Category: Cities

Southward shift faces US climate by 2100

Southward shift faces US climate by 2100

By Tim Radford

Climate change means a big shift for city dwellers worldwide. Americans can look ahead to very different cities as the US climate heads south.

If the world continues to burn ever-increasing levels of fossil fuels, then life will change predictably for millions of American city dwellers as the US climate heats up. They will find conditions that will make it seem as if they have shifted south by as much as 850 kilometres.

New Yorkers will find themselves experiencing temperature and rainfall conditions appropriate to a small town in Arkansas. People from Los Angeles will discover what it is like to live, right now, on the southernmost tip of the Baja peninsula, Mexico. People in Abilene, Texas will find that it is as if they had crossed their own frontier, deep into Salinas, Mexico.

The lawmakers in Washington will have consigned themselves to conditions appropriate to Greenwood, Mississippi. Columbus, Ohio, will enjoy the climate of Jonesboro, Arkansas. Folk of Anchorage, Alaska, will find out what it feels like to live on Vancouver Sound. People of Vancouver, meanwhile, will feel as if they had crossed the border into Seattle, Washington.

This exercise in precision forecasting, published in the journal Nature Communications, has been tested in computer simulations for approximately 250 million US and Canadian citizens in 540 cities.

That is, around three quarters of all the population of the United States, and half of all Canadians, can now check the rainfall and temperature changes they can expect in one human lifetime, somewhere between 2070 and 2099.

There are a number of possible climate shifts, depending on whether or not 195 nations fulfil the vow made in Paris in 2015 to work to keep the average rise in global temperatures to “well below” 2°C by 2100.

In fact, President Trump has announced a US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, and many of the nations that stand by the promise have yet to commit to convincing action.

So researchers continue to incorporate the notorious “business-as-usual” scenario in their simulations. So far, these have already predicted a sweltering future for many US cities, with devastating consequences for electrical power supplies and ever more destructive superstorms, megadroughts and floods, with huge economic costs for American government, business and taxpayers.

And, other researchers have found, climate change may already be at work: there is evidence that the division between the more arid American West and the more fertile eastern states has begun to shift significantly.

Long trip south

So the latest research could prove another way of bringing home to US citizens some of the challenges ahead.

“Under current high emissions, the average urban dweller is going to have to drive more than 500 miles (850 kms) to the south to find a climate like that expected in their home city by 2080. Not only is climate changing, but climates that don’t presently exist in North America will be prevalent in a lot of urban areas,” said Matt Fitzpatrick, of the University of Maryland, who led the study.

“Within the lifetime of children living today, the climate of many regions is projected to change from the familiar to conditions unlike those experienced in the same place by their parents, grandparents or perhaps any generation in millennia,” he said.

“It is my hope that people have that ‘wow’ moment, and it sinks in for the first time the scale of the changes we’re expecting in a single generation.”


This article was originally published on Climate News Network.Tim Radford, a founding editor of Climate News Network, worked for The Guardian for 32 years, for most of that time as science editor. He has been covering climate change since 1988.

Cover photo by Kyaw Tun on Unsplash.
Toward a flood-resilient Kolkata

Toward a flood-resilient Kolkata

By Elisa Jiménez Alonso

Kolkata’s flood forecasting and early warning system (FFEWS), supported by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), will be India’s first comprehensive city-level early warning system. Designed to provide forecasts and real-time updates using sensors installed in key points throughout the city, the system will enable informed decision making before and during disasters.

How the FFEWS works. Source: ADB.

The system includes a series of complementary components: weather forecasts; flood models for various intensities of rainfall; real-time information on key pump status, sump and canal water levels, actual rainfall, inundation levels, among others; and a messaging system to provide warnings and real-time information to city officials and citizens. The FFEWS will enable flood-informed urban planning, improve the flood awareness and safety of Kolkata’s communities, reduce economic losses and flood-impacts on livelihoods, and reduce the impacts of flood-induced traffic jams.

