Adaptation to Climate Change in European Water Law and Policy

13 Pages Posted: 28 Nov 2012

See all articles by Andrea Keessen

Andrea Keessen

Utrecht University

Helena F. M. W. van Rijswick

Utrecht University - School of Law

Date Written: November 19, 2012


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.

Keywords: EU, water law and policy, adaptation to climate change, resilience, adaptiveness, effectiveness

Suggested Citation

Keessen, Andrea and Rijswick, Helena F. M. W. van, Adaptation to Climate Change in European Water Law and Policy (November 19, 2012). Utrecht Law Review, Vol. 8, No. 3, pp. 38-50, November 2012. Available at SSRN:

Andrea Keessen (Contact Author)

Utrecht University ( email )

Achter Sint Pieter 200
Utrecht, Utrecht 3512 HT
0302538095 (Phone)


Helena F. M. W. van Rijswick

Utrecht University - School of Law ( email )

3508 TC Utrecht

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