ESPACE - European Spatial Planning: Adapting to Climate Events

Background and Goals

The project is aiming to illustrate the necessity of climate change adaptation and to come up with recommendations for incorporating adaptation into spatial planning at local, regional, national and European level. In particular, the project will look at how water resources can be managed in the future under changed climatic conditions and what form the relevant planning could take.

Without appropriate and targeted spatial planning, it will not be possible to get to grips with the risks of climate change. However, current spatial planning policy does not take sufficient account of climate risks. The project tackles this problem by promoting the incorporation of appropriate adaptation strategies into existing spatial planning systems.

The first section of the project will look at fundamental problems that make it difficult to implement adaptation measures at local level. Section II will be based on these findings and develop the ideas and possible solutions identified. Theoretical research work and two practical case studies will investigate why adaptation strategies developed at higher levels are poorly implemented in practice at local level. This enables experience to be gained in where there are deficiencies in terms of coordination and management of climate change adaptation.


The objectives of the 1st section of the project include coming up with:

  •  a new transnational approach to spatial planning and climate change,
  •  policy guidelines including adaptation strategies, and
  • recommendations for implementation of these guidelines in spatial planning strategies.

The project partners have recognised how important spatial planning is when it comes to preparing the population for the effects of climate change. Therefore, a key objective is to change the way people think and act in spatial planning. The project has primarily focused on the effects of climate change in the area of spatial water management. This includes flood protection on coastlines, estuaries and rivers, water resources and water quality.

An important theme of the project relates to the problem of inadequate general awareness of the risks of climate change. Thus, an objective of the project is to sensitize policymakers, specialists and the general public to the issue, to ensure that climate change will be given greater consideration in future spatial planning. As a result, the intention is for the findings from the project to benefit the widest possible network of people and organisations. This should allow an "extended partnership" to emerge, in which interested organisations can get involved in running and implementing the project. The extended partnership provides an opportunity to create a network of people and organisations in the areas of climate change and spatial planning and aims to guarantee that the results of the project will be communicated to the largest possible group of stakeholders.

Content time


Research area/region

  • Belgium
  • Germany
  • Great Britain
  • Netherlands
Region of implementation (all German federal states)
  • Baden-Württemberg
  • Bavaria
  • Berlin
  • Hesse
  • Northrhine-Westphalia
  • Rhineland Palatinate
  • Saarland
Natural spatial classification
  • Alp and North Bavarian hills
  • Low mountain ranges left and right of Rhine
  • West German lowland bay
  • Central low mountain ranges and Harz

Steps in the process of adaptation to climate change

Step 1: Understand and describe climate change

Approach and results 

By 2100, a further increase in temperature of between 1.4 and 5.8°C is expected (according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change - IPCC). Because the optimum method for developing regional climate models has not yet been found, several "downscaling" methods will be applied to different GCMs (Global Circulation models) based on different emission scenarios. A regional climate model can then be selected and its data used as input for modelling, e.g. the water balance. Creating water balance models for current climatic conditions using measured climate data is a fundamental requirement for assessing the effects of climate change on individual components of the water balance. Statistics on extreme events are used to determine flood drainage, based on the results of the modelled water balances. Typical flood events with different probabilities are key information for spatial planners when it comes to flood protection in river areas. Hydraulic models and modelling of potential damage enable estimates to be made of the physical and economic effects of an increase in the potential damage, as well as the ecological and socio-cultural effects. For the German case studies, scenarios from the KLIWA project are being used.

Parameter (climate signals)
  • Heat waves
  • Altered rainfall patterns
  • Higher average temperatures
  • Extreme precipitation (incl. hail, snow)

Step 2a: Identify and assess risks - climate effects and impact

Approach and results 

There is a threat of more frequent flooding as a result of heavier precipitation, more severe storms and a rise in sea levels. Harvest yields will change and the animal kingdom will have to adapt to the new conditions, by migrating to higher areas in the North where possible. The higher temperatures in the summer will see heat claim more victims and the number of diseases transmitted by insects increase. Climate effects for water impact on flood protection (coastlines, estuaries, rivers), as well as water resources and water quality.

Step 3: Develop and compare measures

Measures and/or strategies 

Adaptation to climate change is inevitable if resulting damage is to be limited and the opportunities arising due to climate change are to be taken. State bodies are faced with the task of reducing the risks caused by climate change and planning for the future. In addition, there is a growing awareness that reducing greenhouse gases is not sufficient to prevent drastic effects. Therefore adaptation means that society has to change to minimise the negative effects of climate change and take the resulting opportunities.

The objective is to incorporate adaptation strategies into existing spatial planning systems and policy guidelines for spatial planning. To do this, policymakers, specialists and the general public need to be sensitised to the issue, so that climate change will be given greater consideration in future spatial planning. The "extended partnership" is a communication strategy designed to support this process.

In the 1st stage of the project, 14 recommendations will be defined for the adaptation strategies, and several case studies, instruments and example plans and strategies will be drawn up for each of these. The following recommendations are aimed at all administrative levels, from European bodies to national governments through to regional and local authorities:

1. Make climate change adaptation a fundamental objective of spatial planning.

2. Look beyond the planning period and understand climatic risks.

3. Combine opportunity and risk management approaches to incorporate the issue of adaptation into spatial planning.

These three basic principles can be implemented as follows:

4. Ensure an integrated adaptation policy, both within individual organisations and in cooperation with other partners.

5. Review existing plans, strategies, directives, regulations, laws, codes of behaviour and spatial planning guidelines.

6. Promote relevant research work on the risks of climate change, so that new knowledge can be incorporated into the spatial planning process at an early stage.

7. Assess the risks and opportunities caused by climate change in all spatial policy areas.

8. Identify spatial planning strategies and measures for dealing with the risks established in a risk analysis.

9. Assess the extent to which individual spatial planning can contribute to climate change adaptation as a whole.

10. Implement the adaptation strategies in the individual planning and development decisions and explain the residual risks to stakeholder groups.

11. Develop ambitious long-term solutions for the risks of climate change that threaten current unadapted but already developed areas and other forms of land use.

12. Support and promote "change pace setters".

13. Politicians must recognise that climate change demands long-term policy decision that remain in place beyond their own time in office.

14. Spatial plans and adaptation measures should be regularly reviewed as part of a continuous process.

In the 2nd stage, a "Decision Support Guidance" has been produced, which supports recommendations 2, 3 and 9 above. The "decision making framework" from the United Kingdom Climate Impact Programme (UKCIP) is also used here, with an illustration of how it can be used for "climate influencing" decisions that spatial planners have to take.

Time horizon
  • 2071–2100 (far future)
More time information and explanations 

Long-term (longer than 100 years)


Funding / Financing 

EU, Interreg IIIB North West Europe and ESPACE partnership; funded by the British Department for Communities and Local Government

Project management 

Hampshire County Council (Great Britain)


The Environment Agency (Great Britain), Regionaal Landschap Zenne - Zuun en Zoniën (Belgium), South East Climate Change Partnership (Great Britain), South East England Regional Assembly (Great Britain), Surrey County Council (Great Britain), Waterschap Rivierenland (Netherlands), West Sussex County Council (Great Britain), Ministerie van VROM (Netherlands), Bavarian State Water Management Agency (Germany)


Hampshire Country Council
The Castle, Winchester
8UD Hampshire

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Fields of action:
 agriculture  biological diversity  coastal and marine protection  human health and care  spatial planning, urban and settlement development  transport and transport infrastructure  water regime and water management