Category: Cities

Resilient Urban Infrastructure – Helping Cities Find the Right Blend of Finance

Resilient Urban Infrastructure – Helping Cities Find the Right Blend of Finance

By Max Lohmann

There is a wealth of options to consider when financing urban infrastructure. Some of these include but are not limited to: public-private partnership models; user fees or other domestically mobilized resources; loans from commercial or multilateral development banks; grants from facilities like the Green Climate Fund; or contributions from local businesses. Raising large investment volumes often requires a blend of these options. To build a financing model, cities need the capacity to identify and evaluate different sources of finance as well as present a convincing business case to financing partners. Especially for private investors, incentives do the trick––ranging from clear revenue streams to corporate social responsibility or insurance against the effects of extreme weather events.

One of the key challenges faced by cities is to develop a business case for projects that lack a clear revenue stream. This is usually the case with infrastructure projects addressing climate resilience, where the ideal financing blend may be hidden within the interests of complex stakeholder landscapes. The C40 Cities Finance Facility (CFF) has partnered with eThekwini Municipality (Durban) in South Africa to assist the city to overcome this challenge.

The CFF currently works with 17 cities in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, to prepare and finance infrastructure projects that build climate resilience, reduce emissions in public transport, or strengthen renewable energy generation. With a contribution by USAID, the CFF was able to strengthen its focus on climate resilience. In addition to projects in Dar es Salaam and Dakar, the CFF is working with the eThekwini Municipality in Durban, South Africa, on a water and waste management project.

Over the past decade, floods in eThekwini Municipality have increased in frequency and intensity, resulting in the loss of lives and damage to infrastructure. The flood risk in some of the city’s most vulnerable and disadvantaged communities is exacerbated by an increase in solid waste creation and the limited capacity for its collection and disposal. In response to this situation, the city piloted the ‘Sihlanzimvelo’ stream cleaning program in 2017. The initiative has reduced flooding—as well as crime and diseases—and removed waste and alien vegetation from 300 km of the city’s rivers and streams. Despite its success, the programme could not be scaled up due to a shortage of financial resources.

With CFF support, the city was able to engage local communities, businesses and NGOs to expand the pilot into a city-wide Transformative River Management Programme (TRMP). By aligning interests of local stakeholders, the program will create hundreds of community co-operatives to clean and maintain riverbeds. As per the current project scope, these cooperatives will employ up to 4,000 people. To finance the annual operational expenditure, the city has developed a cost recovery approach. By forecasting disaster relief and repair costs avoided through the TRMP, this system captures savings generated by investments in flood management programs. As such, the business case allows the city to establish an annual budget line to cover a large share of recurring operating costs. Contributions from residents and local business—in the form of river management fees—will complement these funds. Hard infrastructure elements, such as drainage systems, elevated bridges, and riverbank reinforcements, will be financed through debt and grants with the help of development banks and grant facilities. With this model, the 300 km pilot can be upscaled to 3,000 km of city rivers, with a potential for further extension up to 7,400 km in the medium term.

Aside from the technical preparation and financial modelling, the CFF has also worked with Durban to strengthen the municipality’s knowledge of topics such as transformative adaptation and financing resilience projects. Additionally, an intensive knowledge exchange has helped leading municipalities in the Central Kwa-Zulu-Natal Climate Change Compact, an effective exchange platform of municipalities across the South African province of Kwa-Zulu-Natal, to produce their own TRMPs. This will enable cities across the region to make the case for investments in ecological infrastructure to strengthen urban resilience.

In tandem with USAID, the CFF is also supported by the German Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), the UK Government and the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation. Over the last year, mobility projects in Mexico City and Bogotá have been successfully linked to finance, leveraging an investment volume of $210 million and reducing 640,000 tons of CO2 emissions by 2050. In 2021, the CFF will enter its next phase of operations, aiming to further upscale its support to cities interested in resilient climate action projects.

This article was originally posted on Climate Links.
Cover photo by Tran Phu on Unsplash.
UCCRTF city of Sialkot amongst those hit by new “smart lockdown strategy” to fight COVID-19

UCCRTF city of Sialkot amongst those hit by new “smart lockdown strategy” to fight COVID-19

By Tassadaq Shah

COVID-19 cases have been rapidly increasing in Pakistani cities in recent weeks. The rate of infection became so high that, on June 13th, Prime Minister, Imran Khan, announced that a “smart lockdown” strategy would be imposed on certain hot spots across the country.

