Category: Cities

Here are three ways that cities can adapt to changing climates

Here are three ways that cities can adapt to changing climates

By Anna Taylor, University of Cape Town

Editor’s note: This article was originally published ahead of Adaptation Futures, which is referred to in the article in future tense.

Cape Town’s “Day Zero” experience – the prospect of dam levels dropping dangerously low, taps running dry and water rations being distributed from public collection points – speaks powerfully to the urgency and complexity of climate change adaptation.

The recent arrival of the South African city’s winter rains mean that dam levels have begun rising again and it’s dodged the introduction of wholesale water rationing. For now.

But the drought which pushed Cape Town to the edge isn’t over yet. The threat of water rationing could still become a reality in 2019. And there will be other droughts, too, in Cape Town and beyond. Other cities that have experienced severe water scarcity include Melbourne in Australia, Los Angeles in the US, São Paulo in Brazil, Bolivia’s capital city La Paz and Maputo in Mozambique, to name but a few.

Cities in the global South are especially hard hit by droughts. This is because the resources and capabilities to expand and upgrade water infrastructures serving these cities remain scarce. Many residents in these cities have very poor and limited access to water in “normal” times. Things become even more dire in water scarce situations.

My doctoral and post-doctoral research focused on climate adaptation decision making and governance in southern African cities. In other words, how are people organising to reduce the risks that higher temperatures, intense rainfall and dry periods pose to city residents?

I’ll be sharing my findings at the Adaptation Futures conference, which is being held in Cape Town from June 19 to 21. It will be the first time that the international gathering of climate adaptation experts and practitioners will take place on the African continent.

My research suggests three lessons for any city looking to prepare for and manage climate extremes. These centre on preparation, leadership and an understanding that adaptation requires both big and small changes.

Lessons

Lesson 1: Do your homework and open it up to others

For sensible and effective action to happen in a time of crisis when rapid change is demanded, several things are needed. These include sustained investment in experimentation, robust research and anticipatory planning. A crisis creates or unlocks opportunities for change. But the groundwork must be laid to avoid knee-jerk reactions and short-term solutions with unknown, potentially negative consequences that can undermine sustainability.

For example, in Cape Town there is rapid expansion of groundwater abstraction and a big push to commission desalination plants. Both need significant investment and new infrastructure that has long-term implications for the water network, the affordability of water and the local ecology.

Over the last decade, Cape Town has been involved in preparing a number of strategies and plans identifying measures to manage water and climate risks. These laid important groundwork for evaluating options, but more work is needed.

These research, planning and advisory processes are important prerequisites to navigating a robust adaptation pathway. Crises have to be seen, understood, managed and leveraged as part of a much longer-term climate adaptation effort.

Cape Town’s crisis has shown how important it is for such technical deliberations to be opened up to public and political engagement. If this doesn’t happen, all the planning in world won’t help – because people will ignore or resist the planners’ conclusions.

Lesson 2: Collaborative leadership is crucial

Leadership and open communication that fosters trust and collaboration are essential to navigate times of panic and transition. This pertains to leadership in all spheres including political, intellectual, civic, business and administration. Such leadership is needed at all levels.

When leadership is defensive and divisive, as was the case in the early stages of the Cape Town water crisis, it leads to much blame and finger pointing. This can cause uncertainty and fragmented and inconsistent responses – which is exactly what happened in Cape Town.

The city government gradually started improving communication lines through initiatives like the Water Dashboard and the Water Outlook. This helped greatly in building a more cohesive set of actions and more inclusive and considered deliberations over the way forward.

Lesson 3: Big and small changes matter

Adapting cities to climate change involves a combination of small and big changes that need action from all sides. These changes need to explicitly address inequality.

In the case of adapting Cape Town to periods of water scarcity in the future, potential actions range from households and businesses reusing greywater on-site (for example using shower water to flush toilets) to the large-scale harvesting of stormwater to recharge underground aquifers. Many of these changes are costly and run the risk of further entrenching inequality and exclusion. Wealthy homes and businesses can afford to buy water saving technologies and alternative sources of water, like private boreholes, while low-income households and small businesses face rising municipal water bills.

