Belfast’s resilience journey
As the capital city of Northern Ireland, Belfast is integrating its economic and climate strategy to ensure that it is fit for the future, and best placed to recover from economic and environmental shocks.
The city’s draft Resilience Strategy, which is due for publication in November 2020, identifies a range of strategic risks for the city. A number of citywide structures have been put in place to ensure genuine collaboration toward the achievement of key goals. The strategy’s overall mission is to transition Belfast to an inclusive, low-carbon, climate-resilient economy.
The signing in 1998 of the Belfast Agreement, also known as the Good Friday Agreement, was a milestone in the city’s history. Since then, the creation of new institutions, the implementation of key aspects of the peace agreement, and dramatic reductions in conflict-related violence in the city, have created the conditions for a more resilient Belfast.
While conflict is no longer the overriding risk factor for Belfast, the legacy of conflict has manifested in division, which continues to directly impact the city and to undermine its urban resilience.
Belfast now faces significant economic challenges. Its recovery capacity is low, and in many respects it had not sufficiently recovered from the 2009 Global Financial Crash when the COVID-19 “lockdown” began to have economic impacts. Other economic challenges include low levels of economic activity, lack of new housing supply in the city core, underinvestment in key infrastructure, and an imbalance between skills supply and demand, particularly in emerging growth sectors.
But Belfast’s greatest long-term economic challenge is the impact of climate change. A significant portion of the city’s landmass, and its economic and social assets, lie in areas of flood risk. Accounting for projected rises in sea level, significant work is required to build the city’s climate resilience and put in place a coherent and comprehensive climate adaptation plan.
Belfast remains a net importer of energy and is overly dependent on fossil fuels and carbon intensive systems, so it must transform its economy to ensure that its greenhouse gas emissions reduce in line with UK targets to achieve net zero by 2050.
The work undertaken to develop the Belfast Resilience Strategy has identified considerable economic and social benefits to be realized from energy transition and decarbonisation, and city partners are optimistic about what can be achieved. Furthermore, the city has begun to take action to promote active travel and reduce air pollution. City residents have responded positively to the proposals set out in the draft strategy, and a number of programmes are already being implemented.
The UN Climate Conference in November 2021 (COP26) will be a milestone for UK cities to demonstrate their commitment to a net-zero carbon future. Belfast fully intends to play its part in improving the lives of its people and communities by making itself fit for the future.
Meet the Chief Resilience Officer
COMMISSIONER FOR RESILIENCE
Grainia Long is Belfast’s first Commissioner for Resilience, appointed in June 2018. She is also Senior Independent Director of Metropolitan Thames Valley, a housing association with 58,000 homes across London and elsewhere in England. In 2015–2018, Grainia was Chief Executive of the ISPCC, the national child protection charity in Ireland, and in 2011–2015 she was Chief Executive of the Chartered Institute of Housing, an international professional body for people who work in housing. She served two terms as a Commissioner in the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, from 2011 to 2017.