In future, more of us city-dwellers might be living in houses on stilts, recycling our dishwater and generating our own energy at home, according to a Newcastle University report prepared for the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research.
Three years in the making, the paper outlines how major cities must respond if they are to continue to grow in the face of climate change. Among the factors most likely to affect urban areas: increased flooding in winter and less water availability in summer.
While the study led by Newcastle researcher Jim Hall focuses on the particular challenges facing London, it can also be used as a model for other UK cities on how policy-makers, businesses and the public must work together to prepare for climate change.
In addition to protecting homes and buildings from rising sea levels and increased flood risks, the report emphasises the need to cut carbon emissions, reduce water usage and move toward cleaner, greener transport.
“There’s not one simple solution to this problem,” said Richard Dawson, a Newcastle University researcher and one of the report”s authors. “Instead we need a portfolio of measures that work together to minimise the impact of climate change while allowing for our cities to grow.”
While cutting carbon dioxide emissions remains critical, we also need to begin preparing for the weather extremes “we are already starting to experience,” Dawson said.
“The difficulty is balancing one risk against another while allowing for the expected population and employment growth and that is what our work attempts to address,” he said.
Too often, it turns out that solving one problem can exacerbate another, the report notes.
“Heat waves like the ones being predicted to occur more frequently in future are extremely serious, particularly for the eldest members of our population,” Dawson said. “To combat the problem, we often resort to switching on the air conditioning. This is not only energy intensive (and therefore has potential to raise carbon dioxide emissions that drive climate change) but works by cooling the inside of the building and expelling hot air outside, raising the overall air temperature in the city as well.”
One way to reduce this problem, the report’s authors say, might be to stimulate growth along the Thames flood plain as the water helps to keep the overall temperature lower.
“The problem then is that you are building in the flood plain so you have to prepare for a whole different set of challenges,” Dawson said. “Houses built on stilts, flood-resilient wiring where the sockets and wires are raised above flood level, and water resistant building materials are going to have to be incorporated into our building plans.”
The key to success lies with effective planning, Dawson said.
“Good planning is the key — we have shown that land use planning influences how much people travel and how they heat and cool their buildings, and hence the carbon dioxide emissions,” he said. “Land use also determines how vulnerable people will be to the impacts of climate change. Our research enables policy-makers to explore these many issues on the basis of evidence about the possible future changes and to analyse the effectiveness of a range of innovative responses, so they can better understand and prepare for climate change.”