Urban Climate Services pilot helps fill evidence gap on heat

Urban fact sheets produced by the Met Office in the form of “city packs” have been hailed as “a brilliant opportunity to bridge the gap between climate science and practitioners”.

Lucy Vilarkin, Bristol City Council’s lead on climate adaptation, worked with a number of Met Office scientists in the Urban Climate Services team led by Claire Scannell to co-produce the city pack for Bristol, as part of a Met Office work package on the co-development of urban climate services for UK cities.

A particular area of interest was the heat island effect in the city, with the initial focus being on understanding the present-day hazard as well as the future heat hazard within the city.

“Bristol headlines” from UKCP18

“We realised the need to fill in an evidence gap in terms of heat risk,” said Lucy, speaking in a webinar run by the UK Climate Resilience Programme. “Having the trusted voice of the Met Office behind the evidence base was priceless.”

The factsheets, which include information on climate science – including local weather, how the climate has changed, future climate and the implications for local decision-making – pull the “Bristol headlines” out of the national UKCP18  data set and have been co-designed to be used by staff across the council.

The information has since been used in Bristol’s Preliminary Climate Resilience Assessment as part of the evidence for its One City Climate Strategy.  This strategy sets the ambitious goal of becoming a carbon neutral, climate resilient city by 2030 – Bristol was the first UK city to declare a climate emergency in 2018.

Urban heat resilience plan

The new work on heat uses the UKCP local data and will provide support and help to develop an Urban Heat Resilience Plan. Charlotte Brown from the Tyndall Centre, University of Manchester is leading this work as one of the UKCR-funded Embedded Researcher projects.

The Met Office Climate Services work package aims to understand user needs for specific applications of local decision-making in aspects such as health, infrastructure and water. Early prototyping through the work with Bristol City Council has already produced derivatives from the fact sheets, which are developing “a life of their own” says Lucy.

“Now we want to involve multiple voices in the heat risk work and create a test-bed to engage.”

New city packs

Plans for the city packs, include further development of the existing prototypes and adapting them for other cities. Packs for Belfast, Glasgow, Leeds, London City and  Kirklees have since been produced, with more in the pipeline as other cities commission this Met Office climate service.

Met Office Science Manager Dr Claire Scannell, who presented the fact sheets in the UKCR webinar on 16 December, said: “Cities are complex, interconnected systems with vastly varying degrees of risk, resilience and vulnerability.

“The risks of climate change can often be amplified within the urban environment compared to the surrounding countryside –  an example of this is the urban heat island effect. And of course the financial effects on cities can be as devastating as the physical ones.”

Talking about the urban climate fact sheets, she explained they were based on the 25km UKCP climate projections for all scenarios and provide headline messages on hazards such as heat, rainfall and sea-level rise and how they could change in the future across all scenarios. Further prototype urban climate services are currently being developed using the UKCP local dataset at 2.2 km resolution.

“Next year, we’re going to look at how we can make them reproducible across more cities within the UK.”

Value of co-production

Future plans include exploring new services around coastal cities, drought and multiple hazards, all with co-production at their heart and with local decision-makers in mind.

The iterative process with Bristol was clearly appreciated by both parties, with Dr Scannell describing working with Lucy Vilarkin as “an absolute pleasure” and Lucy equally complimentary about the co-production approach: “The way we worked together is as important as the science” where a long-term partnership provides the time and space to develop a deeper understanding of one another’s world.

Summarising her tips as a stakeholder responding to the climate services project, Lucy Vilarkin said that local context is important, as is identifying council functions that can benefit from direct support.

Recognising that councils operate in a wider system and that climate resilience can require significant system change is also important, she said, acknowledging that most councils don’t have a dedicated officer to focus on adaptation.

“This needs to work for councils that are quite advanced along their climate journey, but also local authorities that are just starting out and who might lack supportive structures and resources.”

Further information

Image of Bristol by Martyna Bober, Unsplash

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Last updated June 2021

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