Category: Knowledge Library

WEF 2019 Global Risk Report once again highlights climate threat

WEF 2019 Global Risk Report once again highlights climate threat

By Elisa Jiménez Alonso

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

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

WEF Global Risk Report 2019

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

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

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

Detailed results: climate change

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

The evolving risk landscape 2009-2019. WEF 2019.

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

Global risk landscape. WEF 2019.

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

Risk-trends interconnectedness map. WEF 2019.

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


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

Vital Glaswegian infrastructure at risk from climate change

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

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

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

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

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

Read the key findings and next steps by clicking here.


Cover photo by Artur Kraft on Unsplash
Strategies to influence climate resilience: Securing sustainable adaptation in South Asia

Strategies to influence climate resilience: Securing sustainable adaptation in South Asia

A new paper released by the Action on Climate Today (ACT) programme, titled, “Influencing adaptation policy: The role of policy entrepreneurs in securing ownership and climate actions in South Asia” shows how tacit and more informal approaches applied by policy entrepreneurs can help influence climate adaptation policy.

There is now a large body of evidence on technical approaches to mainstream climate change adaptation in policymaking.  Tried-and-tested interventions include, undertaking risk assessments to develop the evidence base, building capacity by training key decision makers, providing decision aids such as risk screening and climate budgeting tools. However, informal approaches to influencing policy and action on adaptation play an equally important role and need to be explicitly considered within technical assistance programmes. Informal influencing approaches consider social norms, customs or traditions that shape thought and behaviour, and an understanding of the mechanisms of local political networks.

This new Action on Climate Today (ACT) learning paperfocuses on the more tacit and informal approaches used to influence adaptation policy. The paper highlights the particular role of policy entrepreneurs who work to promote policy change. They navigate the political complexity of both formal and informal systems of governance to promote successful adaptation mainstreaming processes through brokering, advocacy, and networking to influence policy.

Building on previous policy influencing perspectives from the political science literature, the paper uses empirical examples from the ACT programme in South Asia to create a typology of influencing strategies that includes: 

  • Stories and narratives: Using simplified stories that help decision-makers make sense of complex realities, including by linking climate action to development objectives
  • Rapport and trust: Building trust in the programme and its staff and the advice being offered
  • Cheerleaders and champions: Nurturing and rewarding leaders and leadership 
  • Advocacy and networking: Harnessing and developing networks on adaptation inside and outside government
  • Downstream implementers: Influencing action on the ground by working with those who actually implement, rather than set, policy.

Applying these strategies can help others designing and providing technical assistance to support national and subnational governments to mainstream adaptation into their policies. Support programmes can factor in design elements to maximise this potential, including through the use of political economy analysis, adaptive management approaches, and explicitly designing areas of programming that allow for informal influencing processes and rapidly responding to opportunities.

ACT is a £23 million UK government-funded regional programme managed by Oxford Policy Management (OPM) in collaboration with many consortium partners. It has been working since 2014 in partnership with national and sub-national governments of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan to assist the integration of climate adaptation into development policies and actions while transforming systems of planning and delivery, including leveraging additional finance.


The full ACT learning paper “Influencing adaptation policy: The role of policy entrepreneurs in securing ownership and climate actions in South Asia” and a learning brief can be accessed by clicking here.

Listen to the 60-second audio abstract:

ACT (Action on Climate Today) is an initiative funded with UK aid from the UK government and managed by Oxford Policy Management (OPM).

Key Contacts

Photo by Jacek Reszko on Unsplash
Interactive: How climate finance ‘flows’ around the world

Interactive: How climate finance ‘flows’ around the world

By Jocelyn Timperley, Carbon Brief

Climate finance is one of the bedrocks of negotiations at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), including the “COP24” talks taking place this month in Katowice, Poland.

“Climate finance” refers to money – both from public and private sources – which is used to help reduce emissions and increase resilience against the negative impacts of climate change.

Rich countries have promised they will provide $100bn a year in climate finance to poorer nations by 2020. The UNFCCC’s recent biennial assessment found this sum had reached $75bn in 2016, a step forward compared to the $65bn given in 2015.

