We must plan now for climate adaptation and resilience

Duncan Price, Partner, Sustainability & Climate Change at Buro Happold, marks the Adaptation, Loss & Damage theme at COP26, by outlining how to ensure effective climate mitigation and adaptation plans.

Over the course of the last week, I have been in Glasgow for COP26 and seen the focus, energy and commitment from government, NGOs, business and general public on the need to get real with climate change.

The avalanche of net zero commitments for governments, cities and private sector organisations have shown us that we are at a tipping point of action to mitigate climate change and keep us within 1.5C. Yet even 1.5C global heating will have significant impacts and, at the time of writing the NDCs add up to 1.9C so the impacts could be far reaching.

Just as we have a risk of stranded assets for those that fail to align with net zero and ESG investment requirements, the physical, financial and social risks of failing to adapt and build resilience will be significant and create systemic challenges to a wide range of stakeholders including city authorities, investors, real estate asset owners and businesses needing to operate in a world experiencing the effects of climate change.

However, if we plan now and prepare, we can reduce the effects and capture additional value by aligning mitigation and adaptation actions. A good example of this is the climate resilience adaptive pathway study carried out by Buro Happold for the City of London Corporation.

City of London climate adaptation and resilience adaptive pathways – Buro Happold

This innovative study focussed on identifying the main climate-related risks for the corporation’s assets, both within the “Square Mile” of the City itself and across the wider land portfolio which includes green spaces such as Hampstead Heath and Epping Forest.

These included flooding, overheating, water stress, biodiversity loss, pests & diseases and disruption to food & trade.

The adaptive pathway approach identifies sequential actions that could be taken over time in response to key climate thresholds and trigger points as conditions evolve.

The study recommends 39 programmes of action cutting across built assets and infrastructure, natural capital, emergency planning, supporting communities and business.

Unlocking finance for adaptation and resilience is an often-cited barrier to greater action. The UN warned recently that adaptation costs are up to 10 times greater than current funding plans. The implementation plan delivered as part of this study outlined how the City Corporation might consider structuring and managing finance to support the implementation of these programmes.

For the City Corporation, the outcomes of the study provided a useful tool for clarifying the urgency for action and fed into their Climate Action Strategy which includes bold commitments to net zero carbon and building climate resilience.

It’s clear that pioneering approaches like this have tremendous potential to deliver value to cities around the world: protecting communities, businesses, the natural environment, built assets and both public and private investments.

So as COP26 moves into its second week, beginning with a focus on Adaptation, Loss & Damage then considers what must be done for Cities, Regions and the Built Environment, it’s vital that we act now to tackle both climate mitigation and adaptation and deliver a world that is sustainable, equitable and fit for the future.