Category: Cities

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.
Mumbai: the ‘rain ready’ city that floods every year

Mumbai: the ‘rain ready’ city that floods every year

By Devika Singh

This year, as in the years prior, the city of Mumbai was inundated by floodwater. Mumbai International, the country’s busiest airport was water logged and over a quarter of all flights were affected. The National Disaster Response Force and Indian Army were called upon to evacuate 2000 passengers stranded on the Mumbai-Vadodara train at Nalasopara and a further 400 salt pan workers and their families, stranded on a passenger train at Palghar. The severity of the impacts of flooding in the city demands an equivalent response, but this has not been forthcoming. The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) is responsible for health, sanitation and water infrastructure spending in the city. Three years ago, after having spent INR 200 crore (USD 29.148 million) to build a new pumping station, the BMC proclaimed that Mumbai was now ‘rain ready’. To the contrary, Mumbai’s floods now reliably occur each year.

The BMC is India’s wealthiest civic body, with an annual budget often exceeding that of some states in the country. Its budget for 2017 was INR 25,141 crore (USD 3.664 billion). However, less than 18% of that budget was allocated to civic infrastructure (including upgradation of sewage and storm water drainage systems), in spite of the city’s much-publicised annual deluge.

However, investment in flood resilience is badly needed. On 24 June 2018, the city received over 150 mm of rainfall over a 24 hour period, 438% over Mumbai’s normal daily average. By July, the city received over half of the season’s rainfall quota, in just under 20 days. The severity of rainfall events is only one factor governing the impact of the floods. Poor urban planning, a lack of infrastructure investment, poor governance by the BMC, and unregulated development, all play their part.

Floods as a window into Mumbai’s past

In order to understand Mumbai’s current flood problems, it is helpful to look to the past. The city was originally composed of seven islands that were converted into the metropolis through extensive construction on reclaimed lands. Portions of the city are 6-8 metres below sea level, with large infrastructure developments dotting the coastline. Several buildings on reclaimed land are just above sea level, some way below high tide levels. Rampant development has taken place along the length of the Mithi river, its surrounding mangroves, wetlands, salt pan lands and flood plains. The wetlands served as a buffer zone, providing protection from flooding and rising tide levels.

Poorly planned construction in these areas has not only made the city more prone to flooding, but has also compromised the safety of the city and its people in the face of extreme events. What was originally Mumbai’s natural river drainage system has now been reduced to less than 50% of its original flow. It has, in effect, become a massive open sewer, carrying silt, waste and plastic through the heart of the city. Mumbai’s man-made drainage system does not fare much better. Built in 1860, during the British colonial era, the underground drainage system was constructed to support the 19th century population of the city and drain 25 mm of rainfall per hour, at low tide. Rainfall exceeding that limit, combined with high tide, results in the familiar picture of a flooded Mumbai.

Flooding’s deadly impact

In August 2005, Mumbai witnessed one of its most devastating floods. Around 500 people died over a matter of days. Some estimates of total economic losses reach up to INR 28 billion (407.9 million USD), INR 10 billion (145.6 million USD) was just infrastructure damage. Railway services, local trains, roads, and the airport were all inundated, and the city was brought to a standstill. The Mumbai airport, built on reclaimed land from the Mithi river, was inundated for three days.

Jump to August 2017: the city continues to struggle with flooding. Once again, the city’s critical infrastructure services such as transport and telecoms were disrupted. Floodwaters caused a Spice Jet flight to over shoot the runway and get stuck in the mud. The airport was closed for almost a day due to water logging. These scenes were repeated earlier this year, when an Air India flight overshot the runway, and flooding saw 89 arrivals and 319 departures from the Mumbai airport delayed.

In the wake of a flood disaster, it is the poor and slum dwellers who are worst affected. In 2005, the poor residents of Mumbai faced 60% more loss than their richer counterparts. Losing the little they have can cause irreversible damage to health, livelihood and life for these communities. In 2017, and now in 2018, the slum areas of the city remain the most affected.