But what does this climate finance actually look like? How does it “flow” from country to country? Here, Carbon Brief takes a deep dive into a climate finance database collated by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

The project-level data gives key insights not only into country-to-country flows of finance, but also the type of finance different donor countries tend to offer. For example, it shows which countries offer the biggest proportion to adaptation rather than mitigation projects, and whether grants or loans tend to dominate the money given.

Carbon Brief has produced a series of interactive flow diagrams using the data, available together here as a graphical “story” and further explained below.

Key takeaways

  • Donor governments gave climate finance totalling $34bn in 2015 and $37bn in 2016, according to OECD estimates (note that this is not a full estimate of money counting towards the $100bn pledge – see below for more).
  • Japan was the largest donor, giving $10.3bn per year (bn/yr) on average over the two years. It was followed, in order, by Germany, France, the UK and the US.
  • India was the largest recipient on average, receiving $2.6bn/yr. It was followed, in order, by Bangladesh, Vietnam, the Philippines and Thailand
  • The single largest “country-to-country” flow was an average yearly $1.6bn from Japan to India.
  • The US was the top contributor to the multilateral Green Climate Fund (GCF) in 2016. (However, the US has now ended its support for the GCF).
  • Around $16bn/yr went to mitigation-only projects, compared to $9bn for adaptation-only projects.
  • Around 42% of the finance consisted of “debt instruments”, such as loans.

Climate finance database

Countries have already agreed that developed countries should be jointly “mobilising” $100bn a year by 2020 to help poorer nations tackle climate change.

However, discussions continue on some of the finer details. For example, how the provision of climate finance should be divided between rich nations, what should be counted as climate finance and how flows of finance should be reported.

Several organisations report on the progress towards this climate finance goal, including the UNFCCC’s recent biennial assessment. This major report found that climate finance either directly given by governments to poorer countries, or raised by them from the private sector, stood at $75bn in 2016, which some analysts said put the world on track to achieving the $100bn goal in 2020. Of this, $57bn was public finance (directly from governments) and the rest private finance.

Others, such as Oxfam, argue that, in reality, far less progress has been made towards the $100bn goal. Its recent report estimates that “climate-specific assistance” was as low as $16-21bn per year in 2015 and 2016.

Here, Carbon Brief presents a comprehensive, project-level view on how countries are giving and receiving climate finance – rather than focusing on the headline total

The OECD, a Paris-based intergovernmental economic organisation, asks its 36 member countries to report on their foreign aid, including climate finance. The data captures climate finance that is both bilateral (country to country) and multilateral (via international institutions) It also gives detailed information about funded projects. (The OECD calls this database “climate-related development finance” rather than strictly climate finance).

The table below allows browsing of the data to select donor and recipient countries. It also allows other filtering, such as whether the money was for adaptation, mitigation or both, and whether it was delivered as a grant or a loan. See below for more details on these different aspects of the finance.

The values represent money committed by governments or agencies on the basis of a firm written obligation and backed by available funds. Therefore, it does not represent pledges.

Browsing the database gives detailed information about many of the projects funded. For example, the “Sector” filter shows that six projects in 2016 labelled by countries as climate finance dealt with coal-fired power plants.

It is important to note that the OECD database does not claim to capture all climate finance counting towards the $100bn. The totals of the data given here add up to $37bn, well below the $47bn the OECD recently estimated in a separate, top-down overview of public climate finance from developed to developing countries in 2016. The OECD also put public climate finance at $55bn in 2017. However, no project-level database for 2017 has been released yet.

The advantage of the bottom-up data is the ability to break it down, in some cases to detailed project level, according to Joe Thwaites, associate in the Sustainable Finance Center at the World Resources Institute (WRI).

This project-level data helps international actors to be transparent about the climate finance they provide, he adds. For example, it can help to ensure there is no “double counting” of climate finance as countries scale it up, he says.