Khan emphasized that the country’s precarious economic situation, meant that a nationwide lockdown was impossible. The smart lockdown strategy aims to curb the spread of the coronavirus and helps to balance the lives of citizens with their livelihoods. The strategy is designed to contain the disease in high risk areas which are reporting large numbers of coronavirus cases negating the need for countrywide restrictions.

The National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) undertook a comprehensive review of potential COVID-19 clusters and, on June 15, identified 20 cities in the country that were “high risk areas”, which are reporting large numbers of COVID-19 cases. These areas were then targeted for limited locality-based. The cities that were identified as having a “likely increase in speed of infection” required restrictive measures for containment of COVID-19. A testing, tracing and quarantining (TTQ) strategy is also being employed as part of the containment strategy.

Starting from June 16, smart lockdowns were implemented through provincially issued orders and regulations. The province of Punjab has announced that it has decided to impose a lockdown in areas with potential COVID-19 hotspots in seven cities of the province namely, the cities of Lahore, Rawalpindi, Faisalabad, Multan, Gujranwala, the UCCRTF city of Sialkot.

The following day, 904 further lockdowns were imposed in Punjab; 26 in Sindh; 572 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa; 29 in Azad Kashmir; 10 in Islamabad; and 5 in Gilgit-Baltistan. Around the country, authorities are attempting to ensure compliance with health guidelines, particularly in workplaces and in industrial sector and transport markets and shops.

Although the absolute impact of the improved strategy is not known, there are early signs of improvement in some parts of the country. For instance, in Islamabad 771 cases of coronavirus were reported on June 1st, a number that has since fallen to 25 cases as of the 5th of September 2020. After reporting its first cases on February 26, Pakistan has so far officially registered nearly 213,470 confirmed cases and 4,395 deaths. Of those infected, more than 100,802 have recovered.

This article was originally posted on ADB’s Livable Cities blogsite.
Cover photo from
Integrated Coastal Management for a sustainable future in Dong Hoi

Integrated Coastal Management for a sustainable future in Dong Hoi

By Hoang Nhat Do and Rob van den Boomen

Viet Nam’s marine resources deliver huge benefits to the country’s economy, as well as providing countless ecosystem services to its large coastal zone. However, coastal zone management is becoming increasingly difficult, as a result of impacts related to climate change such as sea level rise, coastal erosion, and sand dune degradation.

The situation is especially pronounced in coastal cities such as Dong Hoi, which is gaining popularity as a tourism destination. Located in Quang Binh province in the central part of the country, the Dong Hoi’s coastline is changing rapidly, posing a threat to resident’s livelihoods and local economy. Despite the importance of Dong Hoi’s coastal zone for tourism development, the causes and long-term impacts of the region’s coastal degradation are poorly understood by local stakeholders.

With assistance from the Urban Climate Change Resilience Trust Fund (UCCRTF), administered by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the local government is piloting the Dong Hoi Integrated Coastal Management Project. The project, a component of ADB and Viet Nam’s Urban Environment and Climate Change Adaptation Project, is restoring sand dunes based on evidence generated from scientific surveys and stakeholder consultations.

The pilot is being delivered by an expert consortium of international and national specialists led by Dutch consulting engineers Witteveen+Bos, Hanoi University’s Center for Environmental Fluid Dynamics (Hanoi University), and Van Phu JSC. Since 2018, they have been conducting studies, capacity building activities, and raising public awareness on coastal zone management.

Image: Changes in the shoreline is evidenced by the increasing proximity of the buildings, and the collapse of building foundations.

Technical information and community integration

Exploratory studies that seek to determine the way that the Kien Giang river behaves and moves sediment, and the development and migration of the dune system in Nhat Le estuary are crucial to the design of sand dune restoration. These studies in hydrodynamics, bathymetry and other morphological assessments, provide a detailed picture of how the process of sedimentation in the river mouth contribute to severe flooding upstream, and cause problems for river and marine transport navigation. They also show the impact of annual dredging, which negatively affects the condition of the beach.

The results of these studies and ongoing monitoring and observations have helped to identify actions that can help to sustainably adapt and maintain the river mouth and the coastline. The site for the pilot was chosen in May 2020 with the agreement of Quang Binh Provincial Government. To ensure the project’s success, the initiative has been designed to involve a wide range of stakeholders, including government agencies, local fisherman, and women and children’s groups. Each have been consulted and received customized training courses about sustainable nature conservation.

It is hoped that that by 2021, the flagship project will be well underway and serve as a model of best practice to other coastal towns in Viet Nam and beyond.

