WHEN then first minister Rhodri Morgan suggested global warming “will hardly be unhelpful to Wales” if it resulted in Spanish-style summers the comments were roundly condemned.

But at the time, in February 2007, the Labour leader, who had built his reputation as an often outspoken MP, was probably feeling the political heat more than an actual rise in the temperature.

The comments, made to business leaders hours after he had told Assembly Members climate change was unavoidable but the Welsh Government needed to take mitigation steps, were, spin doctors tried to explain, about looking at the issue in the round.

“If our climate in Wales is going to be more like Spain’s or southern California’s in the summer, then Spain will be more like the Sahara,” said the late politician who envisioned a tourism boom.

“If that is the kind of climate shift we cannot avoid having by 2050, it will hardly be unhelpful to Wales.”

The political climate is of course ever changing and it’s unlikely any Labour politician, or mainstream figure in Welsh politics, would make such a comment today with the issue higher up the political and public agenda.

The National Wales: The late Rhodri Morgan Picture: Huw Evans AgencyThe late Rhodri Morgan Picture: Huw Evans Agency

However, the science hasn’t changed and that means, like it or not, Wales - like every other country - must adapt to a changing climate.

While July’s heatwave saw the Met Office issue its first extreme heat warning, which remained in place for four days as the mercury hit 30C on consecutive days across Wales, there are warnings the UK could regularly see the summers Morgan told businesses to prepare for.

The Royal Meteorological Society has warned: “Most recent summers have seen periods of extreme heat, even during the course of a typically variable and often unsettled season. Climate change projections confirm this trend, and suggest that it is only a matter of time until temperatures of 40C become relatively commonplace in the UK.”

Global governments agreed at the Paris Climate Change Conference in 2015 to limit global warming to well below 2, preferably to 1.5C, compared to pre-industrial levels, as a long-term goal.

But even that challenging target, which many consider unlikely to be achieved, is expected to lead to 40C temperatures in Britain, where the record single day temperature is 38.7C recorded at the Cambridge Botanic Garden in July 2019.

Wales’ record temperature stands at 35.2C, which was a sweltering day, at Hawarden Bridge, Flintshire, in July 1990.

July’s heatwave saw Wales record its hottest day of the year so far, when a temperature of 31.2C was recorded at Gogerddan, near Aberystwyth.

Climate scientists say global warming isn’t only about rising temperatures and neither is it just a problem for the future.


The Royal Meteorological Society’s newly-published UK State of the Climate report found 2020 was the third warmest, fifth wettest and eighth sunniest year on record and that no other year made the top 10 on all three criteria.

In the space of 30 years, the UK has become 0.9C warmer and six per cent wetter and the report’s authors say the figures show climate change is already taking place in the UK.

They predict the UK is likely to see more extreme weather, such as heatwaves and floods, as temperatures rise. It’s an opinion shared by Nick Durham, who is an associate architect at global design practice BDP, based in Cardiff.

“We are expecting hotter, drier summers and probably milder, wetter winters, though there’s lots of different scenarios out there,” says Nick on the challenge of designing buildings for a future climate.

“It’s greater extremes and we have to design buildings to accommodate warmer days and higher levels of rainfall.”

The National Wales: Nick Durham, architect associate at global design practice BDP in Cardiff.Nick Durham, architect associate at global design practice BDP in Cardiff.

Designing for the future isn’t just about how architects plan buildings, says Nick, but thinking about the wider environment and infrastructure.

“Over the last couple of weeks we’ve seen evidence of these greater extremes across Europe with flash flooding and the drainage system can’t cope so it needs a joined up approach.

“Where trees have been taken away, rainfall has put a greater strain on rivers so it’s also about more tree planting or rewilding.”

Adaptations, to cope with a changing climate, when designing new buildings include a ‘passive house’ approach, already popular in Austria and Germany, intended to control an indoor environment through an efficient heating source and keeping a regular temperature inside.

“It sounds an anachronism as it’s not passive, which would be opening the windows and doors, but is very controlled but is about a low amount of energy to heat or keep a home, it’s a good approach for new buildings,” said Nick.

Technologies, such as solar panels and ground source heat pumps, which Nick says have become more common due to consumer demand and awareness, have a role to play. For existing buildings, simple steps such as changing windows, doors, adding insulation or even painting walls in a different colour can make a difference.

But before designing a new building, Nick says it’s important to question if one is required: “The solution isn’t always a new building and that might sound like an odd thing for an architect to say but a responsible designer should first be asking, do we need a new building?”

Clients will usually ask their architects about building performance, in terms of how much energy they will require and how efficiently it is used, but Nick says it is crucial to consider how much carbon a new build will create as reducing the overall use and carbon output is crucial.

Rather than writing a building off as inefficient, every aspect of a new build needs to be considered, including transporting materials to a site and what will happen to the waste material if a building is demolished.

“The embedded carbon is a lot harder to deal with,” says Nick, whose practice has led the major refurbishment of Cardiff University’s Bute Building, home to the Welsh School of Architecture.

“We’ve stripped it back as close to the original design as possible as over the years layers have been added and the whole design doesn’t work,” says the graduate and former tutor on the school’s masters degree course.

The Bute building is grade II-listed and was designed just over a hundred years ago by Percy Thomas.

Going back to basics to ensure a building performs well is important, says Nick.

“The key to our approach was developing a thorough understanding of how the original building was designed, and then introducing targeted interventions to optimise the use of natural ventilation and daylight, rather than adding more layers of technology that make the building complicated to operate and maintain.”

BDP undertakes work in health and education across Wales and England and Nick believes the Welsh Government’s “clear decarbonisation” policies, and the size of the Welsh public sector with a smaller number of education authorities and health boards, leads to “joined up thinking between those organisations”.

Just as joined up thinking is required on every building project, climate change requires a holistic approach to reduce carbon use and adapt, and ultimately as Rhodri Morgan suggested, accept the temperature’s rising.

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