21.05.2019 / Helle Baker
One of the greatest social and financial challenges of the future is to ensure that towns and cities are prepared for major storm events. When investing in climate adaptation, municipalities have a great opportunity to set new standards for sustainable urban development and create even more value for their citizens than merely protecting them against the water masses. However, that calls for long-term thinking and close collaboration across disciplines.
In the latest edition of the World Economic Forum's Global Risks Report, failure of climate-change adaptation and mitigation is ranked as the second largest threat facing our world, both in terms of impact and likelihood.
The wider economic impacts of climate change and more incidents of extreme weather events are surely increasing. The US National Centres for Environmental Information have calculated the average price of each severe storm event to be USD 2.2 billion.
The severe impacts are not unique to the US. In the summer of 2011, Copenhagen in Denmark experienced an extreme 100-year rainfall event. During this particular storm, rainfall measured almost 100 mm in just 60 minutes, resulting in damage worth close to USD 1 billion.
In many ways, this proved a revelation for Danish municipalities, and soon it became evident that climate change was causing new challenges, which the municipalities had to deal with.
But there is also a positive side to it. Although climate change leads to a range of new challenges and extra costs for municipalities around the world, it also leads to new opportunities in terms of innovative thinking and setting new standards for sustainable urban development.
Climate adaptation as a driver for sustainable urban development
This was indeed the case for the Danish town of Middelfart. Located next to the Little Belt, the strait between the island of Funen and the Jutland Peninsula in Denmark, it is highly exposed when sea levels rise, and to mitigate this risk, the Climate City and the Climate Waterfront projects were initiated.
The projects are two of several large-scale innovative climate adaptation projects in Middelfart that act as ambitious responses to local climate challenges. Yet the projects do a lot more than merely manage growing water volumes.
Besides protecting the town from being flooded, the projects create more value for the town's inhabitants through urban development focusing on multifunctional design of urban spaces and structures. And strategically, by managing rainwater on ground as a supplement to pipes underground, and thereby developing a town that is greener, healthier and more fun.