18.12.2012   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 391/27


Opinion of the Committee of the Regions on ‘Regional-specific approaches to climate change in the EU based on the example of mountainous regions’

2012/C 391/06

THE COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS

notes that mountain regions are extremely sensitive to climate change and maintains that climate change adaptation in mountain areas should form part of a broader project to boost individual and collective resilience, taking account of all environmental, energy and social threats, as these are inevitably interconnected;

notes that in 2013, the EU is to adopt an adaptation strategy and considers it imperative that this general strategy should have a local and regional dimension, as enshrined in Article 174 TFEU, including a chapter on mountain regions;

underlines the fact that as mountain areas are likely to become more vulnerable over the coming decades, more scientific research and a good system for information exchange are needed. The EU budget for 2014-2020 needs to earmark specific funds for climate change adaptation. Policies need to be devised for improving access to and supply of services of general interest in particularly vulnerable areas;

stresses that many mountain regions have already begun developing adaptation strategies; their objectives need to be coordinated and their results studied as a matter of urgency. It is important to harmonise initiatives which are currently scattered among many associations, research bodies and administrations in mountain regions.

Rapporteur

Luciano CAVERI (IT/ALDE), Regional Councillor, Autonomous Region of Valle d'Aosta

Reference document

Own-initiative opinion

I.   POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS

THE COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS

General comments

1.

notes that in recent years, extensive scientific literature and numerous policy papers and scientific projects in the European Union have pointed out that mountain regions are extremely sensitive to climate change, as a small area encompasses environments which differ in terms of altitude, orientation and influence of atmospheric circulation patterns. The IPCC also includes mountain regions among climate hot spots. Furthermore, Chapter 13 of Agenda 21 (Rio Earth Summit, 1992), focusing on mountain regions, states in point 4 that these regions are the most sensitive to climate change. This remains a topical issue, not least in the context of the June 2012 Rio+20 conference; Most of Europe's forested areas are located in mountain regions and consequently act as carbon sinks due to the considerable amounts of CO2 they capture. They also improve air quality, by offsetting the detrimental effects of pollution, and provide significant water and landscape resources. These are, however, areas that are sensitive to climate change. Mountain areas, together with coastal areas, receive the most tourists, due to their climate, biodiversity, rich landscapes, water resources, cultural aspects, architecture, traditions and customs;

2.

underlines that climate change affects all parts of the European Union and indeed the world, but that the concrete effects on a given territory, and consequently the necessary preparations for and responses to these effects, depend on a wide range of factors. Any measures to respond to climate change must therefore be sensitive to the specific situations of different territories. The local and regional authorities represented in the CoR are therefore crucial partners in developing and implementing the appropriate solutions;

3.

recalls that climate change and its consequences are among the key challenges facing the local and regional authorities in the European Union in the coming years. In this context, the first priority must be to take the necessary steps to try and limit, as far as possible, the rise in global average temperature (mitigation), but also to prepare at the different levels for those changes which are inevitable (adaptation);

4.

stresses that mountain areas are storehouses of biodiversity threatened by rapid climate change; 43 % of all Nature 2000 sites are in mountain areas and 118 of the 1 148 species listed in Annexes II and IV of the Habitat Directive are connected to mountain environments (1);

5.

points out that almost imperceptible climate variations in the plains are amplified in mountain areas and provide early warning of large-scale climate trends, serving as an excellent source of observations for scientific research and a test bench for developing and evaluating adaptation policies;

6.

reiterates that climate change is already happening and is increasing hydrogeological risk (flooding, landslides) and placing more people and infrastructure at risk. It is reducing water availability, particularly in summer (including in adjacent, non-mountain areas). It is changing river patterns (in Alpine regions, the frequency of winter floods and summer droughts is expected to increase). It is causing glaciers to shrink (since 1850 Alpine glaciers have shrunk by about two thirds in volume, with the pace picking up significantly since 1985); causing permafrost to shrink; cutting the duration of snow packs (particularly under 1 500 m); and changing avalanche frequency. It is threatening biodiversity and plant and animal migration. It is causing changes in the winter and summer tourism economy and hydroelectric energy production. It is triggering uncertainty in farm production, and damaging forestry. The Alpine environment's susceptibility to rapid climate change has made it a permanently disadvantaged area. The rise in temperature recorded over the last 150 years in the Alps (+ 1.5 °C) is double the world average of + 0.7 °C (2). The European Environment Agency looked into the vulnerability of Alpine water resources in 2009 (3);

