Copenhagen becoming a resilient and sustainable city

On August 2nd 2015, 193 countries agreed to the next set of development goals, which will seek to end poverty, achieve gender equality and ensure resource security in every corner of the globe by 2030. The 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs), which contain 169 targets, will replace the millennium development goals (MDGs) that expire at the end of the year. Implementation of the sustainable development agenda will begin on January 1st 2016. The SDG targets must now be formally adopted by member states at a special UN summit from 25-27 September in New York. Regarding urban sustainability, SDG Goal 11 calls for all cities and human settlements to be inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable by 2030.

Copenhagen safe, resilient and sustainable

Copenhagen is aiming to become a safe, resilient and sustainable city by mitigating the risks of floods through blue-green infrastructure. In July 2011, a cloudburst inundated the City of Copenhagen with 100mm of rain falling in one hour, leading to nearly EUR 1 billion in damage to the city’s infrastructure. With Copenhagen facing dry summers with sudden intensive rainfall and wetter winters from climate change, in addition to rising sea levels, the city in 2012 initiated the ‘Cloudburst Management Plan’ that will, over a 20-year period, guide adaptation strategies to counter extreme rainfall and a rise in sea levels. Specifically, the Cloudburst Plan calls for the implementation of blue and green adaptation measures at all levels to mitigate the risks of floods: from local urban development projects right up to city-wide planning.

Copenhagen becoming resilient

Copenhagen becoming resilient

Initiatives will include channeling stormwater away from housing and infrastructure through tunnels and canals into lakes or out to sea, as well as using green spaces and car parks as storage areas to slowdown ‘rain to drain’. However, as Copenhagen lacks the financial resources and capacity to implement immediately all of the necessary city-wide adaptation measures, an order of priority has been drawn up of the adaptation measures to be implemented over the 20-year period. There are four elements by which each project is prioritized: risk, implementation, coherence and synergy.

  • GIS maps are used to identify the parts of the City with the highest risk of flooding, which is then expressed in monetary terms to show where adaptive measures would have the largest financial benefit.
  • Areas where measures are easily implemented. For example, areas where it is simple for flood water to be drained into localities with no impact, such as draining rainwater into the harbor.
  • Ongoing urban development projects are factored in as costs for flood projects can be reduced significantly if they are implemented in conjunction with renovation projects and new urban developments such as road and footpath renovations.
  • Areas where synergies can be gained, for instance using green spaces to reduce the volume of stormwater entering wastewater treatment plants.

To make the process more manageable, Copenhagen has been divided into 26 local water catchment areas with each catchment area assessed according to the four elements. As a result actions given the highest priority will be in areas with the highest flood risk, where measures are easiest to implement, and have synergy with other urban development projects.

The take-out

Fiscally-constrained cities can prioritize adaptation projects based on risk, ease of implementation, coherence and synergy with other development projects.

*Robert C. Brears is the author of Urban Water Security (Wiley). Urban Water Security argues that, with climate change and rapid urbanization, cities need to transition from supply-side to demand-side management to achieve urban water security.

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Author: Robert C. Brears

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2 Comments

  1. Great article that shows how this community responded to disaster with a positive outlook on recovery and sustainability through priorities developed with synergy and funds from various agencies within that same community. This sounds like a way to adapt to climate change in a truly sustainable manner. Now the challenge, and risk, is getting through a period of time when utilizing their own resources to develop and repair Coppenhagen’s system, without any outside money or influences, all the while avoiding another flood event due to a rapid change in climate.

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  2. I like your publications

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