This article was originally posted on ADB’s Livable Cities blog.
Cover photo by Clay Gilliland / Wikimedia Commons.
Understanding the economic costs and benefits of urban resilience in UCCRTF cities in Bangladesh

Understanding the economic costs and benefits of urban resilience in UCCRTF cities in Bangladesh

By Matthew Savage

ADB’s Urban Climate Change Resilience Trust Fund (UCCRTF) has begun working on a number of case studies looking at the economic benefits of investment in urban resilience. These studies examine the historical socio-economic vulnerability and exposure of selected cities to a range of climate impacts and stresses such as flooding and cyclone damage. The purpose of the studies is to assess the potential economic benefits of investing in resilient infrastructure and better city-level planning and capacity. It is hoped that a more comprehensive appreciation of the economic value of avoided damages will bolster the case for climate-resilient investment. 

The first case study examines the secondary cities of Bagerhat and Patuakhali in Bangladesh, both of which are located in the low-lying coastal flood plain. These cities have been regularly impacted by large-scale cyclone events, such as Cyclone Sidr in 2007, which affected more than 200,000 people within the city boundaries. The cyclone destroyed roads, buildings, schools, colleges and other infrastructure, and killed more than 4,000 people across the coastal region. [1]

In support of the project preparation work for ADB investments in Bangladesh, UCCRTF financed the formulation of climate resilient integrated urban plans for seven towns, including Bagerhat and Patuakhali. Among the coastal towns, the two were determined to be the most vulnerable to impacts of climate change so the trust fund allocated an additional $6 million to the ADB Coastal Towns Environmental Infrastructure Project (CTEIP) (44212-013) to finance the construction of cyclone shelters, emergency access roads and drains, as well as the preparation of integrated drainage plans (IDP) and fecal sludge management (FSM) and solid waste management (SWM) plans in Bagerhat and Patuakhali.

In May 2020, these investments were put to the test when Cyclone Amphan, the most serious Category IV cyclone since Sidr, hit the Delta. In Bangladesh, the storm impacted more than 2.6 million people. More than 200,000 houses were fully or partially damaged, along with more than 44% of educational facilities. Bagerhat and Patuakhali were among the five worst impacted districts of Bangladesh. [2]

While full assessment work on damage and recovery costs is currently ongoing, what is becoming clear is that many of the most significant impacts of the cyclone in the two cities were able to be reduced, in part thanks to investments in resilient infrastructure and planning by ADB and UCCRTF.

Better early warning systems, comprehensive evacuation plans, and more robust cyclone shelters led to significantly lower levels of deaths and injury, with a total of 26 deaths across the whole of Bangladesh, of which only two were from Bagerhat and Patuakhali districts. This was of a magnitude lower than in previous similar scale events. [3]

Furthermore, an initial review indicates that UCCRTF infrastructure investments remained operational when the cyclone hit.[4] More robust and resilient roads supported the movement of people across the municipal region as part of the evacuation. Investments in higher capacity drainage systems also helped the cities cope better with intense rainfall and coastal or river flooding.

The UCCRTF team is currently engaging with the local authorities in both cities to obtain more detailed insights into the damage incurred as well as the potential avoided damage costs resulting from recent investments in improved resilience. As a result of COVID-19, the economics team have been undertaking remote videoconferences with the mayors and senior engineers in the cities, supported by the project’s Country Resilience Officers on the ground.

The case study, due later this year, will provide more detailed evidence on the socio-economic benefits of investing in resilience in terms of avoided costs and other livelihood and productivity benefits. Wider assessments of the economics of resilience suggest that the benefits of such investments in vulnerable urban environments are at least double the cost, and that improvements in city-level planning and preparedness have the potential to drastically reduce the human cost of climate disasters.

​This will be the first in a series of economics of resilience case studies, with others tentatively planned for Hue in Viet Nam and La Trinidad in the Philippines over the coming months. ​

This article was originally published on ADB’s Livable Cities Blog.
Cover photo from Pikist.
COVID-19 highlights three pathways to achieve urban health and environmental justice

COVID-19 highlights three pathways to achieve urban health and environmental justice

By Isabelle Anguelovski

The pandemic is an opportunity for cities to dramatically rethink use of housing, transport and public spaces in ways that would serve all citizens, especially the socially vulnerable.

Rows of plants on a rooftop make up an urban garden.
Barcelona has increased its green public spaces. The move towards healthier cities should be accompanied by serious efforts to make cities greener (Photo: copyright BCNUEJ)

Environmental justice has many health implications, and COVID-19 is no exception.

As research has shown time and again, low income and minority communities are consistently exposed to greater environmental hazards and have less access to environmental amenities than their more affluent and white counterparts. As such, their health is often compromised and life expectancy is lower.

