Climate science shows we have options, and that we can and must change

The future is not prescribed, and fatalism is not an option

Climate adaptation refers to dealing with the expected impacts of climate change and taking practical actions to manage risks, protect communities and strengthen the resilience of the economy (for example, from sea level rise). Adaptation is an essential response to climate change and it needs to be informed by the best available science.

More than 600 people will converge on Dublin Castle next week, in person and virtually, to explore, discuss and generate “actionable knowledge for a climate resilient Europe”. These will include climate adaptation researchers and practitioners, policymakers, local authorities, the private sector, investors, NGOs, citizens’ organisations, youth and education organisations, community groups engaged in adaptation, musicians and other performing artists.

The goal of this sixth European Climate Change Adaptation (ECCA) Conference is to inform and inspire effective adaptation actions by showcasing solutions, exchanging knowledge, creating connections and encouraging dialogue on how to act.

Dialogue that builds trust and bridges between science, policy and practice in climate resilience has never been more urgent. The recently published Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Synthesis Report urgently called for “accelerated implementation of adaptation actions” in addition to “deep, rapid and sustained mitigation” this decade.


This international expert body of scientists revealed the extent to which human-caused climate change is already affecting every region of the world. Widespread adverse impacts and related losses and damages are increasingly apparent both in nature and for people.

There are significant injustices associated with this, as vulnerable communities that have historically contributed the least to current climate change are disproportionately affected by these adverse impacts.

Vulnerable communities that have historically contributed the least to current climate change are disproportionately affected by these adverse impacts

While our past pollution actions are catching up on us as the global temperature increases by over 1 degree, the future becomes increasingly worrying. For any given future warming level, many climate-related risks are projected to be higher than assessed previously, and projected long-term impacts are up to multiple times higher than currently observed. The risks and projected adverse impacts and related losses and damages from climate change escalate with every increment of global warming.

The future is not prescribed, however. Climate science shows we have options, and that we can and must change. Climate resilient development integrates adaptation and mitigation to advance sustainable development for all, and is enabled by increased international co-operation, including improved access to adequate financial resources, particularly for vulnerable regions, sectors and groups, and inclusive governance and co-ordinated policies.

This is essential in order to deliver many co-benefits, especially for air quality and health, but also to reduce projected losses and damages for humans and ecosystems.

The ECCA conference includes more than 70 parallel activities with a key focus on six specific adaptation themes and key messages for a growing community of practice on actionable knowledge for a climate resilient future.

Stepping up climate action – support through climate platforms and services

Climate information platforms and climate services are key sources of accessible climate information that enable non-specialists to assess climate vulnerability, risks and determine actions. The state of play and future of these will be central to ECCA 2023.

Adaptation responses to sea-level rise and coastal change

Sea-level rise is one of the most challenging and essentially irreversible consequences of climate change. Europe is developing unique shared structures to better understand the multidirectional and complex impacts of rising sea level around its coastline. This ECCA topic is clearly of significant interest for Ireland.

Nature-based solutions for climate change adaptation

The interactions between climate action and biodiversity are strong, bidirectional and often positive (actions in favour of one also benefit the other). So-called “nature-based solutions” can limit climate change while also preserving biodiversity. Such solutions often have an important role to play in adapting to impacts of climate change in particular geographic contexts and in specific aspects of planning and implementation. ECCA will explore best practice in nature-based solutions and how these can be scaled up.

Preparing for more frequent and severe climate extremes

Increasing occurrence of extreme weather and climate events is the most high-profile feature of climate change. The severity of impacts has been experienced across Europe. Being prepared for future extremes, and managing the hazards they pose, requires appropriate knowledge, tools, institutional arrangements and changes in practice. ECCA will have a strong focus on how to develop the systems needed to prepare for and respond to future weather and climate extremes.

Reframing societal transformation by challenging underlying assumptions

Many obstacles block the true societal transformations necessary for a climate-resilient future. These obstacles are often driven by underlying assumptions found in many domains (including civil society, public/private sector, politics and so on). The development of systematic responses to addressing these obstacles is essential, and ECCA will provide a forum for identifying how this can be advanced.

Climate and social resilience of future energy infrastructure and systems

Energy systems need to be resilient to future climate conditions as well as to changing societal and economic demands. The Russian invasion of Ukraine has positioned the societal and economic resilience of the energy system into stark focus, alongside the challenges of the energy transition. This has tested in new ways the complexity of the energy transition and the interlinked societal implications. It has also shown that the transition to clean energy is both essential and also requires a dual focus on energy security and resilience. How to do this will be explored at ECCA.

In the light of the current European geopolitical developments this conference will also include a special focus on Ukraine. In addition, the voice of the youth will play a prominent role with several activities organised by European Climate Youth activists.

There will also be some key contributions on Ireland’s specific vulnerabilities and risks relating to climate change and the efforts needed to improve preparedness and resilience. This reflects the growing body of scientific research on adaptation in Ireland in recent years that has increased the evidence base for policy decisions.

In this regard, examples of recent published research from University College Cork and Maynooth University provide a useful snapshot of the range on scientific analyses being undertaken on climate adaptation.

In UCC, recent adaptation research has focused on investigating barriers to the environmental and socio-economic resilience of coastal communities faced with climate change, deliberative engagement and stakeholder and citizen participation in climate dialogues, enhancing the integration of disaster risk and climate adaptation into emergency planning and research on critical infrastructure vulnerability (including energy systems) to climate change.

This is complemented by research at Maynooth University focusing on the health and wellbeing implications of adaptation to flood risk, the impacts of climate change on river flows, forecasts of winter and summer rainfall levels in Ireland and uncertainties in the assessment of future impacts of climate change and the impact for flood hazard assessment.

The ECCA conference will use a range of activities to enable attendees to explore and exchange knowledge and views on the important questions linked to these six themes, in order to arrive at concrete and actionable adaptation solutions based on the best available scientific knowledge.

Prof Brian Ó Gallachóir is associate vice-president of sustainability at UCC. Petra Manderscheid is executive director of the Central Secretariat of the Joint Programming Initiative Connecting Climate Knowledge for Europe (JPI Climate). Frank McGovern is chief climate Scientist at the EPA and current chair of JPI Climate. They are members of the ECCA 2023 organising committee