Laws intended to protect the environment in European cities must be more flexible in order to protect residents from the climate emergency, experts have warned.
More “adaptive” legislation and governance are needed if urban areas are to cope with changing temperatures and ecosystems, the study says.
Researchers say current environmental legislation plays a role in protecting cities, but also prevents them from building resilience
The study, by Tony Arnold from the University of Louisville and Tiago de Melo Cartaxo from the University of Exeter – and both from the Exeter Center for Environmental Law – is published in the book Urban Climate Resilience.
Dr de Melo Cartaxo said: “European cities could arguably be global leaders in climate adaptation, given the multiple layers of laws and institutional frameworks involving urban environments and environmental rights. As promising as urban and environmental laws in Europe may be, they do not yet fully have the adaptive institutional features nor the justice and capacity-building features that are needed to merge climate adaptation with justice for and among people. marginalized and oppressed communities.
The study indicates that it is essential that cities are governed in a resilient way, which reflects the fact that environment, politics, economy and social conditions are linked.
Instead, many laws prioritize the protection of natural resources and the environment and focus on a single objective such as the protection of water quality, rather than the functions and sustainability of water. larger systems, such as ecosystem-society dynamics or neighborhood composition, which will be affected by disturbances such as climate change or gentrification.
Professor Arnold said: “While European cities will benefit in their climate adaptation strategies from EU-level directives, top-down regulations and coordination between city networks, they will also need legal structures and governance that create or maintain the power to act at the local, sub-local, private, public-private and community-commons level This will enable innovation and adaptation to local contexts and reduce the risk of failure They have a high tolerance for uncertainty, whereas many legal systems require certainty, which is incompatible with environmental or climatic realities.
The study also warns that too much flexibility and discretion on the part of decision makers and policy implementers can lead to abuse of power and violation of rights. An adaptive legal framework must coexist with conventional legal frameworks, as part of an overall system.
Dr. de Melo Cartaxo said, “Adaptive law is not the solution; it is an additional and important solution that improves the functioning of institutions in complexity, uncertainty, instability and inequalities.
“The adaptive multi-tool features of climate adaptation governance in European cities should be harnessed to address the many vulnerabilities faced by marginalized communities that affect their capacities to adapt to climate change. These include: housing supply, affordability and quality; food insecurity; energy insecurity and environmental injustices.
“Climate adaptation laws, plans and policies should include specific resilience and justice goals and targets, as well as mandatory reporting and tracking mechanisms for the many variables and conditions that affect adaptive capacities. marginalized communities. »