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A resilient city is a better, safer place to live

An undesirable result of urbanisation is an increase in risk of disruption and damage in the event of extreme weather events impacting on high-density population centres.

Many urban assets are becoming increasingly vulnerable to weather-related hazards because the rapid pace of climate change is rendering historical standards of protection increasingly insufficient.

Residential, commercial and public buildings are often poorly adapted to cope with existing climatic conditions and current building codes and standards do not take into account anticipated changes in the climate and the increasingly severe impacts of those changes.

The consequences can be devastating: accelerated degradation and destruction of property and assets, failure of water, sanitation, energy, transport and communication services, and not least, loss of lives and livelihoods.

If cities are to minimise the impacts of climate change, they must increase the resilience of their infrastructure.

Understanding the risks

Cities have to first determine what measures are necessary to maintain levels of safety and minimise disruption to business and essential services. A key priority is to understand where system vulnerabilities exist and the magnitude of the risks to vital assets of damage and degradation and service failure.

Both climate change projections and risk assessments should be at the heart of investment decisions. There is a need to integrate climate resilience planning with long-term strategic infrastructure and investment plans, to both protect against increasingly severe weather events (acute events) and prepare for the added impact of longer-term ‘chronic’ events. The compounding effect of increasingly severe events ontop of worsening base-line conditions is a major concern.

Service providers and asset systems are increasingly interconnected and interdependent. Supply chains stretch around the world and disruption in one sector can have diverse, far-reaching consequences as the failure cascades through others.

Owners and operators must look beyond individual assets to understand the extent and complexity of the dependency chains, assessing their vulnerability to climate change and other kinds of shocks and stresses. These interconnectivities should be identified and, if they cannot be eliminated, a management plan developed to enhance system flexibility and key asset redundancy to limit the extent of cascade failure.

Climate scenarios and detailed risk assessments need to be translated into meaningful and practical action plans. Implementing these plans can appear costly, especially when they involve ageing and densely situated assets, but the cost of not having adequate resilience measures in place is far greater. Losses attributed to climate change have quadrupled in 30 years and will continue to rise over the coming years.

The next steps are to identify commercially viable technologies and international best practices to upgrade and future-proof infrastructure and buildings. Smart infrastructure, the result of enhancing physical infrastructure with digital technology, is one of the keys to urban resilience as it is a cost effective way of increasing capacity while minimising the need for building new assets.

Unlocking new sources of investment

There is an urgent need to address the shortfalls in funding of climate resilience. This requires greater co-operation between partners from across the public and private sectors to explore and develop innovative financial mechanisms to unlock the investment needed.

Resilience also involves fostering culture change and raising awareness of the risks. Different stakeholders have different priorities, which necessitates more connected thinking and collaboration. It is essential to promote the value of a more holistic approach to asset design and funding.

While it is not feasible to eliminate all risk, cities can still become resilient. This is achieved when a city has not only identified climate and non-climate risks and protected itself against them, but has also developed the capability to survive shocks and recover swiftly.

This comes from building capacity, strengthening institutions, and adopting processes and mechanisms that enable utilities and basic services to be quickly restored after failure.

Reaping the resilience dividend

There is a clear business case for investing in urban resilience as climate impacts increase in severity and frequency. Resilient cities will minimise economic losses. There is a dividend in terms of both direct and indirect financial returns from investing in resilience, be it improved flood defences or better emergency planning.

A service provider or city that survives shocks and achieves continuity of, or quickly restores, essential services will be more competitive than its rivals. It will attract greater investment because it will demonstrate that it has the strength and resilience to withstand extreme weather events, as well as non-climate risks, such as seismic or fire-related hazards. Such a city will also attract lower insurance premiums and higher credit ratings.

A resilient city not only has the capacity to absorb shocks and stresses, it can evolve to become even stronger. A resilient city is a better, safer place to live.

Ian Allison

Head of climate resilience

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