Climate Building

GUEST ARTICLE: Meeting Change with Versatility – The UK’s Need for Climate Resilience

  • 15 Mar 2021

This guest article by Sarah Winne, Associate at Ramboll, looks at the importance of climate resilience in UK infrastructure.

COVID-19 has, understandably, been the main concern across the globe this past year, thanks to its sudden and devastating impact upon our lives and economies.

The climate crisis, however, has been playing the long-game; over the past decades, weather events ranging from wildfires in Australia to severe flooding in the UK have slowly but surely forced us to re-evaluate our position in a changing world – and we must not turn our attention away from this issue.

It can be difficult for businesses to strike a balance between short-term targets and longer-term sustainability planning in the best of times, and this challenge has been made harder than ever by the added pressure of the pandemic.

However, a more proactive and pragmatic approach to mitigating the effects of climate change is becoming ever more vital as climate events continue to grow in severity and frequency.

Climate resilience could be key to addressing this issue: ensuring the UK’s infrastructure is climate resilient would enable us to massively develop our ability to anticipate, adapt, and respond to sudden and gradual changes in climate.

Furthermore, a climate resilient approach to towns, cities, and buildings would see the UK make significant improvements to our disaster readiness.

However, before we consider how we might build our businesses and infrastructure to be more adaptable to the changing climate, we must understand those climate risks posing the greatest threat to the UK.

Arguably, flooding is the most obvious climate risk to the UK. For example, when the UK was devastated by Storm Christoph in January, upwards of 400 homes were subject to severe flooding, and PwC estimated that insurance pay-outs to homeowners and businesses amounted to as much as £120 million.

Flood resistance in built-up areas must be made a top priority if the UK hopes to work towards becoming truly climate resilient.

However, the issue of extreme temperatures, especially in the summer months, is a serious issue that is typically given less attention as a climate risk in the UK.

Scientists have predicted that UK summers will start to regularly reach temperatures at a similar level to those in Mediterranean countries in the near future – and thus it is becoming crucial that UK infrastructure can handle extreme of weather in both the winter and the summer.

This is not just a vital consideration for homes, buildings, and urban areas; climate resilient design must be extended into our transport, water reservoirs, and land management to protect food supply and encourage biodiversity.

Climate resilient design in infrastructure seeks to ensure urban environments, homes, and buildings can withstand the adverse impacts of climate change whilst continuing to be sustainable and liveable.

A holistic and proactive approach is key for this climate resilient design to be successful: the drastic shifts in weather are predicted to become more volatile, which could be bad news for UK business if they aren’t prepared.

However, by incorporating climate resilient measures, such as green infrastructure and low carbon intensity cooling into their built assets, business can mitigate the negative effects of climate events and reduce the potential expenses of climate-related damages and repairs.

The inclusion of climate resilient design into our infrastructure will enable businesses to better adapt their operations, whilst also ensuring that our homes are more liveable.

In light of the extraordinary events of the last year, it is more important than ever before to be forward looking and take a proactive approach to climate change as we move into the future.

A clear political commitment to a strategic and integrated approach to ensure that safeguarding against climate change does not slip down from the agenda will be vital if we are to tackle the challenges ahead.

The UK must make a firm commitment to help make our businesses, homes, buildings, and urban areas more resilient to the effects of the climate crisis.

Legislation such as the Climate Change Act shows that the UK government has taken a step in the right direction, but it is critical to maintain momentum in this area.

More recently, in November 2020 the Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak outlined stricter rules on climate risk reporting in line with the recommendations of the Taskforce on Climate related Financial Disclosures (TCFD).

Measures such as this demonstrate that assessing climate risks and improving climate resilience is increasingly becoming a requirement rather than a recommendation.

If we are to fully adapt, the UK will need a broad portfolio of solutions and interventions at all levels of infrastructure. The UK’s response to climate change will require a holistic approach, and climate resilience must be a substantial part of this, alongside decarbonisation.

Sustainability goals would be undermined if the UK failed to incorporate climate resilience into both new and existing buildings, and the threat posed by climate change on businesses and lives would only grow.

The future of our planet is fragile, and as we’ve seen over the past year, things can take a drastic turn very quickly. What we do know is that our climate is changing, and the more ready we are to adapt to those changes, the less disruptive to businesses and lives they will be.

Climate resilience can be, and must be, central to our response to climate change, and that response must start now.”

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