Cities and climate change

Research estimates that while cities occupy only 2% of land, they produce 70-80% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, account for over 60% of global energy consumption, and produce 70% of global waste (World Bank, 2010b: 15; UN-Habitat, 2010b).

Whilst this section focuses on addressing climate change in urban areas, links between urban, peri-urban and rural areas are important. These include those across space (such as flows of people, goods, money, information and wastes), and between sectors (for example, between agriculture, services and manufacturing).

Climate change can be a cause of migration and conflict, prompting cyclical migration from rural to urban areas and vice versa. It is also likely to affect agricultural production and therefore cities’ food supplies.

Academics, donors and NGOs recognise that it is the urbanising cities of the developing world that will experience the effects of climate change most profoundly. Cities will be forced to cope with increased incidents of flooding, air and water pollution, heat stress and vector-borne diseases etc. (see Topic Guide on Urban Poverty, Urban Pollution and Environmental Management, Satterthwaite, 2015). Cities in developing countries are at particular risk because of population density, lack of drainage, concentration of solid and liquid waste, large informal settlements and urban expansion onto risky sites (Tanner et al., 2009: 9). Research highlights both the impact of climate change on towns and cities and the crucial role urban stakeholders play in developing adaptation and mitigation strategies (Satterthwaite, 2007; Tanner et al., 2009).

The next two decades are understood to present a window of opportunity to adapt to and mitigate climate change in urban areas; with continued economic and population growth, urban land cover is projected to expand by 56–310% between 2000 and 2030 (IPCC, 2014: 26). The largest opportunities are in rapidly urbanising areas where urban form and infrastructure are not locked in, though in these contexts there may be limited governance, and technical, financial or institutional capacity (ibid.). Evidence suggests that the most rapidly urbanising cities are in Africa, where capacity is weakest, and the challenge of addressing this cannot be overestimated.  Realising the potential for cities to reduce rather than increase emissions relies on four factors (Fox & Goodfellow, 2016: 185):

  • improvements in planning, including better transport and building;
  • improvements in professional design capability;
  • advancements in technology, for example in the construction and transport sectors;
  • changes in behaviour, for example in waste management and energy consumption.

Institutional arrangements can also make a difference: cities such as Delhi (India) and Santiago (Chile) have combined emissions reduction targets with other cost-saving interventions and the generation of additional finance (see box below on São Paulo).

How to facilitate collaboration and cooperation at different levels of government and between stakeholders is, once again, a key urban governance issue. The majority of mechanisms within the international climate change framework focus on the role of national governments, and few interventions address climate issues at regional or local level (OECD, 2010; UN-Habitat, 2011). The focus needs to shift to the city level and to building local capacity to respond to climate change.

International and national climate strategies need to be integrated with existing regional and local urban policy frameworks (OECD, 2010) ‘to avoid policy gaps between local action plans and national policy frameworks (vertical integration) and to encourage cross scale learning between relevant departments or institutions in local and regional governments (horizontal dimension)’ (Corfee-Morlot et al., 2009: 3). Promising frameworks combine these elements in ‘hybrid models of policy dialogue where the lessons learnt are used to modify and fine-tune enabling frameworks and disseminated horizontally, achieving more efficient local implementation of climate strategies’ (ibid.). However, in many cities in poor countries, these frameworks may not even exist.

Local government may prove most capable of the social and technical innovation required (OECD, 2010), however, meeting climate change challenges requires greater collaboration between cities, national governments and international bodies (Corfee-Morlot et al., 2009; OECD, 2010; IPCC, 2014). UN-Habitat (2011: vi) argue that financial resources should be made directly available to local stakeholders who are best able to facilitate mitigation and adaptation in vulnerable cities and generate investment in alternative energy. Policymakers ‘should begin from an awareness of local development aspirations and preferences, local knowledge of needs and options, local realities that shape choices and local potential for innovation’ (ibid.). This may involve encouraging community and civil society participation and developing partnerships with the private sector and NGOs.

Key to addressing climate change is competent, capable, and accountable urban governments that incorporate mitigation and adaptation measures in a holistic manner (Satterthwaite, 2008). Many measures require only minor adjustments to current practices ‒ e.g. to building codes, land subdivision regulation, land-use management and infrastructure standards ‒ and the sum of these over time can build resilience without high costs (ibid.).