The system was designed with the people of Kolkata at its centre and aims to empower them so they can act quickly and appropriately to reduce flood risks. During the design phase key stakeholders were consulted to identify the best places for monitoring. Consultation with citizens and borough engineers helped identify locations for real-time data collection on rainfall and flood risk.

Since 2000, phased investments carried out through ADB-supported projects have already helped reduce Kolkata’s flooding problems by about 4,800 hectares, planned projects are expected to provide a further reduction of roughly 6,000 hectares. The projects are enabling the city to systematically expand the sewerage and drainage network in Kolkata, including flood-prone areas; increasing sewage treatment capacity; improving water supply through reductions in non-revenue water; managing solid waste; and increasing operational efficiencies and building capacity to better sustain the services it provides.

Download the full publication and learn more about the key features and benefits by clicking here.

Online course: Cost benefit analysis for urban climate change adaptation

Online course: Cost benefit analysis for urban climate change adaptation

EIT Climate KIC in partnership with Technical University of Denmark (DTU), Acclimatise, and Pannon Pro Innovations (PPIS) are offering a three-part online course about Cost Benefit Analysis (CBA) for climate change adaptation in cities. Acclimatise led the development of the financial aspects of the course.

Urban areas are expected to become even more exposed and vulnerable to climate change impacts such as flooding in the future. Adapting to these impacts is important to protect city dweller, but cost-effective planning of adaptation strategies is very complicated. CBA is a method that can help decision-makers evaluate adaptation projects and strengthen the basis for making sound investment decisions.

Part 1 of the course explains what CBA is and how it applies to urban flooding and climate change adaptation. If you are a local government or city official, this will help you identify whether it can be used for your adaptation project.

In part 2, participants learn a robust, step-by-step approach – along with a CBA Climate Adaptation Tool and case-study – to help them assess the costs and benefits for their own city’s adaptation projects.

Part 3 of the online course demonstrates how to carry out a CBA using the CBA Climate Adaptation Tool. If you are a local government or city official, this will help you discover the financial value of your own adaptation project and use this to secure the investment you need.

7-step CBA process. Source: Climate-KIC

Create your profile on Climate-KIC Education to enroll in this online course and discover many more free learning opportunities.

Face-to-face trainings are under development and will be rolled out in Spring 2019. Stay tuned!


Cover photo by 贝莉儿 NG on Unsplash.

This New Climate – Episode 4: The Blue Green Dream

This New Climate – Episode 4: The Blue Green Dream

In the fifth episode of This New Climate, host Will Bugler takes a look at how cities can better prepare for climate change. Cities are concentrated centres of climate risk with large populations, high levels of economic activity and expensive cost of properties. But they are also home to over half the world’s population. This episode explores how the development of nature-based solutions can make cities better able to cope with climate impacts like extreme heat and flooding.

Episode guests: NHS Nurse Claire Herne, Cedo Maksimovic from Imperial College London, Tim Van Hattum from Wageningen University, Teodoro Georgiadis from IBIMET, Frans Van De Ven from Deltares, and Anjali Jaiswal from NRDC India.

This New Climate is an Acclimatise production.

Blue Green Solutions is an EIT Climate-KIC supported innovation initiative.

Downloads: Blue Green Solutions – The Guide

Further information:

Heavy rains and blocked drains: Nairobi’s recipe for floods

Heavy rains and blocked drains: Nairobi’s recipe for floods

By Sophie Mbugua, Climate Home News

Dirty flood waters, impassable roads and submerged slums have become the norm every time it rains in Nairobi, Kenya’s capital city.

In August, the authorities took drastic action, bulldozing around 2,000 buildings in the flood plain, including shopping malls worth millions of dollars. After a lull, they are due to resume demolitions this month, national media reports.

The ongoing October-December rainy season is on track to bring – mercifully – average volumes of water. Yet the city’s flood risk is rising, as climate change brings more extremes of rainfall. Experts tell Climate Home News better waste management, urban planning and warning systems are needed to protect its growing population.

