Barriers and Opportunities

IHC is focusing on important pathways to inclusiveness and economic and environmental sustainability in cities.

Adaptation strategies for the effects of climate change and the increasing frequency of natural disasters disproportionately affect poor urban families.  Such events also affect cities in their entirety through their economic and physical costs and degradation of the environment.

While specific actions on specific problems are important, it is also important that these not occur in isolation.  A comprehensive vision of the city reflected in a people-oriented spatial and financial plan is important to break down silos that can perpetuate inequality.  Such a plan engages all citizens, incentivizes investment for job creation, provides for more equitable development and service delivery, and addresses sustainability and climate resilience.  Then, such a plan is implemented through and by partnerships with all stakeholders.

What’s Important to Know

Greater Concentrations of Urban Populations mean Greater Vulnerability

  • 75% of the world’s urban population and most of its largest cities are in low and middle income countries.
  • The UN projects the world’s urban population will swell to 5 billion by 2030 and to 6.25 billion by 2050 when over 2/3 of the world’s population will be living in urban areas. Almost all of this growth will be in cities of the developing world.

Read The Article By Judith Hermanson

6 billion people live in urban areas

This is more than half of the world’s population.

  • A high proportion of the world’s population most affected by extreme weather related events lives in urban areas (IPCC Fifth Assessment Report 2014)
  • Cities vary widely in their capacity to adapt to climate change.
  • A high proportion of cities in developing countries lack both local governments with the financial, technical and administrative capacity to reduce climate change induced disaster risk as well as much of the necessary infrastructure.
  • (UN Habitat: Global Report on Human Settlements, 2011: Cities and Global Climate Change), Cities And Climate Change

That the world is warming is no longer in doubt. 2014 was the first year on record that global average temperatures exceeded 1°C above pre-industrial temperatures, 2015 was warmer yet and scientists predict 2016 will surpass 2015.

  • The Goal set at COP 21 is to hold the increase in global average temperatures to below 2°C above pre-industrial levels by achieving zero emissions of greenhouse gases by the second half of the 21st
  • The plans of the 187 countries which pledged in Paris to curb emissions are likely not enough to meet the target, which according to some analyses could see global temperatures rising by at least to 2.7° above pre-industrial levels
  • According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) the consequences of climate change are likely to be higher global temperatures, increased precipitation in higher latitudes and decreased precipitation in sub-tropical regions. IPCC Report (IPCC Fifth Assessment Report 2014)
  • The major manifestations of global climate change will be rising sea levels threatening low lying coastal zones, increased flooding in areas of higher precipitation, droughts and water supply shortages in areas of decreased precipitation, more extreme weather events (tornados, cyclones, etc.) and increased temperatures.
  • Figure 1 below, compiled by UN Habitat, shows the risks of the world’s major cities (i.e. over 1 million population) to climate related hazards

(Note: This would show up better in color  — not sure if we can get the OK from UN Habitat to use it or if we can get a shot with better resolution – but it is illustrative)

Figure 1

Figure 1 shows cities (of over 1 million people) in relation to current climate related hazards. Score of 0 equals low risk, 10 of high risk.  Source: UN Habitat Global Report on Human Settlements 2011, p. 4).

Who is at Risk?

  • Those living in Low Elevation Coastal Zones (LECZ). By 2025 71% of the world’s urban population will be living in LECZs.  In Africa the proportion will be 71%, in Asia, 68% and in Latin America 90%.   Climate change induced sea level rises are expected to range between 0.3m 1.2 by end of the century.  By 2080 five times as many coastal residents will be affected as were in 1990.  Direct consequences are increased storm flooding, coastal erosion, increased salinity in estuaries, rising coastal water tables and obstructed drainage. Indirect effects include the destruction of ecosystems (e.g. wetlands, coral reefs, etc.) which protect LECZs.   (UN Habitat: Cities and Global  Climate Change, cit., 2011)
  • Those living in flood plains. Inland urban areas in parts of the earth that can be expected to see increased rainfall will experience more frequent flooding in low lying areas near rivers and streams.
  • Those living in drought prone areas. The percent of the world’s land area under extreme drought conditions is expected to increase from 1% in 2010 to as much as 30% by the end of the century with regions in continental interiors in the sub-tropics, low and mid latitudes the most affected. In Africa, one third of the population already lives in drought prone areas and by 2050 as many as 350 to 600 million could be affected by drought.  (UN Habitat, op.cit p. 70).  Direct consequences are compromised water supply and quality and increased operating costs and decreased reliability of water supply systems.  The IPCC estimates that 150 million people currently live in cities with perennial water shortages (i.e. less than 100 liters per person per day) and if warming scenarios continue as predicted, this figure could reach 1 billion people by 2050. (IPCC Fifth Assessment Report. cit.,  2014). Report
  • Everyone living in urban areas, particularly large cities, is increasingly exposed to extreme heat events.