Flow diagrams

Carbon Brief has also created several interactive flow charts – known as Sankeys – which give key insights into how climate finance is being transferred from developing countries to poorer nations. The numbers shown in these charts are an average for 2015 and 2016.

1: Country-country finance

This diagram shows the average yearly amount of climate finance given by each OECD country on average in 2015 and 2016, and where that money went.

Donor countries are listed down the left-hand side of the diagram. The right-hand side shows the amounts which flowed to recipient countries or regions.

It also shows how much went to international bodies, such as multilateral climate funds (“multilateral climate contributions”, see second diagram and below for more), and transfers where the recipient was not specified, often due to projects being split across several countries.

Where the recipient is “anonymised”, the flows represent transactions that do not meet official development assistance criteria or private flows, Guillaume Simon, a climate-related development finance expert at the OECD, tells Carbon Brief. These are considered confidential at the level of individual activities, he says.

The table below shows the top ten donors and recipients, averaged over 2015 and 2016.

Largest climate finance donors Largest climate finance recipients
Country $m/yr Country $m/yr
Japan $10,322 India $2,603
Germany $6,493 Bangladesh $1,357
France $3,671 Vietnam $1,344
United Kingdom $2,618 Philippines $1,296
United States $2,370 Thailand $963
Netherlands $940 Indonesia $952
Sweden $918 Kenya $766
Norway $755 Turkey $665
Canada $682 Ethiopia $647
Australia $480 Myanmar $646

As the table shows, Japan was by far the largest provider of climate finance, according to this data, followed by Germany, France the UK and the US. Together these five countries provided 70% of all donor finance recorded in the OECD’s detailed figures.

India, meanwhile, was the largest recipient, followed by Bangladesh, Vietnam, the Philippines and Thailand. Together they received for 21% of finance given by donor countries.

The amounts above are reported by countries themselves. However, Simon says that the OECD secretariat conducts regular quality reviews. He adds:

“It has been highlighted in past reviews that marking practices can vary among donors. A Rio markers handbook has been developed to guide…marking and to increase convergence.”

2: Multilateral contributions

As the first chart above shows, not all climate finance goes straight from one country to another. Instead, a sizeable wedge goes via international institutions, such as multilateral climate funds and multilateral development banks (MDBs). The breakdown of the $5.1bn climate share of contributions to these bodies is shown in the second diagram above.

It shows, for example, that the Green Climate Fund (GCF), which was established with a mandate specifically to leverage climate finance towards the $100bn pledge, received an average $1.7bn per year in 2015 and 2016. Japan, the UK and the US contributed the most.

A second set of OECD data, not analysed here, shows climate finance flows from a “recipient” perspective. This focuses on where flows are going rather than where they are coming from. It shows $53bn per year on average being transferred in 2015 and 2016, well above the $36bn average for the “donor” perspective shown here.

The reasons for this difference are complex, Simon tells Carbon Brief. However, it is in part due to the inclusion of extra money leveraged by multilateral development banks (MDBs) from initial donor sums, he says. In addition, inflows and outflows vary for any given year, since funding is not necessarily handed out the same year it is provided.

3: Adaptation vs mitigation

Climate finance reported to the OECD can be tagged as being for mitigation or adaptation purposes, as shown in the third diagram. In cases where it is tagged as both, the OECD does not give details of a split between the two.

Mitigation-only projects received an average 44% of funding in 2015 and 2016, while adaptation-only projects received 24%. Projects with both mitigation and adaptation components sat at 17%, while no information was given for the remaining 14% of projects.

The Paris Agreement says that scaled-up financial resources “should aim to achieve a balance between adaptation and mitigation”. As is shown in the OECD data (and elsewhere) this is not close to being the case, with almost double the amount going to mitigation-only projects compared to adaptation-only ones.

According to Thwaites, however, there are inherently a lot of judgement calls involved in how projects are coded as mitigation or adaptation. He tells Carbon Brief:

“A lot of the time it is judgement based, and especially one of the challenges is that it depends where the coding happens.