Numerous informal and formal settlements without adequate sewerage and sanitation services edge onto the three Nairobi Rivers: Mathare, Ngong and Nairobi.

At Hazina village, one of 22 villages in south B division along the Ngong, the river chokes with refuse, making the water hardly visible.

“It’s the village’s dumping site,” Anne Keli, a 46-year-old mother of 12 tells Climate Home News. She has lived in the village for two decades and says flooding has been particularly bad in the past two years.

“The water reaches the village at a high force compared to previous years but gets stuck due to the plastics, paper bags and assorted waste in the river, blocking its flow,” Keli says. “Since we are on a lower area, the run-off from higher areas headed to the river has no place to go as the river is full. So, where else does it go? Into our houses.”

During the long rains in April, Keli’s family left their flooded home and camped in the county commissioner’s grounds. She lost around 30,000 Kenyan shillings ($290) worth of goods from the shop she runs less than a kilometre from the river.

The provincial administration made some efforts to clean the river during the flooding, but as soon as the rainy season ended it clogged up again, Keli says. “People keep building close to the river, reducing its size by day. People are asked to remove the structures with every flood but after the rains, everything moves back to normal.”

Kenya Meteorological Department (KMD) has installed more than 72 monitoring stations across the country in a bid to provide more timely and precise information.

Brian Chunguli, a county disaster management official, says a UK-funded programme will allow them to monitor live flooding levels from satellites and alert residents as waters rise.

“We hope to respond before flooding happens, and collected data will inform the disaster policy and interventions as we will compare long term data showing at what rainfall levels has certain areas flooded,” explains Chunguli.

Long-term projections of East African rainfall vary, with most climate models predicting heavier inundations as temperatures rise.

Mary Kilavi, the Nairobi County director of meteorological services, is mapping the areas likely to flood in Nairobi given a specific amount of rainfall. South B and South C on the Ngong river are hotspots, along with Mathare by the Nairobi river.

“We are using a model that simulates surface water flooding using previous city flooding data corrected over time,” she explains. “We want to find out with a specific amount of rainfall, which areas will flood.”

This will help the authorities to move beyond a reactive approach to systematic preparation, she says. “Since weather is given in probabilistic terms, systems don’t act fast. We will establish the probability of achieving the estimated flood causing rainfall, then with stakeholders, agree at what point to act, the actions to take and funds to be set aside for the actions.”

The solutions range from cleaning up waste to creating green urban spaces and changing land management upriver. Many of these face political, as well as practical, obstacles.

There is a directive against building within 30 metres of the riverside, for example, but it is haphazardly enforced. Many owners of the recently demolished structures insisted they had permits to build there.

“It requires funds and land to relocate and rebuild the structures amid political interference, as area politicians incite the residents not to move,” says Barre Ahmed, assistant county commissioner for Starehe sub county.

Dr Lawrence Esho, chair of the Kenya Institute of Planners, calls for a drainage master plan to cover the entire metropolitan area.

“We have a flooding crisis but the issue is bigger than the illegal buildings. It is more of the uphill destruction of land which we are doing nothing about, too much concrete pavements aggregating the run off flow, blocked drains and climate change,” says Esho. “Over the last 20 to 25 years the city has also gone through the change from bungalows built over a huge area to high-rise apartment blocks… without a drainage city master plan change.”

Builders should leave gaps between pavements for grass “to allow the water sip under when it rains,” he advises.

In the meantime, Keli can only make sure she has a quick exit strategy ready. She says: “I worry at every drizzle. But this time, I am prepared with a bag packed for any eventuality to rescue my children. As for the shop, there is little I can do. Until the river is cleaned, I still believe this village will flood if the rain keeps coming as they did these two years.”


This article originally appeared on Climate Home News and is shared under Creative Commons license. This article was produced as part of an African reporting fellowship supported by Future Climate for Africa.

