Vulnerable groups and emergence of adaptation in Europe: What are the drivers?

A recent study of 902 European cities finds that the existence of elderly and vulnerable groups have an influence on whether adaptation takes place.

It has been acknowledged that climate change impacts will adversely impact the most vulnerable groups, for example the elderly and socially disadvantaged. In a recent paper, Taedong Lee from Yonsei University (South Korea), Hyuk Yang from Rutgers University (United States) and UEP Group leader Sirkku Juhola examine the role of different factors that contribute to the emergence of adaptation planning. Especially, the study focuses on the role of old people and other vulnerable groups in contributing to adaptation planning.

For example, it is estimated that heat waves in the summer of 2003 killed about 70,000 additional Europeans, many of them elderly. Therefore, understanding how and why adaptation planning takes place is crucial, argues Taedong Lee.

When it comes to urban climate governance, justice considerations are increasingly becoming important, in terms of not only who experiences climate impacts, but also in what ways these groups influence or participate in adaptation planning. The logic of climate justice is in fact quite straightforward: individuals who have limited opportunities or resources are more likely to be affected by climate change and, thus, it is the responsibility of society to ensure that valuable resources are equitably allocated amongst its members. 

At the moment, little is known about how vulnerable social groups contribute to urban climate change policies. Accounting for local climate risks and the presence of national adaptation schemes, this study examines whether the proportion of vulnerable groups influences the implementation of adaptation policies in the 902 European cities. Acquiring data for this many cities is challenging but it enables us to provide an unprecedented overview of current developments, says Hyuk Yang.

The results show a positive and significant association between the proportion of elderly citizens and adaptation policies among these European cities. The result of this study offers local level empirical evidence to the climate justice discussion and suggests that the adaptation policies adopted by these European cities are working to ameliorate environmental injustice faced by the older and weaker social groups.

You can access the full paper here.