About the City of Bilbao


Bilbao is a municipality and city in Spain, the capital of the province of Biscay in the autonomous community
of the Basque Country (Lat: 43°15'24.08"N; Long:  2°55'26.62"O). 



354,145 (UA). The population density is about 3732 inhabitants km-2 over an area of 360 km2 (EUSTAT, 2011). However, it mostly gathers in an area of 16 km2 reaching 21,200 persons/km2      



Social composition

The municipality of Bilbao is organized by eight districts: Deusto, Uribarri, Otxarkoaga-Txurdinaga, Begoaga Ibaiondo, Abando y Basurto-Zorroza.The population of Bilbao has quadrupled in the last century.

In the last 25 years only Ibaiondo district population increases, while Deusto, Begoña and Uribarri decrease.Bilbao has a generational renovation index low because there are substantially more elder people (more than 65 years old: 22%) than young people (less than 15 years old: 12%). Deusto, Abando, Uribarri and Begoña are districts with a high percentage of older people, while Txurdinaga-Otxarkoaga and Ibaiondo are the districts, that is inhabited by mainly young people. A total of 8.5% of the total population is foreign, mainly from America (Latino America), Asia, Africa (mainly Morocco), and Europe (mainly Romania). The foreign population, which is generally younger than the non-foreign population (85% is 21-40 years old), lives mainly in Ibaiondo, Rekalde, Deusto and Abando. 16.8% of active population in Bilbao is unemployed, while more women (19%) than men (15%) are without regular employment. Tourism is one of the rising economic activities. In the last 20 years the visits of foreign people quadrupled and from national people even triplicated.

The citizen participation in local elections is around 60% (from 1983 to now) with some fluctuations (in 1991 was 55% and in 2003 was 68%). In Bilbao there are 11,579 buildings and 157,059 housing, representing a density of 2.5 inhabitant per housing. In relation to social aids, 9% of the population receives either social aid or emergency social aid. These forms of support are more frequent in Ibaiondo and Rekalde districts.

Geographical features

The city runs along an estuary with a length of 16 km, aligned in a southeast-northwest direction. Two mountain ranges run in parallel to the waterway: the highest (700 m) in the west and the other (300 m) in the east. The nearby presence of the sea and the complex topography condition climatic variables in the urban area.

Climatic conditions

The watershed is located in the Cantabrian side of the peninsula, with short rivers and fast flowing. That is because of the proximity to the sea of the mountains they birth. It is also flowing from the frequent rains.
Local atmospheric dynamics are influenced in an important way by complex terrain and sea-land interactions (Millán, 1984). Surface air flow is channeled through the different valleys; both the topography and the proximity to the sea are factors that develop sea/land and mountain/valley breezes which occur with relatively high frequency especially in stable atmosphere situations causing thermal inversion during the night time. Anabatic and katabatic winds are conditioned by mountain slopes and their orientation. Mountain breezes along the valleys can overlap with land breezes directed to the sea. 
Ample endowment with natural resources and an appropriate geographical location favored a significant industrialization of Bilbao since 1800’s. Existing studies on air quality over the Bilbao city have been focused on atmospheric diffusion using observations by Millán et al. (1983); Millán et al. (1987), Areitio et al. (2001) and Goikoetxea (1990) or from numerical modeling (Gangoiti et al., 2006), studying the sub-continental transport mechanisms and pathways during ozone episodes.

Hazards & Vulnerabilities

Local climate hazards


River and pluvial flooding. In the last 600 years Bilbao has experienced 39 flood disasters (Ibisate et al., 2000). The traditional floods fell largely from the works of defence and channelling of the river, concluded late last century (Basas, 1983). While the first half of the twentieth century saw no notable events except Nerbioi floods of December 1908 and May 1913, flooding began to affect the city and its surroundings again in October 1953, June 1975, June 1977 and August 1983. The process of urbanization and industrialization of the Greater Bilbao and Nerbioi valley as a whole and the absence of dredging and maintenance work in the estuary are caused this return of floods

The main problems in the Nerbioi watershed are associated with flood events such as the one that occurred in March of 1991 or in October 1992 and the control of erosion. Inadequate management of forests for timber extraction, cattle raising, and abusive recreational practices coupled with a rapid increase of urban sprawl, are all creating significant problems regarding the sustainable management of the hydrological ecosystem services in the river basin.
Cold waves and heat waves can occur but they are not very frequent.

