Designing for climate change - before it’s too late.


Ashley Bateson, Director

Climate adaptation.

One of the key messages from the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow was the clear global imperative to plan for climate change adaptation. As we see the devastating effects of extreme weather events around the world, it becomes obvious that more needs to be done to cope with shifting conditions that will cause massive human and economic damage.  At COP26 three primary actions were identified in relation to adaptation.

From the widespread flooding in Pakistan and Bangladesh, hurricanes in Florida and heat waves in Australia, it’s clear that in many ways we weren’t prepared for the scale of the impacts of climate change.

Plans and more finance need to be put in place to improve early warning systems, flood defences, and build resilient infrastructure and agriculture to avoid further loss of life, livelihoods and natural habitats.

Protecting and restoring habitats is a powerful way to boost resilience to the impacts of the changing climate. They help to build natural storm and flood defences, whilst flourishing ecosystems contribute to sustainable farming and support billions of lives worldwide.

All countries should produce an ‘Adaptation Communication’ which is a summary of what they are doing and planning to do to adapt to the impacts of the changing climate, the challenges they face and where they need help. These plans will help us learn together and share best practice between countries.

The UK has co-developed the Adaptation Action Coalition in partnership with Egypt, Bangladesh, Malawi, the Netherlands, Saint Lucia and the United Nations Development Programme. Over 30 other countries have since joined. The coalition aims to demonstrate action is being taken to respond to climate risks and integrate inclusion and locally-led principles in resilience planning. The Race to Resilience was also established to put people and nature first in pursuit of a resilient world where we don’t just survive climate shocks and stresses but thrive in spite of them.

The next climate conference, COP27, will be held in Egypt. We expect climate adaptation will be placed even more in the centre of international negotiations, as many countries will be sharing the devastating impacts they have faced over the past 12 months due to the greenhouse effect. Whilst governments set the tone for the climate agenda, businesses have a fundamental role in understanding the practical implications and implementation. As consultants in the built environment, we, and other engineers worldwide, have a responsibility to advise clients on climate risk and adaptation strategies. Many clients may not have this as an expectation or a priority in the project brief, but we need to put climate resilience on the table and consider how our advice can make a project suitably adapted for long term sustainability.

At the building design level, this means designing developments to cope with the predicted climate trends associated with the region, including changing temperatures and flooding patterns. In the UK for example, according to the Met Office, the average temperature increased by 0.8°C, rainfall by 7.3%, and sunshine by 5.6% between the periods 1961-1990 and 1991-2020. Looking at data averages, however, can hide extreme weather events. This year, England measured its hottest summer on record, and previous perceptions of rare heatwave conditions could become the norm. As design is a collaborative process, we hope that designing for resilience becomes a shared imperative. Let’s build an adaptive environment before it’s too late.