COWI TAKES ON CLIMATE CHALLENGES BY ESTABLISHING NEW KNOWLEDGE CENTRE FOR CLIMATE CHANGE ADAPTATION

12.03.2021

Our climate is changing and we are seeing more climate change-related damage. To address future climate challenges and meet the increasing demand for expertise in this field, COWI is establishing an interdisciplinary centre dedicated to climate change adaptation. 

The idea for COWI to establish a centre for climate change adaption developed over time: The consequences of climate change have become more visible and more frequent. In December 2020, the Norwegian capital of Oslo saw record-breaking levels of precipitation, making it the wettest December in 61 years. In parallel, the demand for expertise in adaptation to a wetter and wilder climate is increasing.

“This is a growing problem for society. For instance, there is no standard procedure for including climate factors when designing surface water solutions to protect ourselves from the future climate. Most of us recognise that climate change is real and that climate change-related damage is becoming more frequent. Extreme weather is also becoming more frequent and wilder. Roads, railways and infrastructure are hit hard as are buildings. We need to join forces across technical disciplines to take on these challenges and provide future-proof consultancy services to our customers,” says Phan Åge Haugård, who is Head of the Centre for Climate Change Adaptation. 

The social mission of the centre is to provide a safer society for its users, given today’s and tomorrow’s climate. Phan Åge believes it makes sense to distinguish between preventing and limiting climate change, and adapting to the climate change that we expect to see in the future. 

“Preventing climate change is a difficult task and we will reap the benefits of those measures far into the future. But what we humans excel at is to adapt to our surroundings and the climate we live in today. And we see the effects of this relatively quickly. That’s why we’re establishing this centre.”

The disciplines covered by the centre include, e.g., geology, hydrogeology, environment, surface water management, planning, water and wastewater. 

The resources related to the centre were involved in projects regarding surface water management and flooding for the City of Oslo, Nye Veier and Askøy Municipality, to mention a few.

Challenges to urban and rural areas alike

Rural areas also face the task of adapting to an ever more unpredictable climate. Many buildings in the rural fringe of Norway are built in steep terrain or at the bottom of valleys. Flooding and landslides alike pose a security issue to people settling there, food production and transport. The geology also presents challenges in flatter areas. In those areas, quick clay is a very real problem. 

Head of Section of Geohazards – Flooding and Landslides, Christian Rekve Bryn, will be responsible for coordinating and developing action plans to prevent landslides and flooding. A hydrogeologist, Bryn’s core competencies are in mapping, protection and monitoring. 

“The most visible effects of climate change in Norway are the increasing frequency and intensity of extreme weather. This will not only cause large-scale problems in connection with flooding and surface water management; precipitation and runoff also trigger landslides.

Heavy precipitation and increasing problems involving surface water, sea level rises, flooding and landslides can pose a threat to our lives and safety,” says Bryn. 

“This will vary from year to year, depending on regional differences in Norway, but it’s clear that a more unstable and extreme climate can endanger human health and lives, which makes it an important topic in terms of keeping our society safe. In addition, we also see how flooding in particular destroys crops, threatening food security in parts of the country.” 

“Often, solutions involve mapping, protection and/or monitoring and warning systems. We work closely with among others Cautus Geo, who are specialised in sensor technology. We have also teamed up with NORCE and the University of Bergen for an application for the Research Council of Norway for funds to undertake an extensive study of quick clay in the Oslo region.”

Climate change adaptation benefitting society 

According to Finance Norway and Norwegian Natural Perils Pool, damage to buildings and property worth around NOK 30 billion was reported in the course of the past decade. In 2019, the central part of Eastern Norway saw massive damage caused by extreme precipitation, costs totalling around NOK 250 million. And damage caused by storms in Northern Norway amounted to some NOK 200 million. 

“All of these events are extremely costly to society! By taking precautions and implementing climate adaptation measures, we can save huge amounts of money. According to our calculations, we save NOK 25 for every NOK 1 that we spend on specific measures. We should opt for the measures that give the most value for our money. That is only fair to tax payers. For instance, if water charges go up when hidden infrastructure needs renovating, the charge should go towards the projects that offer the highest socioeconomic sustainability,” says Phan Åge Haugård.

Left to right: Head of Centre, Phan Åge Haugård; Svein Ole Åstebøl, Ragni Rønneberg Hernes, Anne Skammestein Aarebru (in front) and Marta Bakke.

Among other things, the centre will take on assignments in:

  • Surface water management: collecting, regulating and retaining water, and providing safe flood paths. 
  • Flooding and landslides: calculations, modelling and design of protection measures, and creation of monitoring and warning systems. 
  • Hydrogeology: registration of pore pressure and groundwater level, and of soil infiltration and retention qualities. 
  • Planning, water and wastewater: Blue-green solutions that combine function and aesthetics, and create interesting urban spaces, while considering surface water a resource. 
 

Get in contact

Phan Åge Haugård
Head of Center
Center for Climate Adaptation, Norway

Tel: +47 971 15 531