[conversation] Nicolas Beaurez, Head of the Resilience-Transitions-Climate projects at Cerema

Urban planners and constructors today have access to an ever-expanding toolbox to help them take on board the effects of climate change. On the ground, local authorities are becoming more aware that the threat of global warming is nigh. Yet we must act faster, explains Nicolas Beaurez, head of Resilience, Transition and Climate projects at Cerema.

Why is it so important that the concept of climate resilience be urgently put into action?

The next IPCC report, in which some yet-to-be-finalized elements were disclosed in June, shows an increase in global-warming-related phenomena. Those which are irreversible seem to have already manifested themselves, and not in 20 or 30 years’ time as predicted. My professional experience leads me to believe that regional urban planning projects usually take place over a period of five to 15 years, and shall thus be operational by 2030 to 2040. We know that by that point, we will be facing the “harsh” reality of global warming. So, yes, we certainly need to put into practice climate resilience recommendations and practices immediately.

Is climate resilience already being incorporated into recent or ongoing projects?

What I’m seeing is that, projects that were designed four or five years ago and that are now being built seem to incorporate very few issues surrounding resilience. However, what’s happening now is that new projects must incorporate and anticipate the effects of global warming, such as heatwaves, extreme weather and water scarcity. This approach must be systematic, going as far as redesigning a project from top to bottom or completely abandoning it. In reality, many regions have only a timid awareness of the situation, and at best, have defined a strategy or a few targeted actions. I think that only 11% of PCAET (Plan Climat-Air-Energie Territorial, or French Regional Climate, Air and Energy plans) have been approved to date. There’s still so much more to be done.

What’s the best level for taking action? Is it on a street, city, inter-municipal, regional or a catchment basin-level?

As obvious as it may seem, action should be taken at all levels. Without a doubt, it would be interesting if all the institutions concerned took the issue on board and had a “climate strategy”. Local authorities have different prerogatives and financial levers at each level – and they all have a role to play. Regions obviously have the ability to act by financing numerous policies (economy, tourism, agriculture), and are in charge of infrastructure that can be disrupted by global warming, such as rail transport or high schools, where the learning environment would be less comfortable if heatwaves were to occur in May. It’s also relevant to view things on the scale of a catchment basin, to understand water scarcity and flooding, as these geographic scales are specific to mountain ranges or coastal areas. And finally, departments, inter-municipalities and cities are relevant for managing day-to-day infrastructure and services such as transport, water, energy or even social cohesion issues.

How can all these different levels work together?

When applied at an inter-municipal level, PCAETs are pretty interesting. When it comes to climate resilience, they are designed for coherent territories. CRTEs (Contrats de relance et de transition écologique, literally, contracts for climate transition and recovery) that are currently being drawn up mainly deal with the climate element and may affect areas of a larger scale. Common frameworks also exist, even at a regional level, through action programs, resource centers and observatories. Cerema has chosen to put a clear focus on climate change. We have a dual approach. The first part can be compared to that of a GP, or rather, a strategic approach incorporated on a regional scale, such as climate change impact assessment and identifying interdependencies between different components. To do this, we use our “resilience compass”, among other things. We then complete this approach in a more “specialized” way, providing solutions for the construction industry, infrastructure management, biodiversity preservation and the evolution of mobility services. Adaptation is becoming a new area of expertise in these specific areas. For example, the topic of nature in the city illustrates this new engineering practice.

Which actors have a determining role in putting climate resilience into action as quickly as possible?

I believe that a great deal of responsibility lies with the contracting authority. It’s best to integrate the issue of resilience very early on when designing major construction or urban planning contracts. Be it public or private, the design as a whole is decisive. Of course, financial barriers still exist today: the cost of taking climate resilience into account can be significant, especially in the short- and medium-term. However, If we consider the overall cost, it all evens out in the end: incorporating resilient approaches is going to safeguard projects from damage and disruption caused by extreme events. Major players who are often involved in the building design, construction and operational phases must move into action. I’m convinced that it’s in their best interests, and that those pioneering the approach will have a competitive edge – especially in the concession agreement market. These long-term contracts must incorporate climate risk if they are to be economically viable.

> Know more about the Resilience, Transition and Climate projects at Cerema

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