“If it happens in a [contributor] country office [in a recipient country], they know the projects better. But they may not be as well aware of what the guidelines are in the Paris Agreement and UNFCCC, and all the rules around that. Whereas, if it happens in the capital [of a contributor country], you’d hope that they will be a bit more aware of the international context and the commitments and the negotiations, but they might not have any clue about the project.”

4: Grants vs loans

This fourth diagram shows the type of climate finance flows, separated into categories (pdf) defined by the OECD: grants, debt instruments (such as loans and reimbursable grants), equity (such as buying of shares) and debt relief.

The total amount given as grants – $19.4bn – is only slightly higher than for projects financed by debt instruments, at $15.5bn. This is despite grants making up the vast majority (98%) of the projects detailed in the database, because debt-funded schemes tend to be much larger.

As the chart shows, some countries, such as Japan and France, deliver the vast majority of their finance as debt instruments. The UK, in contrast, delivered 98% of its finance as grants on average over the two years, while grants also made up 93% of US contributions.

Thwaites tells Carbon Brief:

“One of the things that is interesting is when a country makes an announcement of a number that sounds really big and exciting, then you always have to look below the surface.

“So the effort involved for the UK, which does mostly grant finance, to do every incremental amount of climate finance is more effort politically, for sure, than to be able to approve more loans. So there is a question of how do you credit that.”

One reason the grants-versus-loans balance is important is because accessing private funding for adapting to climate change is expected to be far more difficult than for mitigation projects, Bertram Zagema, policy advisor on food and climate change at Oxfam, tells Carbon Brief. He adds:

“Grant money can go to basic things that communities need to adapt to climate change, for example, and private money will only be invested if there’s a business model.”

The UNFCCC biennial report also notes that grants continue to provide most of the money for adaptation finance.

5: Principal vs significant climate component

This final diagram shows the breakdown of projects labelled in the data as having either a “principal” or “significant” climate component.

This climate element of aid spending is collected using “Rio markers”: tags which donor countries add to reported development finance to give more information about what it will be used for.

The project is scored as having a “principal” objective if it is directly targeting climate mitigation or adaptation, and a “significant” objective where climate change is not the fundamental driver for the project. As the diagram shows, projects with only a “significant” climate-related objective dominate.

While it is justifiable that climate finance is spent on projects where climate is one of many priorities in a broader development project, the way this is accounted for depends exclusively on developed countries’ self-reporting, says Oxfam’s climate finance report. This has “led to the use of disparate and in many instances questionable methods”, Oxfam adds.

In this OECD data, no downwards adjustment is made to “significant” marked activities, Simon tell Carbon Brief. But in some cases, countries themselves adjust down the amount they report to the UNFCCC when a project has only a significant climate component, Thwaites explains:

“Basically, when it’s principal, the idea is that you could probably reasonably count 100% of the value. When it’s significant, it’s only a component of a project. And the OECD members take different approaches to that.

“The UK, literally for every project, they go in and make a judgement on a project-by-project basis, which is a huge amount of effort. I think they deserve quite a lot of credit for doing that.”

In its assessment of climate finance, Oxfam at minimum halved the amount it considered as counting as climate finance for projects where climate was not the primary objective. This is one of the main reasons its climate finance total is lower than other estimates.

Adding up estimates

As noted above, the OECD data is one of several assessments of climate finance, which can vary substantially due to different methods and assumptions. Helena Wright, senior policy advisor at E3G, tells Carbon Brief:

“The OECD data is bottom-up project data, but doesn’t include private finance mobilised by projects, and also may not include all types of projects depending on how these are reported.

“It is important for international actors to be transparent about the climate finance they provide, which is why the project-level data collected by the OECD is useful. More transparent data can help build trust that the $100bn goal is met and that climate finance is being provided and received.”

As noted above, the UNFCCC’s biennial assessment of climate finance flows gives a more comprehensive overview. The latest iteration, which covers 2015 and 2016, was released earlier this month and showed public climate finance from developed to developing countries averaged $58bn in 2015 and 2016.

