A climate for sharing and learning

Fiona Mannion explains how a European project is furthering the exchange of best practice to help towns and cities adapt to climate change

Tree planting in Sicily. Italy is one of eight countries across the EU taking part in the Grabs project.

This summer, a Town and Country Planning Association-led project draws to a close.

Consisting of 14 partners from eight different member states in the European Union, the Green and Blue Space Adaptation in Urban Areas and Eco-towns (Grabs) project has sought to promote knowledge and understanding of climate change adaptation.

Too often, adaptation has focused on biodiversity and the survival of ecosystems, with little emphasis placed on the impact of extreme weather on our towns and cities and the social and economic devastation that this can cause. The Grabs project, funded by Interreg IVC, has addressed the issue of reducing the long-term vulnerability of communities in urban areas to the environmental, social and economic damage related to a changing climate.

Having started in 2008 there has been a wide range of activities carried out by Grabs partners, from training and mentoring to study tours, expert papers on innovative thinking and best practice and community-led planning exercises. However, this article just highlights some of the big outputs of the Grabs project with a focus on the UK partners.

The Planning and Climate Change Coalition, led by the TCPA and Friends of the Earth and supported by the Grabs project, is a fantastic example of how it has helped raise awareness on adaptation at the national and local level in the UK as well as build consensus on what can be a very divisive policy issue. Formed in July 2009, the coalition represents a cross-sector coalition of over 40 organisations – including leading planners, local authorities, private developers and environmental organisations.

It has aimed to make recommendations for new strategic planning guidance on climate change in England; build consensus among a wide range of stakeholders on the benefits of new guidance; and work with government to ensure the fastest possible implementation.

Last November the coalition launched the Planning for Climate Change guide. It has been designed primarily for local authorities and local enterprise partnerships that want to both tackle climate change and reap the benefits that renewable energy and effective adaptation can bring. Supporting the UK government’s localism agenda, it offers model policies that councils can adopt in their local plans.

Led by Manchester University, Grabs has developed an innovative, cost effective and easy to use assessment tool to identify climate change risks and vulnerabilities in urban areas. It is web based and interactive, allowing for a wide range of users such as policy officers, decision-makers, and community groups.

The city of Malmo in Sweden has led the way in embedding green infrastructure in new developments.

The tool is now publicly available from the university’s website and Grabs partners have used this tool as part of their scoping exercises for putting together adaptation action plans (AAPs) for their local area or region. The partners have worked with their local community as well as elected members and officers to agree high level aims and objectives on adaptation strategies, their delivery plan, monitoring and evaluation.

For example, in the north west of England it is anticipated that climate change will lead to warmer and wetter winters, hotter and drier summers, sea level rises, and more extreme events such as heat waves, heavy rainfall, and droughts. This could have a range of impacts including increased flooding, greater heat stress and heat related deaths, a growing risk of droughts and reduced water quality.

As a result, Grabs partner Northwest Development Agency, through the North West Climate Change Partnership, has developed a framework for tackling climate change through its AAP. It details the strategy and actions that must be taken in order to ensure the northwest embeds green infrastructure and adaptation needed to bring multiple benefits and ensure the region remains economically competitive.

The Grabs partners have learned innovative tools and techniques for adaptation from each other and translated these into guidance which can be transferred to other towns and cities. The northwest, along with Sutton and Southampton councils, have also developed tools such as the Green Space Factor, used in Malmo (another Grabs partner), to entrench green infrastructure solutions in new development. The Green Space Factor aims to maximise green coverage by encouraging developers and local authorities to promote green infrastructure from the outset in new development – less expensive than retrofitting it later.

Grabs has produced technical guidance that is publicly available from the website for any local authority or government to use in developing their own AAP to tackle climate change adaptation.

Also led by Manchester University, the Grabs project launched the first online database of international best practice case studies on climate change adaptation. It acts as a free resource, focusing on examples relating to green and blue infrastructure, considering in detail the processes that have supported the implementation of adaptation responses in a range of urban areas across the world.

The database has been designed with a view to transferability to other places, using worldwide examples at different scales to inspire and guide local action to tackling climate change. Importantly, it focuses not on specific technologies, but their delivery. For example, the governance structures, stakeholder relationships, political will, science and research, that all influence the success of adaptation responses in different locations.

As Grabs draws to a close, it is clear that the understanding of adaptation to climate change has moved on considerably. While there is still more to be done, several years ago the word ‘adaptation’ was little known; today it is increasingly recognised as central to the future resilience of our communities as well as improving people’s quality of life and biodiversity.

Although there has been a lot of progress on adaptation techniques, projects like Grabs have a vital role in building up the capacity of local authorities and practitioners in tackling climate change. The partners have not only learned from each other, but created a legacy of best practice, toolkits and guidance through the ‘knowledge bank’ which brings together all the major outputs of the project. Local decision makers and communities can use these tools, be inspired and learn from each other about how to bring forward the positive solutions on the ground that will secure the long-term resilience and wellbeing of their communities.

  • More information on the Grabs project and the outputs mentioned in this article can be found here.


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