Climate adaptation

These lessons are not unique to Cape Town’s water crisis. As experiences across the world suggest, these may be lessons that have to be learnt the hard way. Cities may need to face their own version of a crisis to galvanise action towards making the changes needed. But doing the preparatory work is an essential part of adapting.

The ConversationMoving beyond coping with a crisis in the short-term to building the capacity to avoid, or at least better manage, such situations over the long-term lies at the heart of climate adaptation.


Anna Taylor, Research fellow, Stockholm Environment Institute, University of Cape Town. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Cover photo by SkyPixels/Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0): The iconic tourist attraction Boe Kaap houses.
New study shows billions of urban citizens at risk of climate-related impacts by 2050

New study shows billions of urban citizens at risk of climate-related impacts by 2050

New research by Acclimatise, C40, the Urban Climate Change Research Network (UCCRN), and Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy reveals number of cities and citizens threatened by direct and indirect climate hazards if global greenhouse gas emissions continue unchecked. Bold climate action by cities is key to prevent 1.6 billion people being exposed to extreme heat, 800 million to coastal flooding, and 650 million to droughts. 

Billions of people in thousands of cities around the world will be at risk from climate-related heatwaves, drought, flooding, food shortages, blackouts and social inequality by mid-century without bold and urgent action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Fortunately, cities around the world are delivering bold climate solutions to avert these outcomes and create a healthier, safer, more equal and prosperous future for all urban citizens.

This new research predicts how many urban residents will face potentially devastating heat waves, flooding and droughts by 2050 if global warming continues on its current trajectory. The Future We Don’t Want – How climate change could impact the world’s greatest cities also looks at indirect climate impacts and estimates how climate change under a ‘business-as-usual scenario’ will impact urban food security and energy systems as well as the urban poor, who are most vulnerable to climate change.

Headline findings include that, by 2050

The Future We Don’t Want also contains concrete examples of bold climate solutions that cities are delivering, which, if adopted at-scale, could help prevent the worst impacts of climate change. The research was launched at the Adaptation Futures conference in Cape Town, where representatives of cities around the world are sharing ideas on how to prepare and adapt their cities for the effects of climate change.

“For decades, scientists have been warning of the risks that climate change will pose from increasing global temperatures, rising sea levels, growing inequality and water, food and energy shortages. Now we have the clearest possible evidence of just what these impacts will mean for the citizens of the world’s cities, said Mark Watts, Executive Director C40 Cities. “This is the future that nobody wants. Our research should serve as a wake-up call on just how urgently we need to be delivering bold climate action.”

“For most C40 cities, the impacts of climate change are not a far-off threat. From Cape Town to Houston, Mayors are seeing severe droughts, storms, fires and more,” said Antha Williams, Head of Environmental Programs at Bloomberg Philanthropies and C40 Board Member, “As this report shows, C40 mayors are on the front line of climate change, and the actions they take today–to use less energy in buildings, transition to clean transportation and reduce waste—are necessary to ensure prosperity and safety for their citizens.”

“Climate change is already happening, and the world’s great cities are feeling the impact. Cape Town is facing an unprecedented drought, but thanks to the efforts of our citizens to adapt, we have averted Day Zero, when we would have had to switch off most taps,” said Patricia de Lille, Executive Mayor of Cape Town and Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy Board Member. “The lessons from Cape Town, and from this important new research is that every city must invest today in the infrastructure and policies that will protect citizens from the future effects of our changing global climate.”

City climate solutions featured in the report include:

  • Extreme heat: Seoul has planted 16 million trees and expanded its green space by 3.5 million m2. The city has also set up shaded cooling centres for those unable to access air conditioning.
  • Flooding: New York City is improving coastal flood mapping, strengthening coastal defences and building smaller, strategically placed local storm surge barriers around the city.
  • Drought: São Paulo has set up reward schemes to incentivise citizens to use less water, whilst investing in the city’s pipeline system to reduce water leakage.
  • Urban food security: Paris plans to establish 33 hectares of urban agriculture within the city’s boundaries by 2020. By 2050, 25 percent of the city’s food supply will be produced in the Île-de-France region
  • Energy Supply: London is improving drainage infrastructure to ensure key infrastructure can withstand heavy flooding, whilst also encouraging decentralised energy supply to reduce the risk of blackouts if any one power source is damaged.
  • Extreme heat & poverty: Lima’s Barrio Mío programme created a poverty map of the city helping policy makers to focus resources on the most vulnerable and under-served areas where people are most exposed to heat risks.

