Addressing social vulnerability to climate change in policy and practice

16:15 Tuesday 28 May




Aleksandra Kazmierczak (Denmark) 1

1 - European Environment Agency

Climate change impacts do not affect all European citizens in the same way. Extreme events, such as heatwaves or flooding caused by heavy precipitation, result in greater impacts on the vulnerable groups in the society. The vulnerable groups include those of lower socio-economic status (linked to income level, educational attainment and employment situation); those in poor health; children and the elderly and many others, for example migrants, tenants or those with little social support available. These people may find it hard to prepare for, respond to, or recover after extreme weather events due to their personal, social and economic situation. Further, some of the vulnerable groups may be more exposed to extreme weather due to their residence in flood plains or in the urban areas, where the intensity of heatwaves is exacerbated by the urban heat island effect.

The unequal weather- and climate-related impacts on the European society, stemming from varied vulnerability and exposure, have only recently started to be recognised in the adaptation and environmental policy and practice. This presentation discusses the coverage of social justice issues in adaptation to climate change across different governance levels.

The presentation starts from an overview of the Europe-wide geographical patterns of social vulnerability and exposure, based on the recent EEA report ‘Unequal impacts and unequal exposure: social vulnerability to air pollution, noise and extreme temperatures’ (publication in January 2019). It then presents the European and international policies, which influence adaptation planning at national and local levels, discussing to what extent they highlight the need to protect the vulnerable groups and provide steer for action. The presentation then proceeds to provide insights into the coverage of social vulnerability to climate change in the national adaptation strategies.

Finally, the presentation provides some examples of local actions from various European countries, whereby social vulnerability to climate change impacts has been considered. These examples include mapping of vulnerable areas and individuals to enable better response; development of heatwave action plans; improvements to living environment prioritising social issues and adaptation; and community-led actions aimed at reduced social vulnerability.