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 support for 2014-2020

With nearly 8 billion EUR 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 initiativeAdding the national co-financing brings the total investment to close to 10 billion EUR. 

The majority of Member States and multiple Interreg programmes 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.

Where does the money go?

Through Cohesion Policy, Member States are investing above all in managing the following disaster risks:
  • floods;
  • erosion and coastal protection;
  • forest fires; 
  • earthquakes;
  • landslides;
  • drought;
  • 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). 
The pie chart below provides an overview of the overall planned allocations. 

The progress in delivering investment in risk prevention by country is can also be tracked annually

Key elements presented in the interactive bar chart below are :
- "EU amount planned": EU budget contribution allocated to both the climate and non climate prevention and management priorities;
- "EU Eligible Costs Decided (selected notional)": estimated EU contribution allocated to specific operations (based on total cost reported);
- "EU spend share (Elig Expenditure Declared notional)":estimated amount of EU contribution spent by projects and reported to the programmes.

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.;
  • Training.
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: 
  • Western Attica (Greece) has serious flood problems. The Cohesion Fund financed an 80 million EUR flood protection project along the Eschatia river. 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.
  • Another project provided increased flood protection to 1 million people along the Sarno River in Campania (Italy), by combining monitoring, civil protection interventions and environmental protection measures.
Preventing forest fires or wildfires is another main priority. Again, there are many examples:
  • In Spain the ERDF invested 2 million EUR to improve the defence centre against forest fires in Vélez-Blanco, Andalusia. The centre now covers 11 municipalities and 150,000 residents in a region at high risk of fire. A new heliport means better collaboration with other rescue services in the area. The project also links closely to parallel efforts in forest management, and training and awareness-raising.
  • Countries work together more, for better results: eight Member States across Europe can now detect and handle forest fires more quickly, assess damage and regeneration needs, and make the best use of information systems together, through the ‘European Forest Fire Monitoring using Information Systems’ (EFFMIS) project.
There is still a need for more equipment and better contingency plans. The Czech Republic has purchased 80 emergency response vehicles. 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’). 
Raising awareness is also important. In the border area between Bulgaria and Serbia, students were trained as ‘green ambassadors’ to disseminate knowledge on a local and regional level.
Ecosystem-based solutions, such as floodplains or wetlands, are supported as a priority. These help to protect the environment, and are generally cheaper in the long term. In order to adapt to climate change, the EU encourages the development of green infrastructure, to protect biodiversity and preserve ecosystem services. For example, the project ‘Green Infrastructure for Tomorrow’ (GIF-T!) explains to people living in coastal areas how to adapt to extreme weather and rising sea levels in England, Belgium and the Netherlands.
In the field of research and innovation activities for new approaches to risk prevention and management, cohesion policy supports a number of projects in regions who have selected risk-related areas in their smart specialisation strategies which steer their research and innovation investments. For instance, regions in southern Europe, such as Andalusia, prioritise the fight against droughts and desertification. Other regions see opportunities for innovation related to fire safety.
Finally, cohesion policy supports investments to improve institutional capacities. One example is the project VOLRISKMAC whose main objective is to strengthen 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. Within the framework of this project, the recommendations for the reduction of volcanic risk established by the scientific community and international policy will be applied through the IAVCEI and UNESCO, respectively. Surveillance and management of the volcanic emergency are the most useful actions to contribute to the reduction of volcanic risk in densely populated areas such as Macaronesia.

How Cohesion Policy is improving people’s lives: A picture paints a thousand words


How to track the results

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. 
...  protected from flood risks
...protected from fire risks

What about the future?


In the proposals for the next programming period (2021-2027), ‘promoting climate change adaptation, risk prevention and disaster resilience’ is included as a specific objective within Policy Objective (PO) 2, which focuses on a greener and low-carbon Europe. This objective is included within the 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, it is expected that 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. 

Further reading

Contact

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)