Careers: Climate of the future

Conventional wisdom used to say that the full impact of global warming would be felt by our grandchildren.

But United Nations scientists agree that the consequences are already here.

Climate change is the number one issue that the planners of today and tomorrow will have to contend with throughout their careers. The scale of the challenge is enormous. Flood defence, biodiversity, zero carbon development, renewable energy, building design and sustainable transport are just some of the battlegrounds of the future.

Last year, former World Bank economist Sir Nicholas Stern issued an apocalyptic warning of economic collapse and millions of displaced people if nothing is done. He also pinpointed planning as a vital discipline for adapting to and mitigating the effects of climate change. Where and what we build will be crucial to the way we live.

In some areas, planners have led the response. The London Borough of Merton's pioneering policy to ensure that new commercial buildings generate at least ten per cent of their energy needs from on-site renewable sources has been followed by dozens of other councils. It has inspired London mayor Ken Livingstone to go even further with a proposed target of 20 per cent.

"The planning community should look to every development to reduce emissions," says Royal Town Planning Institute chief policy adviser Kelvin MacDonald. "Planners should meet the call for zero carbon development rather than waiting for government edict."

The government wants all new housing to be carbon neutral by 2016. It has pledged an "eco-town" in each region to highlight ways of cutting damaging emissions.

But the Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA) has called for more green spaces to cope with climate change. Adding just ten per cent to green cover in high-density urban areas could keep maximum surface temperatures below today's levels until the 2080s. "We have to adapt the way we build and live in our homes to cope with high temperatures, the strain on water resources, less stable ground conditions and flooding," says TCPA chief executive Gideon Amos.

"Responding to this requires innovative use of space within and around buildings," says Amos. "We need homes and gardens with generous tree cover to complement high-density development. Large trees, green cover and green roofs where there is no space for gardens at ground level can help to keep cities cooler in summer and minimise the risk of flooding."

PROFILE

SIMON MARSH

Head of planning and regional policy, RSPB

MA in Town and Regional Planning, University of Sheffield

- What attracted you to planning?

I became fascinated by the way people shape landscapes and urban environments.

- What are your main duties?

Advocating planning policies to government that support biodiversity and the environment.

- What do you enjoy about your job?

Meeting lots of different people from different sectors and professional backgrounds.

- What has been your career highlight?

Being at the heart of the debate about the future of planning in the environment.


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