Urban areas are pivotal to global adaptation and mitigation efforts. But how do cities actually perform in terms of climate change response? This study sheds light on the state of urban climate change adaptation and mitigation planning across Europe. Europe is an excellent test case given its advanced environmental policies and high urbanization. We performed a detailed analysis of 200 large and medium-sized cities across 11 European countries and analysed the cities’ climate change adaptation and mitigation plans. We investigate the regional distribution of plans, adaptation and mitigation foci and the extent to which planned greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions contribute to national and international climate objectives. To our knowledge, it is the first study of its kind as it does not rely on self-assessment (questionnaires or social surveys). Our results show that 35 % of European cities studied have no dedicated mitigation plan and 72 % have no adaptation plan. No city has an adaptation plan without a mitigation plan. One quarter of the cities have both an adaptation and a mitigation plan and set quantitative GHG reduction targets, but those vary extensively in scope and ambition. Furthermore, we show that if the planned actions within cities are nationally representative the 11 countries investigated would achieve a 37 % reduction in GHG emissions by 2050, translating into a 27 % reduction in GHG emissions for the EU as a whole. However, the actions would often be insufficient to reach national targets and fall short of the 80 % reduction in GHG emissions recommended to avoid global mean temperature rising by 2 °C above pre-industrial levels.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Similar content being viewed by others
The terms ‘city’ and ‘urban area’ are used interchangeably, though definition might vary across countries. We use data from the Urban Audit, which also refers to “cities” (Eurostat 2013).
The C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group (C40) is a network of the world’s megacities committed to addressing climate change through action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Even when legislation requires the development of plans—the legally mandatory Territorial Climate and Energy Plans (Plans Climat-Energie Territoriaux or TCEPs) of the Grenelle de l’Environnement in France are a recent example, these can take a while to appear. During 2012, 6 out of 35 French cities in our sample developed a mitigation plan and four of these also developed an adaptation plan, which leaves 14 cities out of 35 without any plan at the end of 2012. Yet, legislation requires all major cities in France to have developed both a mitigation and an adaptation plan by the end of 2012.
In one case, the city of Moers, in Germany, a sustainable area management plan was produced—betwixt a land-use plan and an adaptation plan—through the Local Agenda 21 process in cooperation with the city before the official mitigation plan.
The EU2020 targets are specified in the EU’s climate and energy package—a set of binding legislation which aims to ensure the European Union meets its ambitious climate and energy targets for 2020. These targets, known as the “20-20-20” targets (or 3 × 20 targets), set three key objectives for 2020: 1) A 20 % reduction in EU greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels; 2) Raising the share of EU energy consumption produced from renewable resources to 20 %; 3) A 20 % improvement in the EU’s energy efficiency. Agreement on the package was reached in December 2008; it became European law in 2009.
Baker I, Peterson A, Brown G, McAlpine C (2012) Local government response to the impacts of climate change: an evaluation of local climate adaptation plans. Landsc Urban Plan 107(2):127–136. doi:10.1016/j.landurbplan.2012.05.009
Barnett J, O’Neill S (2010) Maladaptation. Glob Environ Chang 20(2):211–213. doi:10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2009.11.004
Betsill M, Bulkeley H (2007) Looking Back and Thinking Ahead: A Decade of Cities and Climate Change Research. Local Environ 12(5):447–456
Butler D, Spencer N (2010) The century of the city. Nature 467(7318):900–901
Carbon Disclosure Project (2012) Measurement for management: CDP cities 2012 global report—including special report on C40 cities, vol 2012. Carbon Disclosure Project
Carmin J, Nadkami N, Rhie C (2012) Progress and challenges in urban climate adaptation planning: results of a global survey. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA
Castán Broto V, Bulkeley H (2012) A survey of urban climate change experiments in 100 cities. Glob Environ Chang (0). doi:10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2012.07.005
Corfee-Morlot J, Cochran I, Hallegatte S, Teasdale PJ (2011) Multilevel risk governance and urban adaptation policy. Clim Chang 104(1):169–197
