Adaptation to Climate Change: a European strategy still not up to scratch

Firefighters © CanStockphoto by Enjoylife

(16 June 2021) In February 2021, the European Commission launched a new strategy on adaptation to climate change as part of the European Green Deal. The objective is to make the European Union a climate-resilient society, fully adapted to climate change by 2050.

The strategy aims at strengthening the adaptive capacity of the European Union, reducing the impacts of climate change. This will be done through a smarter, more systemic, faster and more international adaptation. This means improving the knowledge of climate impacts and solutions, accelerating adaptation planning and action and helping to reinforce climate resilience in the world.

Nevertheless, the Commission’s strategy did not emphasise the role of the social partners and gender dimension which is essential to really leave no one behind.

The new strategy only introduced the just resilience’s concept which includes weak references to workers’ rights and universal access to essential services and avoids concrete proposals. Indeed, the foreseen outcomes of the strategy do not sufficiently address the impacts that climate change will have on the world of work and, notably, on public services and public service workers like those in emergency services.

Responding to that strategy, the Portuguese Presidency of the Council of the European Union prepared a set of draft Council conclusions that were formally approved by the Ministers of the Environment the 10th of June in the Environmental Council meeting. In these conclusions, the Council gives political guidance to the Commission concerning the implementation of the strategy. The Member States fully agreed to support the new Commission’s strategy, encouraging the Commission to increase local and regional resilience; to strengthen international diplomacy in view of the COP 26 in Glasgow; and to emphasise the role of nature-based solutions.

However, the Council, in its conclusions, did not propose any further recommendation or modification on the social and gender perspective of the Commission’s proposal, even though EPSU raised its concerns and demands about the strategy to the EU Ministers of Environment.

EPSU’s key demands:

EPSU has welcomed the Commission’s proposal to revise the previous EU Adaptation strategy, however, the strategy’s outcomes are too narrow in scope. For that purpose, EPSU reiterates its crucial demands, including:


  • Enforcing the social dimension of the strategy, through the full integration of social dialogues and collective bargaining instruments in the policy making process. Trade Union involvement must be more concrete in the design and implementation of the National adaptation plans and strategies and it must happen at EU, national and local level, on a cross-sectoral and sectoral basis.
  • Strengthening health and safety measures of public service workers, such as firefighters, health professional and civil protection staff, which are on the front line whenever emergencies rise and in extreme weather conditions and increased temperatures they will see their stress and workload increase.
  • Guaranteeing sufficient investments in public services and infrastructures as well as functioning and inclusive social protection systems. The EU strategy makes no clear recommendations for Member States to invest in local and regional public services, infrastructure or social protection systems.
  • Including the Right to Energy and the Right to Water. The references to these rights in the Commission strategy are weak. They fail to include concrete provisions to implement them. More frequent extreme whether events (both in winter and summer time) will make universal and affordable access to water and energy more challenging for low-income households. They must be protected.
  • Taking a gender responsive approach, increasing female representation in the development and implementation process of the strategy. Climate change will have different effects on men and women and if a gender perspective is not included in adaptation policies, inequalities will increase.

For further reading on adaptation to climate change and firefighters and emergency services, please read here.