Bringing the Mediterranean to Birmingham: impact and adaptation for 8-12 degrees of warming

Lead Research Organisation: University of Birmingham
Department Name: Sch of Geography, Earth & Env Sciences


Extreme weather causes damage to our infrastructure services such as energy supply, information and communications technology (ICT), transport, water supply, and more. Many of our infrastructure services are interdependent, and a failure in one sector leads to failure in other sectors. For example, failure of an electric substation due to extreme heat or flooding could lead to power cuts, reduced ICT services, and transport disruption because our road (eg. traffic lights) and railway networks need electricity to operate. Finding these infrastructure weak points that have a disproportionate impact across several infrastructure networks is essential for infrastructure resilience. Moreover, as our infrastructure has an operational lifetime of several decades or more we must act now to be prepared for future extreme weather. However, current adaptation plans are often done separately by each infrastructure sector (e.g. rail, ICT) and therefore by design do not consider infrastructure interdependencies.

This proposal presents an alternative approach to adaptation planning that breaks down industry silos and uses H++ ("worst-case") extreme climate change scenarios. High emissions and H++ scenarios predict the equivalent of Mediterranean heat for Birmingham and the West Midlands in the future. This proposal will consider the impact that extreme heat would have on infrastructure of the region as a whole. Particularly, it will look for weak points that could cause multiple failures across several infrastructure sectors. The project will use best-practice examples of heat-resilient infrastructure from Mediterranean cities to identify potential adaptation strategies that could be used in the Midlands. Best practice examples will be those that deliver long-term sustainability and multiple benefits, such as urban greening, which can provide climate regulation to build heat resilience, but also improve air quality, provide sustainable urban drainage, and positively influence health and well-being.

The weakest infrastructure links and examples of best practice will be shared with infrastructure operators/owners to facilitate holistic, evidence-based adaptation planning. The adaptation approach can be used in other cities and for other extreme weather types. Guidance documents will be created so the method can be applied nationally and internationally in different situations and regions. The library of best practice examples of sustainable heat-resilient infrastructure and heat adaptation measures will be available online for global dissemination.

This proposal specifically addresses the LWEC challenge by applying a system-of-systems approach to develop heat resilient infrastructure at a city and regional scales. Birmingham is an excellent demonstrator; HS2 and the new terminus station will arrive in the city by 2026. 51,000 new homes are required for the growing population. It also faces multiple challenges that will be exacerbated by extreme heat including increasing demand for electricity and utilities, an urban heat island effect, and transport networks which are currently operating at capacity. Now is the time for effective adaptation planning before long-term decisions and irreversible infrastructure development are undertaken. Crucially, as the West Midlands moves to devolved government there is the opportunity for leading regional research like this to shape governance plans.

Dr Emma Ferranti undertakes challenge-led research in urban climatology and infrastructure meteorology. She holds a NERC Knowledge Exchange Fellowship with networks including infrastructure operators, local authorities, planners, and professionals passionate about urban-greening. This Fellowship will enable her to establish a new multidisciplinary research area in decision-centric adaptation planning that utilises research excellence from the Schools of Engineering, and Geography, Earth and Environmental Science at the University of Birmingham.

Planned Impact

This proposal presents a systems approach to adaptation planning that considers the impact that the 'worst-case' climate scenarios of future summer temperatures would have on the infrastructure of Birmingham and its rural hinterlands. UKCP09 'high emissions' and H++ extreme scenarios predict that maximum summer temperatures could be 8-12 degC warmer; this would change the climate of Birmingham and the West Midlands similar to what is presently experienced in the Mediterranean. Considering the worst-case scenarios across infrastructure sectors will identify 'single points of failures' (e.g. a critical substation) that leads to failures cascading across other infrastructure sectors. Identifying these weakest links and understanding the risks of cascading failures are key action points from the Brown Review on Transport Resilience (DfT, 2014) and 2017 UK Climate Change Risk Assessment Report (CCRA 2016). The project will incorporate outputs from the £12 million Defra-commissioned UK Climate Projections Project (UKCP18) when they become available. The proposal will also produce a library of case studies of best practice examples of heat-resilient infrastructure or adaptation measures from cities that already experience Mediterranean heat. Best practice will be considered in terms of long-term sustainability and multiple benefits, e.g. natural-based solutions such as urban greening. The impact and implications of worst-case scenarios, and examples of best practice will be shared with adaptation planners to inform evidence-based decision making. For the infrastructure owners/operators the proposal will provide asset-level information on the impact of extreme heat, by comparing the 'theoretical' operating thresholds of different asset types with the projected climate. This will be combined with temporal analogues used to investigate the 'actual' (i.e. including interdependencies and external factors such as wear and tear) impact of previous hot days. The spatial analogueswill provide sector-relevant examples of best practice, ultimately to drive stakeholder led infrastructure improvements (e.g. Ferranti et al., 2016). The presence of infrastructure operators and local authorities on the Steering Group and as Project Partners will make certain that research undertaken by the project is relevant and applicable to the stakeholders, and ensure information is appropriately distributed to inform sector-level decision making. Regionally, Ferranti will work alongside the Climate Change and Sustainability Manager at Birmingham City Council (Nick Grayson) and Business Engagement partners at the University of Birmingham to ensure outcomes are disseminated to the Local Enterprise Partnerships (Black Country, Greater Birmingham & Solihull; Coventry and Warwickshire) and to the West Midlands Combined Authority. Ferranti will lever her roles as Midlands TDAG facilitator and NERC Knowledge Exchange fellow to regularly distribute project outcomes to local stakeholders via seminars or meetings. Crucially information gained at these seminars will be used to inform the direction of project research. Project updates and outcomes will be disseminated nationally via networks including the Adaptation and Resilience in the Context of Change, Infrastructure Operators Adaptation Forum, Transport Catapult, Future Cities Catapult, and UK Committee on Climate Change. Regular contact with these networks will also ensure that contributions and requirements for those stakeholders not directly involved in the project can be included. This will make certain that the project is recognised nationally as an innovative adaptation planning approach that can be repeated in urban areas worldwide, for other extreme weather. Information exchange with international partners will deliver international impact by sharing case studies of best practice between cities and hinterlands whose infrastructure faces similar challenges to extreme heat.


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Description Highways England 
Organisation Department of Transport
Department Highways Agency
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution I analyse Highways England data as part of my Fellowship
Collaborator Contribution Highways England provide time in kind and data.
Impact I am 6 months into a Fellowship. Outputs to follow.
Start Year 2018
Description Met Office 
Organisation Meteorological Office UK
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution I will work with the Met Office to develop new H++ scenarios for heat.
Collaborator Contribution The Met Office are supplying time in kind.
Impact I am 6 months into my fellowship. Outputs to follow,
Start Year 2018
Description Network Rail 
Organisation Network Rail Ltd
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution I undertake analysis on Network Rail data as part of my Fellowship.
Collaborator Contribution Network Rail supported this Fellowship and are a member of the steering committee. They have provided data and time in kind.
Impact I am 6 months into this collaboration. Outputs will follow in due course.
Start Year 2018
Description Transport for London 
Organisation Transport for London
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution I am supervising a PhD student (Sarah Greenham) who is working with TfL to understand the impact of heat on their infrastructure. The PhD project is directly linked to my Fellowship and funded by EPSRC.
Collaborator Contribution TfL are providing data, time in kind, and an office space for my PhD Student.
Impact This PhD studentship started in Otcober 2018. Outputs to follow.
Start Year 2018