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How to map climate-related risks in buildings

Mapping climate-related risks in properties

The consequences of climate change, such as wildfires, torrential rain, and floods, can be very costly. The possibility is now being investigated of introducing so-called climate resilience certificates, a system that shows the climate risks linked to a property, and which can help property owners reduce their vulnerability and allow banks and insurance companies to better assess risks. 

When Gävle was hit by torrential rain and severe flooding in the summer of 2021, the costs of the damage were enormous. Insurance companies paid out over one billion kronor in claims linked to the incident. The effects of climate change are becoming increasingly tangible. Incidents like this underscore the work that needs to be done to transition and adapt our societies to a changing climate. 

“It’s getting serious now,” says Niklas Thidevall, policy researcher at RISE, who conceived the climate resilience certificate system. “We saw in Gävle how a single downpour could have enormous consequences, and this is something that individual property owners, private individuals, and companies that own properties will have to deal with.” 

Risk for both insurance companies and banks 

Insurance companies warn that properties in risk zones may not be able to get the same cover as before, which also creates problems for banks and other entities who lend money with real property as collateral.  

“We are now facing a situation where some properties can be difficult to insure and thus difficult to finance, which creates major challenges,” explains Thidevall. “At the same time, it is currently very difficult for banks to know what risks they are taking.”  

Thidevall highlights two things that became clear with the floods in 2021. Firstly, there is a big difference in how different properties are affected, even in the same area. Secondly, much of the damage could have been mitigated and the risks reduced using relatively simple solutions. A large proportion of the damage in Gävle was linked back to back pressure damage, where wastewater is pushed back into the house, and cold have been avoided with relatively simple means, such as installing a check valve. 

It will cost money to implement measures, but it will also cost a lot if we do nothing

Model for assessing risks 

To increase the resilience of existing buildings, it is important to know more precisely which property has a high risk of being affected, and requirements for predicting and reporting risks will most likely increase in the future. Therefore, a model for assessing the risks of damage related to climate change at the property level has been developed in a feasibility study.  

“We have mainly looked at the risk of flooding, both due to torrential rain and rising sea levels, and sketched out the form such a system could take,” says Thidevall. “We started from an existing example, namely the energy performance certificate that each property has. We have the same scale, although it measures how vulnerable the property is to climate-related risks.”  

The scale is based on assessments from independent experts who collect data and place the property on the scale according to various factors, such as the design of the building foundation, the ground around it, how thresholds are designed, whether there is a forest close to the property or whether there are basements and, if so, whether they are furnished, and so on.  

“You look at both the building itself and the risk of incidents on-site,” says Peter Lidén, researcher in Indoor Environment and Building Physics at RISE. “Taken together, these data result in a risk rating. In the next step, a private individual can, for example, get recommendations for what can be done to achieve a better rating on the scale, such as altering the surrounding ground levels, or inspecting the seals between different building sections where water can penetrate. Owners of multiple properties can produce documentation for assessing which of their properties they should secure first.” 

Creating incentives – and change 

The idea is that the information will be mandatory for new property development, but it is likely that it will also be requested for existing buildings. However, it is not about condemning vulnerable buildings; the system is a tool to solve problems, help property owners comply with the requirements, and, ultimately, achieve actual change and less damage.  

“Small changes often make a big difference,” says Thidevall. “But if we don’t create opportunities for individual property owners to understand the risks that exist, I don’t think that the measures needed to withstand a downpour or a forest fire will be implemented.”  

The scientific community agrees that the weather will become more extreme in the future, with higher sea levels and torrential rain occurring more frequently. It will cost money to implement measures, but it will also cost a lot if we do nothing.

RISE serves as a meeting place and arena for discussions, projects, and feasibility studies of this nature. 

“You can utilise the extensive expertise within RISE, in this case construction experts and rainfall climatology experts, together with people like me who know the regulations and policy work. Bringing together areas of knowledge, looking at the problem together, and having close dialogue with a wide range of operators provide different perspectives, which produce better solutions.” 

Niklas Thidevall

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Niklas Thidevall

Senior policyforskare

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