Edinburgh assesses climate change effect on historic buildings

Wednesday 19th Oct 2011 by theWeather Club

Image: David Monniaux

One of the real challenges facing the authorities have with climate change is with public engagement. The problem is that the concept of climate is just so huge. Complex long term trends of large scale meteorological data isn’t the sexiest of subjects, especially when many of the places where scientists point to the real world effects of the process are a long way away. However a new Edinburgh project may help to bring this closer to home.

The Old and New towns were inscribed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 1995 as examples of truly beautiful cityscapes. A five-year plan has been drafted to research the effects of climate change on historic buildings that sit within Edinburgh's World Heritage site. However fears are beginning to emerge about the condition of several precious buildings.

Over the past four months, Edinburgh World Heritage has been looking into the issue of climate change, and has said that rainfall was the big thing Edinburgh had to address. It is thought that changes in rainfall patterns, heavy winds and rise in temperatures could increase the damage and weathering of the site's buildings. An Edinburgh World Heritage spokesman said that: "Scottish housing has been built to withstand the wet but it is going to be even more important for gutters to be unblocked and for windows to be well fitted... The effects of flooding and the erosion of buildings from heavy rainfall needs to be looked at seriously.”

The study suggests that, although there is no immediate risk, how buildings adapt to the changes in climate needs to be carefully monitored. Jenny Dawe, Edinburgh City Council leader explained: “Edinburgh's World Heritage Site status is extremely important to the city. It is an endorsement of the unique character of our beautiful and historic city and reflects the supreme quality of Scotland's successful capital city.”

Asked about some of the physical issues involved, Adam Wilkinson, Edinburgh World Heritage director, said: “The challenge is for us to start to understand what climate change means for Edinburgh, and hence what practical steps we can all take to help adapt its built environment without damaging its historic and architectural importance… For example increased rainfall will mean that we should consider whether rainwater goods can cope, while harsher winters will accelerate stone decay." Councillor Dawe added that the results of the scheme would lead to a revised management plan which will help the city to conserve the World Heritage site's intrinsic qualities for generations to come.

It may also suggest a new way of getting the issue across to the public in a way that is more engaging than dry science or lurid headlines. The changing climate really will affect us all, inspiring people to connect with how it might affect them on the local level, might engage them with what is happening on the global level.