Land-zoning can reduce the distances required for urban travel and thus emissions and energy use. Building policies can help increase energy efficiency, and waste policies can reduce CO2 emissions. Greater transparency, accountability, participation and inclusion should accompany such policies to ensure good governance for adaptation (Tanner et al., 2009).

In contexts where clientelist relations undermine attempts to address climate change ‘there is little or no political constituency for reforming the public services to make them more effective and efficient’ (Crook, 2010: 488). Broader governance reform efforts will therefore be critical to ensuring that incentives encourage efforts to address climate change.

Policies needed to encourage energy-efficient urbanisation differ substantially by city type (Creutzig et al., 2015):

  • For mature cities, increasing fuel taxes and encouraging compact urban form, such as greater mixed-use urban design, are considered critical.
  • In countries with nascent infrastructure, there is greater potential to prevent unsustainable urban form through strategic planning (provided that the capacity exists).

A number of strategies have been suggested. Creutzig et al. (2015) suggest that urban planning and fuel taxes can reduce cities’ energy consumption in emerging economies ‒ by 57% in Asia and 29% in Africa and the Middle East. Similarly, relatively small improvements in energy and transport efficiency in towns and cities can lead to major gains (Dhakal, 2010). For example, transit-oriented cities that promote public transport could reduce annual GHG emissions by 1.8 billion tonnes of CO2 by 2050. An estimated 10% of the total reduction in emissions needed by 2050 can be achieved by using energy-saving retrofits, efficient appliances, new lighting standards, better insulation in buildings and more energy-efficient transit technologies in towns and cities (C40, 2014).

These policy adjustments require more than physical infrastructure investment. They also require stakeholder engagement to support debate and understanding of community needs, as well as attitudinal and behavioural change. Indeed, some low-carbon, low-cost public transport schemes can negatively affect the very communities they are meant to benefit. For example, they might involve demolishing informal settlements, displacing vendors from transport routes or failing to extend services to the peri-urban areas where public transport is most needed. The much-heralded Ahmedabad Bus Rapid Transport System is a case in point. This project involved the demolition of informal houses along the transit corridor and displacement of street vendors—a key livelihood for poor urban families. It also involved disinvestment in the city’s old bus transport system, which had larger coverage and ridership along with lower fares (Mahadevia et al., 2013).

São Paulo (Brazil): cities, climate change and multilevel governance

In 2003 São Paulo joined Local Governments for Sustainability’s  Cities for Climate Protection, completing an inventory of its emissions, which showed transport (48.6%) and landfills (23.5%) were the main source.

The city developed several initiatives, focused on Clean Development Mechanisms, including landfill projects implemented with the private sector. The projects generated energy from landfill methane emissions and by 2006 had reduced GHG emissions by 11%. In 2006, $16 million in revenue from the sale of carbon credits was re-invested in social projects and climate change mitigation.

São Paulo is also rolling out reforms in transport and construction. The city has introduced hybrid buses and started a programme of automobile inspection and traffic restriction during rush hour. In 2007, it passed a solar energy bill, now used as model by more than 50 Brazilian cities. This includes mandatory passive solar heating systems in buildings with more than three bathrooms (homes, apartments, service or industrial buildings). São Paulo is expected to reduce its CO2 emissions by 3,400 tonnes and to save 8.7 million kWh of energy per year.

Source: Corfee-Morlot et al. (2009).

Incentivising more sustainable choices at community and individual level is also required to address climate change. Changing lifestyles and economies to adopt efficient, low-energy and environmentally sustainable solutions creates opportunities for innovation (DFID, 2010: 9). These should not be seen solely as climate change-driven initiatives, but as local economic development strategies that capitalise on the political and economic environment climate change creates and the position of urban areas in low-carbon economies.

Options for addressing climate change in urban areas vary according to urbanisation trajectories, but are expected to be most effective when policy instruments are ‘bundled’ together (IPCC, 2014). Effective strategies include packages of mutually reinforcing policies, such as co-locating high-residential with high-employment densities, achieving diversity and integration of land uses, increasing accessibility and investing in public transport and other demand management measures.

Fox and Goodfellow (2016: 199) conclude that initiatives to address climate change and develop climate-resilient cities require new ways of thinking about urban governance and planning. They call for multi-stakeholder approaches ‒ bringing together urban designers, public health experts, transport engineers and community groups ‒ to develop innovative ways of creating compact and diverse communities where the multiple goals of adaptation and mitigation can be pursued in tandem (McCarney et al., 2011).