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Adapting to climate change: assessing the vulnerability of ecosystem services in Europe in the context of rural development

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Over the past decade, efforts to move towards a low carbon economy have been increasingly coupled with the acknowledgement that we also need to develop climate resilient economies, capable of adapting and responding to changes in climate. To shift society in these directions we need to quantify impacts in relation to these objectives and develop cost-effective interventions. Techniques for quantifying greenhouse gas emissions are relatively well established and enable identification of hotspots where there is emissions reduction potential. However, there are no established techniques to assess and quantify adaptation vulnerability issues and identify hotspots for intervention. This paper presents work undertaken at a European level with the objective of identifying potential hotspots where ecosystem services may be vulnerable to climate change and thus where intervention may be required under the European Rural Development Programme. A pragmatic and relatively simple approach is presented, based on data that is readily available across Europe. The vulnerability assessments cover: Water (quality: dilution and filtration, regulation: flooding and provision); soils (erosion and organic matter); and biodiversity (forest fires, migration and pollination). The framework and assessments presented are considered fit for purpose (at a basic level) and they are potentially valuable tools for targeting limited resources to achieve desirable outcomes. They also contribute towards providing a better understanding of the climate change challenges we face and support the formulation of solutions to optimally address those challenges. There is scope to further improvement and a number of options are discussed and explored within this paper.

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This work has been funded by the European Commission (DG Climate Action) as part of a wider research project (Ref. 071201/2011/609681/SER/CLIMA.A.2). The Commission’s support is gratefully acknowledged. The opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the funding body.

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Tzilivakis, J., Warner, D.J., Green, A. et al. Adapting to climate change: assessing the vulnerability of ecosystem services in Europe in the context of rural development. Mitig Adapt Strateg Glob Change 20, 547–572 (2015).

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