A climate service for flood risk mapping in urban areas

Climate-KIC, European Institute of Innovation and Technology

The SaferPlaces project, supported by EIT Climate-KIC, has created a climate service that provides flood-prone cities with the climate, economic, and infrastructural information they need to increase their resilience against increasingly frequent extreme weather events. 

Cities are expected to experience more frequent and severe flooding, due to increasing occurrence of extreme weather events many Europeans are vulnerable to their impacts. Future projections are not reassuring either, since the combination of climate change with other factors, such as the increase in population concentration and impermeability of soil in urban environments, is further contributing to the risks associated with flooding.  

Cities need to start transitioning into more climate and flood resilient urban spaces

Cities must act quickly by planning and re-designing with climate projections in mind and provide concrete steps to create more resilient urban spaces. Flood risk information is an essential element of urban planning: it can be used to make informed decisions about climate adaptation strategies that promote economic growth and boost wellbeing, while at the same time mitigating risks. 

SaferPlaces, 1 a project co-financed by EIT Climate-KIC, coordinated by GECOsistema Srl and developed together with research institutions (CMCC, GFZ), universities (UNIBO, UPM) and private companies (MEEO),  aims to contribute to the creation of dedicated tools for decision-making and the design of urban regeneration interventions, both necessary to mitigate the risks associated with climate change. 

The project aims to create a climate service to assess the risks and dangers of rain, river and coastal flooding in urban environments. In order to improve urban flood-proofing, new resource-effective tools are needed to support data-driven climate services, and resilience and adaptation in our cities. The use of innovative climate, hydrological, hydraulic, topographic and economic modeling techniques allows relevant stakeholders to examine current and future climate scenarios which will help inform the appropriate means to plan, design and build safer and more resilient communities. 

As part of the project, an online platform has been developed, providing information to support climate adaptation plans in cities and providing different simulations of possible flooding scenarios. These scenarios provide an excellent basis for collaboration among all actors involved in urban planning and flood management, such as public authorities, engineers, civil protection agencies and insurance companies. These actors can use SaferPlaces’ results to identify the best risk reduction and climate adaptation strategies, but also to calculate the economic benefits of different mitigation options.  

The SaferPlaces platform is currently operational for four pilot case studies: Rimini and Milan (Italy), Pamplona (Spain) and Cologne (Germany). To date, most of the project’s activities have been focused on Rimini, a city potentially exposed to coastal flooding due to sea level rise and increasingly intense storm events, and home to the largest urban regeneration project in Italy, called ‘Parco del Mare’, or Sea Park. 

Increasing climate resilience in Italy 

The Rimini Sea Park ’Parco del Mare‘ aims to improve the environmental and landscape conditions of the seafront promenade in the area of south Rimini Sud. In addition, it increases the resilience of the entire community in the face of climate change, providing protection against torrential rains and sea intrusion. ’Parco del Mare‘  is considered a Nature-Based Solution2, a concept used by the European Commission to define all those interventions inspired by nature, which provide environmental, social and economic benefits and at the same time help to increase urban resilience to climate change. 

The SaferPlaces platform carried out a detailed analysis of the potential damage associated with different scenarios of coastal storm flooding, torrential rains or exceptionally high sea level. The effect of the sea park as a tool for prevention and mitigation of flood damage was also evaluated.  

The results made it possible to examine the extent to which flood events would impact, both in terms of areas affected by flooding and estimated economic damage. The comparison between the different scenarios provided an overview of the real benefits of the sea park, as well as a valuable input for the design of the intervention itself.   

After evaluating the cost-benefit ratio of Rimini’s ‘Parco del Mare’, the amount saved with this adaptation far exceeds the expected investment. The sea park is therefore efficient and economically sustainable, which in addition to the regeneration and aesthetic improvement of the new sea promenade, will protect the entire city from future flooding generated by climate change. 

The SaferPlaces team is hoping to expand to two other pilot case cities (Pamplona and Cologne). The potential of this climate service is enormous for the many countries and cities around the world that are increasingly threatened by the danger of flooding.  Given the success SaferPlaces has seen, combining climate scenarios with urban mapping, risk assessment and economic impact modelling has great potential to be extended to other types of climate risks, such as heat waves in the future.

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