Urban areas generate unique local conditions that exacerbate heat events.  Lack of open space, high densities, increased energy use and vehicular traffic and more heat absorbing paved surfaces in cities create “heat island effects.”  In cities of over 1 million air temperatures can be 1° to 3° higher than the surrounding areas and at night when the heat island effects are the greatest temperature differences can reach 12°C. (UN Habitat, op. cit., p.69).

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With a total population of around 10 million inhabitants, Lagos has very inadequate provision for basic infrastructure to cope with flooding. “Normal” rainfall brings flooding to many areas of the city, largely as a result of the inadequacies in provision for sewers, drains and wastewater management. Any increase in the intensity of storms and storm-surges is likely to increase such problems; much of the land in and around Lagos is less than 2 metres above sea level. The site on which Lagos is built is not well suited to a city this size; when the colonial government moved the capital here, no one would have anticipated the city growing to such a size. However, the lack of good local governance is far more important as a cause of so many people and enterprises being at risk of flooding. In many areas, roads have been built without complementary gutters for rainwater. Where a drainage system exists, it is often not properly constructed and maintained. The lack of solid-waste collection compounds the problem as wastes block gutters and drains. In addition, many buildings have been erected in ways that block storm-water routes. Little attention is given to clearing the drains, in advance of periods of the year when rain is expected. Many low-income settlements are built in areas at high risk of flooding (many on stilts), largely because safer sites are too expensive.”  Quoted from Adapting to Climate Change in Urban Areas by David Satterthwaite et al., IIED Human Settlements Discussion Paper Series, 2007.    NB: There are other examples (a bit shorter) in the Satterthwaite paper)

Who is Most at Risk?

  • Among those living in urban areas, the poor and marginalized, most of whom live in slums and informal settlements in peri-urban areas are much more vulnerable to climate change related events than are the better off. Many urban slums are located in the most marginal, hazardous or least desirable parts of the city, such as low lying areas, steep hills, next to railroad tracks, industrial zones or solid waste facilities.
  • While the percentage of people in the developing world living in slums has decreased from almost 40% in 2000 to about 32% in 2014, the absolute number of slum dwellers has increased from 760 million to 863 million over the same period (UN Habitat). “Nearly half of the urban growth in the developing world can be attributed to slum expansion.” In Africa, over 60% of urban residents are slum dwellers. (UN Habitat: State of the World’s Cities, 2011. cit).


What Risks do the Urban Poor Bear from Climate Related Disasters?

  • UN Habitat notes: Poorer families are disproportionately at risk of climate related disasters for a variety of reasons, including: “greater exposure to hazards” due to topography or location; “lack of risk reducing (i.e. poor quality) housing and infrastructure” [e.g. water, drainage, electricity]; “less adaptive capacity” (e.g. lack of income or assets to move to better locations); “less state provision for assistance in the event of a disaster”; and “less legal and financial protection” (e.g. lack of tenure and insurance).  They also suffer relatively more than those better off by damage to public transportation links needed to access employment, education, shopping and health facilities and from heightened exposure to health risks.  Overflowing drains, flooded and impassable streets, malfunctioning water supply systems and power outages can lead to serious health consequences due to water-borne diseases and unsanitary environments and the urban poor have fewer coping resources.  Price increases for staple goods also frequently follow disasters and the urban poor are ill prepared to absorb the increased costs as they have few safety nets.  Women and children are generally more vulnerable than men and boys.

When the rains and the floods come women and children suffer. You can be locked up for two days with the flood.  Sometimes we take out children out from the room to the rooftop. Then people bring boats to evacuate others” Quote from a slum dweller in Accra, Ghana (Climate Change, Urban Flooding and the Rights of the Urban Poor in Africa: Key Findings from Six African Cities , I. Douglas and K. Alam,  Action Aid 2006, quoted in D. Satterthwaite, op.cit., p.48.)

What Can Be Done?  And Who Will Do It?

