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Cambridge Forum for Sustainability and the Environment


In January 2015, the Forum and the Centre for Science and Policy launched a policy challenges briefing that draws on the experience of some of the Forum's witnesses and highlights key policy issues related to climate resilience in cities. 

Throughout the year, the Forum worked in partnership with the Cambridge Centre for Science and Policy (CSaP) Policy Challenges Programme to address how policy makers might better understand the effects of climate change on cities and urbanised and urbanising populations, and reflect on the adaptation of existing built environments and modes of governance.

Can we rethink how we design and live in cities? What measures can be taken to make them more resilient to extreme climate events and to long-term changes in climate? The Policy Challenges Programme posed these questions to a range of policy makers, technical experts and researchers drawn from the Forum and their answers have been brought together into a policy briefing that highlights some of the key issues in climate resilience in cities.

Launching the output

On the evening of 21 January, an enthusiastic audience gathered at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) to launch the policy challenge briefing “Resilient Cities” and hear how cities can adapt to a changing climate. We brought together an interdisciplinary panel of distinguished speakers whose diverse perspectives illuminated the complexity of the problem of climate change and cities, and the urgency of the response required from government, industry, civil society and individuals. 

The four speakers had all taken part in the Forum's meetings about sustainable cities. Emily Shuckburgh is one of the founding members of the Forum and the other three speakers joined us as expert witnesses.

The chair for the evening was CSaP Policy Fellow, Dr Craig Davies (Senior Manager, Climate Change Adaptation at EBRD). He introduced EBRD’s efforts in this area, pointing to its work in vulnerable countries in the Eastern and Southern Mediterranean and he then introduced the speakers.

What challenges should cities expect?

Emily Shuckburgh, Head of the Open Oceans research group at the British Antarctic Survey highlighted the severe costs of recent extreme weather events, such as the €12 billion associated with the floods across Europe in 2013. Whilst average global temperatures are predicted to increase by 2.6 – 4.8⁰C by the end of the century, local temperature increases could exceed 5⁰C, exacerbated in cities by urban heat island effects. Rising sea levels also present a severe threat. Many rapidly developing cities lack the capacity required for effective mitigation and adaptation, an urgent problem which needs to be tackled.

How can cities cope with rising temperatures?

Alan Short, Professor of Architecture at the University of Cambridge illustrated the role buildings can play. Viable options do exist for creating climate-friendly buildings, an example being a Maltese export brewery which can maintain its internal temperature at 14⁰C lower than its external environment, with no energy input. However, a significant obstacle is the cultural aspiration to unsustainable steel and glass buildings; as such, a fundamental reorientation of the cultural pre-occupations within the design professions – and more widely - is needed.

How can cities plan systemically for climate change?

Mark Kleinman, Director of Economic and Business Policy at the Greater London Authority rounded off the presentations with his views on how cities can plan systemically for climate change. An infrastructure plan for London extending to 2050 is currently being drawn up, which tackles challenges in parallel rather than in isolation. Cities are a natural focus for thinking about co-dependencies, and it is this sort of systems approach which is vital for adapting to climate change.

The challenges facing cities are clearly severe, but the event illustrated how we can mitigate and adapt for the effects of climate change through long-term, systemic, and coordinated planning, and fired enthusiasm and ideas for doing just that.

Talks were followed by 25 minutes of lively Q&A with the audience.

This article written by James Hynard, Centre for Science and Policy and originally appeared as a news item on the CSaP website here

lawrie robertson quote

"Cities will be where we win or lose the battle to provide a decent future for most people on the planet."

Lawrie Robertson
Buro Happold, Cities Group.

mark kleinman quote

"Governance is crucial: sustainability needs to be achieved with and through people’s consent. Dialogue and accountability are as important as technological fixes."

Mark Kleinman, Greater London Authority

stephen aldridge quote

"Cities need to be flexible, agile and able to respond to whatever shocks and stresses come their way in the future."

Stephen Aldridge, Department for Communities and Local Government