It draws on several different data sources, including the OECD data, and its topline numbers are signed off by a committee with equal number of developed and developing countries, Thwaites tells Carbon Brief:

“It’s kind of like the IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] for climate finance. It’s obviously not as high stakes as the IPCC, but everything in the summary and recommendations has been debated very thoroughly by governments, and they’ve gone through every sentence and reviewed it.”

Oxfam’s recent “shadow finance” report, meanwhile, offers a more stringent assessment of progress towards the $100bn climate finance goal, based on both country submissions to the UNFCCC and the OECD data.

It does not include private finance and tries to account for what it regards as an “overstatement” of public support by developed countries.

For example, its assessment includes only the grant element of loans, not their full face value. It also assumes that at most 50% of funds are for climate in projects where climate is only a significant, not principal, objective. It sums up the resulting value as “climate-specific assistance” – which includes only finance which it says makes a “net financial transfer to developing countries in support of climate action”.

Oxfam estimates this “climate-specific assistance” was as low as $16-21bn per year in 2015 and 2016, with just $5-7bn of this going to adaptation. It adds:

“Even if one assumes a large margin of error, [these figures] point to a significant difference between what donors report and net climate-specific assistance.

“A closer look reveals that overall increases in climate finance appear to be largely the result of an upsurge in loans, in particular to middle-income countries. Whilst loans have an important role to play in the right circumstances, it is concerning that loans constitute an estimated two-thirds of public climate finance in 2015-16. Public grant-based support is too low to meet needs, and is rising too slowly.”

Thwaites agrees that there are many questions to ask, but argues there is no one right climate finance solution for everyone. He tells Carbon Brief:

“This all sort of comes back to this philosophical question of whether climate finance is purely a wealth transfer and compensation – and, for sure, some people think it is – or is it a means to enhance the capital stock of developing countries in a way that will help them fight climate change and also improve their economies. And, if it’s in that sense then, a grant for certain activities which may not be the most economically productive form of transfer.”

Discussions on climate finance are currently ongoing at this year’s climate conference in Katowice, Poland, as part of the Paris “rulebook”. Sticking points include accounting rules and the extent to which developed countries should promise concrete sums of climate finance years ahead of time. Some countries are also pushing for talks to start on a new climate finance goal, due to begin in 2025.

Speaking at the COP24 talks, Zagema tells Carbon Brief that the climate finance debates are “vital outcomes” of this year’s COP:

“Whether the $100bn per year promised to developing countries will be any good for the world’s poor, particularly those living in climate vulnerable situations, depends largely on the accounting rules due to be agreed here in Katowice…

“Robust accounting rules are necessary to show the true net value of developed countries’ contributions to helping vulnerable communities respond to the perils of climate change. They will be essential to ensure that this money actually reaches the people hardest hit by climate change.”

Global climate flows

One further complication is that all of the above numbers assess only public finance from developed to developing countries. This does not account for all of the money going towards tackling climate change, such as private finance, in-country spending or flows from one developing nation to another, such as support being offered by China. This is often referred to as “South-South” finance.

The UNFCCC biennial report gives an estimate that includes all of these flows and puts overall global climate finance at $680bn in 2015 and $681bn in 2016, a 17% increase on 2013-2014 levels. The growth was largely driven by high levels of new private investment in renewable energy, the report says.

A report released in late November by the Climate Policy Initiative (CPI) found global public and private climate finance flows reached a lower level of $472bn in 2015 and and $455bn in 2016. It also estimates that flows reached $510bn-530bn in 2017, based on preliminary data.

For comparison, the World Bank recently said a total of $25-30tn alone is needed to help cities shift towards a low-carbon economy.


Charts produced by Tom Prater for Carbon Brief using Flourish and Tableau with OECD data.

This article was originally published on Carbon Brief and is shared under a Creative Commons license.

Replace grazing with trees to reduce climate risk says UK Committee on Climate Change

Replace grazing with trees to reduce climate risk says UK Committee on Climate Change

By Will Bugler

The UK government needs to “fundamentally reform” its approach to land management in order to address climate change, according to a new report from the UK Committee on Climate Change. The report suggests that policies that govern how land is used in the UK have been fragmented and not enough has been done to encourage farmers and land managers to use land in a way that is beneficial to the environment and reduce the risks posed by climate change. 