Cumulative social and environmental vulnerabilities combined with COVID-19 have dramatically increased the risk of infection and mortality.

While much is being said about increasing cities’ resilience to future outbreaks through measures including density reduction, pedestrianisation and urban greening, we need to analyse how inequalities shape the exposure, vulnerability, and eventually the risk and outcome of infectious diseases.

Drawing on our work at the Barcelona Lab for Urban Environmental Justice and Sustainability on European cities, we look at how three domains of urban infrastructure – housing, transport, and public space – can build greater urban health and environmental justice.


Despite lingering narratives that urban density aggravates outbreaks like COVID-19, home overcrowding and unsafe housing conditions are emerging as the real problem, coupled with socio-spatial inequalities.

In the UK this spring, the country’s five most crowded areas saw 70% more coronavirus cases than the five least crowded, where richer homeowners live in larger houses with extra bedrooms and bathrooms, reducing the risk of family infection. To prevent the spread of pandemics, cities need affordable, adequate, secure and accessible housing.

In view of the current health and economic crisis, cities and states should declare a moratorium and/or a relief on rents, mortgages, and evictions for vulnerable groups.

Housing should be greatly decommodified, as in Vienna, where it is considered a basic human right. A minimal guaranteed income should be put in place, as in Spain or The Netherlands. National governments should also reverse decade-long cuts to housing infrastructure, especially public housing, as seen in the UK.

Cities with high levels of tourism-and expat-induced gentrification, like Barcelona, should use the crisis as an opportunity to increase housing justice. In July 2020, Mayor Ada Colau announced payments of up to 1,200 euros per month to landlords who agree to house vulnerable families.

The city also plans to expropriate up to 426 flats owned by 14 corporate landlords (including BBVA bank; the UN-denounced private equity Blackstone-subsidiary Budmac; and Sareb, the government-owned ‘bad bank’ and asset manager) unless they are designated low-income housing units within the next months.


Public transport systems are widely regarded as transmission hotspots. Many professional workers can work remotely to avoid travelling on these systems, and the wealthiest of those who cannot are likely to turn to private modes of transport. So it is the low-income workers who have no option but to use public transport who will be most at risk of new infections.

As those travelling on public transport drops significantly (by 88% in Paris between January and April 2020), who will pay for the greater number of subway, tramway, and bus carriages and lines needed? Many mass transport systems already have crumbling infrastructure – investment is needed to achieve social equality and transport justice.

To avoid public transport, more workers are expected to commute by foot or bike. But this invites another equity question: who will be making the short commute (up to 10km)? It is those living close to their workplace who can afford city living; it is the well-off who will likely enjoy new bike and other active transport lanes that cities such as Barcelona or Milan are already building in their centres.

Those living on the peripheries do not have the luxury to commute by bike or on foot. Other affordable and low-risk solutions need to be put in place.

Public space

COVID-19 presents the chance for cities to take back public space from cars – with broader sidewalks, cycle lanes and less-congested roads. But the car lobby and industry is a powerful force in setting political agendas.

In addition, public decision-makers are aware that in the European Union alone, for instance, COVID-19 has put 1.1m automobile manufacturing jobs at risk. Cities need to move fast if they are to reconfigure the use of streets as public spaces before the car lobby strikes back.

Now is the time to act – to decongest streets (air pollution causes chronic heart and respiratory disease that can exacerbate COVID-19 cases), regain pedestrian rights, and push for safer post-COVID cities in terms of both infection and accidents.

The move toward healthy cities is likely to be accompanied by a more serious effort to make cities greener – and equitably green. In Valencia, Spain and Nantes, France, decentralised networks of small green spaces are providing residents with easy access to nature for all residents without compromising access to larger parks.

Many cities should also consider extended use of vacant spaces such as flat rooftops that can be converted into community gardens and provide more access to green space.

Shifting priorities

These are just three domains of urban infrastructure where changes to the urban environment could slow widening inequalities.

Decades of social injustices have placed low-income and minority communities at greater health risk and economic disadvantage – they now face the further burden of the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic consequences.

The urgency for change in these three domains is even greater in the global South; the environmental justice principles are valid here too, although responses must be rooted in local context and priorities.

We need to avoid the emergence and spread of pandemics as much as we need to transform our societies and cities and their underpinning unequal economic structures.

Are our cities of the future landscapes of grandiose LEED-certified buildings and privatised parks serving the elite’s interests? Or are we ensuring that the existing infrastructure is repaired, strengthened and improved to serve all residents, especially the socially vulnerable?

