Net zero and resilient places

Building resilient, net zero, sustainable cities

Urban transformation is essential to climate action. Resilience of places and people must be strengthened as we eliminate emissions from the ways we live, work and play.

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Cities great and small are facing the impacts of climate change and the need to develop greater resilience. Urban leaders and communities want quality of life, wellbeing, and financial security to be protected at the same time as the physical resilience of critical infrastructure and systems.

At the same time, net zero targets are focusing leaders’ minds on decarbonisation. Given the contribution cities and the global built environment make to global greenhouse gas emissions, leaders will increasingly be expected to take action to reduce emissions as they simultaneously build resilience and create truly sustainable cities.

Cities are at the heart of responding to climate change – action taken at a city scale to build greater resilience and to decarbonise has the power to create healthier, more equitable places at the same time.

Richard de Cani Richard de Cani Global Cities, Planning & Design Leader
a photograph of a sustainable urban development, designed and developed by Arup and partners
Developing investable and sustainable urban solutions

Working with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, we and our partners have been establishing Green City Action Plans across Central and Eastern Europe. These aim to identify and shape investable projects, programmes, and policy actions that address significant environmental issues.

We have the solutions

Now is the time to transform how our cities are planned, designed, and operated so that we create a new type of resilience – one that allows infrastructure, communities, and neighbourhoods to absorb the effects of extreme weather whenever possible and to recover quickly and confidently when impacts are significant.

Alongside a need for greater urban resilience, cities will increasingly be at the forefront of limiting future climate change. Introducing low-carbon, circular economy approaches to core processes can be used to design-out the very emissions that are fuelling climate change. Meanwhile large-scale energy efficiency retrofits for existing building stock or energy-intensive sectors have the potential to lower cities’ baseline emissions significantly.

Our approachTo achieve decarbonisation and build resilience we identify four priorities for cities:


Map climate risks

Climate change brings paradoxical challenges for cities – hotter summers, wetter and sometimes colder winters, more frequent and intense rainfall, and more droughts. No city is the same, but all are being affected by disruption of our global climate systems.

We build detailed models of the climate hazards and risks cities face, which serve as tools to help leaders and communities make good decisions about how to build greater resilience.

Not all cities are equally exposed to the same climate hazards or have the same means to respond. Developing solutions that are effective, implementable, and scalable within a specific local context is essential.


Retrofit for lower energy demand

The need to reduce carbon emissions rapidly across the built environment makes retrofit rather than building new, an increasingly favoured option. Large-scale reuse and refurbishment programmes of existing buildings and infrastructure are on the horizon for many cities, offering the opportunity to permanently reduce baseline energy demand as well as the chance to use more sustainable materials.

As the wider built environment sector is challenged to reduce its contribution to global climate change – currently calculated to exceed a third of global emissions – innovations designed to implement circular economy techniques will be essential. We have worked with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation to develop a Circular Economy Buildings Toolkit to accelerate the use of circular economy approaches by designers around the world.

Find out more about our retrofit experience

Design for resilience

Not all the shocks can be prevented, but preparation helps ensure good recovery. Our focus is on designing for true resilience, one that can weather the shocks and stresses that are part of global climate change.

Green infrastructure can support a city’s long-term resilience. Introducing new or retrofitted urban wetlands, permeable paving, water roofs and sustainable drainage can allow an urban environment’s capacity to hold and absorb water to increase substantially.

Following severe damage caused by climate cycle El Nino Costero in Peru in 2017, we are helping to build climate resilience in Peru by deploying nature-based solutions and supporting the reconstruction and enhancement of infrastructure across nine regions.

In Europe, we are advising public and private clients on ways to strengthen resilience against pluvial and riverine flooding in northern regions and against drought, wildfire and extreme temperature in southern regions.


Use digital to accelerate the urban energy transition

Embracing the clean energy transition at a city scale can significantly reduce the carbon emissions generated within urban environments. Achieving these gains will require strong physical and digital connectivity. We are working with cities, regions, and utilities as they develop more complex grids, implement battery storage to facilitate greater reliance on renewables, and manage demand using real-time data.

Find out more about our approach to urban energy


Meet our expert