Cover photo by Sophie Mbuaga: The Ngong river is choked with garbage as it passes through Hazina village.
WEF 2019 Global Risk Report once again highlights climate threat

WEF 2019 Global Risk Report once again highlights climate threat

By Elisa Jiménez Alonso

The World Economic Forum’s (WEF) most recent global risk ranking in terms of likelihood and impact is spearheaded by climate-related risks. The environmental risk category has been increasingly becoming more prominent since risks related to it started appearing in the top 5 in 2011.

“Of all risks, it is in relation to the environment that the world is most clearly sleepwalking into catastrophe.”

WEF Global Risk Report 2019

The results of climate inaction are becoming more and more visible and in 2019, environmental and societal risks related to climate change account for three of the top five risks by likelihood and four by impact. While the WEF reports that extreme weather was the risk of greatest concern, they also note that “survey respondents are increasingly worried about environmental policy failure: having fallen in the rankings after Paris, failure of climate-change mitigation and adaptation jumped back to number two in terms of impact this year.” This response is also very likely linked to the findings of the IPCC in their report about the impacts of 1.5° vs 2.0° C degrees of global warming.

Referencing the results of the C40 study The Future We Don’t Want, completed together with the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy, Acclimatise and the Urban Climate Change Research Network, WEF’s report also prominently features the dangers of sea level rise to cities. Today, already 800 million people in more than 570 coastal cities worldwide are vulnerable to 0.5 metres of sea level rise by 2050. Given the rate of urbanisation, the number of people at risk is expected to rise significantly. The importance of coastal adaptation and disaster prevention is strongly emphasised.

In the Future Shocks section, WEF also outlines the potential misuse of weather manipulation tools that could stoke geopolitical tensions. They see the intensification of climate-related impacts as a growing incentive to turn to such technological fixes that could be used to manipulate rainfall or similar. Additionally to any environmental consequences the use of such technology could lead to, WEF raises the concern that it could also be viewed as a hostile act if nations use it unilaterally.

Detailed results: climate change

In terms of likelihood, it is the third consecutive year extreme weather events has remained in first place. And it is also the third consecutive year it places high in terms of impact. Failure of climate-change mitigation and adaptation has also remained at top risk since 2015. Additionally, in the top five risks in terms of impact, water crises sits in fourth place and has been in the top five since 2015 – one of its main drivers being climate change.

The evolving risk landscape 2009-2019. WEF 2019.

Extreme weather events and failure of climate-change mitigation and adaptation are fairly alone in the top right corner of the risk landscape, indicating their pole position in terms of both likelihood and impact.

Global risk landscape. WEF 2019.

The risk-trends interconnectedness map clearly shows climate change as one of the main risk trends connected not just to environmental but also societal risks such as water and food crises, but also large-scale involuntary migration.

Risk-trends interconnectedness map. WEF 2019.

Download the full report and visit the report reader by clicking here.


Cover photo by Joshua Rawson-Harris on Unsplash
Vital Glaswegian infrastructure at risk from climate change

Vital Glaswegian infrastructure at risk from climate change

A report by Climate Ready Clyde found that major roads, bridges, rail lines and hospitals in Glasgow are at risk of being damaged or disrupted by climate change impacts.

The in-depth climate risk assessment found that by 2050 Glasgow, whose metropolitan area is home to about 1.8 million people, will be impacted by increasingly powerful storms, more regular heatwaves and heavy flooding in the winter months.

The ramifications of such events could overwhelm hospitals in the area, damage or disrupt large parts of motorways, put the West Highland line at risk of closure due to coastal flooding, and also lead to increased instances of gale-wind forces which are especially dangerous for bridges.

The group, a coalition of six councils, transport agencies, universities and government agencies, sets out a five-year plan that will put forward recommendations for natural flood defences, more air conditioning and ventilation systems, greater tree cover and use of green roofs, and also wind barriers on bridges. Some council will also seek new powers in order to issue their own bonds and raise money from investors to cover the costs of adaptation and resilience building measures.

