Climate Challenge: What must cities look like to meet the challenge of climate change?

Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS)
Start date:
June 2006
March 2008

Brook Lyndhurst was commissioned by the RICS to explore some of the ways in which urban areas in the UK need to adapt in order to deliver a 60% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050

This scoping project was intended to begin the process of interpreting national targets into practicable implications for the form and function of our towns and cities. The work drew on various sources of information including recent developments in scenario planning, the wider climate change literature and formal statistical data sources. We looked at three key issues – energy, transport and the built environment – across nine contrasting but typical UK cities.

The work was carried out in three waves, looking firstly at England before shifting focus to Scotland and then Wales. In Wales the scope was expanded to also consider the potential impact an 80% reduction might have in light of the emerging scientific consensus that this may be the minimum required. The initial phase of work was presented at the three major party political conferences in 2006.

The purpose of the project was to prompt questions and debate about the futures of UK towns and cities in a carbon constrained world.

The first wave of this work was conducted in four stages:

(i) Desk review of 13 scenarios
The first stage of the work involved a desk review of 13 selected scenarios (from four sources) to establish how much information is already available on the implications of climate change for urban areas specifically (as opposed to general reflections at the national level).

(ii) Development of a matrix of issues
On the basis of the desk review we developed a matrix to establish two things:

  • Mapping the content of the scenarios against a range of urban indicators; and
  • Establishing the level of consistency or divergence between scenarios. For example, did the scenarios all adopt a common position on the future transport configuration of cities or did some predict a radical shift whereas others foresaw a continuation of current trends?

(iii) Selection of key issues and case study cities
The selection of three primary issues (energy, transport and the built environment) was guided by the available information in both the scenarios and wider climate change literature, alongside a need to cover the ‘big’ issues. In parallel, we selected the three cities to be the focus of our case studies - Manchester, Bournemouth and Brighton - to reflect a range of different urban forms across the UK (from the high density metropolitan to the lower density coastal south).

(iv) Development of the case studies
Drawing on the scenario material and additional secondary sources, the final stage of the work involved the development of narratives for each of the case studies. This included quantified examples to demonstrate what a 60% CO2 reduction – whether from transport, the built environment or energy – might look like in order to provide a sense of the scale of change required and the types of feasible transition paths needed for a low carbon future. For each case study, two 'storylines' were considered: one that considered only technological solutions; and one that considered a behaviour change path.

Two follow up pieces of work were then conducted. The first focussed on three cities in Scotland (Edinburgh, Inverness and Glasgow), again developing case studies that looked at one issue in each. The final study in Wales followed a similar format (focussing on Cardiff, Swansea and Bangor), although here we also considered what the more ambitious target of an 80% CO2 reduction might imply for each area. 


A number of important issues emerged from this work. Using some unashamedly simple calculations it demonstrated that:

  • We should be under no illusions about the scale of the challenge facing us - taking car transport in isolation, we concluded that a technological solution would require the entire UK car fleet to surpass the best performing model currently available. In terms of energy supply, Swansea would need in the region of 11,215 small-scale hydro-electric turbines, or 573 wind turbines, if it were to deliver its CO2 cuts from the supply-side of the equation without any focus on energy demand.
  • There is a need to consider different transition pathways to a low carbon city of the future. The results demonstrated, for example, that technology alone is highly unlikely to achieve the necessary reductions without being accompanied by substantial changes in behaviour. Any hopes that we have been harbouring about ‘fixing’ the problem through a new fleet of hybrid cars, the mass take-up of wind power, or a new generation of nuclear power plants, need to be quickly re-thought.
  • Any of the given changes proposed will in turn instigate a series of wider impacts, and these need to be considered and understood. Our work touched upon areas such as waste reprocessing and industrial symbiosis, food distribution, public health, lifestyles and consumption choices, but these will need to be explored in much greater detail.
  • The strengthening of CO2 reduction targets to 80% by 2050 present significant additional challenges that require real commitment, ambition and urgent, radical action.
  • Finally, issues of equity and distribution in dealing with climate change (both mitigation and adaptation) need to be considered in much greater detail.

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