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9 May 2018

Can standardization be useful for climate adaptation?

The vast majority of commercial products you might encounter on a daily basis have had to pass a variety of standards, from the materials they are composed of, the shape, the packaging and instructions, to the machines that produce them. Most commonly associated with health and safety regulations, and technical equipment such as screws and mobile phone chargers, standardization is becoming increasingly relevant to people-centred processes, such as management. Just as standardizing a mobile phone charger ensures high quality and means that it can be used transferably with many different mobile phones, standardization of soft processes supports collaboration as part of much more complex processes. 

Planning a city to adapt to climate change involves the intersection of a number of complex systems, each of which involves unknown, uncertain and unpredictable factors. Climate is in itself an incredibly complex system, cities are complex systems, and municipal workers balance all of this complexity with limited budgets, political priorities and practical considerations. Standardization is one way in which municipalities and local councils can create a common language so that they can use the same methods and software as one another for a process as specific as climate change adaptation. 

“Cities use standards in their daily work, for example, to determine quality of products and services in their procurement processes,” said Holger Robrecht, ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability. “However, they are not so used to applying standards and norms related to their management procedures, for example, related to climate change adaptation or urban resilience. However, whilst a few large cities often have capacity to develop, establish and maintain their tailor-made procedures, the vast majority cannot. They depend on high quality and up-to-date information and reference documents that guide their management of climate change adaptation. Standardisation picks upon cutting-edge expertise to provide such guidance.”

The city of Bratislava (Slovakia) is one city looking to standardized approaches to adapt to climate change. Bratislava has put a climate change adaptation strategy in place to deal with the climate challenges the city is facing, such heatwaves and droughts, and has now arrived at the point of developing an action plan to turn the strategy into reality. Gathering data for this process has proven to be a challenge for the city, but real progress is being made, in part thanks to cooperation with universities including the University of Bratislava.

Bratislava has been applying an Impact and Vulnerability Analysis of Vital Infrastructures and built-up Areas (IVAVIA) tool locally to assess vulnerability on the basis of risk. According to Eva Streberová, Climate Adaptation Expert, City of Bratislava (Slovakia), using this tool depends on cooperation between the city council and its stakeholders, providing a range of co-benefits. Bratislava is also a signatory of the Mayors Adapt initiative, whereby the city committed to contributing to the aims of the EU Adaptation Strategy. This commitment is associated with a comprehensive reporting process, and Bratislava has found that using the IVAVIA tool has made this reporting process easier.  

IVAVIA is a standardized approach to making a vulnerability and risk assessment. It is made up of three qualitative and 3 quantitative steps followed by presentation module. During the IVAVIA process, cities produce impact chain diagrams, which make the cause-effect relationships between the consequences of hazards and exposed objects visible. Later in the process, cities can develop detailed risk maps that can show city councils which areas in the city are in need of particular attention. IVAVIA can help cities not only uncover risk and vulnerability issues affecting them, but can also help to communicate these in a visual way.  

Greater Manchester (United Kingdom) has also used the IVAVIA method to arrive at systematically mapped risk indicators and indices, with a particular focus on flooding and its repercussions on the transport network. Use of the tool has enabled Greater Manchester to produce an impact chain demonstrating the interactions between pluvial flooding and the system of major arterial roads in Greater Manchester. Developing this impact chain brought transport agency staff into closer working contact with the municipality.

“The 'beauty' of standards lie in their global availability, hands-on foundation and an inherent regular review mechanism keeping the standard at speed with the generation of knowledge and experience,” said Robrecht. “Being voluntary by nature, cities can 'pick and choose' what fits best to strengthen their climate change adaptation management.”

These outcomes were shared at the RESIN project’s session, “Standardized support tools for urban resilience, integrating resilience planning into local decision-making” at the Bonn Resilient Cities conference, 27 April 2018.