Report gives climate-change advice

Houses on stilts, small-scale energy generation and recycling dishwater are some of the measures being proposed by engineers at NewcastleUniversity to prepare cities for the effects of global warming.

The academic team, engaged in a project for the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change, outlined how major cities must respond if they are to continue to grow in the face of climate change.

Using the new UK Climate Predictions 2009 data for weather patterns over the next century, the Newcastle engineers produced a report looking at the impact of predicted rises in temperature (particularly in urban areas), increased flooding in winter and less water availability in summer.

The report focuses on the particular challenges facing London, but it can 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.

As well as protecting homes and buildings against the increased threat of flooding from rising sea levels, the report emphasises the need to reduce carbon emissions, reduce water usage and move towards cleaner, greener transport.

NewcastleUniversity‘s Richard Dawson, one of the report’s authors, said that a portfolio of measures is needed to minimise the impact of climate change so that cities can still be allowed to grow.

‘Most importantly, we have to cut our CO2 emissions, but at the same time we need to prepare for the extremes of weather – heat waves, droughts and flooding – which we are already starting to experience,’ he 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,’ added Dawson.

The NewcastleUniversity report is the result of three years’ work to decide how cities should respond to the threats of climate change.

The report promotes the development of cycleways and public transport, low-carbon energy and water recycling. It also shows how solving one problem can exacerbate another.

Dawson said: ‘Heat waves, such as the ones being predicted to occur more frequently in future, are extremely serious, particularly for the eldest members of our population.

‘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 CO2 emissions that drive climate change, but it works by cooling the inside of the building and expelling hot air outside, raising the overall air temperature in the city as well.

‘This can amplify what is known as the urban heat island,’ he added.

To reduce this problem, the authors believe that one option 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,’ said Dawson. ‘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.

‘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 CO2 emissions.

‘Land use also determines how vulnerable people will be to the impacts of climate change,’ he added. ‘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.’