As extreme weather events intensify and become more frequent, the UK’s buildings, cities and critical infrastructure, and the communities that use and occupy these, are in increasing danger. At present, 1.8 million homes are at significant risk of flooding and 20% of homes are already experiencing overheating. There is a clear and urgent need to adapt our built environment, yet action is lagging.

Strengthening the UK’s climate resilience requires a collaborative approach between numerous actors in the built environment that is underpinned, crucially, by government support. The UK Climate Resilience Programme sought to boost the UK’s climate resilience, working to bring together fragmented climate research and expertise to support UK government decision making.

Now that the Programme has come to an end and its projects continue to bear fruit, what solutions and learnings can we takeaway to ensure our built environment is fit for the future?

The UK Climate Resilience Programme

Running 2019 – 2023, the UK Climate Resilience Programme (UKCRP) was an interdisciplinary research programme led jointly by University of Leeds and The Met Office and funded by the Strategic Priorities Fund of UKRI. The programme sought to quantify the UK’s climate risk and build its resilience, producing outputs that inform and support UK government’s decision making on this topic. Themes included understanding the risks to the UK, how to communicate and manage the risks, and how to work with organisations to develop suitable climate services.  

While the UKCRP explored a variety of sectors, there were notable learnings for the built environment industry specifically. Below details a handful of relevant projects, but the full list can be found here.  

Key learnings

Some projects focused on adaptation and resilience in various cities across the UK, learnings from which could be applied to other cities:

Collaborative project that produce a chapter in Manchester Climate Change Framework on Adaptation and Resilience, as well as the publication of Manchester’s Climate Ready website, for understanding hazards and vulnerability relating to Manchester’s climate risk. 
The website highlights action being taken across Manchester to increase the resilience of the built environment, including the implementation of nature-based solutions, sustainable urban drainage systems (SUDS), rain water harvesting, and structural flood defences.

Learn more here.

Led by the University of Manchester, this project supported the City Council in developing strategies to reduce heat risk and to increase resilience amongst citizens, communities and businesses.  

A Heat Vulnerability Index was produced to create a detailed understanding of the causes and how the risks of urban heat vary spatially. This was used to directly inform the development of a Heat Resilience Plan (launching soon) and the Keep Bristol Cool mapping tool.

Learn more here.

Led by the University of Sheffield, the project explored the potential to scale rainwater harvesting by the households or communities to reduce flood risk in Hull.  

This included interventions like the use of water butts through to smart rain tanks that automatically empty based on weather forecasts. This research found a domestic rain tank programme could feasibly contribute to community flood resilience as well as enable mutual learnings between authorities and the public.

Learn more here.

As well as city wide projects, different building typologies were also looked at in various research projects:

This project, led by University College London, found overheating to be prevalent in care setting, which can be detrimental to the health of vulnerable residents. Through modelling research, night time passive ventilation was identified as an effective method for alleviating overheating. The most effective solutions varied depending on the building type, with older, heavyweight buildings benefitting more from the use of high albedo materials and newer, well insulated buildings, benefitting from higher ventilation rates and external shading systems. 

Learn more here.

With overheating in schools as a serious health risk, this project analysed 22,000 schools in the UK in order to produce a model able to predict future overheating risks. The project, led by University College London, considered a range of future climate change scenarios, low carbon building designs and operational strategies to identify the best pathway for increasing resilience through policy and practice. The project is also considering extending the climate change risk model to other non-domestic building types.  

Learn more here.

The project, led by University of Manchester, looked at how to minimise the impact of hazards on churches and their communities. The project proposed solutions such as using churches to increase the resilience of the communities they serve, for example through acting as refuges from climate hazards and extreme weather events and as sanctuaries from overheating.

Learn more here 

Next steps

UKCRP identified a number of research gaps that need to be explored going forward:

  1. The need for increased collaboration between sectors and society for challenge-focused research.
  2. Further developing the resilience community’s boundary spanning skills to ensure useful and usable outputs as good adaptation research often requires skills that go beyond a single discipline.
  3. Expanding and applying techniques and approaches developed in the programme to additional locations, situations and risks.
  4. Generating a better understanding of how risks can be reduced through resilience building and adaptation.  

To date, there hasn’t been any suggestion that there will be further funding for UKCRP part 2, but the legacy of the programme will continue through the funded projects’ successes. The UK Climate Change Committee has already started planning for the next climate change risk assessment, and it is hoped that much of the learning from the programme can inform this process. Also, it is hoped that tools, data and knowledge from the programme will be used to help support the recently published National Adaptation Programme.

UKGBC recognizes the crucial role of academic research in increasing thorough understanding, and providing pioneering solutions to gaps and challenges across different sustainability topics. UKGBC’s Academic Research Forum convenes academic members across our network to share insights on research, gaps and future opportunities. UKGBC members are able to access exclusive content on the insights from these forums, please get in touch to gain access. The next Forum will be On Tuesday 14th November exploring research projects on the topic of hard to recycle materials. Sign up here

The UK built environment sector currently lacks the definitions and targets needed to become climate resilient by 2050. To address this, UKGBC is launching a Resilience Roadmap project aiming to scope and propose an industry wide collaborative project to set new climate resilience and adaptation targets for the sector. Applications to be involved in this project are now open