As the weather gets more extreme we need to adapt to new circumstances. Building resilience may be costly, therefore can we reduce the upfront costs by sharing the burden while increasing (co)benefits at the same time? Ecomatters and Deltares, with support from the Province of Utrecht, explored how ‘adopting’ climate adaptation measures can help.
More extreme weather risks
Over the last few years, there has been an increase in the occurrence of weather extremes due to shifting climatological patterns. This, among others things, can manifest in (localised) flooding from intense downpours and stormwater surges, or prolonged periods of intense heat and drought. The impact of these events can create significant risks for both human society and nature alike. However, the occurrence and impact of extreme weather are difficult to predict. Even though it is not straightforward to forecast a specific event, it is possible to adapt to the increased risk profile.
How to adapt
Climate adaptation can be fostered by implementing specific spatial measures like providing water infiltration zones or adding plants to streets, walls, or roofs. The measures can be both technical in nature, like permeable pavement, or can rely on the natural benefits provided by trees, plants, and bodies of water. These green or hybrid types of climate adaptation measures can be implemented in existing real-estate situations or be included in plans that are currently under development. From a technical or practical perspective, this is not complex. However, the reality is that climate adaptation measures are not yet broadly applied., This leads to knowledge gaps in financial risks, (technical) effectiveness, and upscaling potential. Unfavourable enabling conditions regarding governance, finance, and legislation associated with planning and implementing climate adaptation measures are the main obstacles.
Challenges facing climate adaptation efforts
Financing green and hybrid climate adaptation measures is an issue. Although these measures can result in more attractive environments, the impacts of the risks they seek to dampen are not felt directly. Reducing the risks is generally acknowledged to be important, but preventative investments are usually only made available after (for instance) incurring water damage due to flooding.
When a development plan is prepared, the ‘nice to have’ additions such as climate adaptation measures may be the first to be removed when only looking from a common financial and (hard) engineering perspective. Additionally, these types of measures require investments that do not lead to returns, in contrast to, for instance, energy-saving measures.
Exploring opportunities for shared financing
As upfront investment is an obstacle it is conceivable to consider sharing the investment burden with third-party contributors. There is already a long history of companies and public organisations supporting event organisations, public space maintenance, and contributions to civil society. The same principle can be applied to climate adaptation measures. This can lay the groundwork for ‘adopting’ an adaptation project. An explorative project into this idea was supported by the Province of Utrecht.
During this project, Ecomatters & Deltares looked into which methods could be used to assess the adaptation contribution across a range of measures and real-estate development situations. This laid the groundwork for a low-effort and low-input assessment framework (supported by an Excel model) that was developed and tested in two cases. The result allows for comparative indicative quick scan assessments of projects consisting of climate adaptation measures. It makes it possible to showcase the relative difference between the projects and their package of measures with a simple scoring system. This offers three types of benefits, namely:
- promoting the relative resilience benefits of projects to third parties to entice finance,
- to offer potential financiers the option to buy into the most promising projects, and
- provides feedback on improvement areas if the achieved score is lacking.
Climate adaptation in the upcoming future
The developed assessment framework/model has gone through initial validation and seems promising. For now, more testing needs to be done and the resulting feedback can further strengthen the model. The basis for a handbook has been developed too, and after more iterations, this may lead to a fully-fledged adoption scheme for climate adaptation projects!