European cities increasingly looking to nature-based solutions: report

What’s happening? A European Environment Agency (EEA) analysis of 19,000 local climate adaptation plans has revealed that 91% of European cities are implementing nature-based solutions (NBS) to build their resilience to climate change. Efforts include maintaining parks and urban woodland, installing green rooftops and improving water management. The report highlights that such actions will have additional benefits, such as more recreational space and pollution reduction. However, given the expected magnitude of future climate impacts, the EEA says that NBS will likely need to be combined with other methods, including physical infrastructure. Targets also need to be set to measure progress. (Euronews) 

Why does this matter? Europe is warming faster than any other continent, with temperatures rising at around twice the global average since the 1980s, according to the latest European State of the Climate report by the EU’s climate agency, Copernicus and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). In 2023, the region experienced temperatures 1C above the yearly average and 2.6C higher than pre-industrial levels, making it one of the joint warmest years alongside 2020. Additionally, there were a record number of days with extreme heat stress – where the “feels like” temperature is above 46C, which poses serious health risks.  

Countering the heat island effect – In cities, temperatures can often be 10-15C higher than in rural surroundings due to the urban heat island effect. NBS can help mitigate this issue. The EEA report highlights some of the efforts that cities are making to improve their natural infrastructure. For example, Madrid is creating a 75 km Metropolitan Forest ring around the city, while in Germany, around two-thirds of cities have mandated the inclusion of green rooftops into their local development planning. Meanwhile, Budapest is working to integrate the Danube River deeper into its city structure.  

London’s hot future – By contrast, London appears less prepared for a “hotter reality” according to research by the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED). The city is experiencing a rise in consecutive days above 30C and days above 35C are becoming more common. The IIED has called on the city to urgently implement existing adaptation strategies, including more tree cover and green space, alongside design features to keep buildings cool and adjusting working hours to avoid the hottest parts of the day.  

Legislation required – The EEA recognises that the implementation of NBS will be further driven by stronger regulations at national and European levels. For instance, Norway’s central government planning guidelines for adaptation require cities to consider NBS in their planning processes, while in the UK, the biodiversity net gain (BNG) rule mandates developers in England to deliver 10% BNG when constructing new buildings. The EU Nature Restoration Law, which is facing collapse after several member states withdrew their support, would create a regulatory framework for NBS to be introduced and maintained across European cities. 

Holistic approach needed – The EEA points out that combining NBS with physical infrastructure, such as levees, sea walls and shading would boost the effectiveness of adaptation plans. More broadly, water recycling, separating grey water from rainwater and designing climate-resilient buildings would also deliver multiple co-benefits, while technological approaches could enable risk mapping and the creation of early warning systems. Greater adoption of all methods will be imperative given that the EEA has determined that Europe is ill-prepared for multiple climate risks.  

Work to be done – The EEA warns that all sectors and all levels of governance must make adaptation plans to address current and future climate risks. With just 2% of indicators currently used for monitoring local adaptation plans being tied to a specific target, there is a need for more tangible targets to be set to measure progress and efficiently upscale actions being taken.  


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