This summer, we have experienced devastating effects of extreme weather in Europe – from floods in Belgium and Germany to forest fires in Greece. Such catastrophic events are becoming increasingly frequent due to the climate crisis and changing weather patterns. What can we do to cope and be better prepared for extreme weather in our regions and cities? We spoke to three Climate Pact Ambassadors – Katarina Luhr, Vice Mayor of Stockholm, Sweden; Maria das Dores Banheiro Meira, Mayor of Setúbal Municipality, Portugal; and Csaba Borboly, President of Harghita County Council, Romania, to find out more.
What kind of extreme weather did you experience this summer and what impact is it having on your region?
There are two worrying weather phenomena for Setúbal – heatwaves and extreme rainfall.
Heatwaves are a public health problem as they cause deaths among the most vulnerable groups of people and a brutal increase in the risk of forest fires in rural areas. Extreme rainfall brings about the risk of flooding in the city centre, which causes severe damage and can lead to the loss of lives.
June and July this year were some of the wettest months for my region. There were many floods which led to the degradation and slipping of roads, and caused damage to people’s houses and cars.
On the other hand, the spring months were drier than usual this year. March and April are increasingly arid which delays the sowing of crops and vegetables. In practice, this means that many food and drink products might become more expensive or unavailable.
What can the city authorities do to reduce the impact of extreme weather?
We have been working on adapting the city to heavier rain for some years now, for example by adjusting and expanding the sewage system. But planting trees also plays a crucial role – they soak up excess rainwater and keep soil in place.
We are also creating underground systems that can hold and distribute rainwater to protect important infrastructure, such as the subway.
We have built “green corridors” – strips of park in the city that link up other green and open areas, providing shade and bringing cooler air. We have also created urban gardens and expanded green spaces, so that during a heatwave people can cool down in the shade. We have also created the Várzea retention basins to store rainwater, preventing the city centre from flooding when it rains a lot.
What can people do to help?
Home owners can protect their property, for example by making sure that rainwater is led away from the house, rather than risk flooding their basement or damaging the house.
You can protect your house from flooding by keeping drainage ditches clean and free of sediment and dirt to facilitate the flow of water.
And for those who have gardens, we encourage tree planting as a way to keep temperatures down by offering natural shade.
How do you see the future when it comes to climate change?
Unfortunately, we will see heavier rain and rising temperatures and we, as a city, need to adapt faster. We especially need green areas such as parks and gardens, because trees help retain storm water and cool down the city.
However, if we do not lower our carbon emissions, if we don’t stop the use of fossil fuels, these small measures will be far from sufficient. People and cities will bear the consequences, and the costs will be high.
The planet is warming up at an unprecedented rate. Cities must prepare as soon as possible for the impact of climate change. Setúbal will continue its Covenant of Mayors' commitment to fight climate change.
The Covenant of Mayors is a pan-European initiative supported by the EU. It encourages local authorities to increase energy efficiency and reduce emissions in their towns, cities and regions – find out if your town is part of it!
- 22 September 2021