As global warming progresses, the temperature of the planet is expected to rise by around 4oC by the year 2100. This increase is not evenly distributed around the globe, with the polar ice caps experiencing the biggest temperature rise caused in part by local feedback mechanisms.
This increase in temperature has already begun and has led to the polar ice caps melting at a faster rate than predicted, and this will ultimately lead to a rise in sea level, leaving some low-lying countries in real danger of being destroyed. However, it is not only the sea level that will be affected by a warming planet, as many other associated changes to precipitation will also occur leading to flooding in some areas and droughts in others.
To combat these changes, architects, town planners, and engineers are starting to focus attention on ‘climate proofing’ – the practice of making buildings and infrastructure usable if changes to the environment continue. For example, by 2080, it is predicted that south-east England will be up to 6.5oC warmer, meaning that alterations in infrastructure will need to be made to cope with this. Of course, there are inherent uncertainties when predicting how global warming will actually affect the climatic conditions in a specific area, but many governments and companies are not taking any chances.
Climate Proofing in Holland
One place that is in danger of severe flooding if sea levels continue to drastically rise is the Netherlands. Sixty percent of the Dutch population live below sea level, and in the second-city of Rotterdam, this rises to 90%.
Traditionally, the country has been kept dry by the famous Dutch dikes and water drainage mills. However, Holland is beginning to realize that it cannot keep the water out forever and so Rotterdam has employed several new climate proofing methods to safeguard against the rising water.
One novel method of climate proofing is ‘water plazas’, which collect water during heavy rain and then release this slowly into the local drainage system. During normal dry periods, these plazas double-up as playgrounds. Rotterdam has also invested heavily in rooftop gardens, which not only absorb rain to reduce the risk of flooding but also take in CO2 and therefore reducing the city’s temperature.
The southern coast of the Netherlands, showing a complex system of canals and inlets. The coastline has changed considerably over the history of the nation, due to numerous historical floods. Image Credit: CIA Factbook
Climate Proofing Innovation in the UK
Britain is also leading the way in terms of climate proofing techniques, and Defra, the government department responsible for environmental protection among other things, has outlined several ideas that could be implemented in the future to keep Britain stable.
Road specifications were changed in 2008 to mirror those used in the south of France in preparation for higher temperatures. More recently, the 2015-2020 road update period, run by Highways England, saw further climate-proofing measures put in place including plans to help tackle warmer and drier summers, warmer and wetter winters, reduced incidences of frost and fog, sea level rises, reduction in cloud cover, and increases in extreme weather events. The National Rail has also invested heavily in raising water defenses at the side of railway tracks, as water flooding on coastal lines is becoming a more commonplace issue.
In 2016, the UK’s first ‘amphibious’ house was finished in Buckinghamshire, next to the River Thames. The house has a movable concrete floor, which sits on top of a waterproof basement or ‘dock’. In the event of a flood, the basement below will fill with water and the concrete floor rises, allowing the house to float on the water. Whether this type of housing can survive the very disparate flooding patterns of the UK remains to be seen.
Further Climate-Proofing Concepts from Around the World
Climate proofing is not just consigned to buildings and infrastructure however, and the term can be stretched to include any mitigating action taken in preparation for a changing climate. There are many innovative schemes and plans in place to mitigate climate change, but listed below are some concepts from the continent of North America that aim to make climate change more bearable.
Canada: In the city of Toronto, emergency ‘cooling centers’ have been set up in case of extreme heat, with free travel tokens available to those who need to reach the center in a hurry.
USA: In New York, generators for the city hall have been moved to higher ground in case of large-scale flooding, and people are being encouraged to paint building roofs white, in an attempt to increase the reflectance of the city and hence cool it down.
Sources and Further Reading
This article was updated on 29th January, 2020.