Back to search

Mapping the vulnerability of European cities to climate change

A new study has assessed the vulnerability of 571 European cities to heatwaves, droughts and flooding caused by climate change. The causes of vulnerability differ across Europe and the researchers say the results could be used to design policies to mitigate the impacts.

Over 75% of the EU’s population lives in urban areas (this figure is expected to rise to over 80% by 2050). Cities contain large populations, important infrastructure and are centres of economic activity. Understanding how cities may be vulnerable to the effects of climate change is, therefore, crucial in planning for the future.

In this study, which was supported by the EU Project RAMSES1, researchers carried out an indicator-based vulnerability assessment (IBVA) for 571 European cities. IBVAs try to break down the different factors that lead to vulnerability to climatic hazards. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) definition of vulnerability is “the propensity or pre-disposition to be adversely affected,”2 by climate change and this also encompasses the lack of capacity to cope with and adapt to the effects of climate change.

The researchers grouped the cities into seven different clusters according to their relative degree of vulnerability to each of the three climate stressors. Cities that showed higher vulnerability to heatwaves were predominantly located in the central areas of the EU and in the southern regions of new Member States and the Baltic republics. This was in part linked to elderly populations, higher pollution levels and small dwelling size, which, in combination, increase the urban sensitivity to heatwaves. Surprisingly, many of the cities with lower vulnerabilities to heatwaves were located in some of the warmest areas of Europe, which is likely due to raised awareness of heatwaves in these regions. Cities more vulnerable to droughts, such as Brussels, Ludwigshafen am Rhein and Marseille, were found across Europe, without a clear spatial distribution pattern. Overall, higher vulnerabilities are explained by comparatively less diversified economies, growing populations and less efficient water-management systems (i.e. higher resource consumption at greater water costs).

Flooding vulnerabilities were also found across Europe, although lower vulnerability was found in the British Isles and Scandinavian countries, compared to high vulnerability scores in the Mediterranean countries, Bohemian and Danubian regions. The factors influencing flooding vulnerability included socio-economic conditions (e.g. income levels and employment rates), physical features, such as the extent of soil sealing and the awareness of citizens, and the commitment to adaption of the cities’ governing institutions. For coastal flooding, cities over the Atlantic coasts, western Mediterranean and Baltic showed higher vulnerability than the Italian Peninsula, the UK and the Scandinavian countries, which were shown to have a higher capacity to adapt, as well as higher awareness and commitment to addressing coastal flooding.

The study results demonstrate the challenges different European cities will face due to climate change, with a large number of cities across Europe vulnerable to the effects of either floods, heatwaves or droughts. For each city, the causes of vulnerability to the consequences of climate change are dependent on the specific geographical and socioeconomic conditions. Source : Science for Environment Policy newsletter

"Science for Environment Policy": European Commission DG Environment News Alert Service, edited by SCU, The University of the West of England, Bristol.

Read the whole study: Source: Tapia, C., Abajo, B., Feliu, E., et al. (2017). Profiling urban vulnerabilities to climate change: An indicator-based vulnerability assessment for European cities. Ecological Indicators. 78:142-155. DOI:10.1016/j.ecolind.2017.02.040