10 May 2023

UKREiiF 2023: 8 innovative ways cities are building climate resilience


By Cervest

UKREiiF 2023: 8 innovative ways cities are building climate resilience

Climate change is pushing cities into climate zones that the built environment isn’t designed for. Only this month was it flagged that Parisians have the highest risk of heat-related death in Europe. Over the next 30 years, 75% of the world's major cities will shift into different climate regimes.

Sustainability leaders in the built environment are only just beginning their journey into understanding climate risk. How can they start acting on this risk now? This is one of the questions Cervest’s panel will be answering at UKREiiF (the UK’s Real Estate Investment and Infrastructure Forum).

UKREiiF panel: How to build resilience to climate hazards using climate intelligence

Together, Kate Rodger, VP of Global Sales at Cervest, Rhyadd Keaney-Watkins, Head of ESG at Arjun Infrastructure Partners, Hannah Giddings, Head of Resilience and Nature at UK Green Building Council, Esther Ukala, Environmental Compliance Manager at NHS Property Services, and Amanda Skeldon, Climate and Nature Director at JLL will explore why sustainability leaders in the built environment need to understand, and then act, on climate risk.

“What we are witnessing is that the surface area of risk is expanding - with new regions, cities, countries reaching new thresholds. Our infrastructure is not built to withstand some of the forecasted changes.”

Iggy Bassi, Founder and CEO of Cervest

Why is the built environment vulnerable to climate risk?

Urbanization is uniquely vulnerable to climate risk. Buildings, roads, and infrastructure with hard surfaces alter the natural drainage process, making cities more vulnerable to flooding. These same surfaces also retain more heat than their natural counterparts, resulting in localized warming, known as the urban heat island effect.

The urban population is forecast to more than double its current size by 2050, when nearly 7 of 10 people will live in cities. With so many set to call these concrete jungles “home”, the pressure is on for real estate professionals, councils and investors to provide climate resilient foundations for the built environment.

At 2PM, Thursday 18th May at the Industry in Focus Pavillion at UKREiiF, Cervest’s panel will explore the many challenges to understanding and adapting to climate risk. For example, to build resilience to extreme heat, it’s not as simple as turning up the air conditioning. Installing HVAC systems can be considered maladaptive as these energy-intensive machines are counterproductive to decarbonization and net zero targets.

The built environment needs to take a sustainable approach to building resilience. To do this, business leaders need granular, asset-level climate intelligence (CI) offering insight across multiple hazards, climate emissions scenarios, and timeframes. Using CI to pinpoint adaptation spending and inform targeted interventions means achieving climate resilience in the short-, medium- and long-term is possible.

Once the built environment can identify where it’s most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, it can start implementing adaptation strategies. Here are eight real-life examples of how cities are building resilience to climate hazards.

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8 innovative ways cities are building climate resilience

1. Singapore’s Green Plan 2030

The Singapore Green Plan 2030 is a comprehensive strategy to green the city/state, and though ambitious, the small but mighty nation is pioneering the way toward climate resilience.

By 2030, the aim is to set aside 50% more land (around 200 hectares) for nature parks, use cool paints and green 80% of buildings, plant a million more trees and ensure every household is within a ten-minute walk of a park. Increasing vegetation cover and reflective surfaces reduce the strength of the urban heat island effect.

Singapore is already known as the ‘Garden City’ for its thoughtful city planning including its vast array of urban parks, gardens, and green design – and it is leading the charge with its prolific climate commitments.

2. Zhuhai: China’s ‘sponge city’

Zhuhai has 708 urban parks and is a designated ‘sponge city.’ A sponge city can be described as a city with expanded natural areas and redesigned infrastructures: for example, one that has roads and pavements that absorb and purify water – to be stored and used in the future.

China is the first country to action this at a city-wide scale. Initially built for flooding protection, these sponge cities can also aid cooling during heat waves. There are 16 pilot sponge cities in China and each of them was awarded between 400 and 600 million yuan (roughly US $58 million) from the government for innovation.

3. Sydney’s tree canopy

There are plans to build an inventive tree canopy across Greater Sydney by 2030. There will be five million more trees planted across the area – which is 1.3 million hectares. Why? Trees are natural city coolers, store carbon dioxide, and provide much-needed shade in extreme heat. Cities and communities can be hit harder by heatwaves due to the urban heat island effect, and a 2020 study illustrated that when compared with coastal areas, inland temperatures at Sydney’s urban heat islands were increased by 10 degrees Celsius, due to more frequent and lengthy heatwaves in Australia.

4. Miami redesigns its heat danger spots

Miami County Council and its Neat Streets Miami initiative have pinpointed the most hazardous heatwave locations in the city, from transport stations to public spaces – and have creatively redesigned them. For example, the council has planted more trees around various bus stops, transforming them into ‘green bus stops’. There are now 71 bus stops that have been upgraded with shady trees and some have haiku poems engraved into their pavements.

5. White streets in Los Angeles

In 2019, city planners started experimenting with painting the pavements white in L.A. The idea was that the solar-reflective white paint (CoolSeal) would repel the heat, reducing the temperature in the city. A total of ten districts have been part of the innovative experiment so far, and there are reports (2022) that the initiative has already cooled surfaces by 10 to 12 degrees.

6. Medellin’s green city ‘corridors’

In Medellin, Colombia’s second-largest city, city planners have built a maze of 30 ‘green corridors’. These tree-lined routes have been created for heatwave protection as part of a USD16.3 million initiative. This visionary and forward-thinking Green Corridors project won the 2019 Ashden Award for Cooling by Nature: there are literally thousands of palm and native trees, plus a host of tropical plants to upgrade shared public spaces.

7. Seville names its heatwaves

Seville has taken on a unique approach to heatwaves: by naming them. The July heatwave was ‘Zoe’. But why? It makes citizens more alert to the dangers of extreme heat and focus on public health. The city is also working on a new heat wave segmentation process based on the critical health issues heatwaves cause. It aims to simplify the scientific terminology normally used to communicate with the community. This approach was successful in a 2018 Brown University study in Philadelphia.

8. The Hadrian aqueduct in Athens

The ancient Hadrian aqueduct in Athens was built around 140 AD and was the former central water source for communities in the city – it was where they got their drinking water from. It is now defunct, but the city of Athens has put the wastewater to effective use. The 800,000 cubic meters of wastewater is now being cleverly used to irrigate greenbelts along the structure, with the end goal of reducing heat in the immediate area and beyond.

UKREiiF panel: How to build resilience to climate hazards using climate intelligence

Climate resilience is created by the actions organization in the built environment take now to prepare for the impacts of climate change over the short-, medium-, and long-term. This means putting measures in place to prevent or minimize damage to buildings, or to minimize impacts caused by disruptions to critical infrastructure, supply chains, and operations of physical assets that your business relies upon.

At UKREiiF the expert panel will explore how the built environment can utilize granular, asset-level climate intelligence across multiple hazards, climate emissions scenarios, and timeframes to climate-align every built and natural asset. If you’re at UKREiiF, and would like to hear more about CI, add the event to your calendar so you don’t miss it!

For a deeper dive into what the panel will discuss, visit our real estate hub.

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