Download the full report by clicking here.


Cover photo by Arto Marttinen on Unsplash
Accelerating sea level rise triggered by Antarctic ice melt raises urgent adaptation concerns

Accelerating sea level rise triggered by Antarctic ice melt raises urgent adaptation concerns

By Elisa Jiménez Alonso

As was reported this week, satellites monitoring Antarctica indicated that roughly 200 billion tonnes of its ice are melting each year. The massive ice loss is accelerating sea level rise by about 0.6 millimetres per year – three times more than measured during the last assessment in 2012.

Overall, since 1992 the continent has lost 3 trillion tonnes of ice, enough to raise global seas by 8 millimetres. The researchers responsible for this new assessment say it is “too warm for Antarctica today. It’s about half a degree Celsius warmer than the continent can withstand and it’s melting about five metres of ice from its base each year, and that’s what’s triggering the sea-level contribution that we’re seeing.”

For low-lying coastal communities and cities, this rapid acceleration of sea level rise is troubling news as it is a harsh reminder of how little time there is to prepare for such a daunting challenge. The impacts of sea level rise are manifold, it can lead to coastal erosion, makes storms more dangerous because storm surges lead to flooding more quickly, king tides can flood communities, and for low lying island states it could even mean the loss of their land.

Meaningful and large-scale climate change mitigation could help avoid worst case scenarios. But, with the uncertainty surrounding such actions and the scale at which we could see it implemented in the next years, building resilience to the impacts of sea level rise will be paramount, or rather is already.


Cover photo by Cassie Matias on Unsplash.
Dominican Republic city braces for 2018 hurricane season

Dominican Republic city braces for 2018 hurricane season

By Georgina Wade

The Dominican Republic’s second largest city is preparing for the upcoming hurricane season with a new evacuation plan following last year’s storms that killed around 90 people.

Santiago de los Caballeros is still struggling with the economic toll from hurricanes Maria and Irma, two category 4 storms that left trails of destruction as they crashed through the Caribbean in September of last year.

The fifth largest metro area in the Caribbean, Santiago de los Caballeros has experienced rapid and disorganized urbanisation and physical expansion leading to an increase in informal settlements  that are poorly or illegally connected to official infrastructure and services.

Amongst rising fears in many island nations that infrastructure and economies could be devastated by even more powerful storms in the future, authorities are taking measures to mitigate the potential damage caused with the unveiling of its 87-page resilience strategy

As a member of the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities initiative, Santiago de los Caballeros has prioritised disaster preparedness, alongside developing infrastructure, improving transport and reducing domestic violence.

However, Maria Isabel Serrano Dina, the Chief Resilience Officer for 100 Resilient Cities, says the city is faced with limited resources that are preventing the full implementation of the plan.

“One of the biggest challenges is money. What can you do with a little budget? You have to be creative,” she said.

Working with businesses to sponsor local parks or to take responsibility for street lights is a cost-effective way of funding schemes and giving private sector companies a vested interest in protecting their areas, she said.

Additionally, public education and outreach programmes can help communities get more involved in resilience efforts.

Major challenges to the city currently include improving the drinking water supply and waste management system.


Cover photo by Greifen/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0): View of Santiago de los Caballeros, Dominican Republic.
Urban floods: We can pay now or later

Urban floods: We can pay now or later

By Michael Drescher, University of Waterloo

Wild weather seems increasingly widespread these days. Cities are especially vulnerable to extreme weather, meaning that many of us will end up paying for the damage it can cause.

But how much we pay — and when — is largely up to us. We could, for example, pay now to prepare ourselves and limit future damage, or we can pay later to repair our properties and restore the environment.

