These changes are gradually starting to manifest themselves in a number of ways and each change in turn is presenting an increasingly frequent and wide-ranging array of challenges to the urbanised areas of the world.
Whether it’s an increase in wildfire activity encroaching upon once safe suburbs or the major risks presented by catastrophic flooding potential to emerging mega cities, the stakes have never been higher for the populations of urban areas and those who design and govern them.
One of the most serious developments playing out in this evolving climate change scenario is the rise in average temperatures increasingly felt during the summer months, with historical records smashed on a seemingly annual basis.
This is a major problem for those whose infrastructure and urban fabric simply isn’t designed for such conditions.
This is a major problem for the cities and urban population centres of northern Europe.
Feeling the Heat
A new normal seems to be emerging in the recorded temperatures around the world and for the historically temperate cities of Europe, this is bad news.
With Paris and Germany both recording their highest temperatures ever this year already (41 degrees and 40.5 degrees Celsius respectively), record breaking heat waves that would have once been considered ‘once in a generation’ events now seem to be moving into the ‘once or twice a year’ category.
While cities in the U.S, Asia and Africa may be built for such conditions, their European counterparts are not.
The inadequacy of cities such as London, Paris, Berlin and Amsterdam to cope with such seasonally unusual conditions is far from surprising given the history of the climate up until now, but when temperatures in Belgium and the Netherlands begin outstripping those in Nevada and New Mexico, it’s clear that changes need to be made, and soon.
So what can Europe’s cities do to adapt to a rapidly changing climate that’s challenging historical norms?
Adapting to Change – A Natural Response
Undoubtedly the greatest threats from rapidly increasing temperatures come from a lack of ventilation, shade and cooling measures (both active and passive) in place across the built environment and the structures which comprise it.
While air conditioning may be a frequent sight in many parts of the world where high summer temperatures are the norm, outside of public buildings and commercial units, the same cannot be said for the cities of northern Europe where historically this has simply not been an issue.
Beyond this reality however, there are very real considerations around the use of such active methods of cooling further contributing to both increased energy usage and the use of refrigerant greenhouse gasses, both of which – in a scenario of higher global use – would feedback into the system and potentially further exacerbate climate deterioration.
This could very quickly result in a ‘one step forward, two steps back’ scenario – far from a sustainable solution and short-term planning to the extreme.
Europe therefore needs to look beyond quick fixes to these imminent problems and seek to address the newly emerging climate reality from a structural, holistic and almost certainly, naturally informed point of view.
It’s a very human response to seek the quickest and most painless fix to the immediate problems we find ourselves faced with, however as ecological issues and environmental challenges so often teach us, shortcuts today lead to considerably more pain tomorrow.
Only by adapting our urban environment to the changing situation (rather than simply responding to it) will a sustainable solution for mitigating these challenging new conditions emerge.
As with living organisms in complex and ever-changing natural environments, European cities – and indeed, those around the world – now need to evolve with the shifts taking place around them, rather than continually seeking to triage the symptoms.