Is climate change causing Paris’ floods?

Thu, 2018-02-22 13:30 -- SCC Europe Staff

Is climate change causing Paris’ floods

Last month marked the anniversary of the 1910 “Great Flood of Paris,” one of the worst natural disasters to hit the city. The Seine rose nearly 8 metres, causing 1.2€ billion worth of damage (in today’s terms), transforming the city into a French Venice and forcing thousands to evacuate as streets morphed into canals that destroyed basic infrastructure. At that point in time, the French capital was unprepared in terms of handling such a crisis, which lingered for two months. Major urban redevelopment, population growth and new construction are a few of the elements that made last century’s flood such a detrimental one, and while the city has put preventative measures in place over the years since, there may be a new culprit behind the most recent series of floods: climate change.

Climate control through smart urban development strategies

Paris learned a few things from the 1910 flood. Its sewer system, built just a few decades before, caused water to rise into streets, homes and basements, and when residents tried to pull the plug and drain the water back into sewers, more water ended up flooding their homes. Drainage is one factor for urban planners to consider when it comes to controlling floods, since urban development typically means building up cities with nonporous materials (such as asphalt), so water runs right over streets without being absorbed by the soil. When a three-day period of heavy rain took place in 2016, Paris’ dams were already at 95 percent capacity. As they filled, the river’s water levels were so high under bridges, the city had to close the Seine to traffic and tens of thousands of people were evacuated across the country as Paris’ streets once again resembled Venice. According to an analysis by a group of scientists from the Dutch weather agency and University of Oxford, “the risk of the flooding event in Paris was almost doubled – multiplied by a factor of 1.8 – by humanity’s influence on the climate.” So now an event that happened once in 200 years is becoming an event that happens once every 100 years. Research has also shown a correlation between climate change and heatwaves in Europe, as well as flooding in English counties like Cumbria and Yorkshire.

After the Seine once again broke its banks a few weeks ago, with water rising nearly 6 metres, researchers are touting the importance of reducing greenhouse gas emissions in order to lessen the impact of droughts and floods. Paris has already made a significant development in this area, decreasing emissions by 9.2 percent with a plan to become a carbon-neutral territory by 2050, according to the Paris Climate, Air and Energy Action Plan. With urban development projects such as thermal renovations for social housing and the use of 50 percent of renewable and recovered energies in urban heating, Paris is leading the pack in promoting sustainable solutions to combat climate change and dampen the effects of natural disasters.