Speaking on the release, Climate Ready Clyde’s Chair, James Curran, said “It’s fantastic to be bringing stakeholders together to discuss how we ensure Glasgow City Region not just adapts, but prospers in the face of climate change. The U.N. climate change programme shows that, despite cutting our carbon emissions deeply and quickly, a certain amount of climate change is now unavoidable – and so we need to prepare. Our assessment shows where we need new activity and to focus our ambitions in a new Strategy and Action Plan.”

Read the key findings and next steps by clicking here.


Cover photo by Artur Kraft on Unsplash
Nature-based solutions for building resilient cities

Nature-based solutions for building resilient cities

By Sonia Chand Sandhu, ADB & Jeremy Carew-Reid, ICEM

Rehabilitating natural systems with green infrastructure is key to building sustainability and resilience to climate change in urban areas.

The sustainability and resilience of urban areas to climate change can be greatly increased by rehabilitating natural systems and integrating nature-based approaches with conventional infrastructure and urban development. That principle is particularly true in small and medium-sized towns in Asia that are already struggling to adapt to threats from climate change and natural disasters.

The use of green infrastructure and nature-based solutions is an essential alternative or complementary approach to conventional town infrastructure and development planning. This technical study provides practical examples and guidance on green infrastructure and illustrates related participatory urban planning processes through case studies from three Mekong towns in Cambodia, Lao PDR, and Viet Nam.

These examples from the Greater Mekong Subregion demonstrate approaches of immediate relevance for other towns and regions throughout Asia with extensive coastlines, riverine and low-lying wetland areas, short and steep watersheds, and high urbanization pressure. Storms, floods, landslides, and severe droughts underscore the increasing and intensifying extreme climatic conditions that call for strengthened resilience of local communities and critical infrastructure, while ensuring sustainable urban development pathways in balance with nature.

Key Findings

Green infrastructure should be a foundation for planning, developing, and maintaining towns and cities with climate change. Local landscapes and natural systems, their networks and functions should be sustained or revitalized to take advantage of their multiple benefits including building urban resilience and sustainability. The design, construction, management, maintenance, and use of green urban infrastructure are best done with local communities. Cross-sectoral collaboration of different government departments together with the private sector and communities can ensure solutions which best meet local needs.

The technical study proposes a process which starts with a scoping exercise, followed by an assessment of the baseline, climate change impacts, adaptive capacity, and related vulnerability in a city. This is followed by the identification and prioritization of adaptation measures to effectively address the projected climate change impacts. The measures are then planned, designed, and implemented in close consultation with the community. The operations stage includes regular maintenance and repair, as well as necessary adjustments of green infrastructure to changing climate conditions. Eventually, the adaptation measures are evaluated to decide on their replication in other areas.

Guiding resilience principles are suggested as an integral part of urban adaptation planning and development in cities. These include the protection, rehabilitation, and mimicry of natural systems, the conservation and wise management of water and energy resources, the sustainable (re-) design of buildings and sites, and transit-oriented development.

The technical study presents possible green infrastructure solutions in four key areas:

  • Water and Flood Management, e.g. constructed wetlands, drainage corridors, or rainwater harvesting;
  • Slope Stabilization, e.g. live cribwalls, vegetated gabions, or vetiver grass;
  • Pollution Management: e.g. bioswales, graywater recycling, or raingardens; and
  • Energy, Heat, and Greenhouse Gas Management: e.g. green roofs and walls, recycling, or urban tree canopy.

Conclusion / Recommendations

Green infrastructure and nature-based solutions for resilient towns and cities are broadly guided by the following strategies:

  • Collaborating across sectors and encouraging initiatives within local communities;
  • Availing of technologies to inform and improve adaptation planning;
  • Greening and rehabilitating natural elements such as ponds and parks;
  • Creating a network of interconnected green spaces and corridors;
  • Greening core urban areas, residential neighborhoods, as well as industrial and business zones;
  • Monitoring the impact of measures along green indicators;
  • Continuing capacity development and retraining of planners, engineers, and developers; and
  • Reforming planning systems toward area-wide approaches of development control, integration of nature, and adaptation of key infrastructure assets.

