ACT Newsletter - Adapting to Climate change in Time

Newsletter 04 - November 2012

Climate Change and new frontiers in Planning and Management of Cities Resilient

Marco Cardinaletti, ACT Project Manager - Environmental Planning and Local Development Expert

I open this editorial, while Italy is under storm, flooded and flooded millimeters of rain came down all of a sudden within a few days. A rain that although predicted in advance, it has devastated entire towns, creating enormous environmental and economic damage, highlighting once again the incredible fragility in our area and the high level of risk safety of our local communities. I want also to focus attention on two aspects that I consider priority and strongly linked to Climate Change: the question of "land use" and the question "health."

The first relates in general to the increasingly pressing need to reformulate the policies of urban settlements, through the recovery of the territory, the protection of eroded and urbanized coastlines and the river basins choked by concrete and a short-sighted policy of land consumption perpetrated over the years. The second relates to the need to partially revise local policies on the health and safety of citizens, because many of the climatic phenomena are jeopardizing the safety of our local communities, "We have to learn to deal with the culture of risk" said in an interview the Mayor of Genoa Municipality, Marco Doria (Republic, November 11, 2012). We have to do it but we have to try to increase cities ability to "adaptation", through the reduction of impacts and vulnerability. I add. In my opinion these are the concepts to work on in the near future to reduce the risk and build "resilient cities", that is able to "learn to adapt to changes, keeping active in their life functions". Some researchers argue that many of the environmental disasters we are witnessing, are not so much attributable to the climatic phenomenon itself, as the increase of anthropogenic pressures and vulnerabilities that have made our city fragile and highly exposed.

I agree, but with a necessary clarification. Something in the climate is changing rapidly. The numbers say it all, tell it the phenomena that occur with increasing frequency. The events in this week's mid-November have crippled much of the Italian territory are, unfortunately, the evidence that something is changing. On a day in the city of La Spezia it have fallen about 230mm/mq of water. In Maremma about 350mm/mq. In both cases, more than half the quantity of water which usually falls in a year. It 'clear that we are witnessing a radical change for anything irrelevant. It should also be noted that some weather events are increasingly losing their exceptional character, instead becoming frequent and regular. Underestimating these trends so it is not correct. It’s true, however, that today more than in the past, the exceptional occurrence, not expected, is able to produce much higher impacts due to the reckless employment, often abusive, soil and the strong anthropogenic pressures that our territories are subjected to. Often we build houses where they should not be built, often we build houses in such a way that they should not be built. The illegal construction, land use senseless are, in fact, an important tool that can dramatically affect the amplitude of the effects produced by the weather and the importance of the damages suffered, both in terms of human lives that environmental and economic losses.

Ultimately, we can agree on one fact: the risk environmental disasters, affects the increase of vulnerability, rather than the change in the weather, which is also evident. For this reason, if we want to build a profile of resilience of our city, we should work more on the prevention phase, through a serious and systematic maintenance of the territory, through the definition of new management tools and new models of urban planning, capable of dealing with organically critical that climate change presents us. Along the same line of thought seems to me also arises the current Minister of the Environment Clini (Italy) said in a recent interview that "against the disruption it would take 40 billion in fifteen years. We need to retool the territory, adjust the water drainage systems in urban areas are, in part rethink sewer systems, redesign the beds of rivers and streams that cross the urban areas, as is the dramatic case of Genoa, but also in Rome. Infrastructural interventions that allow to absorb the amount of water that reaches sudden". The risk reduction is done through investments in infrastructure, redesigning of how to design the territory and for the territory, in the construction of new and more modern works of engineering can limit the impact. Everything must be reconsidered and redesigned in a different way, so that it reduces the risk increasing resilience. There is a strong indirect relationship between the two concepts. This relationship tends to reverse depending on whether you work on the management of impacts or reduction of vulnerability. Depending on whether you work on contingency or prevention. It changes depending on contingency or prevention, and above all it has a delayed action with approximate measurements, most of the impacts are significant weather event produces, thus increasing the gap between the risk level and ability of the system to absorb it, or to be resilient.

It should however be reversed this relationship. What I like to call the tip of the Pyramid-Risk Resilience. If you really want to build a Resilient City, it must be strengthened preventive phase, defining all the pre-event measures which today are often not even planned not only implemented. It should be worked on reducing the vulnerability that is more than on the containment of the impacts. This can reverse the trend, reducing the risk and increasing the capacity of the urban system to maintain their vital functions even in the presence of an extreme event.

The treatment is called prevention. Ordinary, but not obvious. We often work on the management of post-event, forgetting that the essential step is the prevention. This obviously involve new approaches to management and, as previously said, new operating methods of Strategic and Urbanistic Planning.

There are several examples that I could give, one of them is the city of Rotterdam that I had the pleasure of visiting recently. The big problem of the City of Rotterdam are floods. They try to solve it, the whole city is designed with an interconnected system of large green areas, squares, fountains and canals that become, in a pinch, real containment, water system and drainage. Everything is designed in an organic way, because the city can continue to "live" during the extreme event, without forgetting design, research and development of harmonious lines of the landscape. Everything is designed in order that all is beautiful and functional. So the squares became a space with dual function: to socialize and to avert the hazard at the same time. In the coming decades, moreover, the adaptation strategy will be developed by the achievement of a truly innovative and sustainable urban design: build whole urban districts on the water. By 2040, in an area of about 1600 hectares there will be built about 13,000 "climate-proof" house, 1200 of them on the water. In these "floating districts," people can live, shop, work, meet and spend their free time. Currently there were built three operating structures, where the demonstration Administration arrange events, conferences and exhibitions.

The other aspect that I would like to argue is about the strong connection between Climatic Change and Health Policies. This problem has been for long time in focus of the debate in the European Union institutional and worldwide research institutions. But this problem has caused incorrectly less interest at the local level.
The climatic change is having a slow, but progressive impacts on public health and the organization of daily life of local communities. The global Warming that occurred from 1970 since 2003 has claimed more than 140,000 excess deaths per year (compared to expected deaths) with direct costs to the health estimated to be between 2 and 4 billion dollars a year.
The rise of temperatures, in particular a direct relationship with the increase of mortality for cardiovascular and reapiratory disease, especially in the elderly population. We must consider that the heat wave that affected much of Europe in 2003 caused in more than 70% excess deaths.

For this reason, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) launched the Atlas of Health and Climate, highlighting what are the most important challenges of today, suggesting how to use the meteorological information climate and to protect public health. In this context some statistical data can help us to develop a more accurate study.

"The prevention and preparedness are at the heart of public health. Risk management is our daily bread", said Margaret Chan, General Director of the WHO. "The information on the variability and climate change are therefore a powerful scientific tool to help us in this task" adds Michel Jarraud, General Secretary of WMO, that "the strengthening of cooperation between the weather community and the health is essential to ensure the integration of timely, accurate and relevant information on weather and climate in the management of public health international, national and local levels".

On this field of analysis there is still a lot of work. There is, first of all, a new system of governance to build, strengthen the relationship and cooperation between research institutes in the field of medicine, the hospitals and local authorities. There is the demand to built a new frontier of what is security management in urban areas. It’s necessary to redefine the instruments of government also in this sector, following locally what WHO and WMO have proposed, or an atlas of local health issues and climatic aspects. On this issue, in 2011, the project ACT - Adapting to climate change in time, of which I am the project manager, it has begun to think along with ISPRA and the three partner cities during a workshop dedicated. This is an issue that should be addressed in a much more structured. Nowadays there are not available information or easily obtainable, so it means that is necessary begin to define some policies of local prevention on these areas.
On this issue, many actions act on the management of contingency and a few on prevention and preparation (to use the concepts expressed by Margaret Chan). Something is happening on the front of heat waves.
There are many areas for improvement that could be achieved. The community of engineers and planners should begin to think more also on this field of study.
We are talking about aspects of the border but should be considered in the definition of an adaptation strategy that is intended to be integrated and perfectly connected with the guidelines of European commission and the search for sustainable development. In fact, even this approach can be regarded as Green Economy.

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