The report, “Land use: Reducing emissions and preparing for climate change” emphasises that climate change itself poses a threat to the land’s “ability to provide critical services including clear water, healthy soils and timber”. With a growing population, the report says, environmentally sensitive land use will be vital if the UK is to sustain sufficient levels of food production. 

Agriculture is a primary focus for the Committee, which suggests that farmers could be paid to reforest land that is currently used for grazing livestock. Grazing, especially in upland areas, has a significant impact on the land’s ability to reduce flood risk – the UK’s number one direct climate hazard. To this end the report recommends a reduction in grassland and rough grazing of between 26 and 36 percent by 2050. 

Forest cover in the UK, according to the Forestry Commission, stands at just 12%, one third of the EU average, making the UK one of the least densely forested nations in Europe. Tree cover on hill slopes is one effective measure that can help reduce flooding. Trees intercept water before it reaches the ground and also allow it to seep into the soil much more efficiently, reducing surface runoff. A study in the journal Hydrological Processes points out water has been found to sinks into the soil under the trees at 67 times the rate at which it sinks into the soil under the grass.

The Committee also recommend that the UK government promote a massive re-forestry effort planting 1.5 million hectares of new woodland and turn more land over to growing crops for bio-energy. The report stresses that these alternative uses of land could be economically viable for land managers and farmers, however the UK government would need to provide financial assistance to help them transition.

Access the full report by clicking here

Click on the infographic to enlarge.

Nature-based solutions for building resilient cities

Nature-based solutions for building resilient cities

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

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

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

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

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

Key Findings

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion / Recommendations

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

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

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


Resources

Related Links

About the authors

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

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

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

Cover photo by Richard Webb (CC BY 2.0): Vegetated gabions.
5 key adaptation messages from new US climate report

5 key adaptation messages from new US climate report

By Elisa Jiménez Alonso

Late last week, the fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA4) for the United States was released by the US Global Change Research Program (USGCRP), a federal program mandated by Congress. The 1,600-page report finds that by 2100, climate change could harm the US economy even more than the Great Recession did costing roughly $500 billion per year under the most extreme scenario (RCP 8.5). But it also highlights that the impacts are already being felt.

“The impacts and costs of climate change are already being felt in the United States, and changes in the likelihood or severity of some recent extreme weather events can now be attributed with increasingly higher confidence to human-caused warming,” authors write in the first chapter of the NCA4.

Climate risk reduction and adaptation are especially important given that even under moderate scenarios (RCP 4.5) annual economic losses are still at several hundred billion per year.

Projected damages and potential for risk reduction by sector. Source: NCA4

In its 28th chapter, the NCA4 outlines 5 key messages about reducing climate risks through climate change adaptation.

1. Adaptation implementation is increasing

While the last NCA found that adaptation in the US was mainly in the planning stage, implementation has significantly picked up. Both the scale and scope of implementation have increased in federal, state, tribal, and local agencies. However, there is still no common reporting system on adaptation, making it difficult to tally the extent of implementation accurately. But due to increasing climate-risk awareness, especially in the private sector, the recognition that adaptation investment benefits exceed their costs, and the increasing number of extreme weather events, adaptation actions have increased in the US.

2. Climate change outpaces adaptation planning

While much headway has been made in climate adaptation, it still has a long way to go. Many organisations have yet to move away from the assumption that they can rely on historical data to make informed decisions about the future. Due to this slow evolution, climate change is worsening faster than the US are adapting to it.

3. Adaptation entails iterative risk management

In order to successfully adapt to climate change and build resilience, climate risk management needs to be an iterative process. The process includes steps for “anticipating, identifying, evaluating, and prioritizing current and future climate risks and vulnerabilities; for choosing an appropriate allocation of effort and resources toward reducing these risks; and for monitoring and adjusting actions over time while continuing to assess evolving risks and vulnerabilities.” Through this ongoing cycle of assessment, action, reassessment, learning, and response climate challenges can be grappled with and climate risks reduced significantly.

