We are increasingly faced with the actions that we must take to mitigate the effects of global warming. Across the built environment, we will need to rethink many traditional assumptions, practices and design choices. We will need to strengthen certain types of infrastructure or retrofit buildings and assets to cope with changing climate effects. 

Climate change effects are now recognised the world over. In Europe in 2022 many countries struggled with extended periods of 40+°C for the first time. Powerful storms and higher rainfall damaged bridges, roads and other infrastructure. In the UK, where most buildings have been designed to cope with the cold and wet, we were faced with the challenge of overheating. During the heatwave, certain rail services were reduced to 20mph. And then a related spike in the use of air-conditioning systems leads to greater consumption of energy and thus higher emissions. Climate adaptation requires that we find break this cycle of negative effects and design sustainable solutions to these issues.

Breadth of measures

Climate change adaptation isn’t about building ‘more’ necessarily – in fact it requires a nuanced and contextual response. In dryer climes, people will have to remove scrub to avoid wildfires. In coastal areas, sea defences will have to be increased to resist rising sea levels. Agriculture will also have to adapt as seasonal rainfall patterns change – for countries reliant on particular crops this is a particularly potent socio-economic threat. What’s also clear is that globally, adaptive capacity varies greatly, due to differing levels of wealth, strength of governance and other factors. There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution, we will all have to find our own way.

In construction we must anticipate that sourcing raw materials becomes more difficult, with a growing focus on recycling, re-use and circular economy principles. Individuals may choose green roofing, rainwater harvesting or tree planting to keep their property cooler. On a larger scale, governments may have to build glacial dams to prevent flash flooding as ice melts and bursts through the existing moraine of rock and debris in front of the glacier. The adaptation to-do list is long and challenging.

In different ways, we will all become involved in climate change adaptation. Solutions will involve making trade-offs and compromises between competing goals – so adaptation requires openness to new ideas, effective public engagement and transparency about proposed solutions. The most scalable and sustainable solutions will often embody a nature-based approach – for example green façades or passive heating and cooling. Some ideas might seem radical – so the case must be made with tenacity and rigour. 

Across the built environment we have already begun to identify effective adaptations, measures that can be adopted today and produce much needed resilience to climate threats.