How are the barriers in urban climate adaptation overcome?

Is the City of Helsinki able to adapt to climate change or are we going to be submerged in flash floods and storm surges like Houston and Puerto Rico? Viliina Evokari writes about her Master’s thesis ”Identifying and overcoming barriers in urban climate adaptation: Case study findings from the City of Helsinki”.

Cities are the key to climate adaptation because the impacts of climate change are to be solved locally. However, multiple barriers may hinder the planning and implementation of adaptation measures in the cities. The purpose of my research was to identify the barriers in urban climate change adaptation in the City of Helsinki. But frankly said, listing of obstacles is just depressing. Hence, I found it extremely important also to identify solutions to overcome those barriers that we identified. The data was collected in a workshop in which employees from the City of Helsinki participated. These are people that deal with adaptation issues in their daily work. The list of barriers was exhaustive but luckily the amount of solutions was even greater!

The main findings indicate that decision-makers need usable and understandable information and the existing information should be easy to access and comprehend. In addition, since competition for resources is fierce, all adaptation investments need to be clearly justified. Cost-benefit analyses and concrete examples of best practices can demonstrate that adaptation to climate change is economically sensible and urgent.

Many adaptation actions can also bring multiple benefits, such as increasing living comfort and reducing social problems by increasing green urban areas. Also, better cooperation with the universities in producing usable information for the decision makers is an opportunity that should not be missed.

Several barriers are caused by the city procedures themselves. It seems that procedures and responsibilities are not clear in terms of adaptation in the City of Helsinki. Also, there is a need for better cooperation between different city departments, which are accustomed to view the world from their own silos. Since the City of Helsinki begun to restructure its organization from the beginning of June 2017, there are high hopes that these internal issues are improved in the process. In order to succeed strong support from the management is needed.

Also, while cities value their independence, a little push from the national level could speed things up. There are several international examples that show how clarifying the role and responsibilities of the cities by national legislation can advance the implementation of adaptation actions in below the national level. Even though it is likely that the City of Helsinki is going to be a front runner in climate change adaptation in Finland, other cities are likely to need a small nudge in the right direction.

So, will Helsinki become submerged or not? Despite numerous identified barriers in this thesis, the City of Helsinki can tackle climate change, if we all decide it will!