Why does the EU invest in risk prevention?
EU cohesion policy protects millions of citizens by investing in forest fire prevention, flood risk management and resilience against other disasters.
The risks that the EU faces are multiple. They include floods and extreme weather events that very often go beyond national borders and are aggravated by climate change. Southern and central Europe experience more heat waves, forest fires and droughts; northern and north-eastern Europe face heavier rain fall and flooding. Moreover, the EU’s nine outermost regions face specific challenges due to their high exposure to climate change (e.g. drought, floods, hurricanes, pandemics).
Natural and man-made disasters raise serious questions in relation to the quality of life of EU citizens, but also pose more specific sectoral challenges in some EU regions, for instance in tourism and agriculture. In 2018 alone, natural disasters killed more than 100 people. The economic costs are also huge: close to €10 billion in damages were recorded in Europe in 2016. Investing in risk prevention is vital to preserving the capacity for further socio-economic development. It is also more effective than bearing the cost of inaction: for every 1 EUR spent on prevention, 4 EUR or more will be saved on response.
Since local and regional authorities are the first to be confronted with the impacts of disasters, EU cohesion policy is key to disaster risk management.
- Cohesion policy: preventing risks
What specific investments are made?
Through Cohesion Policy, Member States are investing above all in managing the following disaster risks:
- erosion and coastal protection;
- forest fires;
- storms, tsunamis, and risks associated to closed mines or industrial sites.
Furthermore, cohesion policy supports adaptation measures by promoting ecosystem-based approaches, developing new infrastructures or retrofitting existing infrastructures. It can also develop new professional fields, encourage innovation, involve small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and accelerate the transition to a low-carbon and climate-resilient economy.
Although this information is part of the various programmes, the quantitative data available to the Commission distinguishes between only the two main risk categories (climate related risk prevention and non-climate risk prevention).
Tracking progress with cohesion policy risk prevention investments 2014-2020
With around EUR 7.5 billion from the EU budget for climate change adaptation and risk prevention and management, cohesion policy is one of the most important sources of funding in this area, and a major contribution to the Commission's rescEU initiative. Adding the national co-financing brings the total investment to close to 10 billion EUR.
The interactive charts below show the EU planned value allocated, the EU amount allocated to selected projects and the EU share of reported expenditure by those projects.
The majority of Member States and multiple Interreg programmes (TC) have selected risk prevention as a priority for the 2014-2020 funding period.
In addition, risk prevention, disaster resilience and climate change adaptation are integrated into other cohesion policy funding priorities, such as innovation, energy efficiency and water management.
Within the broad priorities a range of specific measures are prioritised
The predominant focus of the funds invested is the prevention of the most adverse consequences of disasters. More specifically, for the risks mentioned above, Member States are implementing the following types of prevention measures:
- Actions to improve the knowledge base for disaster risk management: flood plans, ICT tools, early warning systems, modelling, radars, video surveillance, etc.;
- Preparation and implementation of prevention strategies, action plans and guidelines, including at local level;
- Awareness-raising campaigns and training (e.g. on earthquake-proof construction skills);
- Disaster-proofing buildings and networks (e.g. earthquake-resilient schools);
- Flood prevention infrastructure: dykes, flood walls, storm water collectors, water basins, etc.;
- Management of land, forests and rivers to prevent risks managing river flows, water retention, remediation of slope instabilities, removal of combustible biomass in forests, coastline protection, reduction of soil-sealing, etc.;
- Ecosystem-based approaches to risk prevention: floodplains, afforestation, green infrastructure for water retention or run-off, green urban spaces, etc.
Some Member States also invest in preparedness, to ensure a sufficient capability for when disasters strike. In particular:
- Infrastructure for civil protection units: integrated rescue stations, coordination centres, etc.;
- Vehicles and equipment: rescue vehicles, fire engines, ice-breakers, helicopters, planes, temporary emergency accommodation, etc.;
In addition, a limited number of Member States support recovery measures, to address the adverse consequences after disasters. For instance:
- Reforestation after fires;
- Reconstruction of coastlines and ecosystems;
- Development of post-flood zones;
- Protective infrastructure and reconstruction after hurricanes in the outermost regions.
As mentioned above, disaster risk management is not an isolated activity in cohesion policy, but is linked to other fields of support and to national and local activities such as town planning. This mainstreaming of risk prevention (and climate change adaptation) is strengthened by the promotion of the sustainable development principle, which has also increased the use of ecosystem-based approaches and green infrastructure across the board.
Cohesion policy support is complemented by other EU instruments, such as the Union Civil Protection Mechanism, the EU Solidarity Fund, Horizon 2020, and the LIFE programme.
In practical terms, the following project examples demonstrate some of the actions financed.
Investments in flood protection receive major attention. There are many examples, such as:
- The Polish Atlas of Rains Intensities (PANDA) project is the first online, digital and comprehensive rainfall mapping system in Poland. It is designed to help develop urban storm water and drainage systems that better protect Polish towns, cities and their residents against the effects of heavy rainfall. Find out more.