Urban flooding — and other complex, environmental challenges — can be solved when communities work together to share their experiences and knowledge. In Canada, the Faculty of Environment at the University of Waterloo is taking the lead on this as part of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network.

Urban floods on the rise

Many factors contribute to the increasing risk of flooding in urban areas. For one, in many regions climate change seems to be causing more intense downpours than what have occurred in the past.

This is a problem because the storm-water systems built just a generation ago were not designed to handle the amounts of rain we are seeing now — and expecting in the future.

The growth of cities also contributes to urban flood risk. The increased construction of hard, sealed surfaces hinders rain from soaking into the soil and causes runoff. If there is too much runoff, the water pools and enters our lakes and rivers, dragging oil, metals, road salt or pesticides with it.

Or it can turn into a flood.

The density of sealed ground continues to grow in urban areas. We just keep on adding more houses, more roads, more parking lots. From 1991 to 2011, the built-up urban area in major Canadian cities increased by more than 20 per cent.

On top of that, houses are being built closer together and they get ever bigger. More than half of the homes built after 2001 are larger than 140 square metres. When you factor in that these new homes come with patios, parking pads, driveways and sidewalks, it’s no wonder we have a problem.

Level of preparedness

Unfortunately, city dwellers, by and large, are not well-prepared for urban floods. A recent study found that most people do not know if they are living in flood-prone areas and, if they do, many do not take measures to protect themselves against flooding.

They may not know that many home insurance policies do not cover water damage from flooding, but only damage from broken pipes or similar issues. Or if the policies do cover flood damage, that the coverage might be limited.

And governments may refuse to bail house owners out, so to speak, if they could have purchased insurance add-ons that do cover flood damage.

Even so, most municipalities do not address the issue of urban floods as effectively as they could — maybe because their budgets are too strained to act or they have other, seemingly more pressing, priorities.

Recently, flooded-out residents in Ontario have filed lawsuits against their municipalities, and a few years ago in Illinois, a major insurance company filed nine class action lawsuits against municipalities over this.

How can homeowners prepare?

It is not a question of whether wild weather will affect your neighbourhood, but when. Somebody will pay for it — and it might be you.

You could pay upfront to protect yourself against damage or afterwards to fix it. There are a number of things that people can do to protect their homes, their neighbourhoods and the environment against the damages caused by urban floods:

  1. Purchase add-on flood protection with your home insurance.
  2. Keep the water from getting in. Covers can prevent water from rushing in through basement window wells, and foundation grading can direct surface water away from your house. You could also install a sump pump or sewer backflow prevention system.
  3. Install on-site water storage to collect and store rainwater for safe release later. Some municipalities sell rain barrels; larger water storage tanks are even better.
  4. Green infrastructure solutions can slow down rainwater runoff and help the ground soak up the water. Rain gardens — specifically designed depressions with plants for increased water infiltration — and green roofs are options. Patios and driveways can be built with permeable pavements.
  5. Talk to your neighbours, your neighbourhood association and your city councillor about urban floods. These strategies work best when many people in a neighbourhood take action together.

Change can be expensive, but municipalities are increasingly providing tax incentives or financial assistance to pay for some of them.

Nothing will provide 100 per cent protection against the potential losses from urban floods, but planning ahead reduces the odds that you will be flooded and may reduce your costs when a flood does occur.

The ConversationThe neat thing is that by acting with foresight and heeding this advice, we can protect ourselves, protect our neighbours and protect the environment, all at the same time.


Michael Drescher, Associate Professor, University of Waterloo. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Cover photo by Fred/flickr (CC BY-SA): Flood waters rise in the Montreal neighbourhood of Cartierville in May 2017.
More reflectivity can cool the world

More reflectivity can cool the world

By Tim Radford

Engineering reflectivity can be a way to protect human safety during dangerous heatwaves: in the baking rural regions, put off ploughing those freshly-harvested wheat fields. And in the sweltering cities, paint the houses white, fit shiny roofs and plant pale-leafed tree species

In a word, increase reflectivity. Bounce more sunlight back into space to save lives, tempers and energy costs. It would, in effect, be local geoengineering, but without the unimaginable costs of spraying aerosols into the stratosphere, or placing solar reflectors in orbit; and without unwelcome side effects.

