Adaptation policy

Coordination of adaptation measures, and responsibility for steering them is scattered over various levels of administration. The United Nations and the European Union are establishing international steering of adaptation. The national level, too, has become aware of the need to prepare for the impacts of climate change. The climate strategies already drafted by a number of Finnish cities and city regions pay attention not only to mitigation but adaptation as well.

Scattered responsibility for steering of adaptation measures

Mitigation of climate change and adapting to it will remain as major societal challenges for a long time, both globally, nationally and locally. The required adaptation measures cannot be implemented without political steering (figure 1) and integration of climate policy as an objective throughout administration [1].

Adaptation policy is steered through international and national agreements. However, practical responsibility for adaptation largely remains on the regional and local level, where the impacts of climate change on the environment are concretely visible.

The primary role of the EU is to promote solidarity between Member States and regions, and co-ordination of international and cross-border adaptation challenges. On the national level, the central government is tasked with establishing national adaptation objectives and improving local level prerequisites for adaptation. This may involve both knowledge-related and financial support or promoting the co-operation and best practices of actors, while the role of municipalities entails bringing up adaptation needs as discussion topics, and involving actors in implementing them.

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Figure 1. Adaptation policy aims at reducing the impacts of global warming. [2]

Municipalities bear major responsibility for planning and implementing adaptation measures

On the national level, examination of adaptation is still underway. As regards ministries, the adaptation issue has been considered particularly within the remits of the Ministry of the Environment, and Ministry of Transport and Communications [2]. The five-year Climate Change Adaptation Research Programme (ISTO) produced research data on the issue [3]. Once completed, national level guidelines will integrate adaptation to climate change little by little into the ordinary planning, implementation and monitoring activities of different sectors [4].

Municipalities play a key role in adaptation already through their current statutory duties. For instance rescue services and land use planning are key arenas where adaptation needs should be handled. As decision-makers, municipal and city councils, municipal executive boards and various committees play a key role in initiating adaptation measures. Municipal managers' personal interest in adaptation and mitigation issues has been found crucial in a number of development projects (see e.g. [5]). For now, as higher level steering is not in place, the role of municipalities in assessing adaptation needs, and implementing adaptation measures, is emphasised.

Towards integrated adaptation policy within the European Union

In recent years, adaptation policy has made rapid progress within the European Union. In the 2009 White Paper 'Adapting to climate change', preparation of EU-wide adaptation strategy is defined as the short-term objective. The aims by 2012 include expanding the knowledge base on the need to adapt, including adaptation measures in key EU policies, and reviewing the range of adaptation methods [6]. At present, the EU is preparing a common adaptation strategy for the Union, as outlined in the White Paper 'Adapting to climate change' [6]. At present, implementation of the strategy is scheduled to begin in 2013.

The EU's interest as concerns adaptation policy is targeted at adaptation challenges across the borders of Member States, such as shared water areas and sectors crucial to the common market, such as agriculture. At present, national adaptation strategies prepared by Member States handle the evidence on the national level of impacts occurring in other countries very little or not at all. Consequences of climate change in one region are always reflected on other parts of the world through international trade, migration and various conflicts [7].

Therefore, the EU should increasingly adapt the role of coordinating climate-related measures and facilitating the exchange of best practices between Member States. Coordination by the EU is also required in sectors closely connected with the EU via the common market and shared policies. These include agriculture, water management, biodiversity, fishing and energy networks.

Today, the EU is supporting climate strategy efforts on the national and regional level, and striving to promote solidarity between Member Countries, while supporting the promotion of adaptation measures in developing countries. Adaptation requires solidarity between EU Member States to facilitate ensuring that regions in an unfavourable position, and regions suffering most from climate change, are able to implement measures required by adaptation.

Article 4 of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change stipulates that the adoption of national or regional adaptation strategies should be ensured in every way [8]. However, the EU does not oblige members to prepare national strategies at least before 2013. Hence the EU does not offer a certain template for preparing the adaptation strategy, or on the whole does not steer addressing of the adaptation issue on the national level. In terms of the success of adaptation policy, however, definition of the division of duties on the EU, national and local level, and ensuring of financing at the earliest possible stage would be essential [7].

Flood control is a prime example of adaptation activity that permeates the various levels of administration. As the EU Floods Directive [9] enters into force, areas at risk of flooding are compelled to take the flood issue into account in land-use planning. On the national level, the Directive requires Member Countries to chart the risks of flooding in coastal areas and to reduce the vulnerability of these areas by 2011. The Directive emphasises reviewing of entire river basins instead of individual locations, and attention to the gradual changes due to climate change, and principles of sustainable development in long-term planning of land use [5]

National steering of adaptation taking shape

Finland has gained a reputation as the forerunner in adaptation to climate change by being the first EU country to publish a National Strategy for Adaptation to Climate Change in 2005 [10]. The Strategy

  • describes the impacts of climate change
  • presents assessments on Finland's ability to adapt to climate change and
  • defines possible outlines for measures to enhance adaptation sector-specifically.

The reviewed sectors include agriculture and food production, forestry, fishing, reindeer farming and game husbandry, water resources, biodiversity, industry, energy, transport, land use, construction, health, tourism and recreational use of nature, as well as insurance activity.

