Climate Change

1     The climate change

2     Evidence of the climate change impacts

3     The adaptation to climate change

4     Why is it important?

5     Why should small and medium municipalities adapt to climate change?

6     How can municipalities adapt to climate change?






The climate change

The UN defines the climate change as

“a change in climate attributable to direct or indirect human activity, which alters the composition of the world’s atmosphere and that adds to the natural climate variability observed on comparable periods”

Climate can change both for human causes or for natural causes.

The temperature on The Earth is influenced by what we know as the “greenhouse effect”. This is a phenomenon that helps keep the whole day’s solar warmth in the atmosphere and that is essential to the survival of the living beings. Were the greenhouse effect not to exist, the Earth would be 30ºC cooler. Thanks to the “greenhouse effect”, the Earth has the climate that we know.

The temperature in the planet has varied along time. However, the evolution of average temperature in the atmosphere in the last 30 years has had no preceding. This increase is very connected to the human generated emission of greenhouse gases (anthropogenic). These are related to the use of fossil fuels (petroleum and derivatives) and to activities such as: transportation, building construction, industry, electricity production, farming and livestock activity, etc.

Due to the high concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, in the last 15 years, temperatures have raised nearly 1ºC and scientists warn that over 2ºC, consequences for humanity could be serious.

Socially, there is increasingly more consciousness of the problem and therefore, there is each time more work both from public and private sectors so that our activities are more responsible, generate less emissions of greenhouse gases and, consequently, have less impact in climate.





Evidence of the climate change impacts

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in which hundreds of scientists of all the countries of the world participate, affirm that the warming on the climate system is unequivocal and, from the 1950 decade, many of the observed changes have had no preceding in the last decade to millenium. “The atmosphere and the ocean have warmed up, the volumes of snow and ice have decreased, the sea level has risen and the gas concentrations of Greenhouse Effect Gases have increased.” (Fifth Evaluation Report of the IPCC, 2014). Precisely, in Europe a rise between 2º to 5ºC is foreseen at the end of the century, in relation to the current  situation.

In the other hand, the Climate Change Strategy in the Basque Country outline the conditions that extreme phenomenons like heat waves and tropical nights will cause in water availability, ecosystems and the services they provide, as the design and management of buildings and urban areas. For the end of the century, temperature is expected to rise between 1º to 3ºC, highest temperatures 4º to 5ºC and the lowest 3º to 4ºC; the floodable areas will broaden; and the precipitation will be reduced between 15 to 20%, implying a considerable threat in the winter and spring water supply, which would be translated in to a drop of 6 to 13%.

This climate variability would cause, thus, impacts in the human and economical activities, such as:

  • Due to a larger water demand, the availability would be reduced.

  • In terms of health, in Europe, the heat waves that occurred in the last decades have been the highest cause of human deaths (European Environment Agency). For example, it is estimated that the european heat wave in the summer of 2003 caused 70.000 deaths. The most affected cities were the ones where heat waves were traditionally uncommon or where temperatures largely exceeded in the regular seasonal ones. The increase of extreme temperatures would in addition affect the air quality, likewise increasing the incidence of respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses. Due to all of this, climate change would increase the need of investing on medical attentions and necessities.

  • Conditions to welfare of the population for stress situations and heat strokes, in an urban surrounding where the fresh areas and shadows in public open spaces are scarce because of a lack of vegetation and where the housing buildings, offices and production centres are not thermally conditioned because of a lack of insulation or  cross ventilation, among others.

  • Damages to infrastructure due to floodings and interruptions on public services.

  • Conditions to the presence and distribution of biodiversity, the species migrating to territories more adapted to their needs in terms of temperature, habitat availability and water zones.





The adaptation to climate change

For all described before, the IPCC outlines that it is every time more urgent and necessary to undertake adaptation actions against climate change. This actions have as a goal to anticipate and answer the climatic phenomenons that are already being observed presently and could be accentuated in the future. They need the contribution of all the society: individuals, economic sectors and public authorities.

The adaptation actions are performed through diverse mesure typologies with several objectives, for example:

  • Infrastructure protection measures to reduce the damages that would be caused directly to population, economic activities and public services for heavy precipitation or extreme heat.

  • Measures to preserve nature and services that society provides (shading, freshness, basic needs, pleasure, etc.): rules to reduce pressure on the humankind about environment, introducing green infrastructure in the city, creating ecological corridors/habitats/artificial reproduction zones.

  • Traditional solutions to collect rain water or reusing grey waters to prevent the effects of droughts.

  • Technological solutions to continuously monitor and alerting the population of air contamination phenomenons, pollen episodes, extreme heat, etc.

  • Awareness, information and formation actions for all sorts of public.

  • Thermal rehabilitation actions for the residential park to increment comfort for the population in summer and winter.




Why is it important?

The planning and implementation of adaptation measures are not only crucial to anticipate climatic risks, but also to multiple co-benefits that present in cities:

  • Improves life quality and comfort of the inhabitants through the creation of natural urban spaces, creating zones of freshness and shading.

  • Environmental benefits through preserving nature or encouraging ecosystem regeneration creating artificial habitats and facilitating the reproduction of species.

  • The increase of air quality, reducing the concentration of contaminants like suspended particles or nitrogenous elements, among others.

  • The saving of resources like energy or water, thanks to the implementation of measures to recover water or manage it intelligently.

  • Socio-economic opportunities, when creating new trading areas linked to the implementation of adaptation solutions, new job categories are created.




Why should small and medium municipalities adapt to climate change?

European cities are very vulnerable to climate changes provoked by global warming. Currently they contain around 70% of the european population and for 2050 it is expected they will contain 80%, entailing important environmental and economic challenges.

According to the European Environment Agency, in the “Climate change, impacts and vulnerability in Europe 2012” report, in the present and the future of european cities are characterised by being exposed to several threats like the increase of temperatures, the frequency and intensity of heat waves, floodings, the decrease of precipitations and repeated situations of draughts.

Generally speaking, it is important to address the adaptation from the cities for various reasons. Since it is the place where citizens reside, the City Council constitutes its first representative and it is it’s role to listen to the worries of its inhabitants and contribute to give an answer to their needs. Thanks to its competences, the City Council has several levers to activate in favor of the city to the climate risks, such as:     

  • Urbanism and construction

  • Municipal infrastructure management

  • Sustainable mobility

  • Intelligent management of public services / Smart City

  • Social welfare / energetic poverty

  • Education

  • Health

  • Civil protection

Although they represent important population concentrations, large municipalities are not the only ones interested on adapting to climate change. Indeed, large part of the population is distributed between numerous small to medium sized cities, consequently it is highly important that those cities also compromise to the climatic risks. Taking their lower operational, technological and economic resources into account, methodologies of measure prioritization are not always within reach.




How can municipalities adapt to climate change?

Good Local Adapt as a project aims to facilitate the process of adaptation to climate change in small and medium municipalities. It is centred in urban pilot areas of three small to medium municipalities in the Basque Country, with the goal of analysing the best, available options related with design and urban management. This can be of public or private initiative and will be based fundamentally on the inputs of water sector, urbanism and housing stakeholders, as well as the residents of the selected urban areas regarding the efficient management of water, drought and extreme heat.