Cities are not prepared for the impacts of climate change.  Activists for local governments: less concrete, more green

Copyright: Image. Patrick Ogorzalek / Agencja Wyborcza.plPicture of Patrick Ogorzali.

Pictured: Concrete market square in Leżajsk. In 2022, for PLN 14 million, the trees were removed from the square and the square was covered with granite slabs.

“Major Polish cities have had plans for urban adaptation to climate change since 2019. The 44 plans diagnosed the most serious climate threats, the vulnerability of individual city sectors to human-induced climate change, and trends in adaptation activities.” However, such Plans are missing in medium and small cities,” Greenmind Foundation and the Let’s Save the Rivers coalition wrote in a statement sent to OKO.press.

In fact, such plans have so far only been developed in cities with populations of more than 100,000. For example, the Krakow Plan stipulates, among other things: increasing the area of ​​green areas, reducing individual means of transport in favor of public transport or thermal modernization of buildings.

“Cities are a particularly sensitive area where today's most pressing challenges are concentrated, ranging from water scarcity and poor air quality to economic turmoil and social instability. Currently, the population of Polish cities is estimated at 23.3 million, which makes up more than 60%. The country's population “The scale of the problem is huge,” we read The project website, which included the creation of 44 plans.

Small towns also suffer from water, concrete and flooding problems, social activists say, and are urging the government to speed up work on adapting to climate change.

There has been talk of expanding the list of cities that will develop their own adaptation plans for several years.

On April 8, 2024, the Ministry of Climate and Environment presented a draft amendment to the Nature Protection Law. He suggests that cities “with a population of 20,000 or more” should also be obligated to develop urban adaptation plans. according to List of legislative acts The government is expected to adopt the project in the third quarter of 2024.

Greenmind and the Let's Save the Rivers coalition have published advice for local governments on how to ensure water retention in landscapes and how they can stop the negative impacts of climate change.

“In adaptation activities and multi-functional development of urban centres, blue and green infrastructure and the ecosystem services they provide should play a special role (…) Solutions close to nature, i.e. inspired and supported by natural natural processes, provide environmental, social and economic solutions,” they wrote. The benefits economic and help build the resilience of cities and non-urban areas.

This chart shows the differences between waterproof concrete surfaces and green spacesThis chart shows the differences between waterproof concrete surfaces and green spaces
Concrete surfaces cause water to drain quickly, causing flooding. In cities full of greenery, groundwater is saved, and the water remains in the landscape. Illustration: Barbara Hodorek/Citizens for Water

In 2020, the Interdisciplinary Advisory Group on the Climate Crisis of the President of the Polish Academy of Sciences warned that ongoing climate change and the expected increase in temperature in Poland increase the likelihood of heatwaves, droughts and flash floods. Scientists emphasized that in the coming years “there will be a change in the temporal distribution of precipitation: an increase in the amount of precipitation in the cold half of the year compared to precipitation in the warm half of the year” and that “the number of days with precipitation decreases, which means that periods without precipitation will be longer.” Rainfall is more intense (rains last for several hours or several days).

Professor Anna Januszta Szostak, an architect and urban planner at the Faculty of Architecture at the Poznań University of Technology and a member of the team of the President of the Polish Academy of Sciences, noted in the report. “Water in a small town”Unenclosed surfaces – i.e. green areas – protect against flooding. Rainwater does not flow off the concrete but goes into the ground.

At the same time, cities create “favorable conditions for rainfall flooding due to the closure of large areas. Due to the inability to store water and its seepage into the ground, almost the entire volume of heavy rainfall in the city must be drained into surface water or wastewater. If these systems malfunction Or its efficiency is very low, water begins to accumulate in the streets and seeps into low places.”

Let's save the Rivers Alliance ConfirmsLocal governments have more tools to confront floods and their effects. It is not just about retaining water in the landscape, it is also about giving space to rivers (i.e. moving flood dams aside, giving the river space to flood), prohibiting development in flood zones, as well as preparing flood risk maps and creating a warning system. They also confirm that natural retention is more effective than using artificial retention tanks.

Professor Anna Januszta Szostak also draws attention to the “scaling” in Polish city markets.

“Until 2021, in historical parts of cities, strict conservation guidelines were in force and insufficient to confront contemporary climate threats. It is true that markets serve different functions than parks. They are a place of integration of residents, commercial and cultural events, but many Polish cities and towns were deprived of trees.” In the name of historical truth, but at the cost of transforming it into concrete deserts In 2012, the market square of Gostin was covered with greenery, the inhabitants were waiting for the change of fashion and the effects of revitalization and today the square covered with stone cubes, despite the fountain and benches, does not encourage relaxation in the 30's heat degree”.

Greenmind estimates that when the air temperature is 32 degrees, concrete heats up to 42 degrees – up to 52 degrees. In the shade of the trees, the temperature drops to 28 degrees.

The graph shows that at 32 degrees, asphalt heats up to 52 degrees.  The temperature is 28 degrees under the treesThe graph shows that at 32 degrees, asphalt heats up to 52 degrees.  The temperature is 28 degrees under the trees
Green spaces provide comfort during hot weather. Heating concrete and asphalt to very high temperatures. Illustration: Barbara Hodorek/Citizens for Water

Social activists point out that the longer the government and local governments delay implementing measures that would reduce the effects of climate change, the more dangerous it becomes. “Adapting to conditions caused by climate catastrophe will be a challenge for the coming years,” they wrote.

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Katarzyna Koczar

Graduate of the Jagiellonian University and the Polish School of Reportage. At OKO.press, he mainly deals with topics related to environmental protection, animal rights, climate change and energy.

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