A Practical Guide to Climate-resilient Buildings and Communities

Submitted by Sohara Mehroze Shachi | published 22nd Jul 2021 | last updated 27th Jan 2022

Climate Adaptation Training Annotation

  • Level: Introductory
  • Time commitment: N/A
  • Learning product: Guidance on adaptation
  • Sector: Built environment, Infrastructure
  • Language: English 
  • Certificate available: No
A Practical Guide to Climate-resilient Buildings
Roof construction Photo: © unsplash.com

Introduction

Recent research predicts that by 2050, 1.6 billion urban dwellers will be regularly exposed to extreme high temperatures and over 800 million people living in more than 570 cities will be vulnerable to sea level rise and coastal flooding (C40, 2018). When ill-suited to their local environment and strongly exposed to extreme climate conditions, buildings become drivers of vulnerability, rather than providing shelter, leading to both human tolls and economic losses. Low-income, informal, over-crowded and ill-planned settlements face the highest risk from climate change.

This practical guide has been prepared because the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) recognizes the key role buildings can play in enhancing climate change adaptation, improving resilience and addressing and mitigating risk. 

The approaches and technologies presented in this document are tailored toward a developing country context and a built environment that is largely self-constructed. However, the majority of the techniques identified in this practical guide can be upscaled and applied to buildings of any type, including apartment complexes, hospitals and schools.

For more details download the complete Practical Guide to Climate-resilient Buildings & Communities from the right hand column

Institutional Background

This practical guide has been produced by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in recognition by UNEP of the key role buildings can play in enhancing climate change adaptation, improving resilience and addressing and mitigating risk.

UNEP has led various activities aimed at increasing disaster resilience and the sustainability of the built environment, including launching the Sustainable Buildings and Climate Initiative (SBCI) in 2006. Find out more about UNEP's work in cities and sustainable buildings.

Who would find this useful

 This guidance is written for a broad audience, including those with little experience in the building and construction industries. It aims to help fulfil a recognized need for additional resources addressing good practice for buildings in communities and towns that face risk from disasters but may suffer from a deficit of professionally trained architects, engineers, contractors, manufacturers and other practitioners.

Content of the guide

The practical guide sets out to provide an overview of the fundamental types of interventions at the building scale. It specifically offers concepts and approaches for the building envelope, roof, structure, orientation and materials. 

The approaches and technologies presented in this document are tailored toward a developing country context and a built environment that is largely self-constructed. However, the majority of the techniques identified in this practical guide can be upscaled and applied to buildings of any type, including apartment complexes, hospitals and schools.

Given the broad geographic scope, this note identifies and explores scalable interventions that are applicable to key climatic types, with special focus on technical approaches in those regions that are expected to see the highest rates of population growth and urbanization in the coming years.

This guide focuses on the following topics:

  • Challenges and impacts of a changing climate on the built environment
  • General approaches and design principles
  • Adaptation ideas for thermal regulation and comfort
  • Adaptation ideas for specific climate risks: flooding, droughts and cyclones.

To assist the reader in identifying design principles or technical ideas most relevant for their local needs, this report employs icons to highlight applicable risks, climates and approaches throughout the text.

While this guide provides an overview of important infrastructure and community-scale considerations, it is principally focused on building structures and their immediate surroundings. 

Learning outcomes

Adaptation in the buildings and construction sector is still in its early stages and efforts need to be rapidly scaled up to cope with increasingly intense climate change impacts. This practical guide presents a range of adaptation interventions to respond to droughts, flooding, sea level rise, heatwaves and warming, cyclones and strong winds for different building types and different settings, which governments and policy makers can promote and scale up by integrating them into policies and regulations for the built environment. It also reflects on the possible landscape level green infrastructure measures that can deliver adaptation benefits at an urban scale.

In this guide, special attention has been given to most vulnerable countries and groups, where the built environment is largely self-constructed. Here, working with the inhabitants of informal settlements and their community organizations in improving housing quality and providing needed infrastructure and services is a powerful adaptation strategy for governments to support.

By integrating locally adapted climate adaptation measures in post-disaster reconstruction, owner-driven construction or slum upgrading, as well as building retrofits and new constructions, authorities, project developers, funders and community members can motivate and educate people, provide incentives and develop a conducive environment for the promotion and innovation of sustainable building design and construction standards that progress community resilience to climate change.