Ilona Amos: Climate change could bring greener cities

Scottish cities could be set to turn green in an effort to battle climate change.
Scottish cities could be set to turn green in an effort to battle climate change.
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In the not too distant future Scotland’s cityscapes could look a lot different from what we see now. Instead of mainly hard surfaces and sharp angles – all roads, pavements, railings and buildings – they could be much softer round the edges, cooler and generally more pleasing to the senses. And it’s all because of climate change.

International experts have agreed that allowing global temperatures to rise more than 2C above pre-industrial levels will spark dangerous and irreversible global warming, with “catastrophic” effects. We’ve received plenty of dire warnings about what we can expect as the planet heats up, including rising sea levels, ocean acidification, increasingly turbulent weather and higher temperatures.

It’s happening, whether people want to believe it or not. The good news is that many of the measures for tackling climate change can actually benefit society, making Scotland’s conurbations much nicer, wealthier and healthier places to live and work in.

Our towns and cities are set to turn green. Not by accident due to warmer, wetter climes, but by design. We could see a major jump in the number of planting on roofs and futuristic vertical gardens springing up to help counteract some of the impacts of a warming world. Okay, I might be getting carried away but I’m envisaging a transformation from concrete jungle to Hanging Gardens of Babylon.

Urban centres here face a number of climate resilience challenges, including accommodating higher rainfall and increased likelihood of flooding, as well as maintaining comfortable conditions for residents, workers and visitors as thermometers soar.

But studies have shown that parks, gardens and allotments can help reduce high urban temperatures caused by tall buildings, slow down flows of surface water and improve air quality in polluted areas, while at the same time delivering health and well-being benefits for inhabitants through just being nature.

Such plans are very much the hot topic at the European Climate Change Adaptation Conference, being held in Scotland this week for the first time ever. Around 1,000 people are expected to attend the four-day event in Glasgow, which will feature talks, workshops and an exhibition of case studies.

Climate Ready Clyde is one of the groups attending. It is a new multi-sector collaboration from across the Glasgow city region, including local councils, universities, NHS Greater Glasgow and Strathclyde Passenger Transport. Headed up by James Curran, chair of the James Hutton Institute, its aim is to assess both the risks and the opportunities that arise from climate change and develop an action plan to address them.

Glasgow’s approach is an example to the world, according to Professor Curran, who says the initiative will allow businesses and services to prepare for climate change together and in the process create a modern city that is even better for people, business and nature. “This is a unique approach in Europe and will pay dividends in the years to come,” he says.

The project received £100,000 of start-up funding from the Scottish Government and it will be interesting to see what solutions they come up with. It’s good to see a collaboration on this scale – together they can facilitate actions that individual bodies couldn’t afford to fund.

But it’s also nice to think that in Scotland of the future, although it may be wetter, windier and a bit nearer the seaside, our cities may be cleaner, greener and more prosperous communities that are better for both heart and soul.