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In 2011, after the worst flooding in fifty years, seven major industrial parks and thousands of factories in Thailand were closed, disrupting EU supply chains. Photo © Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

Cascading climate risks: strategic recommendations for European resilience

The European Union is not prepared to manage cascading climate risks. This report presents 21 strategic recommendations for building resilience in Europe and beyond.


Published on 23 November 2023

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Direct climate change impacts such as increasing heatwaves, floods and wildfires pose a serious risk to European societies. Impacts beyond Europe’s borders, in countries with less capacity to prepare, respond and adapt, will be even greater. ‘Cascading climate risks’ connect European and wider vulnerability, as climate hazards in remote locations create knock-on impacts that spread across borders and through systems, affecting European societies and economies.

Cascading climate risks are, as yet, little understood and seldom assessed or managed. Changing this is an urgent necessity. With climate hazards set to accelerate over the next 10 to 15 years, and adaptation action falling far short of what is required, escalating cascading climate change impacts are inevitable; the EU’s only choice is whether to be reactive or proactive. A concerted and proactive response to cascading climate risks offers an opportunity for European policymakers to increase their systemic literacy and build risk and resilience thinking, leading to actions that benefit rather than undermine widespread and longer-term resilience.

This report recommends how European stakeholders, particularly the EU, should respond across policy domains, scales and systems, enabling institutions and policymakers to hardwire consideration of cascading climate risks into policies and processes. It moves from the level of individual understanding, through institutional change, to systemic transformations.

Recommendations draw on work from across the EU Horizon 2020 CASCADES project and have been tested and refined in consultation with European Union institutions, national government representatives and wider stakeholders from outside Europe. They are presented in six clusters, each addressing a specific aspect of European resilience:

  1. European institutions
  2. Climate diplomacy
  3. Trade
  4. Finance
  5. Global governance
  6. European societies

Cascading climate risks are likely to transform international relations and human experience as the planet warms. Decision-makers now have the opportunity to influence this transformation. By examining the threads of cascading climate risk, which run throughout complex global systems, the EU and other global actors can better understand the fabric of our current system. This understanding will help them to weave a more resilient social and economic fabric for the future.