Adaptation regulations in Europe: how European and national strategies deal with the challenge

Since 2021, the OID-sponsored programme ESREI – European sustainable real estate initiative – has been analysing how different countries manage ESG issues in the real estate sector. Adaptation, which is a major challenge at both global and European scales, is covered by a range of OID publications. Individual European countries face different challenges to adapt and cope with physical risks and natural hazards in general, and these are reflected in their national regulations.


Legislation in Europe: bringing global issues to national level

Member States must apply European Union (EU) legislation, due to the primacy of European law. This principle means that both primary EU law (treaties and associated protocols) and secondary EU law (regulations, directives and decisions) take precedence over the law of the Member States. However, the scope of European law is much narrower and, by virtue of the principle of attribution, the EU only acts within the limits of its jurisdiction.

The OID has studied numerous EU directives, strategies and laws, and their implementation in national law. Issues relating to water and natural risks are often addressed simultaneously in the EU regulatory framework. For example, flooding is the hazard that gets the most coverage in European regulations, along with the issues of water quality and water resource management. These include the following three key directives: the EU Water Framework Directive, the EU Drinking Water Directive, and the EU Floods Directive.

In addition, European countries are increasingly facing climatic hazards such as droughts and extreme heat, which bring multiple challenges in terms of physical risks. These issues are also related to the energy performance of buildings and the respect of thermal comfort for users and occupants, and are therefore preferably be integrated into regulations concerning construction and renovation.


What European and national legislation addresses the challenge of adaptation?

European level

The European Commission adopted its new EU Strategy on adaptation to climate change on 24 February 2021. The strategy sets out how the EU can adapt to the unavoidable impacts of climate change and become climate resilient by 2050 and has four main principles: to make adaptation smarter, swifter and more systemic, and to step up international action on adaptation to climate change.

National strategies

This EU strategy does not include a legal requirement for the Member States to implement national plans, unlike the 2030 National Energy and Climate Plans, which constitute a framework to outline national climate and energy goals. However, many countries either already had or have since developed their own adaptation strategies to address the challenge.

  • Ireland adopted its National Adaptation Framework in 2018. This document aims to reduce the country’s vulnerability to rainfall, storms, and flooding in general.
  • In Austria, adaptation is addressed in the Strategy for Adaptation to Climate Change dating from 2017. This strategy presents a set of adaptation measures for 14 priority sectors, including buildings, protection of ecosystems from natural hazards, and processes such as risk management and spatial planning.
  • The Czech government adopted its Strategy on Adaptation to Climate Change in October 2015. In 2021, the strategy was updated with a focus on interdependencies between sectors and will remain in force until 2030. This strategy is implemented through the National Action Plan on Adaptation to Climate Change, adopted in 2017 and also updated in 2021. For buildings, one of the measures is to promote innovation and technologies that use renewable energy sources for cooling buildings.
  • In Portugal, the National Strategy for Adaptation to Climate Change (ENAAC 2020) was published in 2015. It establishes goals and solutions for the adaptation of some sectors. The three goals are: improve the level of knowledge on climate change, implement adaptation measures, and promote their integration into sectorial policies. The strategy involves consultations with sectorial actors and the collection of good practices. In parallel, an Action Programme for Adaptation to Climate Change (P-3AC) aims to achieve the second objective of the ENAAC 2020. To do so, it establishes the priority adaptation measures, identifies the entities involved, and monitors indicators and potential funding sources.
  • In Denmark, the government issued its latest National Adaptation Plan (NAP) in 2012 under the title ‘Action Plan for a Climate-Proof Denmark’. The strategy presents 64 initiatives, such as an improved framework for climate adaptation, consultation and knowledge bases, and strengthened collaboration. The plan requires municipalities to draw up climate change adaptation plans, notably regarding flood risk.
  • The Italian National Strategy for Adaptation to Climate Change presents a multidisciplinary action plan to ensure effective, consistent adaptation measures between various sectors. For the building sector, the strategy provides non-structural and structural actions in the short and long terms.
  • The National Climate Change Adaptation Plan (PNACC) 2021-2030 is coordinated by the Spanish Climate Change Office (OECC, in Spanish) and features the first report on adaptation to climate change. It lays the foundations to promote more climate-resilient development. The main actions for the building sector are: making more resilient buildings via green infrastructures and nature-based solutions, tackling the urban heat island phenomenon through new building design, promoting citizen participation, and adapting protocols based on urban analysis.
  • As required by the Climate Change Act 2008, the United Kingdom’s Climate Change Risk Assessment (CCRA) is published every 5 years and evaluates the major risks and opportunities of climate change for the UK. The National Adaptation Programme is the government’s strategy to address the main risks and opportunities identified in the CCRA. It includes the following key targets: raise awareness of the need for climate change adaptation, improve evidence-based decisions, and take timely action to increase resilience.
  • For France, the Second National Plan for Adaptation to Climate Change (in French, PNACC 2) covers the 2018-2022 period. The first plan (2011-2015) recommended measures for all economic sectors based on four main goals: protect people and property, avoid inequalities in the face of risk, limit costs and take advantage of the benefits, and preserve the natural heritage. Changes proposed in the second plan concern improving the connection between territorial scales, strengthening coordination between international and cross-border stakeholders, and promoting nature-based solutions.


