Published 2021-11-22

This post is also available in Swedish

Climate adaptation at COP26 and in Sweden’s municipalities

How did the climate adaptation discussions go at COP26? How can Gothenburg become the world’s best city when it rains? And what are the opportunities and challenges for climate-adapted spatial planning in Sweden? On 17 November Mistra arranged the webinar Climate adaptation – From COP26 to Sweden’s municipalities. You can watch a recording of the broadcast.

The climate negotiations in Glasgow recently ended, and one of the people who followed the conference on site was Björn-Ola Linnér, Programme Director of the Mistra Geopolitics research programme and Professor at Linköping University, who researches climate policy. He emphasises that this year’s conference was more clearly than before based on the conclusions of the UN climate panel’s IPCC assessment report, which was presented in August and garnered a great deal of attention. It established a clear connection with climate adaptation.

Björn-Ola Linnér, Professor at Linköping University and Programme Director of Mistra Geopolitics

“This contributed to a greater focus on the fact that we are heading for a serious situation, that we can already see effects, which is why climate adaptation must be quickened. The written information about this is clearer than in previous years,” Björn-Ola Linnér says.

The discussions in Glasgow have also had a clearer link to biodiversity than before according to Linnér. He is pleased that biodiversity loss and the importance of preserving nature and ecosystems and ensuring social and environmental protective measures, were linked and emphasised. Extensive focus was also placed on climate adaptation for vulnerable countries, where many developing countries have highlighted the climate financing decisions made in conjunction with the Paris Agreement and the gap that has subsequently arisen. This also includes funding for climate adaptation measures.

“Thanks to hard work, especially from the British chairship and pressure on countries to put more money on the table, a decision was made to double the funding of climate adaptation by 2025 compared to levels in 2019. It’s a drop in the ocean compared to what is needed, but it’s what the rich countries promise to support,” Linnér explains.

The global goal on adaptation

The global goal on adaptation was also an important subject of discussion in Glasgow. Such a goal had already been set in the Paris Agreement but without a concrete process. How should adaptation be defined and followed up? The foundation has now been laid for a continued process, called “the Glasgow–Sharm el-Sheikh work programme on the global goal on adaptation”, which emphasises the need for additional work to help countries gauge and follow up adaptation measures. However, Björn-Ola Linnér explains that there is criticism that the measurements are quantitative. And although vulnerable countries saw it as a step forward, there is substantial dissatisfaction that it is far from sufficient to meet actual needs regarding climate adaptation.

There is also considerable uncertainty about what temperature increase we are heading for. Linnér explains that different calculations and targets show different possible increases in temperature. He also refers to what those working in Mistra Geopolitics are pointing out, namely that we are not very prepared for how future climate-related disasters elsewhere in the world, for example concerning trade, will impact us in Sweden.

Design and art important in climate adaptation

Helena Bjarnegård is Sweden’s National Architect at the National Board of Housing, Building and Planning (Boverket), which is the coordinating government agency for the national work on climate adaptation. In this work, they collaborate with the Swedish Meteorological and Hydrological Institute (SMHI), the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency (MSB), the Swedish Geotechnical Institute (SGI) and the county administrative boards. The main part of the assignment set by the government is to address issues such as sea levels, responsibility, funding and knowledge-building in the municipalities.

Helena Bjarnegård, Sweden’s National Architect at the National Board of Housing, Building and Planning

“These are complex issues that are intermixed,” Bjarnegård says. “One is the issue of responsibility and municipalities, where not all land is municipal, and how we handle private ownership versus municipal ownership, the long-term perspective and what we should plan for. The knowledge issue concerns the entire country and a variety of situations.”

Bjarnegård is also working on a government assignment for architecture and designed living environments. Here the question is how architecture, art and design can contribute to sustainability in various perspectives. She explains that this issue is being examined internationally and that there is an initiative at EU level called European Bauhaus, which highlights how design, art and architecture – the creative industries – can contribute innovations and solutions to major issues. Bjarnegård refers to the speech by President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen about how the European Green Deal also needs to be a cultural and creative project, and that only then will we be able to find solutions to the major climate challenges while also safeguarding culture and the social aspects of environments.

