How Paris prepares for a warming world

Green transition 15 February 2022 Adeline Cauchy

How will climate change affect one of the world’s most iconic cities? That is the question Ramboll has partnered with the City of Paris to answer in a new study.

8 min

The study identifies the main risks Paris will face in a warming climate, using the latest data from the IPCC. Recognised as a global climate leader, Paris offers unique insights for other city leaders as they plan the most efficient and equitable transition in their context. 

How resilient is Paris to climate change?

Our study reveals that the majority of major risks that were previously expected by 2050 are now expected to impact Paris by as early as 2030. Every city is unique, and this is also reflected in the distinct climate challenges that Paris will face, which can be summarised in four key categories:

  • Protecting residents from urban overheating
  • Anticipating and managing flood risks
  • Preserving and improving biodiversity
  • Preventing water scarcity

Below, we cover each of these four elements in more detail and highlight key takeaways for other city leaders. 

Protect residents from urban overheating

Paris is warming faster than expected. Studies show the city is already 2.3°C warmer than in the pre-industrial era. 

There are now more than 20 scorching days per year, defined as days where the temperature exceeds 30° C, and seven times as many tropical nights as compared with the pre-industrial period. This leads to increased drought periods, which, in turn, harm biodiversity and water quality, burden the health sector, and pose novel challenges for energy and transport networks. 

Heat waves pose more risk to vulnerable groups, particularly those over the age of 65, young children, the chronically ill, pregnant women, and residents in lower socio-economic groups. 

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While Paris prepares for warmer weather, it also has to prepare for weather extremes on the other end of the spectrum, as floods are also expected to increase in severity and ferocity.

From the report: Bringing Embodied Carbon Upfront: Opportunities to reduce embodied carbon from stage of design process.  Source: HM Treasury: Infrastructure Carbon Review, 2013

Average temperatures from 1885 till today and in the future. Source: Summary of the study "Paris facing climate change", City of Paris - 2021

The City of Paris has already taken a number of steps to tackle this growing problem. It has created the 'reflex system' to alert and support residents during heatwaves and mapped 1,200 ‘cool spots’, which guide Parisians to cooler areas on scorching days.

It has also formulated a heatwave plan to limit the impact of heatwaves on the health of residents and vulnerable populations in particular. 

Key takeaway:
The city will have to cope with greater frequency and intensity of extreme heat events. Adaptation is underway and efforts should continue to avoid irremediable impacts, particularly on liveability and health.

Managing floods and water scarcity

While Paris prepares for warmer weather, it also has to prepare for weather extremes on the other end of the spectrum, as floods are expected to increase in severity and ferocity. 

Floods – like the one that ravaged Southern Europe in the summer of 2021 – can have devastating impacts, and Paris has initiated a number of measures to systematically manage its flood risk. 

These efforts are brought together in the ParisPluie Plan, which aims to restore the natural water cycle and strengthen the presence of water and nature in Paris, billed as a “small revolution in the way the City is conceived.” 

Climate change will increase the intensity and frequency of droughts and increase demand for water, putting the city at risk of water scarcity in the summer period. City leaders have initiated measures such as restoring the non-potable water network. Water scarcity is also a consideration in parks and other green areas, where plants are chosen based on their climate resilience, i.e. whether they are resistant to drought and hot weather. 

Key takeaway: 
Due to climate change, water will become more scarce and have more extreme impacts. Water management will become more challenging, which calls for innovative collection and sharing solutions.

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City of Paris, summary of the study “Paris in the face of climate change,” 2021 (conception Ramboll/Giboulées).

City of Paris, summary of the study “Paris in the face of climate change,” 2021 (Image credit: Ramboll/Giboulées).

Preserving and improving biodiversity

As announced at the 2021 IUCN World Conservation Congress, the sixth mass extinction is accelerating, with 28% of all assessed species at risk of extinction

In Paris and the wider Île-de-France region, the decline of biodiversity is unlikely to be curbed by 2050 or by the end of the century, despite all efforts to restore nature – a truly alarming situation with unforeseen consequences.

Wildlife and biodiversity support climate regulation such as cooling, helping to regulate floods and heavy rains and potentially mitigating damage to buildings and infrastructure.

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From the report: Bringing Embodied Carbon Upfront: Opportunities to reduce embodied carbon from stage of design process.  Source: HM Treasury: Infrastructure Carbon Review, 2013

Nature in the city. City of Paris, Synthesis “Paris in the face of climate change,” 2021 (Image credit: Ramboll/Giboulées).

Paris is responding with a Biodiversity Plan focused on 'renaturation'. This entails creating ponds, valleys, and a re-vegetation program which strongly contributes to maintaining and strengthening biodiversity in the city. 

The Biodiversity Plan is structured around three axes, focused on including biodiversity across all City planning; raising awareness and knowledge about biodiversity; and turning biodiversity into an asset by strengthening the network of nature (with new green spaces, for instance) and building for net-positive biodiversity.

These are just some of the steps and initiatives Paris has taken to adapt to the changing climate. Other key elements include a bioclimatic urban plan, innovative financing schemes such as green bonds and using citizen engagement to promote climate action through a ‘Climate Academy.’ 

Key takeaway: 
Biodiversity is key to climate adaption. Biodiversity can help to cool the city, limit the impact of floods, enable water collection, and more. But biodiversity is also highly vulnerable and affected by human pressures, including climate change. Given its strategic interest in the light of climate change, biodiversity conservation should be one of the City’s top priorities.

To contact the editor of this article, please email Anders Brønd Christensen.

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