Urban adaptation strategies for climate change

As most scientists agrees, the weather will change in the next few decades. We need to expect more extreme weather situations.

The result of this expectation should not be a passive anticipation of the things to come, but an active adjustment to the change. Cities that are close to the ocean will especially face a tremendous change. So the question is how vulnerable are the cities, how do they prepare for the situation and how far they already have adapted.

An interview on pyhs.org with JoAnn Carmin, an associate professor in MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning who contributed to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change showed that cities need to find local solutions to the global problem (The approved Summary for Policymakers is available here and the accepted full Working Group I report is available here). There is no general solution that fits to everyone.

One of the most critical things that came out was how much these cities require political leadership and commitment at all levels of government. National governments need to be committed to adaptation; regional governments need to help with facilitation and coordination; and at the local level, there need to be programs that are durable. As cities move from one leader to the next, plans may rise and fall in importance. Just being able to initiate a program is a big first step, but sustaining it is a huge challenge. We’ve seen robust programs in cities in the U.S. under the leadership of a vibrant, committed mayor, and the next person coming in may … have a different agenda. So the local staff end up doing what they can, but citywide programs can become marginalized.

But not every city has taken the challenge seriously. The report “Climate change response in Europe: what’s the reality? Analysis of adaptation and mitigation plans from 200 urban areas in 11 countries” published in November 2013 by Reckien et al. (doi:10.1007/s10584-013-0989-8) shows that not every city is thinking about adaptation and mitigation plans yet. From phys.org:

Countries vary in their planning: 93 percent of UK cities studied have a mitigation plan whereas only 43 percent of French and 42 percent of Belgian cities do. The highest proportion of cities with an adaptation plan are in the UK (80 percent of 30 cities), Finland (50 percent of 4 cities) and Germany (33 percent of 40 cities). Dutch cities are the most ambitious aiming to be ‘carbon-‘, ‘climate-‘ or ‘energy-neutral’ (100 percent reduction target) by 2050 or earlier.

This report, which was funded by the European Science Foundation COST Action TU0902, studied the response to climate change issues of 200 large and medium-sized cities in eleven European countries and is the first objective analysis because it focuses on strategic policy and planning documents rather than relying on self-reported measures such as questionnaires and interviews with city representatives

They scrutinized adaptation plans which incorporate urban planning and development actions that lead to the abatement or reduction of vulnerability to climate change, and mitigation plans that include actions such as improved energy efficiency and renewable energy generation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

I think this approach is a good idea since policymakers tend to sometimes talk more than act. Especially when it comes to expensive projects…

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