The term “planned retreat” is intimidating

Managed realignment is planerad reträtt in Swedish (literally, planned retreat) and is a term in climate adaptation that Gunnel Göransson, researcher at the Swedish Geotechnical Institute, works with. She is the project manager of Camel, Climate adaptation by managed realignment, which is funded by Formas, a government research council for sustainable development, within the national research programme for climate. The project concerns flooding and rising sea levels. And instead of protecting or handling, this approach is to “retreat” and make space for the water. Göransson says that retreat is often mentioned in climate adaptation contexts, but despite this, never becomes an option. The project therefore examines the difficulties and challenges of the strategy. Several municipalities with various challenges are taking part. Göransson says that they are creating visions for the future in a series of workshops, and how retreat (in this context realignment) can be part of the work. They are also working on citizen surveys, in-depth interviews and visualisation.

Gunnel Göransson, researcher at the Swedish Geotechnical Institute

“As regards the difficulties of reträtt, I think you first need to explain what it’s about. The word itself quite rapidly evokes strong emotions; many people immediately think that it will be impossible, and it can be difficult to conduct a dialogue,” Göransson says.

Nevertheless, many people think that it is a wise strategy, and interest and inquisitiveness are shown when dialogue is conducted. Broadly speaking, realignment involves letting the water take up space, allowing shores and coastlines to be dynamic. In turn, this may mean that roads and buildings need to be moved. The strategy is not new and has been used before. Many municipalities already use managed realignment on a small scale but more often call it adaptation measures. Gunnel Göransson says that the understanding of the strategy is still in its infancy, and that one obstacle is construction close to water continually being approved. Instead of reträtt, they are now testing the term flexmark (flexible land) in various dialogues.

“The best city in the world when it’s raining”

Gothenburg is a city that already works extensively with water. They have a vision of becoming the best city in the world when it’s raining, under the motto Rain Gothenburg. Jens Thoms Ivarsson is Creative Director in the Recycling and Water Department in the City of Gothenburg.

Jens Thoms Ivarsson, Creative Director in the Recycling and Water Department, the City of Gothenburg

“The fact is that it rains on about 40–50 percent of the days of the year. We think it’s fantastic to transform the rain into an opportunity with this venture,” Ivarsson says.

Rain Gothenburg also concerns dry periods, which are getting longer due to climate change, while the rainfall is becoming heavier. The English name of the venture was chosen to also convey the image of Gothenburg internationally as a creative city and inspire others to work more creatively and joyfully with a difficult climate issue.

A large part of the work uses humans as its starting point – how we perceive rain – combined with the more practical issue of how to manage rain with the support of a more creative methodology to draw up beautiful, creative and environmentally friendly solutions. Ivarsson explains that they are based on a joyful approach and the aim is to always add social, aesthetic, cultural and environmental perspectives to the fundamental main function: managing the water. Within Rain Gothenburg, design methodology is used in broad teams with various skills.

More knowledge about consequence and benefit

The Mistra InfraMaint research programme works with smart maintenance of infrastructure. Programme Director Lars Marklund refers to a question that many municipalities ask themselves: How much should protection against extreme weather cost?

Lars Marklund, Programme Director of Mistra InfraMaint

“This is obviously an extremely difficult question,” Marklund says. “But with good and transparent decision support, based on socioeconomic analysis taking into account all costs and benefits that such protection gives rise to, we can actually answer this question quite well.”

He observes that climate-related weather events are currently rare, and it is important that protective features built also have a function when they are not being used for their primary purpose. Marklund regards an overall perspective and good systems understanding as essential for success and highlights multifunctional solutions that increase the benefit of protective measures even in “normal conditions”. Many of these are nature-based solutions that can be very valuable to biodiversity and aesthetics, such as paths for pedestrians and cyclists alongside watercourses that can take care of large volumes of water.

According to Marklund, solutions that you can add to can be used to tackle the issue of uncertain forecasts and longer time frames. In order to make the socioeconomic calculations, understand the consequences of weather events and thereby be better able to design the right type of protective measures, Marklund believes that new knowledge and investment in research are required. In a study of five different downpours, the flooding consequences varied widely, although the downpours had roughly the same duration.

“I also think that extensive knowledge is required to understand the new protections that we are building,” Marklund explains. “If we want to start building a great deal of nature-based forms of protection, we also need to evaluate them so that they fulfil their function. The risk is that we construct new protective measures which do not end up working as intended without us being able to rapidly evaluate them.”

Within Mistra InfraMaint, Marklund sees major synergies between climate adaptation and maintenance of infrastructure. Above all, long-term maintenance is a prerequisite to ensure that protective measures work when they are needed. Climate change also places new demands on the maintenance of infrastructure, which is currently adapted to today’s climate. In addition, the new infrastructure will need to be maintained – the new more nature-based solutions – and there is a lack of experience of this.

Watch a recording of the entire webinar here (in Swedish).