4. Benefits of proactive adaptation exceed costs

The NCA4 confirms what many climate adaptation practitioners have been promoting for a long time: the benefits of investing in adaptation often exceed the cost. By anticipating and preparing for future impacts, organisations can avoid large economic losses at the same time as providing many co-benefits. These can be especially extensive when adaptation actions include nature-based solutions.

5. New approaches can further reduce risks

Climate risks can be reduced by working climate considerations into existing organisational policies and practices. However, it will be necessary to create new approaches that alter regulatory and policy environments, cultural and community resources, economic and financial systems, technology applications, and ecosystems in order to build systemic resilience to climate change.

Access the Fourth US National Climate Assessment by clicking here.


Cover photo by ESA/A.Gerst (CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO): Hurricane Florence seen from the International Space Station.
Biodiversity is plummeting, humanity needs a radical response

Biodiversity is plummeting, humanity needs a radical response

By Will Bugler

The scariest thing about Halloween this year? Digesting the findings of the World Wildlife Fund’s (WWF) most recent 2018 Living Planet report. The report shows that in the 40 short years between 1970 and 2014, more than 4,000 species of mammal, bird, fish reptile and amphibian are in decline. The average rate of decline of the species in the study? 60 percent. This astonishing loss of biodiversity presents a grave threat to human prosperity. The loss of wildlife and the ecosystems that support it will undermine any attempt to mitigate or adapt to climate change.

WWF’s report lists many factors for the decline, noting that just 25% of land on the planet has not been severely damaged by human activity. It also warns that this is likely to drop to just 10 percent by 2050 due to pollution, disease and climate change. The report was particularly striking in its timing, coming just weeks after the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s recent report on climate change, which warned of the impacts that the world faces at 1.5 degrees of warming. The impacts included wiping out almost all of the world’s coral reefs and altering other fragile habitats and ecosystems.

These two reports together show that significant and far reaching change is necessary in order to protect the vital systems that we rely on to grow food, access fresh water, and power our lives. They also clearly imply that only a holistic approach to climate change adaptation will be effective in safeguarding human systems in the coming decades.

Broadly speaking, the purpose of adapting to climate change is to safeguard lives and livelihoods of people in the face of considerable changes to the climate system; many of which are now inevitable. This goal becomes impossible if we are unable to protect the ecosystems that support life. These may seem like straightforward statements of the obvious, however this does have implications for the way we respond to climate change.

Decision making on climate adaptation should be part of a much broader approach to socio-ecological protection. When making decisions about how best to adapt to climate related impacts such as flooding for example, a narrow, impact-specific approach might be to identify the threat (an overflowing river) and then come up with a cost-effective way to reduce the risk it poses to people and property (a flood barrier perhaps). Congratulations you have successfully reduced the risk of flooding – but have you increased the overall resilience of the people and the environment?

The flood barrier might have diverted the flood risk further downstream leading to flooding of a fragile ecosystem or farmland. It may have cut off vulnerable populations from accessing the market to sell their goods or reduced access to the river for fishermen, or it may provide a perverse incentive for people to build houses and property behind the barrier, increasing the potential impact of a future, more severe flood event.

Finding solutions to climate change that build long-term resilience, requires decisions that are taken in line with a coherent, systemic approach to strengthening ecosystems and protecting the lives of the most vulnerable people. Decisions that reduce climate risk or indeed cut carbon emission at the expense of either people or the environment are self-defeating.

Download the full WWF Living Planet Report by clicking here.


Cover photo by Thomas Kelley on Unsplash
Open data and information sources to support climate risk assessments and decision making

Open data and information sources to support climate risk assessments and decision making

By Dr Anna Haworth

“Data! Data! Data! I can’t make bricks without clay!” Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Sir Conan Doyle’s famous fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes, couldn’t form any theories or draw any conclusions until he had sufficient data. The same is true for climate risk and adaptation practitioners – data and information are the basic building blocks of everything we do: the analyses we perform, the reports we build, the decisions we encourage, and the improved resilience we hopefully derive.

Against this backdrop of a need for robust, contextual and high-resolution climate data and information, a recently published technical note by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) provides a concise, yet detailed summary of open source datasets that can be used to assist experts carrying out climate risk assessments.

Authored by Rob Wilby, a close friend of Acclimatise, and colleagues at the ADB, this technical note provides details of 70 sources of public information, including data on historical and future climate, climate-related disasters, indicators of national vulnerability, and preparedness to adapt.

Data sources are collated in four appendices, which broadly map to successive phases of the ADB Climate Risk Management Framework, covering:

  1. National emissions, climate vulnerability, risks, and impacts;
  2. Historic weather, climate, and environmental change;
  3. Multidecadal, regional climate change projections; and
  4. Climate change impacts and adaptation.

Although the report focuses on the Asia and Pacific region, it does have wider applicability as most of the datasets are global in coverage.

As the authors acknowledge, there is a limit to which globally accessible, open source data can meet the detailed information needs of local adaptation projects. This note is intended to supplement rather than replace efforts to gather relevant climate information from government agencies and counterparts.

The technical note concludes by encouraging ADB, other multilateral development banks, and partner agencies to continue to invest in programs that strengthen national monitoring systems for climate and environmental change. Unfortunately, large parts of the developing world still lack both the climate and socioeconomic information required for robust climate risk assessments – in particular, for high-elevation and physically remote locations.

Remotely-sensed and reanalysis products certainly improve coverage, but the accuracy of these assets ultimately depends on high-quality observing networks. As the note highlights, open access to long-term records is invaluable for detecting emergent risks and devising, then implementing, effective adaptation measures.

Download the report by clicking here.


Cover photo by Thomas Beckett on Unsplash
New framework helps strengthen institutional capacity for planning and delivering climate adaptation

New framework helps strengthen institutional capacity for planning and delivering climate adaptation

Institutions face many challenges in dealing with the complexity of climate change: Its urgency, its cross-cutting nature, how it interacts with other societal challenges such as social inequality, and how it can stymie existing development efforts. Even translating climate science into actionable information can be challenging. The capacity constraints that exist to respond to these challenges, particularly in the institutions of developing countries, are well documented.

The urgent need for governments to build resilience has frequently led to a reliance on short-term and ad-hoc efforts to boost capacity. International organisations are often ‘parachuted’ into developing countries to provide one-off training sessions and workshops. Such support has yielded limited impact and is often unsustainable. In such situations local institutional capacity to deal with climate change remains constrained.

There is a recognition globally, on the need for more and better approaches to support the strengthening of institutions. The 2015 Paris Agreement enshrines a commitment to building long-term, in-country capacity to address climate change. The Agreement also states that capacity building must operate through appropriate institutional arrangements and be an iterative process that is participatory, cross-cutting, and gender-responsive.

The new ACT learning paper details how this capacity building goal can be achieved. It introduces and describes a new framework for strengthening institutional climate capabilities to guide stakeholders in designing, planning and delivering other development and adaptation programmes and initiatives. It provides a comprehensive picture of the changes required, involving individuals, organisations, and the wider processes, resources, norms, and values governing institutions. The framework was developed using ACT’s experience in building institutional capacity, and is also informed by wider empirical literature on governance, climate change, and capacity development.

ACT is a £23 million UK government-funded regional programme managed by Oxford Policy Management (OPM) in collaboration with many consortium partners. It works in partnership with national and sub-national governments of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan to assist the integration of climate adaptation into development policies and actions while transforming systems of planning and delivery, including leveraging additional finance. Institutional capacity building is therefore one of the main purposes of the programme.


The full ACT learning paper “Building institutional capacity for enhancing resilience to climate change: An operational framework and insights from practice” and a learning brief can be accessed by clicking here.

Listen to the abstract:

ACT (Action on Climate Today) is an initiative funded with UK aid from the UK government and managed by Oxford Policy Management (OPM).

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Cover photo by Terry Boynton on Unsplash