7.

underlines that mountain traditions and cultures are based on the key concept of awareness of environmental constraints and opportunities. Contact with the strict physical constraints of a region have enabled refined criteria for sustainability and rational use of resources to be produced over time. These core values can be incorporated into a modern perspective with the use of new technologies, giving rise to knowledge and development models that are useful not just in mountain areas themselves but also in outlying areas, and in many cases they can become universal (such as the Rural/Urban partnership model, RURBAN –TCUM/EU DG REGIO);

8.

emphasises that climate change will pose a greater challenge to our ability to adapt than any other hurdle humankind has ever faced, but it is only a partial indicator of a more complex environmental and human crisis, which also concerns:

the availability of renewable natural resources (water, forests, fish stocks, biomass loss);

a fall in the quality and quantity of ecosystem-related goods and services;

biodiversity decline;

the vulnerability of food production (high fossil energy cost of foodstuffs, reduction in agricultural land, imbalances in carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus cycles);

decreased availability of mineral resources;

decreased availability of low-cost fossil fuels (peak oil situation);

air, water and soil pollution, and accumulation of non-biodegradable waste;

population increase and migration flows (also due to climate change);

9.

stresses that these problems will have a different economic and social impact on different geographic areas, and regrets therefore that one of the few projects studying the impact of climate change on the European economy, the PESETA project (2009) carried out by the EU Joint Research Centre, does not take mountain regions into account;

10.

points out that in its White Paper on adapting to climate change (COM(2009) 147 final), the European Commission acknowledges the regional variability of climate impact and the fact that any adaptation strategy will only work if every tier of government cooperates. Adaptation is a long-term process requiring close collaboration between political decision-makers, researchers, technicians, entrepreneurs and local administrators;

11.

welcomes the fact that in the spring of 2012, a public consultation preparing for the European adaptation strategy scheduled for 2013 was opened and the CLIMATE-ADAPT platform was set up; this is a tool for collating good practice and for regional and urban planning, and includes a section on mountain areas;

Goals

12.

maintains that climate change adaptation should form part of a broader project to boost individual and collective resilience, taking account of all environmental, energy and social threats, as these are inevitably interconnected;

13.

notes that in 2013, the EU is to adopt an adaptation strategy and considers it imperative that this general strategy should have a local and regional dimension, as enshrined in Article 174 TFEU. This European adaptation strategy should include a chapter on mountain regions;

14.

The European adaptation strategy should also include a specific chapter on the Outermost Regions, whose special characteristics and constraints are recognised in Article 349 TFEU;

15.

underlines the fact that as mountain areas are likely to become more vulnerable over the coming decades, more scientific research and a good system for information exchange are needed. The EU budget for 2014-2020 needs to earmark specific funds for climate change adaptation;

16.

requests that given the new threats brought by climate change, policies be devised for improving access to and supply of services of general interest in particularly vulnerable areas;

17.

stresses that mitigation and the resources made available for it, should be given a higher priority than adaptation. Unless we achieve the significant global reductions in greenhouse gas emissions identified by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, it will prove impossible to prevent the future global temperature rise, climate change and extreme weather events that will impact upon local communities;

18.

