How can you encourage climate adaptation in urban renewal?

Climate adaptation in cities: although many municipalities have the ambition and intention to take measures to make cities climate-proof, often implementation is still lacking. What can hinder or stimulate the process of implementing climate adaptation measures? A team of scientists from Utrecht University found possible answers.

Climate adaptation measures are increasingly included in urban renewal, for instance when sewers need to be replaced, but it is usually not the main reason to break open a street, says Mandy van den Ende, PhD candidate at Utrecht University and lead author of the new study. In the paper she examined three municipalities that recently implemented small-scale climate measures.

No one is responsible

Previous research has pointed to the barriers that often prevent the inclusion of climate adaptation measures in urban renewal, such as a lack of formal responsibility for climate adaptation. But despite this barrier, measures are being implemented here and there. Instead of looking at these kinds of ‘static barriers’, the researchers wanted instead to explain the extent of implementation of climate adaptation measures using more generalised processes, or ‘mechanisms’.

If there is no policy, climate adaptation is usually not prioritised in implementation projects.

One example of a barrier mechanism is that a lack of established climate adaptation policies at the municipal level often causes less action. Climate adaptation crosses several domains and municipal departments do not always feel responsible. And if there is no policy, climate adaptation is usually not prioritised in implementation projects, Van den Ende explains. That can cause it to be put on the back burner for other priorities such as infrastructure and housing, for which there is policy.

Plans are also held back because of reluctance of municipal departments to maintain measures. For example, if you lower public greenery for water storage, that shoulder also has to be kept clean, and you are likely to see parking in the grass. Then resistance can arise from sanitation and parking departments.

Making a case for climate adaptation

So what can you do to ensure that ambitions do come true? What are the mechanisms that set things in motion? According to the study, an ‘adaptation ambassador’, a person in charge who makes a case for climate adaptation, can offer a solution. Such a person could also ensure better cooperation between municipal departments, instead of ‘every person for themselves’.

The researchers conclude that it would help if climate adaptation were eventually adopted into policy. What we now often see is that climate adaptation is ‘accidentally’ included in urban renewal. That is already a step in the right direction, but if it becomes a priority in policy, even more can be done because then you are not dependent on external events. On the other hand, a lack of policy ensures that there is more room to experiment and innovate, which can be taken advantage of now.


Mandy A. van den Ende, Heleen L.P. Mees, Dries L.T. Hegger & Peter P.J. Driessen (2022) Mechanisms influencing mainstreaming of adaptation in spatial development: case studies in three Dutch municipalities, Journal of Environmental Planning and Management, DOI: 10.1080/09640568.2022.2092724