Dawson R (2007) Re-engineering cities: a framework for adaptation to global change. Philos Trans Math Phys Eng Sci 365(1861):3085–3098. doi:10.2307/25190643
Dawson R (2011) Potential pitfalls on the transition to more sustainable cities and how they might be avoided. Carbin Manag 2(2):175–188. doi:10.4155/CMT.11.8
de Sherbinin A, Schiller A, Pulsipher A (2007) The vulnerability of global cities to climate hazards. Environ Urban 19:39–64
Duren RM, Miller CE (2012) Measuring the carbon emissions of megacities. Nat Clim Chang 2(8):560–562
European Commission, Joint Research Centre (JRC)/PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (2011) Emission Database for Global Atmospheric Research (EDGAR), release version 4.2. http://edgar.jrc.ec.europe.eu. Accessed 11 Sep 2013
Eurostat (2010) European regional and urban statistics reference guide. Methodologies and working papers. European Union, Luxembourg
Eurostat (2013) What is the urban audit? http://www.urbanaudit.org/index.aspx. Accessed 07 Oct 2013
Glaser B, Strauss A (1967) The discovery of grounded theory: strategies for qualitative research. Aldine Publishing Company, Chicago
Heidrich O, Dawson RJ, Reckien D, Walsh CL (2013) Assessment of the climate preparedness of 30 urban areas in the UK. Clim Chang 120(4):771–784. doi:10.1007/s10584-013-0846-9
Hunt A, Watkiss P (2011) Climate change impacts and adaptation in cities: a review of the literature. Clim Chang 104(1):13–49. doi:10.1007/s10584-010-9975-6
Johnson CA (2013) Political science: new climate alliances. Nat Clim Chang 3(6):537–538. doi:10.1038/nclimate1912
Kabat P, van Vierssen W, Veraart J, Vellinga P, Aerts J (2005) Climate proofing the Netherlands. Nature 438(7066):283–284
Kousky C, Schneider SH (2003) Global climate policy: will cities lead the way? Clim Pol 3(4):359–372. doi:10.1016/j.clipol.2003.08.002
Millard-Ball A (2012) Do city climate plans reduce emissions? J Urban Econ 71(3):289–311. doi:10.1016/j.jue.2011.12.004
Moss RH, Edmonds JA, Hibbard KA, Manning MR, Rose SK, van Vuuren DP, Carter TR, Emori S, Kainuma M, Kram T, Meehl GA, Mitchell JFP, Nakicenovic N, Riahi K, Smith SJ, Stouffer RJ, Thomson AM, Weyant JP, Wilbanks TJ (2010) The next generation of scenarios for climate change research and assessment. Nature 463:747–756. doi:10.1038/nature08823
Romero-Lankao P (2012) Governing carbon and climate in the cities: an overview of policy and planning challenges and options. Eur Plan Stud 20(1):7–26. doi:10.1080/09654313.2011.638496
Rosenzweig C, Solecki W, Hammer SA, Mehrotra S (2010) Cities lead the way in climate-change action. Nature 467(7318):909–911
Rosenzweig C, Solecki W, Hammer SA, Mehrotra S (2011) Climate change and cities: first assessment report of the urban climate change research network. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge
Satterthwaite D (2008) Cities’ contribution to global warming: notes on the allocation of greenhouse gas emissions. Environ Urban 20(2):539–549. doi:10.1177/0956247808096127
Viguie V, Hallegatte S (2012) Trade-offs and synergies in urban climate policies. Nat Clim Chang 2(5):334–337. doi:10.1038/nclimate1434
Research undertaken for this paper was conducted as part of the European Science Foundation funded COST Action network Integrated assessment technologies to support the sustainable development of urban areas (TU0902). D.R. is funded by the German Research Foundation (RE 2927/2-1). R.D. is funded by an Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council Fellowship (EP/H003630/1). H.O. would like to acknowledge Estonia’s Ministry of Education for providing resources with the grant SF0180060s09. We thank S. Schärf, K. Oinonen, S. Reiter, V. D’Alonzo and E. Feliu for their contributions to data gathering.
The study and manuscript preparation was led by D.R. The initial analysis was initiated by D.R. and J.F. who also led the statistical analysis. All co-authors contributed towards data acquisition in their respective countries, interpretation of results, and manuscript preparation. Figure 1 was produced by J.F. Figure 2 was produced by D.R. Figure 3 was developed by D.R. and produced with S. De G.H. R.D. is chair and D.R. was vice-chair of the COST Action network that supported this research and enabled the necessary international coordination.
Competing financial interest statement
The authors declare that they have no competing financial interests.
Electronic supplementary material
Below is the link to the electronic supplementary material.
(DOC 605 kb)
About this article
Cite this article
Reckien, D., Flacke, J., Dawson, R.J. et al. Climate change response in Europe: what’s the reality? Analysis of adaptation and mitigation plans from 200 urban areas in 11 countries. Climatic Change 122, 331–340 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-013-0989-8