points out that a set of closely interrelated measures is needed to resolve existing problems and deal with future problems in sectors already covered by EU programming. It is clear that many of these decisions should be handled through European local democracy processes under the subsidiarity principle. For instance:

a)

achieving maximum energy efficiency of new buildings and renovating existing buildings;

b)

maintaining and supporting construction models for mountain areas and rural areas, with plans being drawn up for land-use planning and natural resources, allowing for urban development that is incompatible with land speculation. This will prevent the deterioration of today's landscapes, ecosystems, habitats and protected areas and the pollution of water and soil resources and will boost the growth of responsible tourism, thereby helping the population to continue living in mountain areas;

c)

introducing renewable energies compatible with the characteristics of the area (solar thermal and photovoltaic, wind, hydroelectric and biomass power), with a view to achieving energy self-sufficiency wherever possible; integrated regional energy plans need to be drawn up, and pumped-storage hydroelectric reservoirs used to store photovoltaic energy;

d)

promoting local and regional energy audits;

e)

reducing energy and material flows in local communities without diminishing the standard of living (e.g. 2000 W, ETH Zürich);

f)

reducing waste production, maximising recyclability, and encouraging the production of household compost from organic waste;

g)

reactivating local food chains: high-quality agriculture, primarily for local consumption and the tourist trade; specifically supporting conservation agriculture, (meaning no or minimum tillage) and organic farming and livestock-breeding;

h)

in forestry management, regulating the harvesting of wood biomass for energy and construction purposes, mindful of the pressures brought by climate change; ensuring that plants generating heat from biomass are not so large as to exceed annual forestry production capacity; maintaining protection forests; supporting sustainable forestry, for the production of wood and biomass, as an economic resource for these areas;

i)

severely limiting the use of greenfield sites for building and infrastructure;

j)

reducing mobility needs by reinforcing ICT networks, eservices and home-working (leading to repopulation of abandoned mountain areas and boosting tourism);

k)

promoting environmentally-responsible and sustainable tourism; setting up a European tourism observatory and developing agri-tourism;

l)

promoting a green economy and innovation in mountain areas: energy, electronics, monitoring systems, scientific research and university training centres;

m)

training and culture: raising public awareness of the need to act now as regards climate change is crucial both for applying good practice in this area and for the adaptation strategy. Environmental issues therefore need to be included in school curricula and made the focus of public information activities, for instance by opening regional "adaptation offices" which can draw up strategies geared to the local setting and inform the local populace. One example of this is Australia's Victorian Centre for Climate Change Adaptation Research (VCCCAR - www.vcccar.org.au) which adapts broad national policy provided by the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility (NCCARF - www.nccarf.edu.au) to the local environment;

n)

programmes for civil protection and the prevention of climate-related risks, via infrastructure, meteo-hydrological forecasting and alert systems, rapid interactive information exchange, and damage prevention and rescue exercises;

19.

stresses that many mountain regions have already begun developing adaptation strategies; their objectives need to be coordinated and their results studied as a matter of urgency. It is important to harmonise environment initiatives which are currently scattered among many associations, research bodies and administrations in mountain regions;

20.

requests that the results achieved be monitored by benchmarking the effectiveness of measures and performance, with a central database for consulting projects and an energy certification register;

21.

highlights, in conclusion, that the causes and the effects of climate change need to be addressed at all levels, across many diverse geographical communities and on a global scale. In particular it is often the poorest communities on the planet who are the first to be adversely affected by climate change and they need special assistance. European Union and Member State resources should be allocated to mitigation and adaptation according to the priorities identified in agreed strategies and international treaties, and used at the level at which they will have most effect. For this reason, local and regional authorities should be involved in the formation of actions to mitigate and adapt to climate change so that maximum benefit is derived from their expertise and experience and their closeness to citizens.

Brussels, 10 October 2012.

The President of the Committee of the Regions

Ramón Luis VALCÁRCEL SISO


(1)  European Environment Agency (EEA), Europe's ecological backbone: Recognising the true value of our mountains, June 2010 report.

(2)  JRC/WHO, Impacts of Europe's changing climate, April 2008 report: http://www.eea.europa.eu/publications/eea_report_2008_4.

(3)  EEA, Regional climate change and adaptation. The Alps facing the challenge of changing water resources, August 2009 report.