as this requires monitoring and measuring techniques to be put into place. Another problem is the lack of coordination between parallel measurement and monitoring practices, which results in multiplication of similar efforts, slowing down and making these activities more costly. A network (ENEREEE) initiated by the Climact project can serve as a good example for EU and national policymakers for consolidating efforts and results in this field.

It was recognised that the use of indicators is important for enhancing the transparency of policy-making and therefore some of the INTERREG IVC projects developed specific tools to address the gap with monitoring progress of low-carbon policies. The ‘Low-Carbon Indicators Toolkit’, developed as part of the RSC project, aims to inspire and assist European regions in reviewing existing low-carbon indicators and developing new ones.

Monitoring and evaluation of climate adaptation readiness is more complex, however, as quantifiable targets are not available to aid an understanding of climate resilience or the extent to which a territory is prepared to deal with the eventual impacts of climate change. This has been recognised as a key challenge in the EU Adaptation Strategy, and many of the Member States with a more advanced track record on climate change adaptation planning are now starting to work in this area and set precedents for others to follow.

Key recommendations in this area are:

  • National data on climatic trends (mainly related to temperature and precipitation) and information on potential climate change impacts should be made available and in a format useable by regions. Regions should also boost activities to collect necessary and reliable data, through cooperation with stakeholders, local universities, national authorities or other regions initiatives (such as the Climate-ADAPT) which can be a valuable source of information.
  • Both in case of data related to mitigation activities and climate vulnerabilities, regular updating and monitoring of progress towards achieving climate goals is needed. Therefore regional and local authorities should guarantee that the data collection on different aspects of climate change will not remain a one-time effort: to this end, human resources and financial means should be envisaged for the long term.  
  • The analysis revealed that most monitoring practices focus on the preparation of emissions and energy inventories or climate vulnerabilities at the regional and local levels, and other more qualitative aspects are not considered. Although this is a useful start, progress towards the development and application of different assessment tools (such as indicators and indices) is needed.
  • Linked to the previous point is the need for adapting local and regional monitoring systems to include aspects of potential impacts from climate change. RegioClima stresses the need for integrating indicators in monitoring systems across several sectors.

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