Climate-Resilient Spatial Planning in the Alps

Publication date: 
Thursday, 30 June, 2022

Spatial planning is generally identified as a key sector in climate change adaptation that supports a climate resilient development. Therefore, spatial planning receives a specific focus in the recent EUSALP activities. Foremost, the development of a common spatial development perspective is an objective within the INTERREG Alpine Space project AlpGov2. EUSALP Action Group 8 (Risk Governance) decided therefore to actively contribute to this common spatial development perspective with an overall analysis of the status quo of climate resilient spatial planning. Climate change impacts are of course closely connected to natural hazards in the Alpine area and spatial planning represents an essential component of (climate) hazard prevention.

The study covers the whole EUSALP perimeter and can of course not portray national planning systems and diverse planning practice concerning a resilient spatial development, that integrates climate change adaptation measures, in detail. It seeks therefore to evaluate the overall status quo of connecting climate change adaptation (as well as disaster risk management) with spatial planning. The study starts with a secondary analysis of the expected and observed climate signals in the Alpine region and identifies the relevance and role of spatial planning to adapt to climate change impacts. Against this background, the study continues with a status quo analysis of climate resilient spatial planning in international and national research projects as well as national policy documents – primarily the National Adaptation Strategies and National Actions Plans. To understand implementation activities and day-to-day practice a number of interviews with planners on national, regional and local levels as well as experts responsible for coordinating adaptation measures were conducted. Additionally, to highlight the local and regional perspective a workshop in October 2021 focussing on the Walgau valley in the province of Vorarlberg, Austria was organised. There, local politicians and regional stakeholders that have responsibilities in implementing climate change adaptation measures to foster a resilient development presented and discussed with the participants adaptation initiatives and priorities.

Especially the interviews provided an overall evaluation of existing challenges as well as entry points for mainstreaming climate change adaptation in spatial planning policy and practice. Overall, climate resilience is not an established concept and guiding principle yet all over the Alpine space and transnational perspectives are weak, while in general sectoral approaches prevail. Here, planning also hardly addresses emerging land use conflicts that come with necessary adaptation activities. Anyhow, planning legislation is continuously enhanced, new information basis and technical standards have been developed and specific competences are established with administration. Specific funding streams are not well established and there is a need for extensive cooperation of governmental authorities. Here, different adaptation priorities on different levels with a widely weak national planning level lead to a situation, where adaptation goals are well established on national level while implementation is primarily driven forward by the local level – especially cities – causing a certain implementation gap. Planning instruments (e.g. regional programmes, land use plans) are increasingly used to safeguard climate services but monitoring of their effectiveness is still marginal.

Finally, the study led to three overall recommendations for all relevant stakeholders in mainstreaming climate change adaptation into spatial planning to foster a climate resilient development:

  • Develop adaptation pathways that integrate spatial planning and rely on extensive coordination;
  • Identify dependencies of nature-based solutions to better inform planning decisions;
  • Establish an iterative learning process to foster a resilient development.



Sustainable and effective protection against natural hazards is an essential predisposition for settlement and socio-economic development in the Alps. This requires new instruments and processes of risk governance, in order to find the optimal approach to limit the overexploitation of natural resources.

In the following video, Action Group 8 "Risk governance" looks at the need for adaptation to climate change at the Alpine level. This clip illustrates the need for local mobilisation but also the need for cooperation networks to find global solutions. The Alpine macro-strategy through its bottum-up approach favours the emergence of these initiatives and of networks of actors with similar needs and expectations.

Climate change 2022: adaptations in the Alpine regions