This article was originally posted on the IIED blogsite.
Cover photo by Shai Pal on Unsplash
How National Development Banks can drive climate-smart solutions in cities during COVID-19 and beyond

How National Development Banks can drive climate-smart solutions in cities during COVID-19 and beyond

By Priscilla Negreiros

No economy can achieve resilient and climate-smart economic growth without empowered cities. With the COVID-19 pandemic, the importance of cities is greater than ever. Urban areas will be severely impacted by the current crisis, with drastic economic consequences in the medium to long term in addition to the significant human and social losses. Cities have a higher risk of spreading diseases due to high-density population. They also serve as travel hubs, increasing transmission rates and are home for many vulnerable populations, which – particularly in developing countries – often live in informal settlements with little or no access to sanitation and hygiene facilities.

Despite this, cities cannot lose momentum in addressing the global threat of climate change, which could have an even greater impact on the economy in the long term. Before COVID-19, cities were already in need of more investment to face the climate emergency, and now they are losing substantial revenues from locally generated sources and are needing to divert funds elsewhere. Cities need urgent access to credit, and National Development Banks (NDBs) can help.

NDBs are an important development tool during economic crises. Historically, NDBs were created to fund post-war reconstruction in Europe (e.g. KfW in Germany) or to boost industrialization in developing economies (e.g. BNDES in Brazil). They all share the same principle of supporting national governments to counteract the pro-cyclical nature of the private financial system. Throughout the 2007/08 economic crisis, NDBs played a vital role when commercial bankers rationed credit and reduced global investments.

Although NDBs vary in size, performance, and objectives, they often have a unique capacity to reach sectors not sufficiently funded by private financial institutions, such as green infrastructure, renewable energy, and energy efficiency. This makes them a relevant actor in the global development agenda. Taking into account the increasingly central role of cities as drivers of economic growth and as part of the global response to climate change, NDBs should substantially increase their investment in projects led by cities.

According to the recent think piece published by the Cities Climate Finance Leadership Alliance about the role of NDBs in city-level climate finance, NDBs have potential to unlock needed investment into cities as they: (1) have a generally singular domestic focus with a deep understanding of national and regional investment challenges and opportunities; (2) can utilize public and private funding sources, providing state guarantees to cheaper access to markets; (3) have the advantage of financing in local currency; (4) can pool different types of funding in blended finance structures and catalyze private sector investment.

So, why are NDBs not doing more to address cities’ needs?

NDBs are not a viable option for every city. Even estimating the number of NDBs is a difficult endeavour. Yet, most of the approximately 250 existing NDBs worldwide are found in middle-income countries (60%), while only 8% are located in low-income countries, and around 30% in high-income countries. Likewise, most NDBs are small, except for the ones in China, Germany, Brazil, India, and South Africa, which hold approximately three-fifths of the USD 5 trillion in assets estimated as being held by NDBs (considerably more than the just under USD 1 trillion held by Multilateral Development Banks [MDBs).

The structure of an NDB can also vary greatly. Some are fully owned by national governments, while others are semi-private; some have wide mandates, while some are specialized in one sector; and some NDBs are more or less independent from government-controlled boards. All of these factors influence how NDBs establish their mandates, most not having clear programs to promote and identify climate-resilient infrastructure projects, let alone urban-related ones. Also, legal constraints and political disputes might disengage municipal governments from using these funding sources.

Yet, there are good reasons to think that NDBs should provide critical support to cities. For that to happen, some actions must be taken to increase the role of NDBs in urban-resilient and climate-smart investment.

NDBs can start by addressing climate-related investments in their mandates and/or strategies, including for climate-smart urban infrastructure. Reviewing mandates and setting climate and resilient urban targets will not necessarily generate an instantaneous change, but it will certainly support the translation of plans into concrete project pipelines. National governments must make sure the regulatory framework conditions are in place to allow subnational entities to access NDBs. The collaboration between NDBs and their relevant national and local governments is the key to success.

Also, NDBs must strengthen their technical capacity to assist cities in structuring projects by developing and deploying product offerings that suit cities’ needs, such as project preparation facilities and risk mitigation mechanisms. Most cities lack the required capacity to manage projects, lead infrastructure procurement, and identify climate finance instruments. Although there are many urgent projects in the pipeline, particularly in adaptation measures, city-level projects are commonly identified as “non-bankable” by investors.

Cities must have access to project preparation facilities that can assist in building feasibility studies and scaling the needed finance. By investing in project preparation assistance and risk mitigation instruments, NDBs can be an important partner for increasing the number of bankable projects, which would help to respond to the COVID-19 economic crisis.

