August 4, 2014, by Blue-Green team
Managing climate risks to well-being and the economy: ASC progress report, 9th July 2014
The report, titled “Managing climate risks to well-being and the economy”, was summarised in a presentation from Lord John Krebs, ASC Chair. The report assesses the current state of resilience to weather and climate of UK infrastructure, business, healthcare system and emergency services. There is also an update on UK flood risk management. The report aims to provide clear advice to Government on what is “sensible and feasible” to do now in terms of climate change adaptation, and will influence the National Adaptation Programme (NAP), which outlines what Government, businesses and society are doing to become more “climate ready”. The live broadcast from London and subsequent Q&A between the 7 satellite events can be viewed on YouTube.
Adapting to flood risk – an update
The report comprises 7 chapters; Chapter 2 being of primary interest as it gives an update on how the UK has adapted to flood risk, where the barriers to effective adaptation lie, and what the future challenges and recommendations are. There were several key findings from the update on flood risk adaptation;
• 75% of existing flood defence structures are not being adequately maintained. This was publicised by an article in The Guardian.
• Over 1/3 of planning applications in the floodplain do not adequately assess flood risk.
• Hundreds of flood defence projects are currently on hold due to lack of funding.
• Some of the funding provided by Defra to Lead Local Flood Authorities for their new roles and duties under the 2010 Flood and Water Management Act is being diverted to other council services.
• Rules to limit the loss of gardens to impermeable surfacing introduced after the Pitt Review are not being enforced by local councils.
• 55% of respondents living in an area at risk of fluvial/coastal flooding were not aware that they are at risk.
• Although the report recommends that SuDS (sustainable urban drainage systems) regulations should be introduced without delay, SuDS were cited as “the Cinderella in the adaptation story” as there remain debates about how SuDS can be more widely implemented, whether through policy and regulations or as part of integrated catchment water management strategies where solutions are specific to the context (or both?)
• There was also acknowledgement of the increased risk of surface water flooding but few examples of detailed assessments of how surface water flood risk may change in the future.
Well-being and public health
In addition to the myriad of public health risks (physical and mental) associated with flooding, the report also highlighted some of the potential threats to public health and well- being that may arise in future warmer climates. Average UK temperatures are projected to rise in the summer which may result in an increased number of heatwaves, increasing the number of heat related illness and ultimately deaths, particularly in vulnerable sections of the population. The UK is not well adapted to rising temperatures; indeed, unpublished data indicate that ~90% of hospital wards are prone to overheating, and the ability to control temperatures is often limited. Around 20% of homes could also experience overheating, even during a cool summer, and links between reduced productivity at work and higher temperatures are apparent. Enhancing resilience to extreme weather is thus an important aspect of future well-being, as well as economic competitiveness.
The report highlights that there is a fundamental need to retrofit: to adapt the existing building stock to be safe and comfortable in a hotter climate. In terms of public health, this should include homes as well as hospitals, as one member of the Nottingham group pointed out, a lot of people are cared for in their homes rather than hospitals, and so retrofitting needs to be a widespread, rather than piecemeal approach. This could include passive cooling (shutting curtains, trees providing shade, painting buildings in light colours), a strategy that is not costly but will help increase the resiliency of buildings to future increase in temperature. Such approaches are favoured over a reliance on air conditioning which is expensive and may exacerbate the urban heat island effect .
The potential role of blue and green space?
It has been acknowledged that green infrastructure and blue space in cities can help reduce urban heat island effects, e.g. Natural England, Forest Research, and the European Commission Science for Environmental Policy. There is thus the potential to retrofit urban environments to meet multiple objectives that address the two key risks to the UK in light of future climate change; heatwaves and flooding. Strategies such as green roofs, urban green streets and rain gardens, could better manage stormwater and reduce the flood risk while providing urban heat island mitigation. Blue-Green infrastructure can also provide a range of other socio-cultural, environmental, and economic benefits that would contribute to the liveability of the urban environment.
BUT how these ideas get incorporated into policy, and whether this is led at the local or Governmental issue, is another question! But at least the links between retrofitting and designing to cope with a range of future scenarios are starting to creep into policy debates.
Download the full ASC report here.