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30 October 2018

Building a climate resilient city in Bratislava

The Slovak Republic’s capital is located right at the heart of Europe, bordered by Austria and Hungary on both sides of the Danube River, the second-longest river in Europe, and is the country’s political, economic and cultural centre. The city is nestled between the Little Carpathian Mountains to the north and the Danube Lowland to the south.

The population is relatively young compared to other European capitals, the mortality rate is low, and a high proportion of households is made up of families. Bratislava’s workforce is highly educated, with over 24% of adults educated to third level. The city is still growing, but the population is set to decline over the next ten years.

The future seems bright for Bratislava, but its sheltered location in the centre of continental Europe leaves the city vulnerable to the effects of climate change. After decades of temperate weather, Bratislava is suffering from increasingly scorching summers. Summer 2018 was the worst year yet for heatwaves. After having recorded a record drought in 2017, the city was also struck this summer by extreme precipitation.  

Adaptation measures

Bratislava is working to adapt to the effects of climate change with a number of measures intended to keep citizens cool, keep air conditioning costs low and soak up excess rain water before it can flood the streets.
Some of the measures intended to adapt to hot temperatures and heavy rain bring additional benefits with them. Elderly people are one of the most vulnerable groups during periods of extreme heat. Bratislava has constructed a green roof on an elderly people’s home, thereby improving the green space ratio and improving air quality and thermal comfort for its senior citizens, as well as helping prevent the building from overheating, improving biodiversity and cooling the surrounding area.
Collaboration with European peers

Beyond these practical local projects, Bratislava has looked to ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability and its peers in cities across Europe as well as scientific climate experts to push its ability to adapt to climate change forward. In 2015, Bratislava linked up with the cities of Bilbao (Spain), Greater Manchester (United Kingdom) and Paris (France) as part of the European-funded RESIN project to develop new methods to adapt to climate change. These cities are thinking beyond the recent immediate climate phenomena that we are seeing across Europe; dried-out parks, water shortages and extreme wind; and have come together to plan for long-term uncertainty decades in advance, and to bring other European cities along with them.

As part of this project, the Office of the Chief Architect of Bratislava is working on completing its first qualitative vulnerability assessment using the RESIN project’s ‘Impact and Vulnerability Analysis of Vital Infrastructures and built-up Areas’ (IVAVIA) tool. This tool was produced as part of the RESIN project by Fraunhofer IAIS in a process of co-creation with the cities, aiming to produce the most practically-applicable method possible to be used as part of the daily work of municipal authorities and city governments in Europe.

Municipal authorities need to be able to map, analyse and communicate the impact of climate trends and weather events on key elements of a city’s physical, social and economic fabric, and the methodology provides a way to do this. Using the IVAVIA methodology helps cities to understand and visualise the cause-and-effect relationships of climate change, to identify geographical risk and vulnerability hotspots, to assess the demographic, economic and local impacts of climate change now and in the future and to identify entry-points for adaptation measures and areas where priority action is needed.

“We used IVAVIA to map risk exposure to climate threats at a detailed neighbourhood scale, and the Adaptation Options Library (in combination with Climact Prio) to identify and rank 63 adaptation actions. This information will be used in our local adaptation strategy, to be launched later this year,” said Miguel Gonzalez Vara, City of Bilbao.

Making Bratislava less vulnerable to climate change

During a first workshop in Bratislava in 2017, staff and stakeholders of the city of Bratislava addressed extreme heat and precipitation, heat waves, the risk of urban heat islands and its implications to human health and wellbeing and created impact chains demonstrating these relationships. An impact chain was also produced that focused on the vulnerability of green infrastructure of the city towards periods of droughts.

The city is working with Fraunhofer IAIS and Bratislava’s Faculty of Natural Sciences to elaborate impact chains on extreme heat and precipitation. When this is complete, this will allow the city to visualize its vulnerability and risk on a map, or to score the city’s boroughs in terms of sensitivity or capacity to cope with climate impacts.

In August 2018, a core group of the city of Bratislava’s stakeholders including external experts met to review the first outcomes of the vulnerability and risk assessment of the city on extreme summer temperatures and precipitation. A final workshop was held on August 21, 2018 where relevant departments of the City, the Bratislava Water Company and external stakeholders, such as experts from the Slovak Hydrometeorological Institute, National Centre for Healthcare Information of the Slovak Republic, the Bratislava self-governing region participated and Faculty of Natural Sciences of Comenius University in Bratislava.  

Chief Architect

“We are very excited to be involved in the co-creation process of RESIN tools, such as the IVAVIA and the adaptation options library. Assessing the vulnerability of your city to the different impacts of climate change is a very complex task. When Bratislava started with the RESIN project, the city already had an outline of the different impacts and related vulnerable sectors thanks to the Strategy for adaptation which was adopted by the City in 2014. But in order to know where to implement adaptation measures – and what adaptation measures are best suitable, we need precise evidence-based information and tools – such as maps to help us plan our adaptation work more efficiently. We are also translating the Adaptation library to Slovak language to support our colleagues working in the city´s and boroughs´ administration to in choosing the most efficient adaptation measures for a given area or development project,” said Ingrid Konrad, Chief Architect, City of Bratislava.

The Office of the Chief Architect is now working on finalizing the risk-based vulnerability assessment based on the results of the most recent workshop, and to adapt its vulnerability and risk maps to the needs of urban and strategic planners.

Sharing results with Europe

Ingrid Konrad, Bratislava’s Chief Architect, discussed this progress in Brussels on 9th October 2018 during at the “Climate Resilient Cities and Infrastructures 2018”. At this event, Bratislava and its city peers from Manchester, Bilbao and Paris shared the results of their brand new co-developed tools, including an e-Guide to adaptation strategy development, a methodology for vulnerability and risk assessment, a map-based typology of climate risk in European regions and a library of adaptation options. The event took place during the European Week of Cities and Regions.

This article first appeared in the 'Sustain Europe' magazine.