- Western Attica (Greece) has serious flood problems. The Cohesion Fund financed a flood protection project along the Eschatia river with EUR 80 million. This protects 134,000 local residents and their property from floods in the suburbs of Athens. It also created over 700 jobs and promoted urban regeneration in a low-income area. The construction of new flood defence structures stops floods now, and it will also allow for future development of areas upstream. Find out more
- The ADAPT project from the Interreg programme "Italy-France (Maritime)" will provide the Upper Tyrrhenian region with a joint action plan so that the region's cities become more resilient to the risks posed by floods, as well as other climate change-related phenomena. Like other urban areas, the cities in this region straddling both Italy and France are increasingly prone to flooding caused by sudden and intense rainfall. Over the past five years, the impact of the floods has caused more than EUR 1 billion worth of damage in the region. Approximately 1,760,000 people will benefit from the protection measures developed as part of the project. Find out more.
Preventing forest fires or wildfires is another main priority. Here is one example:
- Implemented in Sardinia, the S2IGI project aims to reduce the environmental and economic damage caused by forest fires. For this purpose, a software system to support tactical and strategic interventions for fire prevention and management and post-fire recovery operations is developed. It combines innovative data processing, images provided by new satellite technologies and accurate forecasts from meteorological models. The applications generate maps, which display information on ongoing fires, real-time fire propagation simulations, daily risk levels based on weather and vegetation, and the probability and intensity of fires under various meteorological scenarios. Find out more.(NB the picture does not illustrate the S2IGI project's outcomes.)
Many other actions can improve risk prevention. The following examples show the diversity of actions taken throughout the EU:
- The VOLRISKMAC project strengthens capacities for the monitoring of volcanic activity, with the aim of improving the early warning system for volcanic eruptions and earthquake crisis, as well as the management of volcanic crises in Macaronesia. As a result of the project, monitoring networks for 10 active Macaronesian volcanoes will be strengthened, while 37 permanent volcano monitoring stations are being set up. In addition, five new portable volcano monitoring instruments have been acquired. Find out more.
- Cohesion Policy also supports the purchase of equipment and the design of contingency plans.
The Czech Republic has purchased 80 emergency response vehicles. Find out more.
In the border area between Romania and Bulgaria, there are now better joint emergency preparedness measures, with cross-border risk monitoring of hail, air pollution and floods (see ‘Joint risk monitoring during emergencies in the Danube border area’). Find out more.
How to track achievements
Cohesion policy programmes use various national or regional indicators to capture the benefits of the investments. In the 2014-2020 period, there are two EU 'common indicators' used by many programmes to track the number of people that benefit from the many and diverse measures supported.
The interactive charts below show the indicator target values (for end 2023), the forecast values from selected projects and the implemented values reported by those projects (reported annually).
... population protected from flood risks
... population protected from fire risks
What about the future?
For the programming period 2021-2027, ‘promoting climate change adaptation, risk prevention and disaster resilience’ is included as a specific objective within Policy Objective (PO2), which focuses on a greener and low-carbon Europe. PO2 has thematic concentration requirements that require Member States to invest a certain share in a limited number of objectives, focusing on innovation and a greener, low-carbon economy.
The Commission contribution to the programming process was set out in the publication of country reports in the framework of the EuropeanSemester in March 2019. For the first time, the country reports (Annex D) set out the Commission’s view on investment needs and priorities in a given country. 20 MS received a recommendation to invest in disaster risk management and climate change adaptation. Before they can start investing in disaster risk management, Member States will have to fulfill the enabling condition on having a disaster risk management plan (as required also by the Union Civil Protection Mechanism).
Also under the Interreg programmes, funds will be available for cross-border, transnational and interregional projects on disaster risk management. In the area of civil protection, the European Commission and Macro-Regional Strategy Participating States are taking an integrated approach to disaster management including prevention, preparedness and response. In the area of prevention, the agreed priorities include the development of knowledge based disaster prevention policies (spreading best practices, developing common guidelines on risk assessment and mapping); and linking the actors and policies throughout the disaster management cycle (developing lessons learnt, reinforcing early warning tools). Macro-regional cooperation helps countries to save money for research, for instance identifying areas with increased disaster risk due to climate change.
- ESIF Open Data Platform: cohesiondata.ec.europa.eu/theme/5
- Other project examples: Link
- rescEU and the Union Civil Protection Mechanism: Link
- EU Strategy on the adaptation to climate change (2013): Link
- EU Solidarity Fund (EUSF) and this EUSF data story
For more news on ESI Funds open data follow @RegioEvaluation or check out #CohesionOpenData on twitter.
We are REGIO's sustainable growth team. Contact us at: REGIO-G1-HEAD-OF-UNIT@ec.europa.eu
(European Commission, Directorate-General for Regional and Urban Policy, Smart and Sustainable Growth Unit)
Date of text: updated February 2021 / October 2021