Another solution: NDBs should increase their access to concessional development finance by seeking accreditation and support from Multilateral Development Banks. This would allow NDBs to provide cities with the needed grants for technical assistance in project preparation and guarantees, and to lend at concessional rates and for longer durations.

Cities will face one of the biggest challenges of the century in the coming months and years: they will have to repair their economies while fighting for the health of their people and climate. While all actors in this equation will be essential, NDBs will have a large role to play as key city-level support.

The think piece on “Enhancing the Role of National Development Banks in Supporting Climate-Smart Urban Infrastructure” released by the Cities Climate Finance Leadership Alliance can be read here.

Cover photo by Barbara Buchner
Climate resilience features strongly in ADB urban projects in 2019

Climate resilience features strongly in ADB urban projects in 2019

In the 2019 Annual Report of the Urban Financing Partership Facility (UFPF), managed by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), climate resilience has become more embedded in urban development investments.

The report showed that there was a total of $191.86 million in UFPF, with its largest share coming from the Urban Climate Change Resilience Trust Fund (UCCRTF) at 78% of the total.

By the end of 2019, UFPF assistance has led to a total of 152 completed projects, comprised of investment grants, technical assistance, direct charge activities, and project preparation studies. The report details the performance of each trust fund: UCCRTF, the Urban Environmental Infrastructure Fund (UEIF), the Cities Development Initiative for Asia (CDIA) Trust Fund, and the ASEAN Australia Smart Cities Trust Fund (AASCTF).

​According to the report, UCCRTF approved 12 projects amounting to $18.725 million, which brings the total portfolio to $118.502 million. Out of this, $58.4 million has been linked to $2.065 billion of approved investments, of which $358.3 million is from sources other than the ADB. This total downstream financing is expected to exceed $3 billion if all pending loans supported by UCCRTF activities are approved.


UCCRTF project case studies

The UFPF Annual Report included several impact stories from UCCRTF projects. These included the Spatial Data Analysis Explorer (SPADE) tool, an online repository of geospatial data for ADB projects. SPADE was developed through a collaboration between UCCRTF, ADB’s Urban Sector Group, and the Sustainable Development and Climate Change Department (SDCC). It is designed to help project officers and consultants better visualize how various factors can affect a project. The web-based platform can create layers of information using socioeconomic data, population density, building footprints, and rainfall projections in 25–100 years scale over a city map. SPADE promotes a systemic approach that is needed to build climate change resilience into conception, design, and construction of infrastructure projects.

Another UCCRTF project featured in the report was the Revitalization of Informal Settlements and their Environments through a Water Sensitive Approach (RISE–Indonesia Pilot Component), in Makassar. UCCRTF support to this project included $196,000 in technical assistance and a $4.6 million investment grant to improve livability and accessibility of informal settlements and increase their resilience to climate-driven shocks such as flooding.

​To date, UCCRTF has approved more than $118 million in funding for various projects in the priority countries. Of this, 61 projects (equivalent to $115 million) are ongoing. In its final two years, UCCRTF will focus its efforts on supporting project implementation and capturing results and impacts. UCCRTF is developing an application for Phase 2 of the trust fund. If approved by the UK Government, it will be available in 2021.

This article was originally posted on the ADB’s Livable Cities blog.
Cover image by UN Women on Climate Visuals.
South Asia’s twin threat: extreme heat and foul air

South Asia’s twin threat: extreme heat and foul air

By Tim Radford

Extreme heat can kill. Air pollution can seriously shorten human lives. By 2050, extreme summer heat will threaten about 2 billion people on and around the Indian sub-continent for around 78 days every year. And the chances of unbearable heat waves and choking atmospheric chemistry at the same time will rise by 175%.

Climate scientists have been warning for decades that what were once rare events – for instance the 2003 heat wave that claimed tens of thousands of lives in Europe – will, as global average temperatures rise, become the new normal.

And they have repeatedly warned that in step with extreme summer temperatures, extreme humidity is also likely to increase in some regions, and to levels that could prove potentially fatal for outdoor workers and people in crowded cities.

The link between air pollution and ill health was established 60 or more years ago and has been confirmed again and again with mortality statistics.

Risk to megacities

Now a team from China and the US confirms once more in the journal  AGU Advances, published by the American Geophysical Union, that the danger is real, and that they can tell where it is becoming immediate: in seven nations that stretch from Afghanistan to Myanmar, and from Nepal to the tip of southern India.

Around 1.5bn people live there now, and they are already learning to live with around 45 days of extreme heat every year. By 2050, there will be 2bn people, most of them crammed into megacities in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Myanmar, Nepal and Pakistan, and climate models confirm that the number of days of extreme heat could rise to 78 a year.