The technical study is a practical guide for applying those strategies showing how nature-based solutions can support green infrastructure development and cross-regional knowledge sharing for more resilient and sustainable cities throughout Asia.


Resources

Related Links

About the authors

Sonia Chand Sandhu, Senior Advisor to the Vice-President for Knowledge Management and Sustainable Development, Asian Development Bank: Sonia Chand Sandhu, an environmental engineer and climate resilience and sustainability specialist, has 23 years of international development experience in environmental sustainability, resilience, and integrated institutional solutions for management of multisector infrastructure operations at ADB, the World Bank (South Asia and Africa), and in the private sector. At ADB, she led the GrEEEn Cities Initiative for secondary cities in Southeast Asia for balanced urban transformation and developed innovative knowledge solutions for climate resilience in the Greater Mekong Subregion. Follow Sonia Chand Sandhu on Twitter & LinkedIn.

Jeremy Carew-Reid, Director General, International Centre for Environmental Management, ICEM: Jeremy Carew-Reid has more than 35 years experience working in over 30 countries, including extensive experience in the Mekong region. He has a BSc Honours in freshwater ecology and a PhD in Environmental Impact Assessment. He specializes in integrated environmental assessments and climate change vulnerability assessment and adaptation. He has led many foundational biodiversity and climate change studies and assessments in the Mekong region. Since 2000, he has been Team Leader in more than 35 ICEM projects in Asia.

This article originally appeared on ADB’s Development Asia blog and is shared with kind permission.

Cover photo by Richard Webb (CC BY 2.0): Vegetated gabions.
Flash floods increase as mercury climbs

Flash floods increase as mercury climbs

By Tim Radford

Heavy rain must fall somewhere. The danger lies in where it falls and on what kind of terrain. As cities grow, the risk of flash floods rises.

Scientists once again have confirmed that humankind’s actions have triggered ever-greater extremes of rainfall – and an ever-greater rise in disastrous flash floods.

The study comes close on the heels of a warning by UN scientists of a dramatic increase in economic losses from climate-related disasters. Between 1998 and 2017, natural disasters cost the world’s nations direct losses of $2.9 trillion, and although earthquake and tsunami accounted for most deaths, floods, storms and other climate-related catastrophes accounted for 77% of the economic damage.

Scientists and engineers from China and the US report in the journal Nature Communications that flash floods now cause more deaths as well as more property and agricultural losses than any other severe weather-related hazards. These losses have been increasing for the last 50 years and over the last decade worldwide have topped $30bn a year.

And, they find, extremes in run–off from increasing extremes of rainfall are driven by what humans have done, and continue to do, to their planet: in the race for economic growth, people have burned ever more coal, oil and gas to dump ever-increasing levels of carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere.

Heat hazard rises

They have driven up global average temperatures by around 1°C in the last century, and without drastic action this average could reach 3°C by the century’s end.

As average temperatures rise, so does the hazard of extremes of heat. With every rise of 1°C the capacity of the atmosphere to absorb moisture rises by about 7%: higher temperatures are linked to ever-harder falls of rain. And rain that falls must go somewhere.

Moisture once naturally absorbed by forests, extensive wetlands or rich natural grasslands now increasingly lands on tarmacadam, brick, cement, tile or glass, to race down city streets, threaten ever more lives and sweep away costly homes, offices and bridges.

“Those who are suffering the most from climate change are those who are contributing least to greenhouse gas emissions”

Altogether one billion people are now settled in floodplains: the lives at risk are on the increase. And, the researchers warn, the losses will go on rising.

Most researchers have been unwilling to link specific floods directly to global warming. That cautious attitude shifted in the last few years as separate teams of climate scientists made connections between global warming and disastrous flooding and destructive storms in Europe, in India and in the US.

Australia – more often linked with extended drought and wildfire hazards than floods – has identified ever greater dangers from extreme rainfall.