Although action at the international and national levels is required, the major responsibility for climate related resilience planning falls to local governments

  • Advocacy and awareness building to Increase attention of national and international policy makers to urban resilience and adaptation measures. The IPCC notes that although there is growing recognition of threats to urban areas from climate change, most national climate change policies still prioritize agricultural sector adaptation over urban adaptation measures because the environment ministries (which generally are responsible for climate change policies) tend to have little involvement in urban areas. It notes also that most cities prioritize mitigation over adaptation “in part because of the focus of international support.” (IPCC Fifth Assessment Report, cit., p.563).
  • Although action at the international and national levels is required, the major responsibility for climate related resilience planning falls to local governments which must:
    • Increase attention to the most vulnerable urban populations in resilience and adaptation planning. Many local governments ignore the settlements most at risk from disasters and refuse to provide infrastructure improvements to settlements they consider illegal. They also fail to collect data on the extent of potential vulnerabilities of slum settlements to climate change related disasters.
    • Build capacity of local governments in developing countries to assess climate change related disaster risk impacts for infrastructure. The IPCC reported that in 2011 progress in integrating climate change policies into disaster risk reduction was made by 2/3 of local governments in high and middle income countries but under half in lower income countries. However, over 60% of middle and lower income countries had made at least some investments to vulnerable urban settlements. (IPCC Fifth Assessment, cit., p.588).
    • Move from risk assessments to adaptation strategies. There are some good examples of municipal government’s taking the initiative to develop strategies to reduce the risks of their citizens, both rich and poor, to natural disasters.  Durban, South Africa, is a case in point. Durban has produced a Headline Climate change Adaption Strategy which predicts the likely effects of climate change through the end of the century and the likely impacts on infrastructure, human health, food security and agriculture, water and sanitation, tourism, business, bio-diversity and coastal zones.
    • Upgrade slums and informal settlements with disaster reducing infrastructure improvements. The Satterthwaite study for IIED notes that slum upgrading efforts have been going since the 1970s and “although the extent of success is very varied, where it works, it certainly reduces poorer groups’ vulnerabilities to flooding and extreme weather events.” (Satterthwaite, cit., p. 62). It should be noted however, that the international donor community has largely stepped away from direct financing of slum upgrading programs over the past two decades, leaving this to local and international NGOs such as the Indian Alliance (formed by Society for the Promotion of Area Resource Centers (SPARC), the National Slum Dwellers Association and Mahila Milan).
  • Anticipate continued urban growth in rapidly urbanizing developing countries, identify safe (i.e. non-vulnerable) areas for needed new low income housing and prepare plans to provide basic infrastructure before invasions or new informal settlements crop in marginal locations.
  • Relocate populations living in extremely precarious and hazardous locations such as steep hillsides and flood prone riverine and coastal zones to alternative areas with upgraded infrastructure. However, experience has demonstrated that this type of relocation in order to be effective has to be part of a robust consultation and community engagement process and the alternative sites must accommodate the needs for transportation, livelihoods and access to the city for those being relocated.
  • Low income communities have difficulties in mobilizing themselves to reduce risks to climate related disasters but community based planning can be the most effective undertaking. Community based adaptation solutions in slums and informal settlements are nonetheless hampered by the insecure tenure of the residents who might be more willing to invest in local improvements if they could be assured they would not be displaced. There are, however, low cost (albeit temporary) adaptations at the household level such as building floors and shelves above the flood line and improving ventilation through false ceilings to reduce temperatures. Also, low tech, relatively low cost “fixes” for increased storm resistance are widely available.

What Will it Cost?

  • The financing gap to upgrade infrastructure in developing countries to increase resilience to disasters is staggering. In 2009, the International Strategy for Disaster Response estimated over $6 trillion (several hundred billion/year)  would be required to reduce the deficit in disaster risk avoidance and risk reduction by 2030 (this includes all disasters including climate related ones).  (UN Habitat: Global Report on Human Settlements, 2011, cit., p.157).  Much of this would have to be directed to urban areas where improvements are more costly than in rural areas but serve much greater numbers of people.
  • At COP 16 in 2010, the parties agreed to establish the Green Climate Fund under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the goal of which is for developed countries to contribute $100 billion per year by 2020 for climate related programs and projects in developing countries. By early 2016 the Fund had raised $10.2 billion in pledges. Half of the resources are to fund mitigation programs and half adaptation measures and half of the adaptation funding is to be allocated for particularly vulnerable countries, including least developed countries, small island developing nations and Africa countries.
  • Despite the international efforts most of the expenditures will have to be borne by the countries themselves.