And it is based on the simple observation that a harvested wheat field is brighter than ploughed croplands, and that reflective roofs are less likely to absorb sunlight than dark tiles or slates.

“These measures could help to lower extreme temperatures in agricultural regions and densely populated areas by up to two to three degrees Celsius,” said Sonia Seneviratne, professor of land-climate dynamics at ETH Zurich, the Swiss federal institute of technology.

“Even this climate technique is no silver bullet; it’s just one potential tool among several others in the battle against climate change”

And her co-author Andy Pitman, of the University of New South Wales, who directs the Australian research council’s Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes, said: “Extreme temperatures are where human and natural systems are most vulnerable. Changing the radiative properties of land helps address this issue with fewer side effects.

“This research suggests that by taking the regional approach, at least in temperate zones, policy and investment decisions can be pragmatically and affordably focused on areas of greatest need.”

The Swiss and Australian scientists report in the journal Nature Geoscience that they worked with computer models to simulate changes in the albedo of the land and the cities: albedo is the climate scientist’s word for the reflectivity of ocean, ice, desert or forest.

What the researchers found was that the higher the temperatures, the stronger the effect of enhanced albedo, or reflectivity.

Growing problem

And the big heat is on the way. Researchers have repeatedly confirmed that heat extremes pose increasing threats, especially to the megacities, urban centres with more than 10 million people.

They have also confirmed that such extremes of heat can be lethal,  especially when matched with rising humidity.

Cities in any case are more at hazard, because of the notorious urban heat island effect. Greater investment in air conditioning plant is not the answer, because it could only increase energy demand driven by fossil fuel combustion and thus raise urban temperatures even higher and increase long-term global warming even more.

So there has been more emphasis on natural responses, such as greater investment in the “urban forest” of park, garden and avenue trees to keep the urban population a little cooler.

Reducing extremes

The latest study found that large scale alteration of rural and urban albedo had no significant effect on average temperatures, and made hardly any difference to rainfall in Europe and North America. But as the thermometer soared, so did the effect: it did significantly reduce the extremes of heat.

In Asia, this form of what might be called grassroots geoengineering may not suit: monsoon rainfall fell in the simulation, and the monsoons are crucial to the economies of China and India.

“Regional radiation management can be effective, but even here we have to consider any potential effects on food production, biodiversity, CO2 absorption, recreation areas and much more,” said Professor Seneviratne.

“Even this climate technique is no silver bullet; it’s just one potential tool among several others in the battle against climate change.”


Cover photo by Chris Lawton on Unsplash
Can one billion people in informal settlements be protected from climate change?

Can one billion people in informal settlements be protected from climate change?

By David Satterthwaite

It is crucial the one billion people who live in informal settlements around the world are not forgotten as cities develop climate plans.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) convened an international scientific conference in Canada from 5-7 March to explore what needs to be done to strengthen cities’ ability to withstand and even flourish in the face of climate change.

Adapting to climate change is challenging for all cities, especially if global agreements fail to keep global temperature rise below 1.5°C. But how is adaptation possible where city governments have no capacity?

Cities in wealthy countries with functioning governments already have what the IPCC terms ‘risk-reducing’ infrastructure (PDF) and services such as reliable, safe water piped to homes, sanitation, paved roads and paths, storm and surface drains and connection to electricity grids. Almost all housing conforms to official standards, which protect inhabitants from extreme weather. And most people have the added benefit of insurance for their homes and possessions.

City governments that have taken climate change adaptation seriously, have moved from a political commitment to act, to developing new policies and technical responses. The needed move to greater resilience to climate change happens within the ‘formal’ world of policies, budgets, rules and regulations overseen by elected city governments.

One of the greatest challenges for climate change adaptation is how to build resilience for the billion urban dwellers who live in informal settlements. In cities in middle- and low-income countries there is little technical and no investment capacity, and much of the population live in informal settlements that lack almost all risk-reducing infrastructure and services.

For many cities, more than a third of their population live in such settlements – in some, it is more than half.

The people who live in informal settlements and work in the informal economy form a critical part of each city’s labour force and wealth. But they cannot find ‘formal’ housing that they can afford. So, they live in settlements that are outside the system of regulations.

Most are on land that is illegally occupied; many are on such high-risk sites as steep slopes or watersheds where climate change will increase the dangers they face. Most do not receive the risk reducing infrastructure and services that should be provided to everyone who lives in cities – and which are so needed as the foundation for developing the systems fundamental to adapting to climate change.

Learning from community organisations

For city governments, addressing these issues is complicated by the many ways in which informal settlements break laws and contravene regulations. Or they are hampered by limited technical capacity, lack of funding and political constraints. It is also complicated by the fact that in many countries, local governments ignore those living in informal settlements or evict them.

But by recognising the knowledge and skills available in informal settlements, particularly through working with community organisations, city governments can develop effective upgrading measures for these areas and help protect the people who live there.

In many Latin American cities and some in Asia this is already happening. Extending such key infrastructure to informal settlements as roads, water mains, sewers, storm drains and electricity is becoming an accepted part of what a city government does, as can be seen in the cities of Rosario in Argentina and Manizales in Colombia. In Thailand, the national government set up the Community Organizations Development Institute that supports these community-driven upgradings.

Community organisations have led many of these initiatives over the last 20 years. They include many by federations of slum or shack dwellers that are active in more than 30 countries, supported by Slum/Shack Dwellers International (SDI) and the Asian Coalition for Housing Rights (ACHR).

Although none of this action was initiated in response to climate change, its contribution to increasing informal settlements’ ability to cope with its impacts and adapt is acknowledged within the IPCC.

This international scientific conference is an important opportunity to help make sure all cities can meet the growing challenges that will be posed by climate change in the coming decades, including those living in informal settlements.

There is an obvious need to reconcile different urban agendas, especially poverty reduction, disaster risk reduction and preparedness and climate change adaptation. Although there are tensions between these and often competition for resources, they all share a focus identifying and acting on local risks and their root causes.

One of the toughest tests for global climate finance is to develop the institutional channels through which to encourage and support locally-driven initiatives in informal settlements. This means global climate funds learning to work with local governments and with the grassroots organisations and federations formed by the people who live in informal settlements.


David Satterthwaite is senior fellow in IIED’s Human Settlements research group. This blog originally appeared on the Climate Home website, and was based on a background paper for the conference on ‘Responding to climate change in cities and in their informal settlements and economies’ (PDF).

This blog was originally published on IIED’s website and is shared under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Licence accessible.

Cover photo by Ben Dumond on Unsplash.
Scaling up municipal finance to meet the global urbanisation challenge

Scaling up municipal finance to meet the global urbanisation challenge

By Caroline Fouvet

Rapid urbanisation, especially in developing countries, is leading to a range of difficult challenges which are further complicated by the effects of climate change. This has put the role of municipal finance in the spotlight as subnational and local entities might be best placed to deal with urban issues and allocate resources.

According to recent research, over 100 cities will have populations larger than 5.5 million people within the next 35 years, most of them in developing countries. Questions then arise on how to ensure those new urban centres will become sustainable living spaces and avoid pitfalls such as substandard housing conditions, uncontrolled pollution, air contamination, restrained access food and water, and poverty and unemployment. As climate change compounds such issues and places the developing world in a vulnerable position, it is necessary for cities to mobilise the resources that will help them face this situation.

One of the potential options is scaling up municipal finance, which was promoted during the United Nations-HABITAT’s 9th World Urban Forum in Malaysia last month and highlighted the need to raise subnational investments to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.

Municipal finance is described as “the revenue and expenditure decisions of municipal governments” and materialised through financial tools such as equity finance, pooled finance arrangements, municipal bonds, public-private partnerships (PPPs) and crowdfunding. Catalysing the use of those instruments is an option to secure long-term investments in critical infrastructures and overall sustainable urban development, as cities may face various constraints to raise local revenue sources and take on debt.

