Field of Action Spatial, Regional and Urban Development Planning

Bird's eye view of geometrical arranged, colourful fields and settlementsClick to enlarge
Climate change also affects spatial and land use planning.
Source: Lukas Pollmüller/

Impacts of Climate Change

Climate and spatial planning

Climate changes which increase the risk of natural hazards, affect human health, threaten water and energy supply, and cause or aggravate land use conflicts are deemed to be particularly relevant for spatial planning. This can concern both, sudden weather extremes and long-term temperature and precipitation changes.


Changes in precipitation can affect the spatial planning in different ways. Droughts lead to a shortage of water resources, increase the risk of forest fires and threaten the environmental protection function of forests. If the water resources usable as utility waters are impaired, this will concern almost all spatial functions such as settlements, infrastructure or the energy industry.

Flood protection is another important task of regional and urban development planning. The use of space can have a significant impact on the amount of damages caused by floods. In all cases, spatial planning must address the climate impacts through a provision of land and coordination of the statements given in the context of sectoral planning.


Also the changing temperature conditions determine the spatial planning. Higher temperatures and increasing heat waves enhance the effect of urban heat islands, for example. Thus it is crucial that regional and urban development planning ensures that sufficient cold and fresh air generation areas are provided and that fresh air corridors are maintained.

Spatial planning also faces new challenges at a larger scale. As far as issues of environmental protection are concerned, the shifting of area borders and vegetation zones as well as changes in habitats due to climate change play an important role. The spread of animal and plant species is changing and thus influences ecosystems as well as the agricultural and forestal use of space. Against this background, habitat connections and corridors between protected areas are important to enable animals to adapt to changing climate conditions. The spatial planning can preserve land for those purposes and minimise space use conflicts by balancing interests.

Rising Sea Levels

Rising sea levels accelerate the coastal retreat. Cliffs will break off more frequently and material on flat coasts will be carried away. Consequently, the maintenance costs for flood protection dunes will rise. Furthermore, near-coastal settlements and infrastructure may be damaged.

If you are interested in obtaining information about possible adaptation measures in the field of action spatial, regional and urban development planning, please click here.


Adaptation to Climate Change

Climate adaptation in spatial planning

In order to adapt the use of space to the changing climate, the data and knowledge base for planning needs to be improved. The aim is to specifically identify the vulnerability of individual areas and use this knowledge to develop concepts and requirements that can be used to adapt spatial structures to the changes.

In addition, measures and targeted communication can be used to increase awareness and the willingness to act among relevant stakeholders and concerned citizens. Experiences can be exchanged within a stakeholder network that can be coordinated through spatial planning within participatory processes, for example. Furthermore, cooperation can be strengthened and regional adaptation measures can be expanded.

Individual adaptation measures should be designed flexibly in order to make it easier to deal with uncertainty and cope with the complex challenges. Integrated planning approaches and increased coordination of sectoral planning, landscape planning or flood protection for example, can provide important contributions in that respects. The systematic consideration of adaptation aspects (“climate proofing”) ensures that plans and programmes support adaptation to climate change in other fields of action such as the construction industry, transport or biological diversity .

The following sections present the possibilities of spatial planning to promote climate change adaptation. Based on spatial planning, links to nature conservation, landscape management and flood protection are identified.

Regional planning, urban development planning and settlement development

Regional planning provides higher and inter-regional plans that are to be observed by the municipal urban development planning. There are instruments and measures in the context of overall spatial planning that are used to respond to diverse climate impacts. Coordinating regional and land use planning is especially useful when it comes to avoiding climatic stresses in settlements.

A means of adapting to rising temperatures and more frequent heat waves, which are in fact even intensified by the heat island effect in urban areas, is the preservation and creation of green and open spaces. These ensure an adequate air circulation in settlements. Both regional and land-use plans can implement the designation of such open spaces.

In addition, plantation and shading of traffic areas and land as well as roof and wall greening can contribute to a more pleasant, cooler urban climate. Such measures can be dealt with in development plans.

In order to adapt cities to more frequent and intense heavy rain events, the urban development planning can aim for a lower degree of surface sealing in urban areas. Rainwater does not drain away on sealed surfaces. When making new plans, the number of sealed surfaces can be limited through planning and building regulations. Furthermore, it is advisable to designate specific surfaces for flood retention and percolation of rain. In connection with the implementation of a decentralised rainwater management, specifications regulating measures on percolation, the collection and use of water can be implemented. Subsequent de-sealing concepts and deconstruction measures can be used to deal with the existing stock. To this end, even special instruments of urban development planning, such as restoration measures, can be applied.

Nature conservation and landscape management

Nature conservation and landscape management are elements of landscape planning, which makes an important contribution to climate adaptation at the regional and urban level. Technical considerations are appreciated and thus integrated into the overall spatial planning. They are included in urban development plans or regional plans (priority or reserved areas) through weighting.

In view of impacts of climate change, landscape planning is especially called upon to protect those natural functions that affect the climate. This includes, inter alia, the protection of plants, soils and the water balance. Such climatic functions can be secured, for example, by designating open spaces as priority or reserved areas in regional plans. Furthermore, open spaces located in proximity to settlements have social and economic functions in addition to the climate and environmental functions.

Biological diversity can be strengthened by expanding the biotope network. The aim is to create and maintain a network of protected areas and habitats for animals and plants, which also allows for the migration of individual species. In addition to determining priority and reserved areas, ecological corridors can be kept clear.

In order to secure valuable water resources, regional planning can designate buffer and reserve areas. These spaces can also play an important role in view of flood control. Furthermore it is possible to take precautionary measures to reserve areas by identifying appropriate priority or reserved areas. In addition, participation processes help to identify and avoid land use conflicts.

Flood protection

Spatial planning is of great relevance in the context of flood protection. Generally, it is important to define and designate runoff and retention areas for floods. For this purpose, regional planning measures can define priority areas. After balancing the affected interests, these areas generally relate to flood plains that were determined on the basis of water law. At the same time, appropriate special areas for can be determined to reserve space.

Measures for water retention can be implemented technically, for example with the help of water retention basins. However, natural retention measures such as the creation of reservoirs by dike relocations or restoration of water bodies are even more effective. In addition to such preventive flood protection measures, technical facilities such as dikes, flood barriers and dams can help to reduce damage in built-up areas and economically used areas.

If you are interested in obtaining information about concrete impacts of climate change in the field of action spatial, regional and urban development planning, please click here.