The Nature study was based on decades of rainfall, run-off and temperature data collected on a daily basis and forms part of a widening search for ways to adapt to a danger that, inevitably, looks set to increase, particularly in the US.

Growth in extremes

“We were trying to find the physical mechanisms behind why precipitation and run-off extremes are increasing all over the globe,” said Jiabo Yin, a Wuhan University student working at the Earth Institute in the University of Columbia, who led the research.

“We know that precipitation and run-off extremes will increase significantly in the future, and we need to modify our infrastructures accordingly. Our study establishes a framework for investigating the runoff response.”

Altogether, according to the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction’s latest survey, the world experienced more than 7,000 major disasters in the last two decades: floods and storms accounted for 43% and 28.2% of them and were the most frequent kinds of disaster.

Together, such disasters claimed 1.3 million lives – almost 750,000 of these to a total of 563 earthquakes and tsunamis. An estimated 4.4 billion people were hurt, or lost their homes, or were displaced or placed in need of emergency help.

Biggest losers

The greatest economic losers were the US, with almost $945 billion, and China with $492bn. Storms, floods and earthquakes put three European nations in the top ten, with France, Germany and Italy losing around $50bn each in those two decades.

Once again, the UN study highlights the gap between rich and poor. “Those who are suffering the most from climate change are those who are contributing least to greenhouse gas emissions,” said Deberati Guha-Sapir, head of the UN’s Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters at the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium.

“Clearly there is great room for improvement in data collection on economic losses, but we know from our analysis … that people in low income countries are six times more likely to lose all their worldly possessions or suffer injury in a disaster than people in high income countries.”


Tim Radford, a founding editor of Climate News Network, worked for The Guardian for 32 years, for most of that time as science editor. He has been covering climate change since 1988.

This article originally appeared on Climate News Network.

Cover photo by European Commission, DG ECHO/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 2.0): Flash floods in Uttarakhand in 2012
Putting a price on resilience

Putting a price on resilience

By Matthew Savage

Policymakers, investors and practitioners implementing resilience projects, strive to achieve the greatest impact for their investment.

However, estimating the benefits arising from a project aimed at increasing resilience is difficult. The Asian Development Bank’s (ADB) Urban Climate Change Resilience Trust Fund (UCCRTF) is working to put a price on the urban resilience benefits of the bank’s infrastructure loans and technical assistance programs.

Quantifying the economic benefits of resilience at the city-level can help drive new investments in infrastructure, improve the efficacy of urban development and planning, and demonstrate the benefits of existing resilience strategies. However, it is a task that is fraught with challenges. So how can we begin to put a value on urban resilience?

Investing in climate resilience at the city level can significantly reduce the social and economic costs of climate change for vulnerable communities. Resilient infrastructure also underpins the shift towards more efficient and better functioning cities and can encourage wider economic development and growth. However, limited access to finance and the increasing threat of climate change mean it is important to identify and prioritize those investments likely to offer greatest value for money.

The socioeconomic benefits of resilience can arise from both hard investments in resilient infrastructure (e.g. improved drainage, flood protection, access roads, storm shelters) as well as from climate-smart planning approaches (e.g. improved land use and zoning policies). These, in turn, can give rise to a range of benefits associated with reduced economic costs of climate change. Examples might include reduced damage to buildings and property, lower levels of injury and loss of life, and avoided loss of incomes and livelihoods.

Breaking new ground

Several previous studies have sought to value the costs and benefits of investing in resilience.  These studies cover a range of sectors and draw from the fields of both climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction. They generally report positive benefit-to-cost ratios (BCRs) with economic returns usually at least 3 times those of the original investment and some projects delivering BCRs of up to 50:1.

However only a few of these studies are directly relevant to the urban context (for example those relating to urban flood management, set back zones, and cyclone shelters). Such studies tend to be far fewer in number than those for other sectors (e.g. agriculture, social protection).  In addition, only limited analysis has been undertaken on the benefits of improved resilience planning and capacity on economic outcomes. What evidence exists is also often derived from developed country contexts.