Green bonds, which fund green infrastructures, can for instance provide cities with lower capital expenditure levels for sustainable projects, and help them overcome restricted financial capacities. In 2016, Mexico City issued the first municipal green bond in Latin America to finance transit improvements and energy-efficient street lighting, which actually became oversubscribed as the bonds sold could not meet the investors’ demand. Although both mitigation and adaptation measures can be financed through green bonds, the largest share of proceeds has so far been allocated to urban transport and water systems, with adaptation projects only amounting to 5% of the overall use.

Municipal finance, however, has to address several challenges arising from those innovative instruments. The design of PPPs must for instance undergo scrutiny to avoid being poorly designed, hence leading to costly service coverage, poor service quality or fiscal liabilities. A balanced budget is also a necessary requirement for subnational entities to avert financial difficulties when implementing urban projects and to demonstrate that no bail out from central authorities will be required. In addition, good governance is a sine qua none condition to ensure that resources are transparently and properly managed.

To achieve the UN’s 2030 agenda, and in particular SDG 11 “Make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable”, municipalities are at the forefront of action. Allocating municipal resources to low-carbon, climate resilient projects and diversifying financial instruments can contribute to the efforts of facing the urbanisation challenge.


Cover photo by Andrés Gerlotti on Unsplash
Citizens unite in Cape Town’s water crisis

Citizens unite in Cape Town’s water crisis

By Leonie Joubert

With Cape Town’s water crisis so bad that its taps may soon run dry, Capetonians are working together to avert a shared disaster. The people of this city are preparing for Day Zero – a water shortage expected four months from now as Cape Town’s water crisis intensifies, likely to be so severe that the reservoirs will be virtually empty.

It sounds like a grim prospect. If it happens, it probably will be. But the good news is that across the city, regardless of differences of wealth and class, South Africans are working together to try to ensure that Day Zero never dawns.

São Paulo, Melbourne and Cape Town are three cities with one thing in common: they’ve all recently faced critical water shortages. Swelling populations, water infrastructure upgrades that aren’t keeping pace, and severe drought are on a collision course to become an urban manager’s worst nightmare, with fresh water and sanitation systems threatening to run dry – literally.

As climate change continues to ratchet up around the world, making rain patterns less predictable, and heatwaves and droughts harsher and stronger, many more cities will face similar intersecting challenges in future.

Surprising co-operation

But a study of water use behaviour amongst Cape Town residents over the past three years shows surprising levels of co-operation around efforts to conserve the city’s “common pool resource”, its municipal water reserves. And the story is one which belies the media reports that people are selfishly panic-hoarding ahead of the prospect of the water being turned off to most of the city.

This February, Cape Town announced the possible arrival of Day Zero, an emergency response measure that the city says it will put in place, should the dams run down to their last remaining 13.5% of available water.

To conserve the dams’ final dregs, the city says it will shut off water to homes and businesses, and trickle-feed the remaining reserves through to critical services like hospitals. Residents will have to queue at communal water distribution points around the city to get a daily ration of 25 litres of water.

Media reports immediately said residents of the city appeared to be panic-buying bottled water and installing bulk water storage tanks.

Pulling together

The concern was that those who had the means to install these tanks would fill them from the municipal water system, to stock up ahead of Day Zero. This would mean vastly exceeding their current daily ration of 50 litres of water per person per day, and would result in a hefty fine or higher water bills.

But a recent analysis by a behavioural economist at the University of Cape Town (UCT) shows that Capetonians’ behaviour has actually been the opposite: that they have been pulling together in the past few years, in response to various measures by the city to get people to reduce their water use.

Martine Visser, from UCT’s Environmental Policy Research Unit, has been tracking water use behaviour amongst Cape Town’s residents, to see how effective various measures by the city have been in getting people to change their behaviour: media education campaigns, dramatic tariff increases, daily limit restrictions and fines for those who break the restrictions – and a few more.

Looking at 400,000 homes across the city, Visser and her colleagues saw an overall decrease in household water use of nearly 50% in just three years, dropping from 540 litres per household per day in January 2015 to 280 litres in January 2018.

