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Hedensted plans ahead for a new climate

Hedensted plans ahead for a new climate

The Danish municipality of Hedensted is in the process of tackling the problems already caused by a changing climate while at the same time safeguarding against future climate change.

The municipality of Hedensted in eastern Jutland is very close to the perfectly average Danish municipality.  Almost 540 square kilometres of good farmland in the midst of eastern-Jutland's growth zone between Horsens and Vejle support the municipality's ambition of being 'a rural municipality in growth'. A long and beautiful stretch of coast facing the Little Belt and Vejle Fjord provides the municipality's 45,000 inhabitants with added amenity value as well as holiday homes which bring business to the outskirts of the municipality.

From a climate point of view, the municipality is also typical: During heavy rainfall the small river Gesager Å, which passes west of Hedensted town, often floods, and in the town itself, the rainwater has nowhere to run off and therefore causes flooding in parts of the city. An area with holiday homes is in danger of flooding when the sea level off the coast increases after a storm, and in the harbour town of Juelsminde, the dike protecting the city is in need of inspection and maybe also extension, perhaps with extra coastal defence works.

Many holiday homes will be exposed to high water levels in the future. Even more will be exposed during extreme weather events. Furthermore, access to and use of beach areas in general will become more difficult.

Climate change adaptation is incorporated into plans
So Hedensted is really not that different from other Danish municipalities. However, when it comes to further work on safeguarding the municipality's buildings, homes, green areas, etc. against a changing climate, the municipality is at the forefront. This year, the municipality will adopt its first 'climate-adapted' municipal plan.

The municipal plan is the general plan for development in the municipality during the next twelve years. The plan is adjusted every four years, and for the first time climate developments have been incorporated in the version of the plan to be adopted by the end of 2009, so that all future construction works and land-use designations take account of more precipitation, rising sea levels and other predictable climate change impacts.

"We are reversing the process. Today we spend both time and money on safeguarding infrastructure, buildings and ourselves against the problems caused by climate change. In future we will make sure that all new land-use designations, construction projects etc. are sited and designed in such a manner as to avoid spending resources on safeguarding them against climate change at a later stage. At least not for the next hundred years," says Niels Rauff, forestry and landscape planner in the municipality of Hedensted.

From a practical point of view, it is very much about procuring knowledge and data about water. How much more precipitation can we expect over the next hundred years? Where will the water from heavy downpours collect? How much will the sea level in the oceans rise, and how high will water levels be along the coast after a storm? When we know this, we will be able to identify those areas in the municipality that should by no means be developed. Furthermore, we can start to look at how sewers and other utilities are to be designed and sited, and we can start the debate on whether to allow rainwater to pool in certain areas in certain periods.

Even newbuilt homes are vulnerable to climate change impacts. In Juelsminde, water levels reached just 10cm below the floorboards of these newbuilt holiday homes during the most recent high-water weather event.

"We often have several things we need to take into account. If we only had to lead the water away via watercourses and into the sea as quickly as possible, all we would have to do was dig deeper, broader and straighter watercourses. But this wouldn't be the holistic solution that we are striving for; a solution which takes into account both the volume of water, life in and around the watercourses as well as the nature experience.  So digging deeper is not an option for us. We must be able to manage the water and ensure rich and thriving nature," says Niels Rauff.

Difficult but necessary to work together across disciplines
The basis for the municipality's work is the most recent report from the UN climate panel, the IPCC. To be on the safe side, the municipality has chosen the worst scenario from the IPCC's report and has even added an extra meter to the scenario's sea level projection.

However, although it seems simple enough on the face of it, compiling the necessary knowledge and making it useful in practice has been a huge task. Work began in 2006 with public consultations about the city's future. Climate change adaptation was not a part of the original basis, but contributions from the public changed the municipality's vision of growth to signify growth in quality of life and in opportunities for expression and experience. This made it natural to think of both safeguarding against climate change and safeguarding a good and exciting environment for the municipality.

"On the other hand, we discovered that    is crucial when it come to adapting to climate change. And cooperating across specialist fields is not an easy task. It requires constant attention to whether everyone is participating, whether they have the same goal, and what can be done if this is not the case," says Niels Rauff.