Local vulnerabilities and main expected climate change impact

According to the first available results, the regional analysis of the climatic models suggests a 10% rise in the extreme precipitations in the Basque Country, which in turn will lead to an increase in the losses due to flooding. In the Nerbioi river basin, the municipal area of Amurrio will have a 15% increase in the damages due to flooding as a result of the expected change in the river’s peak flow (+22%) by 2050, leading to an expansion in the floodable area (+3%) as well as an impact on the degree of virulence. Moreover, the study of potential flooding in the metropolitan area of Bilbao as a result of climate change, expects an increase of costs by 56.4% compared to scenarios that do not consider the Climate Change (IHOBE, 2007).

An increase in air temperature for the summer and winter season has been estimated in Bilbao. In summer, an increase of 0.7ºC in 2020-2050 and 1.6 ºC in 2070-2100 with respect to the present is expected. In winter, estimations show a greater change than in summer, increasing 1.1 ºC in 2020-2050 and 2.5 ºC in 2070-2100 with respect to the present (I. Gonzalez-Aparicio, 2013].
Studies about Urban Thermal Comfort, which include the pedestrian perception, have been conducted in several public spaces in Bilbao during the summer.  Results indicate that Bilbao´s population is scarcely affected by heat stress due to the warm temperature that characterizes Bilbao.

Coping Mechanisms/ Adaptation measures

What is done on a political level?

The Basque Plan to Combat Climate Change 2008-2012 (in Spanish, PVLCC 08-12). The Basque Office of Climate Change is responsible for defining the lines of action of the PVLCC 08-12, coordinating all the economic sectors that have some responsibility in the matter (particularly industry, energy, transport, the housing sector and agriculture).  It aims at reducing GHG emissions and minimizing the effects derived from climate change.
That is the case of the Kegokitzen project in the Etortek Programme, where technology centres and university departments led by Tecnalia R&I are conducting joint research to design adaptation strategies for different fields in the Basque Country, such as water management and infrastructure design. In this same line, one outstanding agent is BC3, an excellent climate change research centre where a multidisciplinary team of researchers not only prepares climate modelling systems but also assesses the best options for reducing emissions and adapting to the anticipated impacts.
Other activities, such as these conducted by Auzolan21, encourage local governments to introduce municipal climate change regulations.
Meanwhile, thanks to promotion from the Basque government, the Stop CO2 Euskadi Platform has been launched to seek the commitment of public and private organisations in fighting climate change. The Ekopass association also plays an important role in compensating the GHG emissions generated by individuals and public and private agents.
Bilbao has its "Local Plan of Action Against Climate Change". The core strategies identified in this plan are:

  • energy efficiency and renewable energy development
  • sustainable mobility
  • sustainable consumption and waste generation
  • urban planning
  • adaptation to climate change

What are the major adaptation needs?

In this context, it is necessary to define and evaluate different adaptation options which are already in practice or feasible according to the current scientific knowledge. In addition, adaptation measures have to be evaluated in terms of their ability to lower the vulnerability of water resources to climate change.
A meso-scale adaptation strategy is proposed to define the land use model in order to reduce the peak discharge and the flood-prone area. It is observed how vegetation affects runoff generation: the forest decreases the river peak discharge and the complete transformation of land from forest to pasture has a negative effect on the minimum flow (it is not interesting in case of the prediction “decrease on average rainfall”). So, the basins need solutions to different situations. For mountainous small catchments, as Nerbioi, the adaptation measures consist on promoting a mosaic landscape with patches of plant communities spatially distributed.
Besides, an urban scale adaptation strategy is proposed to define specific actions. It is defined measures that respond to decreased exposure (territorial and urban planning aimed at reducing exposure, promoting the "space for the river“,  propose compatible use, building defenses with use restrictions); decreased sensitivity (improved building materials, promote rehabilitation policy); and increase responsiveness of the receptor (early warning systems, emergency management). Consider adequate urban planning to optimize future thermal comfort inside the city.

Europe The work leading to these results has received funding from the European Community's Seventh Framework Programme under Grant Agreement No. 308497
Project RAMSES - Reconciling Adaptation, Mitigation and Sustainable Development for Cities.