We need to adapt our environment and infrastructure to the threats of climate change. The UK Parliament and the Landscape Institute have both recently declared that we face an “environment, biodiversity and climate emergency”. We have all seen numerous examples recently of more extreme and evolving climatic events, around the world and close to home. Andy Cooper considers where we need to prioritise our efforts.
Brian Stone Jr. in his book ‘The City and the Coming Climate’¹ identifies that a focus by the global science community, Governments and local planning policy solely on the reduction of greenhouse gases will not prove sufficient to measurably slow another critical and even more pressing threat, the rapid pace of warming in cities.
He confirms, with substantial recent evidence that a sole focus on the reduction of carbon emissions is not enough, as:
“rising levels of heat constitute the greatest climate-related threat to human health in cities, accounting for more deaths per year than all other forms of extreme weather combined, and are contributing to loss of life and unprecedented infrastructure disruptions in the present time period – not decades in the future.”
He also states that, “the primary driver of warming in cities is not the global greenhouse effect but the loss of trees and other vegetative cover to development and the addition of waste heat from industries, vehicles and buildings“.
In addition to carbon reduction the following measures are those that we and our clients in the public and private sectors need to focus on and incorporate, using design and land use change as a regenerative force. These measures are now essential to make the positive changes required for society to deliver the adaptive climate mitigation that is needed for healthy living as well to reduce carbon emissions, now and in future. They include interventions that need to be made in urban areas and their surrounding rural hinterland, for example:
- Working together to protect existing tree cover in urban and rural contexts;
- Working together to contribute to rural area reforestation, ideally both at home and abroad, delivering benefits in the form of heat management, flood management and enhanced agricultural resilience;
- Integrating more trees into food crops (agroforestry) where there are currently single crops and/or more orchards within sheep grazing areas, to increase the levels of tree cover further in rural areas for the benefit of the climate and cooling of cities in the associated local region. At the same time this has the potential to restore ecological integrity;
- Delivering urban tree planting and vegetation cover enhancements in urban areas to deliver the more immediate ‘cooling effects’ from shading and evaporation, in addition to the benefits of carbon sequestration;
- Incorporating albedo enhancement through radiative mitigation strategies including improving the surface reflectivity of paved surfaces , through the use of vegetated walls and roofs and through increased urban tree canopy cover to reduce wasted heat and also to cut the cooling costs of buildings;
- Consider new opportunities to generate electricity with subsurface heat collection systems (thermo conducting coils) under asphalt surfaces to capture heat generated on streets and parking areas and at the same time deliver cooling to these surfaces; and
- Marrying climate change adaption measures with political, economic and the social needs of communities and the distinctive characteristics of particular places to be feasible and effective.
We need investment in climate mitigation strategies that yield concurrent adaptive benefits in both rural and urban contexts, to address the serious issue we face. The above measures will improve the resilience of our essential road, rail and energy infrastructure as they become increasingly susceptible to higher temperature levels and as these threats are exacerbated by the urban heat island.
For many years now there has been a progressive focus in our projects to seek to reduce carbon emissions and to incorporate climate adaption and resilience measures in an attempt to mitigate the anticipated effects of climate change. We continue to address these issues in our project work but are now increasingly mindful of the issue and the need for the practical and adaptive mitigation of urban warming alongside global warming, in infrastructure, development and land use planning.
Nicholas Pearson Associates supports forest/woodland protection and regeneration projects and for over 35 years has been positively contributing to the greening of urban and rural areas throughout UK regions, protecting and enhancing the ecological integrity of places, managing positive land use change and enhancing flood resilience in urban and rural areas. We utilise a hybrid of low-tech and research based new technology for adaptive design and mitigation to positively contribute to the health of communities and the environment in a manner which is responsive to each place and context.
Feature image: © City of Melbourne. Extract from thermal image taken in a January 2007 heatwave showing the impact of urban heat islands in Melbourne. Taken by an Elizabeth Street heat camera opposite Victoria Market.
¹ Brian Stone, Jr. 2012. The City and the Coming Climate, Climate Change in the Places We Live. Cambridge University Press.