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Resilient cities: Living with and adapting to climate change

Susanne Dyrbøl
Susanne Dyrbøl
17 September 2020
rainbow over city, brocher teclit, rain pipe, sewer pipe, germany

An increasing rate of urban expansion will require smarter thinking and planning from city governments. By 2050, almost 7 out of 10 people will live and work in cities. For today’s policy-makers, planning for future resilience is vital as the effects of climate change continue to create more extreme weather events and put urban populations at greater risk.

City governments and municipalities understand that they are on the front lines when it comes to dealing with climate events. Many local and national governments are taking action to build more resilient cities that are capable of withstanding the effects of climate change and enable them to quickly respond to the challenges the future will bring. Programmes, policies, and shared prevention strategies can help local governments increase the resilience of the built environment, while creating new ways of generating economic prosperity for their citizens.

Why should we make our cities more resilient?

The CEO of Uber, Dara Khosrowshahi, recently said that climate action is a team sport. It requires everyone to work together to help mitigate the effects of climate change, including policy-makers, businesses, action committees, and individuals. The company is committed to providing only electric vehicles by 2030 for their services in cities across Canada, Europe, and the United States.

While these types of interventions should not go unnoticed, halting the effects of climate change is no longer an option. Instead, societies need to invest in solutions that will help limit the effects of extreme weather events by building robust, resilient, and reliable infrastructure while creating sustainable supply chains for their populations.

Some of the extreme weather events that are affecting today’s urban populations are:

  • Cloudbursts and excessive precipitation in cities that are not used to dealing with increased downpours.
  • Heatwaves, extremely cold temperatures, droughts, and runaway wildfires.
  • Extreme temperatures that lead to more powerful cyclones, tropical storms, and typhoons.

At the same time, more people are moving to cities for their economic prosperity. Currently, about 55 percent of the world’s population live and work in urban environments. City administrators need to ensure they provide a resiliently built environment while also ensuring access to affordable housing, reliable sources of food and water, and education and healthcare facilities while creating barriers against the effects of climate change. A circular, resilient economy can help generate jobs, reduce waste, and provide a reliable energy supply using renewable sources.

What makes a city resilient?

Administrators and decision-makers need to consider both long and short-term climate challenges in their plans when setting up incentives, policies, and measures as they try to improve the resiliency of cities. Resilient cities provide a safe and healthy existence for all their citizens. It should also aim to create a sustainable environment by limiting the impact on the planet’s resources in consideration of the earth’s natural boundaries.

Resilience means resisting the immediate challenges of the climate while also being able to recover quickly from more extreme events. Adapting to climate challenges by limiting the effects of external conditions and meeting the physical challenges of the future is what makes a city resilient.

How to apply the concept of resilience in cities?

Applying the concept of planetary boundaries and scaling the model to an individual city’s level is a way to drive transformative action. One strategy which builds on the planetary boundaries and enables greater circularity is the doughnut model of economic, social, and ecological transformation. The doughnut model creates a measurable framework that seeks to limit the impact on the environment while providing safe and sustainable infrastructure without depleting the planet’s natural resources.

The hole in the centre of the model indicates a shortfall in providing social security to human populations (the social foundation). Beyond the outer edge of the doughnut, we find harmful effects on the environment, which puts future sustainability at risk. This is known as the ecological ceiling. The doughnut itself represents a set of strategies, interventions, and frameworks to keep human populations within the inner and outer boundaries of the social foundation and ecological ceiling.

One of the leaders in this endeavour is the city of Amsterdam in the Netherlands. Amsterdam has worked with the “city-doughnut tool” to create a starting point for transformative action and a new way of thinking about adopting circular strategies.

A circular economy or “doughnut strategy” focus on:

  • Keeping natural resources, like building materials, in use for as long as possible to extract the maximum value over their usable lifetime.
  • Creating shorter food chains and effective waste streams to use the earth’s resources more sparingly.
  • Optimising value chains to reduce their ecological footprint by prioritising the procurement of sustainable resources as part of an administrator’s duties.

Finally, protecting the built environment against adverse weather and natural phenomena, like fires, can increase the resilience of current and future populations. To be resilient, every technological avenue that helps protect citizens against the effects of climate change should be investigated and adopted if it can reduce the effects of a changing climate today.

Resilient cities – Sharing resilience information between cities

Cities are becoming the primary defence against climate change and adverse weather events. Therefore, cities increasingly organise and share knowledge regarding resilience planning.

Recently, two new networks have been established to help cities create a framework for building more resilience within our urban environment.

The 100 Resilient Cities network came to an end in 2020, but it helped to spawn two new knowledge-sharing organisations – the Resilient Cities Catalyst and the Global Resilient Cities Network. Both organisations aim to continue the work of 100 Resilient Cities around the globe, collating and publishing data regarding resilience for other cities to emulate or adopt in their urban environment.

These networks aim to continue the drive for resilience by:

  • Sharing ideas, data, frameworks, and lessons-learned between the world’s cities to speed up the transformative action required to create a circular and sustainable global economy.
  • Realising the risk that not taking climate action now poses to current and future populations by creating awareness programs, policy-papers, and research programs.
  • Investigating, piloting, and providing technological solutions for the challenges faced by the world’s populations concerning climate events and our resource consumption.

These organisations are part of a growing coalition that works together to address climate challenges, build better and greener futures, and develop solutions that are replicable, scalable, and sustainable. The European Union’s new recovery plan is a once in a decade opportunity for every city to review and improve their resilience planning as part of the preparation for future climate changes.

Improving the resilience of buildings to ensure resilient cities

A resilient building stock is vital for adapting to climate change. Improving energy efficiency and fire safety in ageing structures, increasing the indoor climate, and creating circular supply chains for the materials used in the construction and renovation of buildings in urban centres remains a defining characteristic of resilience.

Adopting innovative technologies and solutions that help shield and prepare future generations against the effects of climate change is how we can create sustainable environments for city populations. Stone wool insulation helps increase the safety and resilience of cities, one building at a time.

ROCKWOOL Group’s range of technologies can help create resilient cities capable of supporting future generations. To find out more, reach out to ROCKWOOL today.