Ethny Childs
July 2023

Extreme weather and EIA

Photo of a river flooding

This year has seen the hottest June on record in the UK, and a multitude of extreme weather-related events and records have been broken globally in the last few years. As I write this (July 2023) Europe is sweltering in the Cerberus heatwave, with record temperatures expecting to be broken in a number of locations.

As global temperatures increase due to climate change, this leads to an increased frequency of extreme weather events. In the past year we have seen extreme drought, wildfires and flooding events, to name a few, and these are likely to continue to increase in frequency and severity as global average temperatures continue to increase.

It is therefore essential that environmental professionals are equipped with the skills and knowledge to consider extreme weather events in their work. For new developments, ensuring that projects will be resilient to climate change and extreme weather will be vital for ensuring the longevity and safety of buildings and infrastructure.

To explore this topic the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Community held a debate exploring extreme weather events in the UK, how they may change in the future and the ways in which environmental professionals can, or should, incorporate extreme weather into EIAs to ensure developments are fit for the future.

Extreme weather in the UK

Dr Jenny Pirrett from the Weather and Climate Extremes and Impacts Team at the Met Office provided a presentation on a selection of recent extreme weather events in the UK and explored how these events could change in future climate.

Watch the recording

EIA and extreme weather

Eleni Antoniades facilitated a workshop on extreme weather and EIA.

The EIA Directive has always included the requirement for EIA to “identify, describe and assess the direct and indirect effects of a project, which includes soil, water, air, climate and landscape”, as well as the requirement to assess the interactions between these different factors.

The EIA Directive was amended in 2017, reinforcing the need to assess climate impacts, including an addition for a requirement to describe the impact of the project on the climate, for example in terms of greenhouse gas assessment, and the potential impacts of the climate on the project itself. Climate risk assessments and flood risk assessments are also completed to feed into the EIA process, but there is no clear guidance on how extreme weather events should be considered in the EIA process beyond this.

Attendees at the event discussed how different extreme weather events could impact buildings and infrastructure and how they are and should be incorporated into EIAs.

Next steps

The event underlined the need for further discussion and exploration of how extreme weather should be considered in the planning and construction of buildings and infrastructure, and the need for further guidance in this space.

The range and severity of extreme weather events merits the need for greater consideration in the planning and construction process and raises the question of whether a further assessment is needed beyond EIA to support this.

What is clear is that to ensure our buildings and infrastructure are resilient in the face of climate projections, we must collaborate and work across project teams. We must breakdown the siloes between EIA professionals, design teams and those working in construction, to embed better design from the outset to allow for better outcomes for people and nature.

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