How to Reduce the Vulnerabilities of Low Income Urban Populations

  • Broaden the participation in the development and monitoring of National Adaptation Plans of Acton (NAPAs) to include national ministries responsible for urban development and urban infrastructure.
  • Municipal governments in developing countries should engage with representatives of all income groups, including the most vulnerable living in slums and informal settlements, in designing climate related adaptation solutions.
  • Increase efforts to provide residents of slums and informal settlements that are not located in hazardous areas with assurance they will not be evicted (e.g. provide some sort of tenure security or street addressing)
  • Improve the national transfer systems in developing countries to include special consideration for measures to strengthen the resilience of vulnerable areas of cities. Brazil offers an example where part of the revenues from a value added state government tax is distributed to municipalities which some have used for infrastructure upgrades. The IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report elaborates on financial mechanisms to increase municipal resilience. (IPCC Fifth Assessment Report, cit, p. 586)
  • Civil society organizations can be helpful in assisting lower income communities to plan for climate related disasters. There are examples of CSOs assisting with early warning systems, community mapping and evacuation procedures such as community surveys in the Philippines which identified at risk communities under bridges, in landslide prone areas, in costal shorelines and near dump sites. The effectiveness of such initiatives is, however, uneven.
  • Micro-finance schemes, such as micro-credit, micro-insurance and micro-savings can help low income urban residents cope with climate change induced disasters. Micro-finance schemes should nonetheless be targeted to ensure that they do not encourage growth in areas prone to climate risk.
  • Involve the private sector in climate change adaptation strategies through public-private partnerships (PPPs). However, incentives need to be provided for the private sector to engage in resilience and adaptation strategies for low income urban areas as they usually require financial justification for involvement.
  • Involve universities and research institutes in adaptation planning for municipalities, assuring they include lower income communities in their activities. Examples include the International Centre for Climate Change and Development in Dhaka, the Urban Observatory in Manila and the Facultad Latinoamericana des Ciencias Sociales. There is a need, however, for universities to reform their curricula to raise the profile of urban adaptation issues, especially for the most vulnerable neighborhoods.

The Role of the Global Community

  • After decades of relative neglect, international humanitarian and development organizations are beginning to pay increased attention to climate change issues facing urban areas. The IPCC notes that in 2009 humanitarian organizations formed a reference group on meeting humanitarian challenges in urban areas, developing a dedicated web site to include action plans and improved data collection and monitoring, the Urban Humanitarian Response Portal Urban
  • Some of the International Finance Institutions (IFIs) such as the World Bank’s Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR) are now paying increased attention to urban resilience and adaptation measures and encouraging client countries to include urban adaption in their country plans. But these efforts are still in the early stages and require higher prioritization. There is also little information on whether these efforts are reaching the most vulnerable urban residents in slums and informal settlements.
  • UN Habitat is at the forefront of developing sets of tools for cities to undertake pro-poor climate change related planning through its Cities and Climate Change Initiative.  At the 2015 COP Conference in Paris, UN Habitat launched its Guiding Principles for City Climate Action Planning which provides the most up to date recommendations for inclusive urban climate change mitigation and adaptation. UN
  • The Green Climate Fund must assure that a substantial number of the adaptation projects it approves for funding are targeted to the most vulnerable populations. Countries must understand this in submitting projects proposals to the Fund.
  • Bilateral aid agencies have historically shied away from urban adaptation programs despite increased overall attention to global climate change issues. This is changing very slowly. Drawing on OECD statistics, the IPCC estimates 20% of bilateral climate adaptation portfolios is directed to urban areas, totaling $0.65 to $1.6 billion per year (on average from 2010-2011).  This still represents a very small percentage of overall ODA portfolios.  About half goes to towns and middle sized secondary cities and half to cities of over half a million people. OECD data indicate that about 70% of this amount goes to hard infrastructure and about 10% to softer capacity building programs. Information on how much of the assistance is directed to the most vulnerable population needs further study. (IPCC Fifth Assessment, cit, 2014, p. 589).

When Should Action be Taken?

  • While the short answer is as soon as possible the staggering amount of work to be done and financed to build the resilience of urban areas to climate change and for them to adapt to its consequences will require decades of effort.
  • Since most of the world’s greenhouse gasses not produced in the developing world, priority in developing countries should be on adaptation and resilience planning with less emphasis on mitigation. Urban areas in developing countries, with the help of national governments and the international community, need to undertake realistic assessments of the immediate threats posed by already existing patterns of climate related phenomena and the predictions of short term changes yet to come and then prioritize investments accordingly.
  • Through planning and investment in infrastructure, cities can direct growth away from areas most vulnerable to the effects of climate change.
  • Particular attention must be paid to the most climate vulnerable neighborhoods of the city and to the most vulnerable populations. Planning should be inclusive to include representatives of the most affected communities. Careful monitoring systems must be put in place. Plans should then look to mid and longer range threats and to the solutions that can be phased in overtime.