Table of contents

5. Conclusions

A secure, affordable and sustainable energy supply is crucial for modern societies. At the same time, the current energy system is the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in Europe, which cause climate change. The overarching objective of this report is to identify challenges and opportunities for adaptation and climate resilience in the context of a decarbonising energy system in Europe. The report is directed primarily at European, national and sub-national policy makers in the field of climate change adaptation, mitigation and energy. Further target audiences are relevant international organisations, regulators and standardization organisations, business organisations and individual businesses from the energy sector.

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The impacts of climate change, including extreme weather events, are increasingly affecting the energy system, from primary energy supply through transformation, storage, transmission and distribution to energy demand. Climate change impacts vary significantly across energy system components and European regions. Some impacts can be economically beneficial, such as reduced energy demand for heating. However, many impacts are adverse for the energy sector and/or society as a whole, such as reduced cooling water availability for thermal power plants in many regions, threats to coastal energy infrastructure from sea level rise, and increasing infrastructure risks from extreme weather events. At a regional level, southern Europe faces the strongest adverse impacts.

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Climate change also affects other systems and policy areas with strong links to the energy sector, in particular water, agriculture and biodiversity. Both conventional and renewable energy sources require water and land, but there are large differences between energy technologies. Therefore, shifts from one energy technology to another can increase as well as decrease competition for water and land with other sectors and uses.

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The European energy system needs to address the challenges of climate change mitigation and adaptation jointly in the context of wider sustainability concerns and other societal objectives. The clean energy transformation in Europe presents both opportunities and challenges for climate change adaptation. On the one hand, replacing coal-fired power plants by photovoltaics and wind power radically reduces greenhouse gas emissions and water consumption, thus contributing to mitigation as well as adaptation in water-scarce regions. On the other hand, CCS and biofuels have a larger need for water and/or arable land than many conventional energy technologies. Similarly, hydropower generation can have adverse impacts on local and regional biodiversity. Given the diversity of adaptation challenges across regions and energy system components, careful assessment of the relevant risks and options, as well as coordinated action by a wide range of public and private stakeholders is necessary for ensuring that the clean energy transition is also climate-resilient.

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Key EU climate policies and strategies all promote the mainstreaming of climate change adaptation into energy policies. These include the EU adaptation strategy, the Regulation on the Energy Union and Climate Governance and the long-term strategy ‘A Clean Planet for All’. The EU also supports building climate resilience in the energy system by requiring climate-proofing of major new energy infrastructure, by funding relevant research and innovation projects and by developing climate services for the energy sector.

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Many other stakeholders in the European energy system have also started addressing climate change impacts and adaptation in recent years. Most European countries have addressed the energy sector in national CCIV assessments, national adaptation strategies and/or action plans. Particular attention is given to the impacts of extreme events on energy infrastructure and services. Energy regulators have performed stress tests and increased co-ordination across Europe. Standardization bodies are adapting standards for climate-sensitive infrastructure. Sector associations are developing guidelines for climate vulnerability assessment with support by national governments or international organisations. Electric utilities are performing risk assessments and use the results as the basis for retrofitting more water-efficient cooling technologies, updating management procedures and improving contingency plans. Network providers are adapting design standards for overhead lines and invest substantial amounts for underground cabling. These encouraging developments show the awareness and interest of many stakeholders to develop and implement comprehensive energy policies that address climate change mitigation and adaptation jointly.

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Some energy stakeholders have already experienced the benefits from investing into climate resilience. For example, newly installed flood walls have avoided the flooding of electric substations during recent floods.

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Some important actors in the energy system, both public and private, are only beginning to appreciate the relevance of climate change impacts and adaptation for their activities and to take action. They may see climate change adaptation as a long-term issue that can be postponed until after seemingly more urgent political, economic or regulatory challenges have been take action. They may feel that the uncertainties about future climate change and its impacts are too large to justify significant investments at the present time with uncertain benefits in the future. They may be interested in action, but do not know where to find accessible and reliable information. They may not see the business case for adaptation investments given the asymmetric distribution of benefits and costs. They may prefer to postpone investments in adaptation technologies in the hope for technological advances and falling prices. Following a careful analysis, some energy system stakeholders may indeed come to the conclusion that they do not face urgent adaptation needs at the moment. However, simply abstaining from assessing climate change-related risks (and opportunities) is no longer a valid option, given the climate sensitivity of many energy system components and the importance of energy for modern societies.

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There are various barriers to efficient and effective climate change adaptation in the energy system, but most of them can be addressed by prudent policies at the national, transnational or European level. Governments have a wide range of policies at hand for facilitating climate change adaptation in the energy system. These policies include funding targeted research and development, providing climate services, building communities of practice, public-private partnerships, market regulation and reporting requirements, and others. Some policy mechanisms require cooperation at the transnational or European level due to the increasingly interconnected nature of the European energy system.

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The development of the European Energy Union provides unique opportunities for addressing climate change mitigation and adaptation jointly. The Commission strategy ‘A Clean Planet for All’ (published in November 2018) presents different options and scenarios how Europe can achieve climate neutrality. It also highlights the need for addressing climate change mitigation and adaptation jointly. Furthermore, the Regulation on the Governance of the Energy Union and Climate Action (adopted in December 2018) requires EU Member States to develop integrated national energy and climate plans by 2019, and to report on their implementation progress every two years, as well as long-term strategies by 2020. These integrated planning and reporting processes call for addressing climate change mitigation and adaptation in the energy system jointly, and they facilitate learning from good practices across Europe. Finally, the Commission has recently completed the Evaluation of the EU Adaptation Strategy (in December 2018). This evaluation has started reflections on a potential revision of this strategy.

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This EEA report provides relevant input to all these policy processes. It supports the efforts of the Commission, the Climate Change and Energy Union Committee, of national experts and of non-state actors involved in planning, reporting, reviewing, implementing and revising relevant policies, by providing information on the adaptation challenges associated with different energy technologies, by giving an overview on the state of adaptation related to energy across Europe, and by presenting good practice adaptation examples from a wide range of actors across Europe.

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A key impediment for developing, implementing, monitoring and evaluating adaptation policies in the energy system is a lack of systematic information. Most energy-related infrastructure in Europe is owned by non-state actors. Hence, governments and public authorities typically have only limited information whether and which adaptation actions are planned or implemented by private infrastructure providers in the energy system. There is a business case for many adaptation actions by private actors in the energy system, because they increase revenues or reduce costs and/or reputational risks. However, other adaptation actions require government interventions, because the costs and benefits of a measure are unevenly distributed, or because the success of a measure depends on the co-ordinated action by many actors, possibly across national borders.

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Energy infrastructure is often characterized as ‘critical infrastructure’, for which governments have ultimate responsibility. This is particularly relevant for quasi-monopolistic infrastructure, such as electricity transmission and distribution networks.

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Governments can implement their responsibility for ensuring climate resilience of critical energy infrastructure through a range of measures, from encouraging voluntary reporting to direct regulation. The United Kingdom has introduced systematic reporting requirements regarding climate change risks and adaptation actions for public and private providers of critical infrastructure, which include energy infrastructure. The experiences are positive, and independent reviews showed significant investments in improving climate resilience of the UK energy infrastructure. There are opportunities to transfer lessons learned on climate-related reporting on critical infrastructure to other countries. Disclosure of climate-related risks is also discussed in the context of the EU Sustainable Finance debate. At the same time, policy interventions and market regulations in the energy sector should provide sufficient flexibility for private actors to allow for innovation and experimentation, in order to achieve adaptation goals and other societal benefits effectively and efficiently.

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