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Adaptation and mitigation


Adaptation and mitigation 3 of 4

To address climate change and its effects, there are two basic and complementary strategic approaches:

  • mitigation strategies that target the causes of climate change, such as reducing carbon emissions, and
  • adaptation strategies that focus on addressing the impacts and risks that climate change will bring in the future or that are already with us, such as the redesign of buildings to deal with hotter and wetter weather.

Mitigation strategies are, by their very nature, long-term measures and are therefore difficult to implement successfully. Climate change mitigation has been addressed by both legal frameworks – at global (Kyoto Protocol); regional (EU Climate and Energy Package); and national levels – and market instruments, such as the European Emissions Trading System. However, their success is not guaranteed. Therefore, there is a need to adopt adaptation strategies, which will have a clearer, more immediate impact on reducing climate change related losses. Adaptation measures, in relation to real estate, can be grouped into a number of categories:

  1. Planning controls – the most obvious measure to avoid flood risk is to avoid building in areas at risk of flooding. Policy should be implemented which directs new development towards more suitable location. Other measures which allow buildings to incorporate a podium may also be effective.
  2. Flood mapping and zoning – detailed flood-zone maps, such as those published by the UK’s Environment Agency, help raise awareness of flood risk and help plan for adaptation.
  3. Building regulations – at risk buildings can be made more resistant through improvements to foundations and drainage, as well as the use of water resistant materials. This can be complemented by voluntary green building certification systems (e.g BREEAM in the UK; LEED in the US), which encourage flood risk awareness.
  4. Building design measures – raising essential infrastructure above flood-prone areas is one of the most effective measures to help protect the operational capacity of a building. Sustainable Drainage Systems can also help manage rainwater run-off, reducing the pressure of the sewer system.
  5. Leasing checklist - For tenants in search of new business space, checklists need to contain an assessment of a building’s capacity and its management processes to cope under various degrees of flooding. For example, as data centres play an increasingly important role in modern business infrastructure, it is critical to provide a flood-proof environment for such installations.
  6. Business continuity planning measures – Flood risk will never be completely eradicated. It is necessary, therefore, for tenants to be fully prepared for the worst case scenario. Best practice has shifted towards a focus on maintaining productivity through harnessing advances made in mobile technology.

However, adaptation goes beyond individual buildings and planning rules. More than anything the lessening of risk is based upon wider public infrastructure and city-wide flood defences.

One such example of flood defences is the Thames Barrier, which protects an estimated £200 billion worth of property, including 500,000 homes. Its value was clearly demonstrated recently during the UK’s wettest winter in recorded history, when the barrier was closed 20 times in February 2014 compared to only four times during the entire 1980s, when it was originally built.

Another well-known example is the system of dams and dunes that protect the Netherlands from tidal flooding, which is vital as 70% of the country’s GDP is generated in areas that lie below sea-level. This includes the Delta Works, which were constructed between 1950 and 1997 and are the planet’s largest flood barrier system, measuring a total of 25km.

With rising sea levels, however, even these mega-structures will not be enough to protect lives and property indefinitely. Instead, cities will need to constantly strengthen their defences. London is already discussing the possibility of another tidal barrier, while the Netherlands is considering whether to modify its system and allow certain areas to be flooded.

Originally published : April 2014

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