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What is climate change adaptation?

Adaptation means understanding the risks and vulnerabilities to a changing climate to enable us to improve our resilience to the predicted impacts. This way we can continue to enjoy a good quality of life and protect our environment and the economy, now and in the future.

Although climate change poses significant threats, it may also offer opportunities for making our communities more sustainable. Adaptation should consider how we design new buildings and infrastructure, but also how we refurbish our existing built environment. Therefore adaptation is about knowing how best to take advantage of these opportunities. This is discussed in detail within the Solutions section of this Module.

Adapting to climate change requires early action and decision-making based on the assessment of risk and of solutions that are sustainable, timely and produce benefits whilst minimising upfront and future costs. It is a vital part of planning for the future. Consideration should be given to all the options to find the best and most appropriate solution for the site and the development, whilst avoiding decisions that will make it difficult to deal with dynamic climate risks in the future.

What are the basic principles of climate change adaptation?

  • Adaptation involves assessing risk and vulnerability enabling us to adjust the places we live and work to make them more resilient to the impacts of climate change and fit for purpose.
  • The climate system is dynamic. As the type and level of risk is more than likely to increase significantly, the approach to adaptation needs to be flexible to help ensure a development and its users are able to adapt over time.
  • Climate change adaptation is about sound decision-making. Decisions made now will impact upon how a building or development will withstand the impacts of climate change in the future.
  • Climate change adaptation presents opportunities to make towns, neighbourhoods and buildings more attractive and comfortable, offering a better quality of life.
  • Early action could provide cost savings. Implementing adaptation solutions early in the design stage may prove cheaper than retrofitting at a later stage.

Does Hertfordshire need to consider climate change adaptation?

Hertfordshire’s communities and built environment are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. The average design life of the existing building stock is 40 to 100+ years. Many of the buildings that already exist will be in use for many years to come, so retrofitting our homes and businesses is just as important as ensuring that new developments incorporate measures that are suited to a changing climate. Widespread adaptation of existing buildings is crucial to ensuring they are comfortable, marketable, efficient, and fit for purpose, now and in the future.

It is important to consider how a building and its surroundings can adapt to climate change at an early stage in the design or refurbishment process. In particular, planners, architects, developers, property managers and others responsible for the design, construction and management of buildings, should take into account the predicted impacts, in order to help Hertfordshire’s communities adapt to climate change.

Knowing how best to equip a building and its surrounding environment to adapt to climate change can be challenging, often requiring careful design consideration. This module provides an overview of the solutions available, with some examples of good practice to help guide designers, decision-makers and the general public. 

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How will Hertfordshire's climate change?

The UK Climate Change Projections suggest that over the next few decades Hertfordshire may experience:

  • A 2°C increase in average annual temperatures.
  • Temperatures on the warmest day in summer could increase by up to 5°C.
  • Drier summers with up to 25% less rainfall.
  • Milder, wetter winters and up to 22% more rainfall.

Hertfordshire is vulnerable to the impacts of climate change due to its location within the driest region in the UK and its physical characteristics, such as the mix between urban settlements and rural landscapes, and different soil types. The County is at risk from diminishing water resources exacerbated by high population densities. It is also under pressure for housing and economic development.

The key climatic impacts for Hertfordshire will be related to increased summer temperatures and increased winter precipitation:

  • Temperature: Warmer and more variable weather, including an increase in the occurrence of very hot days and nights and more frequent severe weather events, such as heatwaves.
  • Precipitation: More variable patterns of rainfall and snow that is anticipated to result in drier summers, increased rainfall during the winter, and more frequent severe weather.

Such changes in climate are also anticipated to herald an increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, including: 

  • Heat waves and drought: The number of very hot summer days is expected to increase, and towards the end of the century average summer temperatures (i.e. the average of daily temperatures over June, July and August) could reach 31°C – 10°C higher than 2009/10 levels.
  • Extreme rainfall events: More intense rainfall falling in winter months - towards the end of the century rainfall on the wettest day in winter could increase by up to 56% (from 2009/10 levels).

These climatic changes will in turn lead to a series of impacts, presenting a range of risks to us and our built and natural environments. The indirect impacts of droughts, heatwaves and prolonged or intense rainfall will include increased overheating of buildings and urban environments, increased flooding, a decline in water resource availability and quality, and less stable ground conditions for buildings and other infrastructure.

To better prepare and respond to these impacts, it is necessary to understand in more detail what the changes in our climate will be and how this will affect Hertfordshire. A key means of exploring climate is through projections of future change.

Hertfordshire County Council commissioned work to look at projected climate change for Hertfordshire and identify the key issues through a Climate Risk Assessment. AEA Technology carried out this work using the latest UK Climate Projections (UKCP09), which are based on three emission scenarios over a given time period. The headline messages from this report can be viewed by clicking here.

The National Infrastructure Commission has released a long term view of infrastructure needs in 2017, specifically on environment and climate change impacts.  The document can be download here.

The Government report; UK Climate Change Risk Assessment 2017, sets out the 6 priority risk areas requiring further action in the UK over the next 5 years. Climate change adaptation reporting is also undertaken for selected organisations within the UK every 5 years

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Overview of climate change risks and impacts in Hertfordshire

The likely impacts of climate change in Hertfordshire will be warmer/drier summers and milder/wetter winters. These broad climate change impacts will be joined by a higher frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, such as heatwaves and severe flooding episodes. Together, these impacts represent risks to the built environment, natural environment and human health.

Spatial scale

Some risks may be relevant to a range of spatial scales. Guidance on the spatial scales at which the various risks apply has been provided using the key below:

climate adaptation_spatial scale

Assessing and identifying risks

A number of factors need to be taken into account in order to assess and identify the potential risk to a building, development, or the users of the building. These include:

  • The frequency and severity of climate change impacts;
  • The location, nature and scale of the development in relation to the climate change impact; and
  • How the building is used by occupants.

The diagram below shows how a risk assessment can lead to an end solution. Assessing risk requires the assessment of a range of factors: the climate event, the impact of the event, the consequence of specific impacts, and the likelihood of occurrence and severity for each factor. The range of consequences and impacts identified will depend on the likelihood and severity of the event, the location, function and scale of the building/development, and the vulnerability of the people using the building.


climate adaptation_assessing and identifying risks


What other tools are available to help assess risks?

UKCIP Adaptation Wizard Tool
The UKCIP Adaptation Wizard Tool is a free resource to help users assess their vulnerability to climate change and identify appropriate options to help address the risks. The tool is based on a 5-step process to guide users through the risk assessment process and helps to develop a tailored climate change adaptation strategy. The website provides a number of case studies providing examples of developments which have used the wizard tool.

UKCIP Adaptation Costing Tool
UKCIP have also developed a spreadsheet Costing Tool to allow the user to make estimates of the cost of extreme weather events currently, and under climate change, based on future climate change scenarios, and compare these to costs of adaptation solutions.


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