Climate change policies need to be integrated into all levels of governance, from water management to energy, and across all sectors, from agriculture to traffic, according to a new report.

As climate change initiatives interact with existing polices, across-the-board support is needed if climate change issues are to be successfully tackled.

The authors assessed how far climate change policy has been integrated into all levels of governance in six European countries: Denmark, Finland, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain and the United Kingdom. The study found that governments show widespread support for climate change policies, which are increasingly integrated into national strategies.

For example, in Denmark in 2005, climate change was mentioned six times in the 2005 government programme, but was included 79 times in the 2007 programme. But dealing with climate change is complex. The researchers suggest that strategies must be integrated through local, national, regional and global levels, if major changes in production and consumption are to be made.

For example, adaptation strategies with a regional or local focus (concerning water management and agriculture, for example) need to be supported with appropriate financial and legal frameworks at national and European levels.

National mitigation strategies need to be implemented by local and regional decision-makers across all sectors, such as traffic and energy. In particular, this includes greater integration with specific policy instruments: land use planning and annual budgeting are examples of instruments through which mitigation and adaptation strategies can be implemented. The impact of extreme weather events, such as the flooding of the rivers Rhine and Meuse in the Netherlands (1993 and 1995) and the Elbe and the Mulde (2002) in Germany have led to the integration of adaptation into strategies for specific policy sectors. And many cities, for example, Copenhagen, Rotterdam and Helsinki, have set ambitious climate commitments. Policy makers face many challenges in integrating climate policy into an increasing number of policy sectors. Contentious issues, including nuclear power, hydropower, taxation and mobility, have become part of the climate change debate.

As well as managing technical and political trade- offs, decision-makers are also advised by researchers to recognise and address public concerns early on to implement climate policies successfully. The report suggests the recent global economic downturn can be viewed as an opportunity to promote climate change measures. Supported by innovation, new markets and enterprises, mitigation and adaptation policies could benefit both industry and the climate. But it cautions that technical changes must be socially acceptable to avoid new conflicts.

Greater understanding of the complexity of climate change will develop from ongoing research. Climate integration policies and programmes should be based on the best available information and evaluated before and after implementation to learn from past experience. Sufficient resources are crucial to finding alternative solutions to climate change and for successfully integrating them into the appropriate policies.

There is the opportunity to combine climate change with other issues, such as energy security. But climate change measures must be applied consistently and, if necessary, with sufficient political weight to ensure climate polices are integrated across all levels of governance.