Cities Must Adapt to Climate Change, or Risk Disaster

Nov 27th, 2014 | By | Category: Adaptation, News

tpbje201403220f3_41845169With a rise in natural disasters such as super storms, storm surges, landslides and floods, we are regularly reminded of the need to make our cities safer and stronger. Typhoon Haiyan last year killed more than 6,000 people and thousands more still live in temporary shelters. Climate change will only increase the frequency and intensity of these events.

Meanwhile, the UN human settlements programme estimates that nearly 70 per cent of the world’s population will live in urban areas by 2050, with most of the growth expected to take place in Asia. The region will be affected by rising temperatures, water security, sea-level rises, storm surges, extreme weather events, inland and coastal flooding, and food security issues.

Yet, in many cities across Asia, there is a limited capacity to identify vulnerabilities and ways to adapt, along with a limited ability to actually make changes. Problems include a lack of provision for infrastructure and urban services such as health and education, and a lack of institutional and investment capacity.

Many people in Asia are not aware that climate change poses a significant threat to their families, homes, livelihoods and future economic growth.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the World Bank and others now name Asian cities such as Calcutta, Mumbai, Dhaka, Ho Chi Minh City, Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Shanghai and Tianjin as being at high risk.

A study in the journal Nature showed that flooding could cost the world’s coastal cities more than US$60 billion per year by 2050. And that’s only if they reduce greenhouse gas emissions. If they do nothing, the cost could soar to US$1 trillion per year.

This week, key scientists and climate experts are in Hong Kong for the 3rd International Conference on Climate Change to put the spotlight on climate adaptation and emphasise that strengthening resilience needs to take centre stage in Asia. The focus reflects a growing recognition that disaster risk reduction, climate change adaptation and sustainable development are linked. These issues present mutually dependent challenges, which require coordinated strategies, strong governance and innovative solutions.

As Asian urban powerhouses grow, unique in their terrain, and political and economic structure, the climate vulnerabilities they face will vary greatly. But their endurance and growth will be at the heart of some of this century’s most important social and economic challenges.

City governments need to strengthen their capacity. Innovations in climate modelling, information and communication technologies are needed to provide better risk management and analysis. Plans for continuity for essential services during and after disasters need to be made. Cities should also consider the health effects, including how to prevent the spread of infectious diseases as regions become warmer.

Global, national, regional and local leaders are being asked by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change to make bold and long-term decisions on ways to invest in more resilient infrastructure, revise land use, enhance coordination, update building codes, adjust natural resource management and other practices to improve the resilience of their communities to the impact of climate change.

No city is entirely safe from natural hazards, but they can be more resilient. Everyone who helps make a city function must be part of the solution.

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