How is climate change affecting London? Is the capital prepared to respond to climate risks? In other word, is London resilient? A group of experts and built environment professionals discussed climate risks in London, including its effects on infrastructure and buildings, and emerging solutions.
Dima Zogheib, associate at Arup, presented a wider picture where 25 per cent of climate hazards reported by cities globally is related to flooding, followed by extreme heat, water scarcity and precipitation (i.e. storms and heavy snow). Not too dissimilar to this, the top six climate risks in the UK are flooding, risks to health from high temperature, risks of water shortages, risks to natural capital, threats to food production and new diseases. In London, new strategies such as the London City Resilience Strategy 2020 focus for the first time on the long-term resilience challenges from now to 2050 and identify priorities like extreme heat management. A direct result of this is the GLA’s Cool Spaces pilot project, a map of cool and shaded places of refuge for Londoners when temperatures are excessively high.
Alongside the urban heat island effect, there are other climate risk factors for London that have an impact on the city’s infrastructure. Chloe Souque, sustainability associate director at Waterman Group remarked the alarmin effect of extreme heat on the transport network causing already rail disruptions and delays quite regularly on hot days in summer, and the effect on energy infrastructure, related to huge increase in cooling demand. Other areas of concerns include dealing with surface water as a result of heavy precipitations, water shortages likely to happen over the next 20 years, and soil erosion. ‘Traditionally engineering is about finding technological solutions to a problem, so we could go down the path of using technology to address climate risks, or we can rethink the role of greening and nature-base solutions to solve those issues.’ Examples of the latter are the integration of SUDs in our streets and roads, enhancing cycling and walking infrastructure while providing benefits such as water attenuation, increase in biodiversity and mitigation of the urban heat island effect. Fred Labbe, associate director at Expedition Engineering advocated for a more mixed approach where smart technologies are combined with nature-based solutions for efficient results.
Moving onto the topic of buildings, Craig Robertson, associate, head of sustainability at AHMM reflected on the meaning of resilient buildings. ‘We define resilience in the context of people as someone who is adaptable to sudden changes, shows emotional flexibility, has strong social connections and that looks at opportunities even in the darkest times. This translate to buildings as well: adaptation, flexibility, social connectiveness and opportunity to change are the four elements that make buildings resilient.’ The question to ask is how to prioritise future adaptability and today’s needs. Buildings need to be economically viable and need to have a business model that responds to current circumstances but also to future ones. Buildings also need to be adaptable to future climatic conditions; this includes thinking about carbon and energy resilience – a lot of buildings cannot be net zero today but they have to be net zero in the future so we need to create buildings optimised for now but that can change over time. How do we build this flexibility into our design? There is still not a magic formula on how to compromise today’s needs to future ones.
But how do we take these issues from niche, experts-only areas of concern to become mainstream and key priorities spread across public and private sector? Rafe Bertram, sustainability facilitator at the London Borough of Enfield then asked, ‘Who in this field are the aggregators? There is still a lot of work to be done to create awareness around climate resilience’. The NLA research of Resilient London, due to be published later this year, is an example of how to take this extra step and focus the attention on such an important topic.