The number of days on which cities – already blighted by air pollution – reach health-threatening levels of high particulate matter will also rise. When heat and choking air chemistry become too much, lives will be at risk.

That extremes of summer heat are on the increase is now a given. That the intensity, duration and frequency of heat waves will go on rising has also been established. Extremes of heat are a threat to crops and a particular hazard in cities already much hotter than their surrounding landscapes.

“South Asia is a hotspot for future climate change impacts. Much research is needed over other parts of the world on  the risks they pose, and their potential human health effects”

One research group has identified 27 ways in which high temperatures can kill. Others have repeatedly warned of the dangerous mix of high temperatures and high humidity (climate scientists call it the “wet bulb” temperature), and one team of scientists has already argued that such conditions have already arrived, albeit so far for short periods and in limited locations.

The researchers chose the so-called wet-bulb temperature of 25°C as their threshold for an unhealthy extreme, and then worked out the number of days a year that such conditions happened in South Asia: between 1994 and 2006, these arrived at an average of between 40 and 50 days a year.

They then looked at the likely rise with forecast increases in average planetary temperature, depending on how vigorously or feebly the world’s nations tried to switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources. The probability increased by 75%.

They then chose widely-agreed dangerous thresholds for air pollution with soot, and sulphate aerosols, usually from fossil fuel combustion, to find that extremes of pollution would happen by 2050 on around 132 days a year.

Tenfold risk increase

Then they tried to estimate the probabilities that extreme pollution and extreme heat would coincide. They judged that the frequency of these more than usually hazardous days would rise by 175%, and they would last an estimated 79% longer. The area of land exposed to this double assault on human health would by then have increased tenfold.

Scientific publications usually avoid emotional language, but the researchers call their own finding “alarming.”

“South Asia is a hotspot for future climate change impacts,” said Yangyang Xu, of Texas A&M University, the first author.

“I think this study raises a lot of important concerns, and much research is needed over other parts of the world on these compounded extremes, the risks they pose, and their potential human health effects.”

This article was originally published on the Climate News Network.
Cover photo by Alice Yamamura
Barcelona: Urban adaptation threatened by power struggles at the municipal level

Barcelona: Urban adaptation threatened by power struggles at the municipal level

By Will Bugler

Dealing with the challenges posed by climate change will require transformational change for cities. However, these transformative actions to adapt to the impacts of climate change may be hindered by political struggles for municipal power, suggests a new study. Published in the journal Cities, the paper assesses the complexity of the processes of implementation of urban measures against climate change, with the example of Barcelona’s “Superblocks” as a case study.

Barcelona is particularly vulnerable to climate change-related threats, specifically sea level rise and floods, increasing temperature including urban heat waves, the loss of biodiversity and more frequent and intense drought periods. Within the framework of the Climate Plan (2018-2030), Barcelona launched the “Superblocks” program, which aims to drastically change urban mobility and land use. A superblock is a group of city blocks delimited in a perimeter that can only be accessed by vehicles that have their origin or destination there. Traffic runs outside while the interior is reserved for pedestrians and cyclists.

So far superblocks have been implemented in two areas (Poblenou in 2016 and Sant Antoni in 2018), but the City Council plans to remodel the city in 503 superblocks thereby reducing car traffic by 21% while restructuring the public transit and cycling system and infrastructure. In this way, CO2 emissions will be reduced by 40%, as well as the 3,500 premature deaths per year associated with air pollution, converting 60% of the space occupied by car use into public pedestrian and neighbourhood leisure spaces.

When implementing the scheme political and neighbourhood forces became active, either supporting or opposing the implementation of the scheme. Researchers from the Institute of Environmental Science and Technology of the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (ICTA-UAB) and the Pompeu Fabra University (UPF), analysed the resistance in Barcelona as an example of the difficulties of implementing transformational adaptation in cities in the face of climate change.

The results of the study show that the everyday political struggles emerge from clashing visions for the future of the city. The difficulties are also related to discontent over the public participation aspects of project implementation and a perceived imposition of authority. “The civic and political contestation over the authority of ‘climate champions’ (or climate policy drivers) can jeopardize not only the achievements of transformational adaptation to climate change, but also the political survival of those who drive them“, the authors of the article said.

According to ICTA-UAB researcher Isabelle Anguelovski, transformational change can be obstructed ” not only out of fear of the material and political effects of the transformation measures, but also because of the message it conveys as concerns who is entitled to decide for the common good”. Therefore, she indicates, “brave politicians that take on struggles for authority in the short-term are needed to achieve mid- to long-term transformational goals”. The study suggests that participatory processes are vital at the very earliest stages of decision making on key policies to ensure that key power brokers are on board and communities have a shared vision of their city.