The EU Taxonomy – Adaptation as one of the six environmental objectives

Adopted in 2020, the EU Taxonomy aims to develop a common framework for companies and financial stakeholders, based on a classification of economic activities according to their environmental sustainability. This regulation will make it easier to channel investments towards companies or projects that are environmentally sustainable, thanks to greater transparency on the financial markets.

The EU Taxonomy encourages companies and investors to publish non-financial information on their activities starting from 2022. The affected sectors will have to determine whether their activities meet the criteria for making a substantial contribution to one of the six environmental objectives. In addition, activities will have to meet the « Do No Significant Harm » (DNSH) criteria for all six objectives, and respect minimum social safeguards. Adaptation to climate change is one of these six environmental objectives.

To assist real estate stakeholders in this climate risk analysis, the OID has developed a new tool: R4RE – Resilience For Real Estate. This resilience analysis platform complies with regulatory guidelines and makes it easier to meet the adaptation criteria of the Taxonomy, as well as the reporting obligations of the Energy and Climate Law.

R4RE has been freely available since June 2022 and can be used for buildings located anywhere in Europe. The OID carried out data processing and analysis to produce viewable maps and risk indicators for buildings. R4RE can provide information on the risks to which a building is exposed, based on its address. In addition, it can analyse the vulnerability of the building, determined from technical questions. The platform crosses the exposure and vulnerability of a building to produce in an overall assessment indicator of the climate risk to which the building is subject.

R4RE is composed of several parts, including a component on climate risks (Bat-ADAPT), that will be extended to include more hazards and indicators, and a component on biodiversity (BIODI-Bat), which is another environmental objective of the EU Taxonomy.

Next month, an article on the EU Taxonomy requirements for the adaptation objective will be published.


Other identified tools and platforms

Through its European monitoring, the OID has identified different tools and platforms that exist in Europe to help stakeholders better prepare the climate change adaptation challenges. The EU, for example, proposes Climate-ADAPT (a partnership between the European Commission and the European Environment Agency), which is a platform featuring adaptation knowledge in order to gather data on climate-related risks and losses.

At the national level, some countries propose similar platforms. Ireland, for example, runs a platform featuring information and tools specific to climate change, called Climate Ireland. The Portuguese climate portal is a web platform that can be used as a resource to explore, evaluate, obtain an overview, and learn more about climate change vulnerabilities and risks in the country. The Natural Hazards Partnership is a collaborative partnership between scientific agencies and government bodies that provide information, research and analysis with the aim of drawing on scientific advice to tackle natural hazards in the United Kingdom. Air quality maps and noise emission tools are provided by the German Environment Agency (UBA). The website also provides maps of water stress conditions and drought risk. In France, the resource centre on adaptation to climate change is the result of one of the main actions of the Second National Plan for Adaptation to Climate Change. It gives access to information on climate change challenges and solutions. The main goal is to help all stakeholders with five user paths (public representatives, local authority technicians, private individuals, economic actors, and engineering offices).


Most countries that come into the scope of OID’s work implement national strategies, plans or guidelines on adaptation. The main issue covered by these documents is flooding, and the OID will look more closely at this topic at a later date. This leaves the question of other physical risks (heatwaves, droughts, storms, landslides, etc.) whose consequences will be increasingly severe because of climate change, and which are less frequently addressed in national regulations. Additionally, some countries (like Belgium, France and Austria) have developed local or regional adaptation plans and strategies, either because of their administrative organisation, or to provide a more accurate response to local and territorial adaptation challenges, but this is not the case everywhere. Different tools and platforms are available to real estate stakeholders to inform them and help them integrate adaptation issues into their work. 

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