“The worst possible outcome right now would be if people lost faith in each other’s ability to safeguard the remaining water”

It took drought-crippled Melbourne a decade to reduce residential water use by 40% from 2000 to 2010 during Australia’s “millennium drought”. In California similar water behaviour measures resulted in a per person reduction of 63% – from 1995 to 2016.

Most interesting in the analysis, says Visser, is the fact that wealthier Capetonians are doing their bit. Since the height of summer 2015 the richest households have cut their water use to that of the lowest income households, who have much less scope to reduce their water consumption further.

This dramatic drop is partly explained by the fact that wealthier families can in fact afford to invest in drilling boreholes or wells and installing bulk water storage tanks, which have helped reduce demand on the municipal supply. But it is also a consequence of sharp water reduction efforts by individuals.

Together, this has helped push back the arrival of Day Zero until early July. Hopefully, by then, the winter rains will have returned and begun recharging dams and groundwater.

More committed

So behavioural economics suggests that if people believe they are rallying around a common good, like saving water, they become more committed to doing it. But there’s a warning too, says Professor Visser: if people lose faith in each other they will turn to selfish, hoarding behaviour. There is evidence to suggest this twin pattern may apply not only with water-saving but in the case of other shared resources as well.

“The blame game that has dominated media forums is largely inaccurate and counter-productive, and it perpetuates free-riding and selfish behaviour which threatens this common resource pool”, warned Visser recently in the local press.

“The worst possible outcome right now would be if people lost faith in each other’s ability to safeguard the remaining water as part of a common pool resource, and instead rather started withdrawing water from the municipal supply for their own bulk storage.”

The message for drought-stressed cities in future, in terms of encouraging residents to willingly adopt more sustainable behaviour, is to rally them around a common cause, and build mutual trust by showing that people are cooperating towards everyone’s shared wellbeing.


Leonie Joubert is a freelance science writer and author, whose books include Scorched: South Africa’s changing climate, and Boiling Point: people in a changing climate. This article was originally published on Climate News Network.

Cover photo by Shiva Creations/Pixabay.
Report finds smart surfaces save cities billions through increased resilience

Report finds smart surfaces save cities billions through increased resilience

By Georgina Wade

A new report from clean energy advisory and venture firm Capital E finds that urban investment in smart surface strategies could secure billions of dollars in net financial benefits.

The cost-benefit analysis conducted in three cities, Philadelphia, El Paso and Washington D.C., concludes that smart surfaces can strengthen resilience, improve health and liveability, expand jobs and slow global warming. Smart surfaces include green roofs, solar panels, permeable pavement and reflective pavement.

Additionally, these strategies could potentially deliver half a trillion dollars in savings from urban employment nationally.

Source: U.S. Green Building Council

The report highlights concerns about cities becoming urban heat islands, especially as more effects of climate change become evident. The damage and cost of increased temperature and air pollution are particularly acute for urban low-income urban areas having profound, directly measurable effects on both physical and mental health outcomes.

Smart surface technologies, like cool roofs, help manage high temperatures by reflecting light and heat rather than absorbing it. Green roofs, so roofs with a plant cover, for example, can also provide a means of improving resilience through stormwater management and water quality while providing a means of filtration.

Additionally, investment in the green economy offers jobs across a wide range of skill levels with relatively low entry barriers. Installing smart surfaces in urban areas would help create relatively well-paid jobs and increasing the availability of positions in construction.

And, city officials are responding positively to the report’s findings. As former mayor of Austin Will Wynn notes, “Delivering Urban Resilience provides an entirely convincing case that city-wide adoption of ‘smart surfaces’ like green and cool roofs and porous pavements are both cost-effective and essential to ensuring that our cities remain liveable in a warming world.”

The Delivering Urban Resilience report also provides a methodology for quantifying the full costs and benefits for smart solutions giving cities the ability to financially quantify green options.

 Download the full report by clicking here.


Cover photo by US Air Force: About 2,100 trays of sedum, a regional high desert plant, cover most of the 21st Space Wing Headquarters building roof. It was selected because of its drought resistance. The green roof, installed in 2007, is designed to reduce energy consumption and rainwater runoff, and extend the life of the roof, ultimately saving taxpayer dollars. (U.S. Air Force photo/Lea Johnson).