Shaping a climate resilient city
28th September 2022
Daniela Schmidt is Professor in the School of Earth Sciences at the University of Bristol and the Cabot Institute. She is coordinating lead author for the impacts, adaptation and vulnerability chapter on Europe for the 6th assessment IPCC report which was published earlier this year. In this blog she shares the climate risks facing Bristol and what we can learn as a city about adaptation.
Cities as hotspots of climate change impacts
The events of the last weeks and months have shown to all of us the impacts heat and drought will have on our cities, our landscapes and the wider environment. 74% of the total European population live in cities, which have become hotspots for impacts of climate change. During heatwaves, those of us living in cities are additionally experiencing the impacts of heat islands, where the way our houses are built and how the cities are landscaped generates additional heat.
About one third of European cities show a medium to high vulnerability against heatwaves, droughts and floods which are the key risks of climate change in Europe. The Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) report published in February stated clearly that climate change is already impacting people and nature in and around cities. For example, the hot and dry year 2018 led to water cooling constraints on power plants in the UK, despite our perception that the UK is rather more wet than dry. Infrastructure was impacted, as heatwaves led to road melting, railway asset failures, etc. The recent heatwave caused trees to move into early autumn, farms to struggle for water, and a hosepipe ban and drought for vast regions of the UK.
Adapting to a changing climate
Adaptation and mitigation need to be integrated with environmental, social and economic sustainability to
develop a just, equitable future. Clearly we need to understand how to adapt to climate change and mitigate at the same time to reduce risks to our health, our ecosystems, our farmers, our infrastructure. Considering trade-offs is fundamental to the success of adaptation and mitigation measures. For example, highly insulated buildings built for cold winters, are at risk of overheating in our increasingly hotter summers but are important parts of urban adaptation plans on their path to reduce emissions. Implementation of adaptation and mitigation measures, and the trade-offs we will have to accept, has to be based on stakeholder engagement as key for successful adaptation.
Nature has an important role to play, through nature-based solutions such as the integration of green spaces, ponds, and green roofs in city planning. During the last few months, both humans and animals took shelter in urban parks and under trees which reduce ambient air temperature.
Learning from global cities
Cities can learn from each other and share best practices, for example through networks such as C40, Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy. In Milan from 2020, new buildings must be carbon neutral, and the city is strengthening neighbourhood-scale disaster response through the Climate and Air Plan and via a dedicated resilience department. The use of an Adaptation Support Tool in the design and planning of the sustainable district Moabit West in Berlin created a common knowledge base and identified suitable measures which were mutually supported by participants.
Like Bristol, the city of Malmö in Sweden adopted the UN Sustainable Development Goals as local goals, considering, for example, gender in the use, access and safety of public spaces, and emphasising development that facilitates climate-resilient lifestyles. Generated eco-districts have been created in Malmö which are redeveloped areas that integrate sustainability strategies. In one of these, nature-based solutions to manage stormwater runoff reduced the total annual runoff by about 20% compared with the conventional system. Nature-based solutions generate habitats for animals and plants, thereby protecting nature. They create places to come together, and they improve health and well-being. However they also raise property prices. Notably, there is only limited low-income housing in climate-resilient districts of Malmö.
Cities are crucial for delivering climate action. Working with local organisations will be fundamental to support collaborative planning on adaptation. We need to ensure that knowledge will be shared, and resources made available to reduce the risk for those most impacted by the consequences of climate change.
Learn how your organisation can overcome climate shocks and build climate resilience into net zero plans at our next Climate Action Programme event on Wednesday 9 November. Find out more and book your place.