Cover photo by Benjamín Gremler on Unsplash
Rising tides will leave no choice for US millions

Rising tides will leave no choice for US millions

By Tim Radford

The Texan city of Houston is about to grow in unexpected ways, thanks to the rising tides. So will Dallas. Real estate agents in Atlanta, Georgia; Denver, Colorado; and Las Vegas, Nevada could expect to do roaring business.

The inland counties around Los Angeles, and close to New Orleans in Louisiana, will suddenly get a little more crowded. And from Boston in the north-east to the tip of Florida, Americans will be on the move.

That is because an estimated 13 million US citizens could some time in this century become climate refugees, driven from their seaside homes by sea level rise of possibly 1.8 metres, according to new research.

And they will have to move home in a poorer economic climate: worldwide. If governments and city authorities do not take the right steps, sea level rise could erode 4% of the global annual economy, says a separate study. That is, coast-dwellers could witness not just their towns and even cities washed away: they could see their prosperity go under as well.

Californian scientists report in the Public Library of Science journal PLOS One that they used machine learning techniques – in effect, artificial intelligence systems – to calculate what is most likely to happen as US citizens desert Delaware Bay, slip away from the cities of North and South Carolina, and flee Florida in the face of rising sea levels, coastal flooding and increasingly catastrophic windstorms.

“Sea level rise will affect every county in the United States … everybody should care about sea level rise, whether they live on the coast or not”

In the year 2000, a third of all the planet’s urban land was in a zone vulnerable to flood. By 2040, this could rise to 40%. In 2010, in the US, more than 120m citizens – that is nearly 40% of the entire population – lived in coastal counties. By 2020, this proportion could already be higher.

And by 2100, at least 13.1m people could be living on land likely to be inundated if sea levels rise by 1.8 metres. Except that they won’t: they will have already seen the future and moved away from it, to some settlement well away from the rising tides.

Those who might otherwise have purchased their abandoned seaside houses will be looking for somewhere safer and adding to the pressure on the housing market.

“Sea level rise will affect every county in the United States,” said Bistra Dilkina of the University of Southern California at Irvine, a computer scientist who worked with engineers to model the human response to the future.

She and her colleagues started from patterns of movement that began with Hurricane Katrina, in 2004, and Hurricane Rita a year later, both in Louisiana. They then let the algorithms take over the challenge of guessing what American families and businesses are most likely to do as the tides begin to flood the high streets.

Action promised

“We hope this research will empower urban planners and local decision-makers to prepare to accept populations displaced by sea level rise. Our findings indicate that everybody should care about sea level rise, whether they live on the coast or not,” she said.

The California team’s worst-case forecasts are based on a premise that the world takes no real action to combat sea level rise, which is driven by global warming powered in turn by fossil fuel emissions into the atmosphere on an ever-increasing scale.

But in Paris in 2015, more than 190 nations did agree to act: to contain global warming to “well below” 2°C by the century’s end. So far, very few have committed to sufficient action, and the President of the US has pronounced climate change a “hoax” and announced a withdrawal from the Paris Agreement.

Researchers in Austria report in the journal Environmental Research Communications that they decided to consider the potential economic cost worldwide of sea level rise alone. Scientists have been trying for years to guess the cost of flood damage to come: the latest study is of the impact of sea level rise and coastal flooding upon national economies worldwide.

The scientists considered two scenarios, including one in which the world kept the promises made in Paris, and one in which it did not, and made no attempt to adapt to or mitigate climate change.

Significant impact

By 2050 losses in each scenario would be significant and much the same. But by 2100, the do-nothing option promised to hit the gross domestic product – an economist’s favourite measure of economic well-being – by 4%.

Europe and Japan would be significantly hit; China , India and Canada hardest of all. If the world’s richest nations actually worked to limit climate change and adapt to the challenges ahead, the impact on the economy could be limited to 1%.

“The findings of this paper demonstrate that we need to think long term while acting swiftly,” said Thomas Schinko of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria, who led the study.

“Macroeconomic impacts up to and beyond 2050 as a result of coastal flooding due to sea level rise – not taking into account any other climate-related impacts such as drought – are severe and increasing.

“We, as a global society, need to further co-ordinate mitigation, adaptation and climate-resilient development and consider where we build cities and situate important infrastructure.”

This article was originally posted on the Climate News Network.
Cover photo of Houston, Texas by Vlad Busuioc on Unsplash