Building climate resilient cities  - Episode 1

min read time
2022-08-31 14:23:11

Our weather patterns are shifting. Due to climate change, the risk for long periods of droughts and intensive flooding is growing. One challenge can lead to groundwater depletion, the other to surface water pollution and damage to the built environment. If we don't have the right solutions in place, it will.

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How do we prevent extreme weather from putting our water management and sanitation systems at risk? And why is climate adaptation important when building healthy, sustainable environments? To find out, we talk to Michael Schuster, Global Director for Stormwater Systems and Urban Climate Resilience at Wavin. He shares his thoughts on the challenges we are faced with and provides insight on some of the solutions.

The general awareness of climate change is on a steady rise. Climate mitigation is a recurring topic in political discussions, and the number of climate strikes seems to climb every year. But, as Michael points out, awareness does not equal a sense of urgency. And it is often that sense of urgency that makes us act.

Putting urban climate resilience on the agenda

How can we convince decision-makers to act for a resilient urban future? Here the level of climate awareness in a country is a useful indicator of where to begin. Countries with a high level of awareness are more likely to engage in an open dialogue about climate adaptation. Open dialogue improves the chances of moving urban climate resilience another step forward.

But even in countries with a high awareness level and a budget for climate adaptation, change can be hard. Michael highlights this as a problem partly due to human behavior. Even though we are aware of the growing risk of extreme weather, we tend to be dismissive of it. But when a disastrous weather event strikes, flaws in our infrastructure become obvious. That pushes us to look for the right preventative solutions. With time, however, the feeling of urgency fades, and our activity slows down. Aside from the looming changes in climate, this is another important challenge we must overcome. And doing so is not impossible.

“To me, it’s a question of awareness, ability, and willingness to act” says Michael.

A good example of that is the RESILIO project in Amsterdam. Realized by Dutch startup MetroPolder, RESILIO is a collaboration between many different stakeholders. Joining forces, they mapped out 10 000 square meters of roof that could be fitted with smart blue-green roofs. Turning rooftops to green spaces benefits biodiversity, while cooling down the city. On top of that, blue-green roofs also collect and store excess rainwater. This project puts Amsterdam well on its way toward climate resilience.

Rules and regulations of the construction industry: Time for change

One issue that Michael points out is that a large part of the building sector is sticking to established standards. Standards and guidelines are a great way of ensuring a certain level of quality. But if standards are not kept up to date, the level of quality they provide drops. As a result, our built environment lacks resilience.

For example, the current standards are based on a 100-year storm. However, the definition of a 100-year storm is not set in stone – it depends on past weather events. And because of the changing weather patterns, these storms will become even heavier and harder to manage. Our current infrastructure, built according to an outdated definition, is not up for the challenge.

Updating the standards is key to ensuring our built environment is future-proof. Unfortunately, that can be a very slow process. It is also a process that must begin with our political leaders, says Michael. Meanwhile, we at Wavin are setting our own standards to ensure climate-safe construction of sustainable solutions where we can.

What is Wavin doing to help solve the climate challenge?

Flooding is not the only threat to our urban areas. According to the IPCC, we are also at a greater risk for droughts and heat stress. These challenges can cause trouble in many ways. Long-lasting droughts dry out our green areas and cause groundwater depletion, and heat stress poses a danger to public health. Flooding can also lead to surface water pollution, contaminating our waters.

Since water is our area of expertise, these are issues where Wavin can contribute. And we have found a holistic way to balance the scales between having too much and not enough water. The bottom line? Smart collection and storage of excess rainwater.

During heavy downpour, gullies lead rainwater to storage or infiltration units. In times of dry weather, the storage units release the water to irrigate parks and help cool the city. The infiltration units lead the water back into the ground at a slow pace, preventing sewers from overflowing.

The continuous development of urban climate resilience

So far, we have taken our first steps toward making climate adaptation a part of the industry mindset. Urban climate resilience is at the heart of what we at Wavin are working for. We believe that by combining the needs of our customers with those of our planet, we can build healthy, sustainable environments. There is still a long way to go, but projects like RESILIO show that where there is awareness, ability, and willingness to act – there is a way forward.