By James Spears

It’s been a great year for climate change. Unfortunately, that also means it’s been a bad year for those of us exposed to its impacts. In the UK, we’ve gone from metres-high snowdrifts to prolonged heatwaves in only a few months, and similar events have occurred globally: extensive forest fires in Sweden, Greece and California, deadly heat waves in Japan, severe drought across the entire state of New South Wales in Australia and Typhoon Mangkhut devastating the coastlines of East Asia.

All these events were widely reported, as they are considered ‘interesting’ enough to make media headlines – sadly, this is often due to loss of life or extreme environmental impacts. These events are often attributed, and rightly so, to climate change. I’d like to think that perhaps one benefit of increased media coverage is that people will begin to realise climate change isn’t so far off or a sudden event – it’s been happening for some time and will continue, despite any restrictions we may put in place on carbon emissions. Finally, it appears companies are starting to wake up to reality.

So how do these extreme, headline-worthy events affect what we do at Cundall? Well, in some cases it may be relatively obvious. For example, in areas prone to drought, we can design and advise on water efficiency measures and grey water usage. But what about the less obvious effects? We may undertake our scheme design to allow for a groundwater table rise of, say, one metre due to climate change, but how does that help us when an extreme event results in a temporary rise much greater than that? How do we tell a client that their new office (designed to current standards) may result in their staff being 10% less efficient in 15 years’ time due to increasing temperatures and more frequent heatwaves? Will undertaking foundation design to current standards protect us from insurance claims due to subsidence, particularly in south-east England where soils are prone to shrinkage in dry weather (an area in which both the British Geological Survey and insurers expect to see large rise in claims)? Will changes in temperature and humidity accelerate corrosion of structural material? The list goes on.

At the moment, we don’t necessarily have the answer to these questions (or many others), but we do need to design developments typically with a 50 to 100-year lifespan. And therein lies another question: what climate scenario do we design for? 2/3/4 degree increases? What do they mean? How will that affect the development process from site selection, planning implications, detailed design or refurbishment strategy (or the cost benefit of doing so)? Once complete, how will long-term assets stay viable, or will future modifications be required? Will the use of the built environment change to help adapt to a changing climate, such as changes in working habits to avoid the warmer parts of the day? Will this extend to education as well? What regulatory changes might occur in the future and how do we prepare for them?

Lots of questions – not so many answers! BUT…

This is why we’ve identified understanding climate change adaptation (in our new sustainability roadmap) as being critical to the future of Cundall and the advice we give to our clients. We’ve already started to provide advice and risk assessments in this area, particularly in Asia-Pac and Australia. However, we also need to be able to provide robust designs to mitigate identified climate risks. To help achieve this, we’ve been undertaking a first-stage R&D project to provide base-line climate models for different climate change scenarios (essentially degrees of warming). This will provide region-specific information on likely climatic changes such as temperature (mean and peak), humidity, rainfall/flood patterns etc. We will then start a second stage of R&D to apply the identified scenarios to each of our disciplines and see how our designs and advice may need to be adapted.

We’ve also got some other things on the go in the meantime:

  • A Climate Change Adaptation working group is overseeing work in this area, and  pulling together excellent knowledge and skills in this field from around the business
  • Simon Wyatt has been working with the BCO and the UKGBC to inform on potential impacts to the built environment
  • We will be holding round table discussions and workshops with clients, contractors and other stakeholders to develop a co-ordinated approach
  • We are developing partnerships with universities to inform our research and sponsor students on industry-relevant research
  • Hannah Morton is part of the Resilience Green Star Expert Reference Panel

There are some interesting times ahead, but with the continued efforts within Cundall to prepare ourselves ,we will be offering some future-proof (and market-leading) advice.

One Planet, One Chance Impacts SimpleCundall recently has launched their new sustainability roadmap, One Planet, One Chance which includes far reaching targets including being a carbon positive business by 2025. Click here to view our full roadmap document.

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Climate Change Adaptation, James Spears, One Planet, One Chance, Sustainable Design


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