Urban planning

Sink or swim

Astrid Dähn, 8 Aug 13
Floods, storms and heat waves caused by climate change will bring dramatic changes to our world in the coming decades. Cities will be affected the most. Policymakers and scientists are developing strategies to help us adapt.

The clouds that formed over Copenhagen on the afternoon of 2 July 2011 brought the most expensive storm in Denmark’s history. In just two hours, the city was hit by 16 centimetres of rain – a quarter of its average annual rainfall. Water poured into basements and underground train tunnels across the city, traffic ground to a halt, and hospitals had to be evacuated. “Total damages were well above half a billion euros,” says Hans-Martin Füssel of the European Environment Agency, whose headquarters are in Copenhagen. Since then, the city has invested around EUR 400 million to make itself more flood-resistant, building higher steps around underground station entrances to keep out floodwater and attempting to separate rainwater drainage from residential and industrial waste water systems. “We want to be ready for the next big storm,” says Füssel.

Copenhagen is not alone. Cities all over the world are starting to think about how to prepare for extreme weather. They call it “adapting to climate change”. They are responding to forecasts by climate experts who say that severe weather such as torrential rain, hurricanes, heat waves, and higher global temperatures will be far more common in the future. Statistics from insurance companies show that economic losses from natural disasters are already on the rise. In 2011, losses hit a new record of USD 220 billion, says reinsurance giant Munich Re. And things could get much worse. Since the beginning of the industrial era, global temperatures have increased by 0.8 degrees Celsius (°C). A new study by the World Bank describes scenarios with increases of 4 to 5 °C by 2100. “Despite all of our climate negotiations, global carbon dioxide emissions have risen by more than 40 percent since Kyoto. The climate system has a lag, so we should expect higher temperatures in the medium term,” says Olivia Serdeczny of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, which conducted the study.

This is an abridged version of the article – the full text is available in new energy issue 03/2013

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