Climate resilience must be guiding principle of urban development, argues new report

Hong Kong from Victoria Peak: cities account for over two thirds of global energy consumption while occupying only 2% of the Earth’s surface.

A new report, ‘Risk & Resilience: The role of cities in tackling the climate crisis’, argues that climate resilience must be embraced as a guiding principle across urban development, given the extreme exposure of cities to climate risk.

Produced by climate experts the Climate Crisis Advisory Group (CCAG), and published on 20 September, the document identifies three strands of climate resilience and the key resilience focus areas for both local and national governments:

  1. People and livelihoods – the coastal locations of cities, climate migration and increasing urban populations in the poorest countries have increased the exposure of vulnerable people. Protecting people and livelihoods therefore has to be a major priority in city resilience strategies, with local community engagement at its core.
  2. Economy and cost – when existing structures and measures become overwhelmed, the economic cost will be beyond anything experienced so far. Increasing resilience to prevent such losses is a guiding principle in all urban planning and development in wealthier cities.
  3. Global supply chains – global supply chains are fragile – supply chain resilience in the face of multiple, widely distributed, extreme weather events is critical to prevent price rises and shortages from cascading round the world.

While ‘old’ and ‘new’ cities often face similar climate risks, their preoccupations and concerns differ. Old cities, often in Europe or North America, aim to protect what is already there, with economic loss and damage to mature assets the primary concern. In contrast to this, in new and rapidly expanding cities – such as Dhaka – much of the required infrastructure is yet to be built meaning they face more dynamic and difficult challenges to navigate.

Saleemul Huq, CCAG member and Director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (Dhaka), said: “Dhaka is a city under extreme climate stress that is taking coordinated actions to curb expansion and build greater resilience. The necessity for survival spurred on a new approach to climate resilience, whereby we build climate resilient secondary cities and towns in Bangladesh away from the megacity alongside taking actions to build resilience in Dhaka itself. It’s imperative that cities are resilient and there are a variety of approaches that already exist to secure safe and prosperous cities for citizens everywhere – it is now up to us to properly fund and implement them.”

Seizing the opportunity to create climate resilient cities
The majority of the world’s population lives in cities – yet, despite only occupying 2% of the Earth’s surface, cities represent over two thirds of global energy consumption[1]. By achieving net zero in our cities, we can shift the global emissions trajectory and avert worse-case-scenario temperature rises. The report argues there are three major drives of the change required to secure low-emissions practices in a resilient city:

  1. Finance – there is a current gap in climate finance thought to be in excess of US$630bn per year. Private finance has a clear role to play in driving the shift in cities to net zero as it will likely provide 80-90% of total investment in the transition in the coming decades.[2]

But despite this obvious need to leverage private finance for sustainable cities, the vast majority of investment continues to flow to high-carbon assets. Regulatory and market failures have created systemic bottlenecks, including a major misalignment of interests between developers, financiers, governments and end-users. Climate and carbon must be reflected in asset valuation to promote investment in liveable net zero cities.

  1. Coordination – multi-stakeholder engagement and institutional coordination is vital. Strong integration at all levels creates consistency and coherence in the formulation of policies, plans and regulations.
  2. Planning – planning must be long term and not linked to short term targets or timelines. For planning to translate effectively into climate resilience it must be supported by building regulations and clear guidance.

Claus Mathisen, CEO at Urban Partners commented:“The funding, planning and development of our cities must all point in the same direction: promoting climate resilience through faster decarbonisation of the built urban environment. That’s why at Urban Partners we invest in the progress of cities with a focus on the greatest existential threats they face – starting with the climate crisis. We are proud to partner with CCAG to spotlight the magnitude of the climate crisis in an urban context, highlighting the key solutions that can change our cities at pace and at scale.” 

Funding, planning, and coordination must all point in the same direction: promoting climate resilience in cities by reducing embodied carbon as well as reduced emissions in building operations, and green public transportation and traffic policies. Governments must also set out pathways and mandatory codes to achieve zero carbon for buildings old and new as quickly as possible.

For more information read CCAG’s report ‘Risk & Resilience: The role of cities in tackling the climate crisis’, produced with the support of Urban Partners, HERE.