While urban resilience incorporates benefits associated with both climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction, it also incorporates wider set of economic benefits (spillover effects) associated with improved urban planning and function, and positive linkages to livelihoods and growth. Greater overall economic resilience can underpin the ability of impacted communities to cope with and respond to external shocks and stresses.

The value of pricing resilience

While delivering resilience can often be achieved by integrating principles in urban planning and development, it often requires new investment compared to a business-as-usual scenario. This may include building additional infrastructure (such as embankments to protect against changes in flood levels) or upgrading the specification of existing infrastructure to meet higher climate thresholds (such as raising road levels or increasing drainage).

Putting a price on resilience to ensure value for money is therefore a central focus of the UCCRTF.  This involves not only understanding the costs of UCCRTF investments (and their additionality from a climate perspective), but also the benefits of these investments in terms of averting the economic damages associated with climate change.

These insights create value for the UCCRTF itself and help assess the effectiveness of the program. They also extend the evidence base that underpins the quality of urban resilience programing, investment, and project appraisal approaches.

The UCCRTF has the ambition to reduce the costs of climate change by 15%.

Overall, the UCCRTF project has the ambition to reduce the costs of climate change by 15% in those urban communities where it makes investments. There are, however, several practical challenges in monitoring and/or measuring the benefits of resilience:

  1. The evidence base for the historic economic costs of climate shocks and stresses in UCCRTF cities is limited, particularly at the catchment level of individual infrastructure investments;

  2. The resilience benefits of UCCRTF investments are likely to arise after the program has been completed and will accrue over infrastructure lifetime (potentially up to 50 years or more);

  3. The scale and/or frequency of climate shocks in a given city is unpredictable and will likely change over time, reflecting the trajectory of global warming (which is itself uncertain);

  4. UCCRTF cities are undergoing rapid socioeconomic change in terms of urbanization, population and infrastructure growth, thereby increasing the economic value of exposure over time;

  5. Not all economic impacts can be easily captured by market values (e.g. loss of life, eco-system impacts), requiring more nuanced approaches to valuation.

Modeling economic benefits of resilience

For this reason, UCCRTF is adopting a modeling approach to estimate the economic benefits of resilience. As part of the model, UCCRTF is ‘ground-truthing’ its assumptions – undertaking primary research around the UCCRTF portfolio of investments – as well as drawing upon secondary evidence from the UCCRTF cities and similar urban contexts. The following are important areas of socioeconomic research that are being undertaken as part of the UCCRTF program:

  • Building a profile of climate risks in UCCRTF cities (and similar urban contexts) and exploring how return periods for such events might evolve over time given future climate change;
  • Identifying economic costs associated with identified climate shocks through a combination of desk research and engagement with key, city-level stakeholders and communities;

  • Looking at the likely socioeconomic development pathways of UCCRTF cities in terms of changes in population and asset exposure;

  • Reviewing the evidence base for avoided damages associated with typical UCCRTF-type infrastructure investments and planning interventions;

  • Identifying emerging climate shocks and stresses during UCCRTF implementation to support real-time assessment of damage costs and the potential for avoided impacts.

Using this data, we are modeling a range of scenarios that will allow the UCCRTF program to identify the potential scope and scale of resilience benefits over time that are associated with its investment portfolio and capacity building activities.

These insights will be applied to explore ways of integrating the economic costs and benefits of resilience into the more mainstream appraisal of infrastructure projects. They will also help broaden understanding of the potential of resilience to underpin wider economic development in the urban context.


This article as originally published on Livable Cities – Asian Development Bank and is shared with kind permission.

Matthew Savage is a leading international expert on climate change economics policy and finance. He is currently working with the UCCRTF on measuring economic loss of shocks and stresses in cities. A visiting lecturer at the Universities of Oxford and Copenhagen, Matthew has worked in more than 30 countries across 5 continents, including roles at the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID) and the International Finance Corporation.

Cover photo by Livable Cities – Asian Development Bank.