Urban areas occupy only about 3 percent of the Earth’s land surface and generate up to 80 percent of global GDP. They are home to more than 50 percent of the world’s population and this percentage is projected to increase to 70 percent by 2050. Urban areas and/or cities are the main cause of climate change and they are the worst victim of changing climate. Recently, a study published in ‘Nature Climate Change’ indicates climate change is turning cities into ovens, as cities across the world could warm as much as 4.4 degrees Celsius by 2100.
The huge carbon footprint created by cities is immense. For instance, they use a large proportion of the world’s energy supply and are responsible for around 75 percent of global energy-related greenhouse gas emissions. Consequently, environmental problems, such as flooding, water scarcity, air pollution and heat stress are amplified in urban areas.The dire consequences of climate change in cities underscored the achievement of the SDG 11 (Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable). Particularly, in the context of coronavirus outbreak, Covid-19 and SDG 11 have received a renewed attention from the governments across the world. Since, approximately 90 percent of Covid-19 cases have been detected in urban areas.
Cities are centres of creativity and innovation. They are incubators of economic, environmental, social, political and cultural progress. Research indicates that an urbanised world constitutes a ‘transformative force’ which can be harnessed and steered for addressing the challenges of climate change and sustainable development in urban areas. To combat against urban climate change, city leaders and governments must adopt several measures.
First, city governments need to integrate efforts to adapt to changing climatic conditions (adaptation) and mitigate the causes of climate change (mitigation). These efforts of achieving both climate goals provide win-win solutions. City planners, in some cases, have to negotiate trade-offs and minimise con¬flicts between environmental and social objectives. