Cities tackle climate change adaptation

st kjeld beforeIncluding subnational governments like cities in the UNFCCC discussions has been on the front burner since COP19 in Warsaw.  While only sovereign countries may enter treaties, State Parties recognize that achieving Article 2’s goal of climate stabilization will take effort from other governmental jurisdictions, as well as civil society and private businesses.

And so this article about the first climate change-adapted neighorhood stood out.  Not only is the engineering and landscape design feat recently unveiled in St.Kjeld intriguing, it is striking that this neighborhood is in Copenhagen, Denmark, site of the 2009 COP15, which launched the idea of nationally determined contributions that now forms the backbone of negotiation for the new Paris Agreement at COP21.

“Climate change is a reality and we have to be prepared for floods, storms and rising sea levels,” says René Sommer Lindsay, the city official in charge of St. Kjeld’s transformation. “The [2011] cloudburst was really a wake-up call. We said, ‘Instead of doing pinpoint projects, let’s develop a rainwater master plan.’ Rainwater is only a problem if it goes where you don’t want it to go.”

City planners tore up neighborhood squares and replaced the asphalt with a hilly, grassy carpet interspersed with walking paths. When the next big storm hits, these mini-parks will become water basins, able to collect run-off water from surrounding buildings’ roofs as well. Streets with raised sidewalks will become “cloudburst boulevards,” serving as canals that channel rainwater away from the city to the harbor.  In the meantime, the new greenery cools the air as summer temperatures rise in northern Europe.  “Climate change is a huge opportunity to build greener cities,” Flemming Rafn Thomsen of Tredje Natur, the Danish architecture firm chosen for the project, explains. “We should stop pushing nature away and stop pretending that we can push the weather away. It’s a whole new paradigm.”

Noting that a city like Mumbai, which the World Bank ranks as the world’s fifth most exposed to floods, may not be able to afford Copenhagen’s climate-change adaptation strategies, this article points out how many cities actually can. Seven of the 10 most exposed cities, including New York and Tampa, Florida, are located in developed countries. New York, which has committed $20 billion to climate-change adaptation, is opting for floodwalls, while the Dutch delta city of Rotterdam has gone even further, designing a plan for floating neighborhoods. Several others are experimenting with mini-parks, which Morten Kabell, Copenhagen’s deputy mayor in charge of environment and technology, credits to people liking “blue and green, not gray. Countries talk,” he adds, “but cities know they have to act.”