Birmingham city skyline with blue sky

In November 2023, Birmingham was graded an A-list city by the international not-for-profit charity, the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP). It joins 119 other cities across the world that are demonstrating city-level leadership on climate action. Cities receive an A-rating if they can demonstrate transparency and bold climate action, and the list is a means to celebrate the achievements, vision, and commitment of these cities in the fight against climate change.

Reporting to the CDP helps cities address climate change challenges within their municipality, provides a means to benchmark themselves globally, and gives them a baseline from which they can measure progress in mitigating and adapting to climate change.

Climate mitigation considers how the city is reducing carbon emissions to reduce its impact on climate change. Climate adaptation describes how the city is responding to changes in climate, such as an increased number of extreme weather events including heavy rainfall and consequential flooding, and hotter summer temperatures that can increase overheating risk.

In 2023, Birmingham joined the A-list for the first time, along with approximately 25 other cities or metropolitan areas within the UK including City of London, Manchester, and Leeds. The city had previously reported to CPD, but only received a grading of B. The difference in 2023 was the city published a new Climate Risk and Vulnerability Assessment (CRVA) map, delivered by researchers on the WM-Air project at the University of Birmingham in partnership with Birmingham City Council.

The CRVA map pulls together different environmental, physical, and socio-economic data layers to understand how climate risk and vulnerability varies across the city of Birmingham. It combines information on flood risk, access to green space, overheating risk, air pollution, and vulnerability indicators such as the Indices of Multiple Deprivation and Excess Years Life Lost to create a combined score for climate risk and vulnerability.

The map is produced at 100m resolution but can be recreated at Lower Super Output Area or Ward level to support different decisions related to planning and urban forestry. For example, the map can be used to support climate sensitive development, to ensure that new developments have lower climate risks and vulnerability than currently. This is particularly important in Birmingham, where there is a strong need for housing. New homes and developments must be resilient to overheating risk arising from the warmer summers that we will experience under our changing climate; new developments must also consider how we can manage water as a resource to reduce the flood risk associated with heavy rainfall. Green space and trees are an important part of building city resilience; trees provide shade on hot days and can cool the surrounding neighbourhood via evapotranspiration. Trees intercept rainfall and can be part of sustainable urban drainage systems to reduce flood risk.

For the global climate research community, the CRVA work brings together three key innovations that support climate action.

  • Firstly, the CRVA was built for the decisions that the city needed to make regarding planning and urban design. This “decision-centric” approach helps reduce complexity (research models often try to include every parameter making them infinitely complex) and reduce inertia that often arises when organisations try to adapt to climate change (e.g., how can I adapt when we don’t know what future climate will look like?).
  • Secondly, the mapping work was delivered in collaboration with Birmingham City Council, thereby ensuring that the CRVA feeds directly into active decision-making processes, and that the Council “own” the approach. Research projects are often fixed term in duration, and it is important for the long-term sustainability of the CRVA that the city holds and updates its own map.
  • Thirdly, the approach and the datasets are open access, and use a GIS method that can be delivered with resources and skills that are held within Birmingham City Council, and other local authorities and organisations within the UK more generally. Therefore, other local authorities and organisations can build their own Climate Risk and Vulnerability assessment using these instructions.

The University of Birmingham team is now mapping climate risk and vulnerability across the West Midlands in partnership with the Combined Authority. We are also building a regional climate risk and vulnerability map for the transport sector. Please get in touch if you would like to know more.