University of Helsinki: Cities need a combination of different solutions to adapt to climate change

“We are analysing the impacts of global warming on cities – a very timely subject! We emphasise the importance of research. The research should support cities in adapting to and solving climate change,” says
Jari Niemelä
. Niemelä is one of the authors of the article, Professor of Urban Ecology and President of the University of Helsinki.

Record hot weather has become more common on every continent. Current climate change models predict the mean maximum temperature in cities globally will increase by 2–8°C in just a few decades. In broad terms, extreme heat has a negative impact on urban conditions globally – especially on urban liveability, the well-being and equality of residents and urban infrastructure and planning. Extreme weather also affects nature in the city, which must be taken into account in order for nature and people to interact positively in cities of the future.

“We need people to act now. 2070 is less than 50 years away so most people will experience the increase of temperature in our cities in their own lifetime,” emphasises the article’s lead author Brenda Lin of Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO).

“We need more comprehensive, systematic and multidisciplinary urban research, which is why we are investing in multidisciplinary urban research at the University of Helsinki. The goal is for research to provide a high degree of understanding on the impact of climate change and extreme weather on urban conditions – including the health of residents. I believe that research data will be utilised in decision-making as every effort is made to guarantee a sustainable future for cities,” Niemelä emphasises.

Urban preparation and adaptation for an extreme climate
“Urban survival and adaptation to extreme weather conditions means that a comprehensive and versatile urban decision-making approach will be needed. A technological and nature, social and health-based approach is important for cities to make their future possible,” says Niemelä.

The team of experts found that adaptation measures which integrated technological, nature-based, and social solutions are probably the most effective in addressing complex socioecological issues in cities. They also increase the resilience of cities to weather potential climate impacts.

Urban research at the University of Helsinki to benefit cities
Urban research is usually applied research that can be utilised directly in urban planning and maintenance. The University of Helsinki studies, among others, the multidisciplinary study of urban sustainability.

“Close interaction between researchers and cities is important, and there is already a lot of this going on in Finland,” says Niemelä.

Niemelä’s research group has examined, among other things, the ecology and nature areas of Helsinki, and how these should be taken into account in city and construction planning.

Finland is also interested in green roofs. For example, the City of Helsinki wants to be profiled as a pioneer in green construction and has published a green roof policy (pdf, in Finnish). According to a University of Helsinkigreen roof study, green roofs, i.e. roofs of buildings covered with live vegetation, are being used increasingly in the world to manage and reduce environmental impacts caused by urbanisation and climate change, such as flood water pulses, heat island phenomena and noise.

Co-operation with various parties is essential when seeking solutions for coping with extreme weather in cities, and architects are also at the forefront of solving practical challenges.

“Due to a warmer climate in cities, it is necessary to modify, build and design both buildings and cities in such a way that heat, as such, decreases and its impact decreases,” says architect and Swedish People’s Party of Finland Member of Parliament Anders Adlercreutz. “It is essential to understand that the solution is not an individual technological innovation or technology. The solution is a new way to design a city and built environment. And it will inevitably be visible both in the structure of cities, the structure of blocks and the buildings themselves.”

Global lessons
The group examined three case studies in Germany, South Africa and Singapore using different approaches to urban climate sustainability.

The City of Freiburg embraced citizen action to get their communities to change their behaviour and make decisions that reduced greenhouse gas emissions.

The City of Durban cultivated policy champions that were able to identify opportunities to integrate across government departments without increased cost to the projects.

In Singapore, the government has partnered with universities to collect big data and develop information platforms to test out integrated solutions such as mitigating increasing temperatures (due to urban heat island effect) in the capital city. An urban heat island (UHI) is built up area that is significantly warmer than its surrounding rural areas due to human activities.

While all the initiatives were successful in their own right, they did not necessarily translate to another city in another country. We therefore need integrated solutions that also take into account the potential obstacles and alternatives of an individual city.

“Integrating solutions allows governments, communities, and individual citizens to be meaningful players in the fight against climate change,” says Dr. Alessandro Ossola, co-author, Research Coordinator at Macquarie University and Assistant Professor at the University of California, Davis. Ossola and Niemelä jointly edited a book titled
Urban biodiversity (2017)
, which proposes the importance of also taking biodiversity into account in urban planning.

Comments are closed.