The northern suburbs of Mumbai have faced a power cut for 37 hours, streets and railway lines have been water logged and cracks have been spotted on the Saket bridge. The city’s restricted drainage capacity is illustrated by Thane, a neighbouring district and part of the Mumbai Metropolitan Region. Thane flooded in spite of experiencing a 27% rainfall deficit this season (the only area in Mumbai to receive a deficit). This is indicative of the extent of under-capacity of the drainage systems, where even a lower than average rainfall incident can cause flooding. While overall rainfall amounts may have dropped, increased intensity of rainfall events in a short span can overwhelm the current drainage capacity of the metropolitan area.

The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC)

Every year before the rains hit, the BMC makes a last-minute attempt to de-silt and clean up the city’s natural and man-made drainage systems. And every year, the BMC fails. After the devastating floods of 2005, the BMC allocated INR 2500 crore for BRIMSTOWAD (USD 364.2 million) the Brihanmumbai Storm Water Disposal System. By 2017, the cost of the project had increased to INR 4500 crore (USD 655.74 million). Thirteen years after the drainage system was first approved, a majority of the city’s low-lying areas and slum settlements are yet to receive any respite from the annual deluge.

During the 2011 floods, the BMC commissioned 8 pumping stations along with 58 other projects. Today, in 2018, only 5 pumping stations are operational, and less than 30 of the planned flood protection projects are complete. In 2013, the BMC committed to spending INR 1400 crore (around USD 204.01 million) on setting up sewage treatment plants along the Mithi river. While the money has been spent, the Mithi remains an open sewer coursing through Mumbai. In 2015, having spent INR 200 crore (USD 29.148 million) to build a new pumping station, the BMC claimed that the city was now ‘rain ready’. And yet again, Mumbai flooded.

Climate change: What future for Mumbai?

One study of the Konkan coast from Dahanu to Vengurla (just north of Mumbai) over the past 20 years has shown a sea level rise of 5-6 cm. This has led to sea water intruding up to 1 km inland, causing damage to farm land and mangroves. Studies indicate tidal patterns are becoming more erratic, while precedent shows us that civic bodies and infrastructure are not prepared for these changes. The standard response has been the construction of bunds. These prove expensive and inefficient, costing around INR 60,000 per metre (USD 874.32) of bund construction. Further, they are built only in sections, thus providing limited protection against extreme events.

Some climate change projections indicate that around 40% of Greater Mumbai could be underwater by the end-century due to continuing sea level rise. Sea level rise is projected to increase by between 24 and 66 cm for Mumbai. Monsoon rainfall for the Konkan administrative division of Maharashtra (includes the Mumbai Metropolitan Region) is projected to increase by between 10% and 30% by mid-century (2021-2040). Annual mean temperatures for the same time period are projected to increase by 1.1°C-1.28°C. Warmer air can hold more water, increasing the likelihood of more intense rainfall events and longer dry spells between intense rainfall events.

In 2014, the Maharashtra State Action Plan on Climate Change identified that a repeat occurrence of the 2005-like rainfall event would flood a number of areas (especially the low-lying areas) in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region, even after the drainage capacity is expanded. This goes to show that the steps taken by the BMC towards flood resilience are not sufficient to prepare the city for future climate-related extreme events. The BMC needs to integrate climate change adaptation strategies into its policy decisions, if it wants to avoid a repetition of the 2005 flood impacts. The State Action Plan has a number of recommendations to improve Mumbai’s adaptive capacity to floods and extreme rainfall. Foremost amongst these are strengthening of the storm water drainage network and improving ground water percolation. Improving coordination between identified implementation agencies such as the Disaster Management Department, Storm Water Drainage Department and the BMC would go some way towards making Mumbai ‘rain ready’.

Rising sea levels will result in increasing salinity of coastal groundwater, endanger wetlands and inundate valuable land, directly affecting the lives and livelihood of coastal communities. Projections made by an ADB study indicates that total losses in Mumbai could as much as triple by 2080 as compared to the present. Another study estimates that the probability of a flood event (similar to the 2005 incident) is likely double, with a tripling of losses (direct and indirect), amounting to $690-1890 million by 2080. And these estimates do not consider potential loss of life.

The historical trends and future projections all point to increasing intensity of rainfall, rising sea levels and an increase in extreme weather events. The high population density of Mumbai, growing development on reclaimed lands, under-capacitated drainage systems overburdened with garbage and plastics, combine to exacerbate the effects of rainfall events and climate change. These factors suggest that a recurrence of the 2005 floods is a matter of ‘when’ not ‘if’. The city has some tough decisions to take, but to begin with, improving the drainage system alone can reduce losses by as much as 70%. In addition, extending insurance coverage could halve the indirect losses that emanate from Mumbai’s annual floods.


Cover photo by Paasikivi/Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0): Flooding in Mumbai, India in 2017.
Climate gentrification to impact real estate market

Climate gentrification to impact real estate market

By Caroline Fouvet

While an ocean view from a balcony often implies higher property prices, this trend seems to be reversed as sea level rise and climate-change-triggered flooding unfold. In 2016, in the United States alone, four inland flooding events amounted to US$ 4 billion, in a country where inundations are the costliest and most common natural disaster. Coastal cities such as Miami and New York City are even more vulnerable to flooding, and are ranked first and second in the list of places most at risk from climate change and sea-level rise.

Such effects are likely to cause displacements, reshaping urban settlements and the socioeconomic status of neighbourhoods. This is what a new Harvard study that looked at climate change impacts on property markets in Miami-Dade County, Florida, suggests. The authors found a correlation between the higher elevation of single-family properties and their rate of price appreciation. Similarly, the research demonstrates that since 2000 the price appreciation of homes at lower elevations was inferior to that higher properties.

This imbalance demonstrates that the perception of flood risks is likely to shift consumer preferences and trigger relocation. As a result, the question arises how vulnerable communities can move to flood-risk-free zones, given the increases of property values in those areas. This situation illustrates the issue of climate gentrification, or how property value fluctuations based on a building’s climate resilience can lead to speculation and investment, forcing lower-income population out of climate proof areas.

The research points out three ways for climate gentrification to manifest:

  1. The “superior investment pathway” is a situation where high-income households opt for safer locations, as illustrated in the study.
  2. Under the “cost-burden pathway” assumption, only richer segments of the population can afford to live in climate vulnerable areas and to pay the associated costs of insurance and repair.
  3. Lastly, the “resilience investment pathway” relates to engineering and infrastructure investments in homes, that drive up property value and exclude those who cannot provide for it.

Climate change impacts on the real estate market are a topic not only for local authorities and urban planners to watch, but also for investors. Part of the methodology designed by Acclimatise, UNEP FI and 16 leading banks for banks to assess climate risks to their loan book covers real estate and estimates the potential changes in property values and loan-to-value ratios due to extreme weather events. A complex interplay of factors, including risk perception, are considered in the analysis. Evidence shows for instance that updating flood risk maps changes beliefs around the riskiness of newly designated flood-prone areas, driving down properties’ sale prices by 12% to 23%. Moreover, the report describes that the value of unaffected properties can increase compared to that of affected properties in the same area, as well as the value of homes that have undergone maintenance and resilience enhancement works following an extreme event.

As both the incremental and acute impacts of a changing climate manifest themselves globally, so do their financial costs. The real estate sector is already impacted, and future trends seem to point toward increasing damages. Improving the resilience of homes is a necessary adaptation measure, but this must go hand-in-hand with careful consideration of communities’ socioeconomic status to avoid a two-tier system for urban development.


Cover photo by Ryan Parker on Unsplash.
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.