Sarah Winne, climate resilience specialist at Ramboll, explores the importance of incorporating climate resilience into planning the design of our homes, buildings and urban environments
Whilst the Covid-19 pandemic has demonstrated the power that nature has over humankind in an abrupt and relentless manner, climate change has been a comparatively slow burner in revealing our relationship with a changing world. However, with weather events across the world becoming increasingly dramatic, from the fires that have raged across Australia, to the floods hitting UK towns and cities more than ever before, the change is clear to see.
Businesses often struggle to align their short-term planning and targets with the longer-term nature of climate change in the best of times; the added pressure of the pandemic has made prioritising climate change even more challenging for businesses and governments alike. Yet as climate events continue to grow in severity and frequency, a more proactive approach to mitigating the effects is becoming vital. By ensuring that climate resilience – the ability to proactively anticipate, adapt and respond to changes in climate, both sudden and gradual – is incorporated into our towns, cities and infrastructure, the UK can take a huge step towards adapting to climate change and improving disaster readiness.
How climate change is affecting UK infrastructure
Before considering how to make our businesses and infrastructure better adapted to the changing climate, one of the most crucial first steps is to understand what climate risks the UK faces.
The most obvious and well-recognised climate risk to the UK is flooding. As storm Christoph tore devastation through the UK in January, the Environment Agency confirmed around 400 homes were subject to severe flooding, and PwC estimated that up to £120m would be paid out to homeowners and businesses in insurance. If the UK is to undergo a meaningful and effective transition to becoming climate resilient, flood resistance in built-up areas must be a top priority.
A hazard that is given less consideration in the UK, however, is the increasingly real threat of extreme temperatures, particularly in the summer months. Climate scientists predict that in the near future, UK summers will consistently hit temperatures comparable with Mediterranean conditions. It is therefore crucial that infrastructure in the UK is built to withstand extreme weather in the winter, whilst still being comfortable during summer heatwaves. This need for adaptability extends beyond just our homes, buildings, and urban areas; climate resilient design must be implemented into our water reservoirs, transport, and land management in order to encourage biodiversity and protect food supply.
What is climate resilient design?
Where infrastructure specifically is concerned, climate resilient design is an approach to design and construction that ensures our homes, buildings, and urban environments can not only withstand adverse climate change impacts, but continue to be liveable and sustainable.
One of the cornerstones of successful climate resilience is a holistic and proactive approach. Climate projections indicate that the extreme weather events which have swept across the UK in recent years will become more frequent and intense. Naturally, this is bad news for UK businesses.
Those businesses that incorporate climate resilience into their built assets, such as incorporating more green infrastructure solutions and low carbon intensity cooling and flexible designs which can adapt as the climate changes, will not only mitigate the negative impacts on operations caused by climate events, but also reduce the expenses of potential climate-related damages and repairs. It is clear that incorporating climate resilience into our infrastructure will help businesses better adapt their operations, and also ensure that our homes are more liveable.
A holistic approach combined with comprehensive policy for climate resilience
With the unprecedented challenges demonstrated over the past year, it is more important than ever to move into the future with good foresight and a proactive approach to climate change. The climate challenge requires a strategic and integrated approach, and a clear political commitment to ensure that it does not slip down the agenda as we emerge post-Covid. To take the next step forward, the UK must fully commit to systematically incorporating climate resilience into our businesses, homes, buildings and urban areas.
The government has set the right direction with legislation such as the Climate Change Act; but the rush towards net-zero emissions targets, whilst encouraging, must not be seen as yet another quick fix to all climate related issues because even if global emissions meet net zero by 2050 (which is unlikely) we will still experience significant climate change impacts.
The reality is that we need a broad portfolio of solutions and interventions at all levels if UK infrastructure is to fully adapt. A holistic approach to climate change must remain the focus, and, alongside decarbonisation, climate resilience must be a substantial part of this approach. Failing to incorporate climate resilience in both new and existing buildings would undermine sustainability goals and further allow climate change to pose a growing threat to businesses and families.
Climate change will not offer us the luxury of hindsight any longer. The government has to drive climate resilience forward with comprehensive policy and legislative frameworks: political action needs to catch up with our rapidly changing climate. We must take meaningful and proactive steps to safeguard our businesses, and lives, against climate change now.
Climate resilience specialist