Socially just adaptation to climate change is needed in Europe, where the existing and increasing socio-economic inequalities in urban areas can be further exacerbated by climate change, and vice versa poverty and disadvantage can potentially increase vulnerability to climate. Vulnerable groups typically include people with a low socio-economic status, children, elderly and people with health problems and those living in areas of low environmental quality. Cities should therefore ensure that the needs of such vulnerable groups are duly taken into account in the full cycle of the urban adaptation process to avoid a worsening of existing and the potential creation of new disparities. Addressing this urban challenge implies strengthening cities’ capacity to: recognize and map vulnerable groups, understand and address their needs and involve them in the adaptation planning.
A recent report released by the European Topic Centre on Climate Change impacts, vulnerability and Adaptation (ETC/CCA), “Social vulnerability to climate change in European cities – state of play in policy and practice” (among the lead authors, CMCC researcher Margaretha Breil, working at ECIP – Economic analysis of Climate Impacts and Policy Division), dives deeper into the topic of social vulnerability to climate change to explore what is currently happening on the ground to address this issue across Europe. The report reviews the concepts of social vulnerability and socially just adaptation, investigates how these topics are included in guidance documents and assessment approaches, presents eleven European case studies that address in different ways the assessment of social vulnerability and include equity in adaptation planning, and draws insights from an expert workshop organized ad hoc.
Existing guidance documents on urban adaptation already present a wide range of approaches to make adaptation policies more socially just, but this occurs with a considerable variance in the level of detail. Actually a true methodological “best practice” is lacking for the assessment and mapping of social vulnerability to climate-related events. However, the examples presented provide evidence that experience in cities is growing and demonstrate some practical ways of how social vulnerability to climate change can be assessed, and how options for socially just adaptation can be identified, as for example in the cases of Košice and Trnava, Slovakia, and Liverpool, UK.
Insights provided by this report contribute to the discussions among adaptation planners on the need for change in urban adaptation policies that should aim at decreasing the social inequalities and injustice related to climate change, and to create more just adaptation solutions. Also, the findings of this ETC/CCA report are intended to inform adaptation planning in cities, as well as the on-going evaluation of the EU Strategy on Adaptation to Climate Change lead by the European Commission (DG CLIMA).