The strategy is basically national and sectoral. It was primarily intended to serve as an internal tool for ministries [5]. Environmental and transport administration have progressed farthest in handling adaptation issues. Identification of adaptation needs has been slower in other sectors. The environmental administration published its action plan for implementing the National Strategy for Adaptation to Climate Change in June 2008 [11]. The programme highlights three adaptation themes key for the sector:

  1. flood risk management
  2. preparation for extreme weather phenomena and
  3. securing water management.

A key practical initiative was the revision of national objectives for the use of land and water areas in the spring 2009 [12]

Finland launched adaptation policy at quite an early stage in comparison with other European countries. However, the practical implementation of the policy, particularly on the local level, has been slow in comparison with countries where adaptation has begun on the municipal and regional level. Challenges to national adaptation policy include increasing the number of regional and local measures, and expanding adaptation to all policy sectors [7]. Successful steering of adaptation on the national level includes motivation both on the regional and local level, suitable support measures, and decisions with legal effect [5]

Regional and local steering still at their early stages

The regional and local levels are of major significance in implementing the national adaptation strategy. As such, climate work is familiar for many municipalities. More than 40 municipalities are participating in the climate campaign of the Association of Finnish Local and Regional Authorities. Some of them have been involved in the preparation of a regional, sub-regional or municipal climate strategy.

Until now, climate strategies have focussed on mitigation, but now, adaptation has attracted increasing attention. For instance, climate strategies of the Tampere, Kuopio and Oulu regions chart adaptation needs, methods and measures. Moreover, the climate strategy of the Helsinki Metropolitan Area will be completed with an adaptation section in 2011 [13]. However, special adaptation strategies are still waiting for their turn, even though regional plans in particular would be in demand.

Strategic adaptation work at the regional level offers at best a broader regional perspective, and longer time span for planning than the municipal level. Adaptation solutions can thus be examined comprehensively, for instance specifically for each water course. In addition, the recent reform of state regional administration aims at strengthening the position of regions in launching adaptation measures [5]. However, the problem with regional climate strategies is their varying importance in municipal strategic planning processes [14]. On the other hand, municipalities can also influence the issues handled in regional planning.


  1. Mickwitz, P., Kivimaa, P., Hildén, M., Estlander, A. & Melanen, M. 2008. Ilmastopolitiikan valtavirtaistaminen ja politiikkakoherenssi. Selvitys Vanhasen II hallituksen tulevaisuusselontekoa varten. Valtioneuvoston kanslia, Helsinki. Valtioneuvoston kanslian julkaisusarja 6/2008. 74 s.
  2. Prime Minister’s Office. 2009. Government Foresight Report on Long-term Climate and Energy Policy: Towards a Low-carbon Finland. Prime Minister's Office, Helsinki. Prime Minister’s Office Publications 30/2009. 188 p.
  3. Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry. 2011. Climate Change Adaptation Research Programme (ISTO) [Page not found.]
  4. Työ- ja elinkeinoministeriö. 2008. Pitkän aikavälin ilmasto- ja energiastrategia – Valtioneuvoston selonteko eduskunnalle 6. päivänä marraskuuta 2008. Työ- ja elinkeinoministeriö, Helsinki. Työ- ja elinkeinoministeriön julkaisuja, Energia ja ilmasto 36/2008. 159 s.
  5. Haanpää, S., Tuusa, R. & Peltonen, L. 2009. Ilmastonmuutoksen alueelliset sopeutumisstrategiat: READNET-hankkeen loppuraportti. (Regional adaptation networks READNET. Summary in English.) Teknillinen korkeakoulu, YTK, Espoo. Yhdyskuntasuunnittelun tutkimus- ja koulutuskeskuksen julkaisuja C75. 39 s.
  6. Commission of the European Communities. 2009. White Paper - Adapting to climate change: Towards a European framework for action. COM(2009) 147. 16 p.
  7. Swart, R., Biesbroek, R., Binnerup, S., Carter, T. R., Cowan, C., Henrichs, T., Loquen, S., Mela, H., Morecroft, M., Reese, M. & Rey, D. 2009. Europe Adapts to Climate Change: Comparing National Adaptation Strategies. PEER Report No 1. Helsinki: Partnership for European Environmental Research.
  8. United Nations. 1992. United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. 33 p.
  9. Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on the assessment and management of flood risks (2007/60/EC). Official Journal of the European Union, L 288/27-34. 6.11.2007. 8 p.
  10. Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry. 2005. Finland’s National Strategy for Adaptation to Climate Change. Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, Helsinki. Publications 1a/2005. 280 p.
  11. Ministry of the Environment. 2008. Adaptation to Climate Change in the Administrative Sector of the Ministry of the Environment. An Action Plan to Implement the National Strategy for Adaptation to Climate Change. Ministry of the Environment, Helsinki. Reports of the Ministry of the Environment 20en/2008. 75 p.
  12. Hallituksen esitys Eduskunnalle laiksi tulvariskien hallinnasta ja eräiksi siihen liittyviksi laeiksi. HE 30/2010.
  13. Helsinki Region Environmental Services Authority HSY. Adaptation
  14. Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry. 2009. Evaluation of the implementation of Finland’s National Strategy for Adaptation to Climate Change 2009. Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, Helsinki. Publications of Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry 4a/2009. 44 p.