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1.3. What do adaptation and climate resilience mean?

Different communities of policymakers, practitioners and scholars use somewhat different terms in relation to describing and reducing the impacts of climate change on the current and future energy system. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) (UN, 1992) as well as EU climate change policy distinguishes two fundamental policy options to limit the risks of climate change for societies: mitigation and adaptation. Box 1.1 provides definitions of these and other relevant terms used in this report from the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) (IPCC, 2014a).

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Box 1.1 Key terms as defined in the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report

Mitigation (of climate change): any human intervention to reduce the sources or enhance the sinks of greenhouse gases

Adaptation (to climate change): the process of adjustment to actual or expected climate and its effects. In human systems, adaptation seeks to moderate or avoid harm or exploit beneficial opportunities

Hazard: climate-related physical events or trends or their physical impact

Vulnerability: the propensity or predisposition to be adversely affected [by a hazard]. Vulnerability encompasses a variety of concepts and elements including sensitivity or susceptibility to harm and lack of capacity to cope and adapt

Risk: the potential, when the outcome is uncertain, for adverse consequences on lives, livelihoods, health, ecosystems and species, economic, social and cultural assets, services (including environmental services) and infrastructure

Resilience: the capacity of social, economic, and environmental systems to cope with a hazardous event or trend or disturbance, responding or reorganizing in ways that maintain their essential function, identity, and structure, while also maintaining the capacity for adaptation, learning, and transformation

Source: (IPCC, 2014a)

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A commonly used term in energy policies and practice is ‘resilience’. The International Energy Agency (IEA) defines resilience of the energy sector as ‘the capacity of the energy system or its components to cope with a hazardous event or trend, responding in ways that maintain their essential function, identity and structure while also maintaining the capacity for adaptation, learning and transformation’ resilience’ (IEA, 2015). Resilience integrates robustness, resourcefulness and recovery. Building resilience addresses a wide range of hazards, including extreme weather events, but also geophysical hazards (e.g. earthquakes and tsunamis) and human hazards (e.g. cybersecurity). The term climate resilience is generally used when the focus is on climate-related hazards, including long-term trends. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), ‘climate-resilient infrastructure is designed, built and operated in a way that anticipates, prepares for, and adapts to changing climate conditions […] it can also withstand, respond to, and recover rapidly from disruptions caused by these climate conditions’ (OECD, 2018).

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Even though the original concepts and definitions of the terms ‘adaptation’ and ‘resilience’ differ, they are now often used in connection with each other (e.g. EC, 2018r). In this report, the expressions ‘adaptation to (climate change)’ and building or strengthening ‘climate resilience’ are used broadly, and largely interchangeably, for all efforts to address challenges to the energy system related to short-term climate hazards and long-term climate change. Further information on different types of adaptation and on the roles of various actors is provided in Section 4.1.

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The EU has adopted an EU Adaptation Strategy, and EU energy policy also includes goals that are relevant for adaptation to climate change, in line with the overall vision of the Energy Union Strategy (see Section 4.2 for further details on relevant EU policies). The goals of adaptation and resilience-building are to ensure a secure and affordable energy supply to all Europeans now and in the future while supporting the clean energy transition and other societal objectives (EC, 2018c). More specifically, adaptation aims to ensure minimal disruption to energy production, transformation, transportation and consumption in the long-term, while also protecting the value of public and private investments in the sector and the interests of society and the economy overall (Boston, 2013). Adaptation of energy systems may also involve minimizing risks to public safety that could originate from energy infrastructure during extreme climate conditions, such as sparking wildfires. Failing to adapt energy systems to climate change could result in severe consequences such as blackouts, which impact significantly on modern economies that are reliant on stable access to energy.

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The energy system has strong links with other systems and sectors due to its use of water and land (see Section 2.1.5 for further information on the energy-water-food nexus). Therefore, a sustainable energy supply should minimize conflicts, and exploit synergies, with other relevant policy areas, such as water and flood management, biodiversity protection and agricultural policy. Adaptation actions with substantial negative impacts on other policy goals or societal objectives are often referred to as maladaptation, which should be avoided.

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