Climate change adaptation

survey in Swedish municipalities
Most municipalities in Sweden have just started with climate change adaptation, but it is a requirement by law.

All municipalities should analyze the affects of climate change

As long ago as 2007, the Commission on Climate and Vulnerability stressed that climate change adaptation needs to start in Sweden. However, almost 10 years later, several surveys showed that, with a few ambitious exceptions, most municipalities have just started their climate change adaptation work. Based on these results, If and several other leading insurance companies in Sweden proposed that all municipalities should analyse how they can be affected by climate change. This proposal became a legal requirement on 1 August 2018.

In 2007, the Commission on Climate and Vulnerability, which was appointed by the Swedish Government to assess how Swedish society can be affected by climate change, presented its final report, "Sweden facing climate change – threats and opportunities" (SOU 2007:60). The commission concluded that the future climate in Sweden will be warmer and wetter, and as a result the risk of, for example, floods, landslides, erosion, heat waves, and forest fires will increase.

A changing climate would, however, also provide some opportunities. For example, Sweden's energy balance would benefit due to a reduced need for heating, which by far would outweigh the increased need for cooling, and increased hydropower potential. Based on these results, the commission proposed that climate change adaptation work should start at once in order to reduce risk.

The county administrative boards should coordinate the work

The principal features of the climate scenarios, albeit uncertainties, were considered sufficiently robust to be used for planning and implementation of adaptation measures. The Commission highlighted that municipalities, which are responsible for physical planning, building development, water, sewage, and rescue services, are central components of effective climate change adaptation. To assist municipalities, the Commission suggested that the county administrative boards should be given a key role in coordinating the work in relation to municipalities, businesses, and regional sector authorities.

Comparison and ranking

Almost 7 years later, in autumn 2014, If and several other leading insurance companies, via Insurance Sweden, initiated a first study in order to map Swedish municipalities' work on climate change adaptation in 2015. The aim was to investigate how far municipalities have come in their work and also to highlight best practices. The survey results formed the basis for a comparison and ranking of the municipalities' work. This first survey was followed by follow-up studies in 2016 and 2017. The surveys were conducted by the IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute, a leading institute on applied environmental science.

In 2017, the survey "Klimatanpassning 2017 – så långt har kommunerna kommit" was conducted during the period January to March. The survey was sent to all 290 municipalities in Sweden, and of these, 202 responded. A total of 31 questions, plus follow-up questions, were included in the questionnaire. The questions were based on the Adaptation Support Tool, developed by the European Commission, which provides guidance on how climate change adaptation work can be systematically implemented through a six-step process.

The survey results showed that almost all municipalities (201 out of 202) believe they will be affected by climate change, and especially by increased precipitation, changed water flows, and increased temperatures. Most municipalities (9 out of 10) state that they are currently working on climate change adaptation. However, almost a third (3 out of 10) of the respondents have not analysed how they can be affected by climate change and extreme weather events.

Among those who have analysed how they can be affected, 6 out of 10 have also identified their most vulnerable sectors and geographical locations. Somewhat more than half (6 out of 10) of the municipalities have implemented adaptation measures, which are primarily measures aiming to reduce the risk of flooding. Only very few (2 out of 10) municipalities have conducted a follow-up and evaluation of their adaptation work.

New cloud-burst model

The survey results also formed the basis for a comparison and ranking of the municipalities' work on climate change adaptation. Based on their survey responses, the municipalities were awarded points (maximum points 33). The ranking show that 139 out of 202 (i.e. 7 out of 10) municipalities have a total score that is less than half of the maximum points. Approximately 4 out of 10 score less than 10 points.

This indicates that while a few municipalities have come far in their work, including Uppsala, Stockholm, and Lomma, the majority have just started their work on climate change adaptation. In general, large municipalities, which have more resources, have come further in their work. Inland municipalities have, in general, not come as far as municipalities along the coast.

Uppsala has long tradition of working­ on climate change adaptation, inter alia because the river (Fyrisån) that runs through the city has flooded on several occasions over the years. To make sure the city can handle an increased risk of flooding, the city is making sure to include dams and "space for water" when planning and developing new urban areas. Uppsala and the Public Health Agency of Sweden have also conducted a pilot project investigating how to protect vulnerable groups during heat waves. Lomma is a low-lying coastal municipality in the south of Sweden.

The municipality has analysed how different sectors in the municipality, including housing, infrastructure, and agriculture, can be affected by rising sea-levels and torrent rain, as well as landslides and erosion. In Stockholm, the rebuilding of Slussen, which was suggested by the Commission on Climate and Vulnerability in 2007, will double the capacity to channel water from Lake Mälaren to the sea, which will reduce the flood risk for all the municipalities around the lake.

Stockholm has also developed a cloud-burst model that can, for example, simulate a 100-year rainfall, and produce scenarios that can be used in the planning process. The model can identify vulnerable areas, which then need to be analysed in greater detail in order to assess potential damage and identify proper adaptation measures.

Uppsala has worked with climate change adaptation for a long time.


Based on the results of the survey, Insurance Sweden and the IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute provided some recommendations regarding climate change adaptation work in Sweden:

  • All municipalities need to work on climate change adaptation. Although some municipalities are more vulnerable than others, all municipalities will, to some extent, be affected by climate change (e.g. all municipalities will be affected by torrent rain and heat waves). Thus, all municipalities should analyse how they can be affected by climate change.
  • Climate change adaptation work in municipalities needs to be long-term and systematic, in line with the Adaptation Support Tool principles, in order to be efficient.
  • Smaller municipalities (less than 10,000 inhabitants) have, in general, not come very far in their work and, in many cases, need assistance. The climate change adaptation coordinators in the respective county board administration should provide support to smaller municipalities, if needed.

In November 2015, the Swedish Government appointed a government inquiry to assess and present recommendations on how to enhance climate change adaption work in Sweden. The results of the above-mentioned surveys were part of the instruction to the inquiry, and when the inquiry presented its final report in May 2017, it recommended that all municipalities should analyse how they can be affected by climate change.

As of 1st August 2018, municipalities are required by law, namely by means of the Planning and Building Act, to present an analysis of climate-related risks and preventative measures.

The next time a survey on climate change adaptation work is conducted, we hope to have a more uplifting result, showing that municipalities are taking this very important work seriously and are implementing the necessary measures to reduce risk and adapt society to a changing climate.

Article by
Philip Thörn photo

Philip Thörn

Sustainability Manager, If