Urban settings

How will climate change affect urban communities?

The urban poor are on the front line of climate change (Baker, 2012). Cities are often ill-equipped to deal with environmental changes and, given their high population densities and infrastructure, have substantial exposure to natural hazards. Factors that contribute to cities’ vulnerability and increased exposure include inadequate infrastructure, poor urban design and planning, and proximity to the coast. The rapid and often unplanned expansion of cities (e.g. sprawling informal settlement) has increased the exposure of people and economic assets to the effects of climate change, which include more frequent floods, landslides, heat waves and drought (Satterthwaite et al., 2007). Vulnerability is also directly related to where poor people live in cities – typically in overcrowded, unsafe or exposed areas such as slum dwellings, where there is little access to basic services (Baker, 2012; IWPR, 2015). The most recent IPCC evidence (2014) anticipates that urban communities are likely to experience increased ill-health and disrupted livelihoods due to environmental changes.

Baker, J. (Ed.) (2012). Climate change, disaster risk and the urban poor: Cities building resilience for a changing world. Washington, DC: World Bank.
How climate change affects the urban poor is the focus of this report, which draws on case studies from Dar es Salaam, Jakarta, Mexico City, and Sao Paulo. It presents four main messages:

  • the urban poor are particularly vulnerable to climate change and natural hazards;
  • local governments play a vital role in providing reliable basic services, which are critical to improving resilience;
  • cities can build resilience by mainstreaming risk reduction into existing urban planning and management practices; and
  • significant financial support is needed for service delivery and infrastructure investments.

Satterthwaite, D., Huq, S., Pelling, M., Reid, H., & Romero Lankao, P. (2007). Adapting to climate change in urban areas: The possibilities and constraints in low- and middle-income nations (Human Settlements Discussion Paper Series: Climate Change and Cities 1). London: IIED.
A third of the world’s people live in urban areas in low- and middle-income countries. Most of these cities and towns are unprepared for adaptation to the increased natural hazards (e.g. flooding or landslides) associated with climate change. Many have very limited infrastructure, poor services, and weak local governments; and many residents live in insecure housing. However, there are substantial synergies between successful adaptation to climate change and successful local development. Gender issues are also noted as influencing risk, vulnerability and resilience. This report highlights the scale of the adaptation challenge in Africa, Asia and Latin America, and discusses how local innovation in adaptation can be encouraged and financed.

Johannessen, L. M. (2013). Briefing Paper: Cities in developing countries and their development in response to climate change and resource scarcity. Evidence on Demand.
Climate change is just one of many serious environmental issues affecting cities. Vulnerability is influenced by ineffective land planning and underinvestment in infrastructure, low quality housing, insufficient information and resources, and gender issues. Despite the many challenges, urban resilience can be built by mainstreaming climate change into urban planning and infrastructure development, upgrading informal settlements, building flood control for vulnerable areas, and providing significant financial support at the local level to accelerate adaptation.

Building resilience of urban communities – approaches to intervention

Climate change provides impetus to improve living conditions among the urban poor. Many experts call for cities to give attention to climate-related risks in planning, management and service delivery (Johannessen, 2013; Dickson et al., 2012). Case studies show that understanding hazards and risks is a necessary first step in developing adaptation, disaster risk reduction and mitigation policies. Tools for identifying the nature of risk, characteristics of hazards, and the most vulnerable communities and individuals include urban risk assessments and the asset-based framework (Baker, 2012; Dickson et al., 2012; Moser & Satterthwaite, 2008). Suggested approaches for urban adaptation include climate proofing infrastructure (e.g. building flood controls), improving informal settlements, supporting renewable energy, and working in partnership with local communities (IIED, n. d.; Johannessen, 2013). Successful adaptation requires local knowledge, innovation, and equitable and inclusive approaches that harness the full potential of men and women (Moser & Satterthwaite, 2008). Accessible communication is essential to bridge knowledge gaps between national and local levels ‒ stakeholder workshops have been useful for discussing key issues, for example (Baker, 2012).

Dickson, E., Baker, J.,Hoornweg, D., & Tiwari, A. (2012). Urban risk assessments: Understanding disaster and climate risk in cities (Urban Development Series). Washington, DC: The World Bank.
This report presents the Urban Risk Assessment (URA), a flexible framework that enables project and city managers to understand and prepare to manage climate-related risks. Case studies describe the piloting of the methodology in four cities: Mexico City, Jakarta, Dar es Salaam, and São Paulo. The URA focuses on hazard impact assessment, institutional assessment and socioeconomic assessment. Cities urgently need to include such assessments in their planning, management, and delivery of services.

UN-Habitat. (2011). Cities and climate change: Global report on human settlements 2011. London: Earthscan.
Climate change will present unique challenges for urban areas. In addition to physical challenges (e.g. increasing heat waves and higher sea levels), some cities may face risks in providing basic services. Climate change will affect water supply, physical infrastructure, transport, industrial production, and energy provision. Impacts will be particularly severe in low-elevation coastal zones, where many of the world’s largest cities are located. Drawing from a global review of climate change mitigation and adaptation measures, this report advocates an integrated, multi-partner approach for climate change action in urban areas. This includes addressing both short- and longer-term issues, and introducing new approaches that support action at different scales and across sectors.

IIED. (n. d.). Climate change and the urban poor: Risk and resilience in 15 of the world’s most vulnerable cities. London: IIED.
This report outlines lessons learnt regarding the principal effects of climate change in fifteen cities in Africa and Asia, based on case studies and city profiles. Coastal cities are susceptible to a rise in sea level, dryland cities are vulnerable to drought, and high-altitude cities are affected by changing rainfall patterns. In all cities, poverty and rapid urbanisation increase vulnerability. Urban authorities can build resilience by investing in climate-proof infrastructure, ensuring regulatory frameworks are effective, and working in partnership with their low-income populations to support community adaptation.

Moser, C., & Satterthwaite, D. (2008). Towards pro-poor adaptation to climate change in the urban centres of low- and middle-income countries (Human Settlements Discussion Paper Series. Climate Change and Cities 3). London: IIED.
How can adaptation to climate change in urban areas be pro-poor and enhance adaptation capacity? This paper introduces an asset-based framework to assess the vulnerability of low-income communities, households, and individuals in urban areas. It highlights measures needed to address aspects of risk and vulnerability to extreme weather events. These include safer cities, protective infrastructure and better quality buildings. The framework helps to identify synergies between poverty reduction and resilience to climate change, and clarifies how vulnerability and risk are influenced by income level, age and gender. Strengthening the asset base of households and communities does not just improve adaptive capacity: it also helps develop more competent, accountable local government.