Adaptation to Climate Change in European Water Law and Policy



Climate change exacerbates the challenges that water management nowadays has to deal with. This highlights the need for a legal framework that promotes adaptation by addressing the ecological value of water and the risks of flooding and drought. This paper analyzes to what extent the European legal framework meets this need. This is evaluated by analyzing to what extent the Water Framework Directive, the Floods Directive and the Water Scarcity and Drought Strategy build resilience. Resilience is an important concept in the adaptation to climate change discourse. It refers to the capacity of a social-ecological system to absorb disturbance and reorganize while undergoing change so as to still retain essentially the same function, structure, identity and feedbacks. This paper uses five criteria to measure this: (1) the flexibility of rules and (2) the adaptiveness of such rules (3) openness, public participation and access to the courts (4) multilevel governance at the bioregional scale and (5) effectiveness. The European legal framework partly meets these criteria. It offers a river basin approach and both the setting of goals and objectives and their achievement is a multilevel, cyclical process, which includes public participation. However, the achievement of the goals is not easily enforceable and coordination within international river basins is legally weak. This detracts from the expected effectiveness of the EU legal framework in promoting adaptation by protecting the aquatic ecosystem and reducing flood and drought risks.


EUwater law and policyadaptation to climate changeresilienceadaptivenesseffectiveness
  • Page/Article: 38-50
  • DOI: 10.18352/ulr.204
  • Published on 19 Nov 2012
  • Peer Reviewed