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Cities in a changing climate

Rocinha sur Rio - bigCities contain over 54% the global population, increasing numbers of which - especially in the developing world - are acutely exposed to the risks of climate change. The 2014 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) fifth assessment report, produced by scientists from eighty four countries, states that risks and impacts in urban areas are set to increase, “including heat stress, storms and extreme precipitation, inland and coastal flooding, landslides, air pollution, drought, water scarcity, sea-level rise, and storm surges. These risks are amplified for those lacking essential infrastructure and services or living in exposed areas” (Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability)

The possibilities that natural hazard events can result in disasters are much greater for these populations. Still, poor service provision and the impacts of climate change in rural areas drives migration towards cities. The severity of threats from climate change varies greatly across and within cities. The concept of vulnerability – “the propensity or disposition to be adversely affected” (IPCC’s SREX definition) – has become crucial to climate change responses. This key issues guide outlines the different ways in which cities have responded to climate change.

Cities have historically responded through, ‘adaptation’ and ‘mitigation’ measures, but they have been largely separate policy agendas. Newer thinking calls for a more joined-up approach by bringing together adaptation, mitigation and sustainable development, so cities can: i) analyse exposure to risks and adaption options, ii) build responsive mitigation policies, iii) address vulnerabilities, while, iv) pursuing sustainable development.

A variety of concepts, currently contested and debated, have been used to describe these combined aims: including urban ‘resilience’, ‘transformation’, and ‘climate compatible development’.  While finance has been made available to developing states to pursue these aims, when distributed sub-nationally, they are subject to competing priorities and local governments often lack institutional capacities needed to access them. City-governments, especially, have had access to insufficient funds, but urban climate finance seeks to address this.

Concerns about the intersection of vulnerability with climate change responses have led to an ‘urban climate justice’ movement. It aims to reduce unequal burdens and benefits of climate change, by ensuring policy and implementation decisions are transparent and equitable by integrating and prioritising the voice/needs of the most vulnerable dwellers.

Cities and Climate Change is a vast topic and a wide range of issues could be highlighted. This key issues guide will focus on water, health, and infrastructure-related themes, to illustrate cases with sufficient depth. While there is a significant amount of relevant work across the globe, most documentation emerges from Latin America, South and South-East Asia. That balance is reflected in the case studies highlighted.
Key Resource - Climate Change: Implications for Cities
Cape Town in mist
E. Miller / Panos Pictures
This briefing summarises the main findings and recommendations of the IPCC’s 5th Assessment report, related to cities. It outlines the major impacts of climate change facing cities and how growing urban migration is exacerbating the risk of these impacts for the urban populations, systems and infrastructure. The author considers 'resilience' and details potential mitigation activities, including sectoral and cross-sectoral strategies for longer-term mitigation and inclusive development.

Adaptation to and Mitigation of urban climate change risks

Rawalpindi floods - smallOne category of response is to prepare and adjust cities through infrastructural and behavioural adaptations. Examples include: flood defences, critical infrastructure to cope with heat stress, early warning systems, among others. More . . .

Urban Resilience and Transformations

Peter Durand | Flickr - city resilience - smallAdaptations and mitigations are often isolated activities with limited impact due to competing institutions and priorities at government level. Researchers call for a more joined up approach to produce ‘Urban Resilience’. More . . .

Climate Finance

Thailand flood - smallClimate finance refers to financing mechanisms dedicated to supporting developing countries reduce emissions and adapt to climate change. More . . .

Urban Climate Justice

Toban B. | Flickr - climate justice - smallClimate change impacts are felt the greatest by vulnerable groups. Not only do they tend to be more geographically exposed to climate hazards, they have fewer resources to be resilient. More . . .



Image credits: Agenbite of Inwit / Amiera Sawas / Peter Durand | Flickr / Nuttavikom Phanthuwongpakdee /Toban B. | Flickr

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M. Pelling / Routledge Taylor and Francis Group 2011
The book offers a critique of the dominant trends in thinking about adaptation and climate change, particularly social dimensions. It presents a framework for making sense of choices around resilience (stability), transition (i...
Gender justice and climate justice: community-based strategies to increase women’s political agency in watershed management in times of climate change
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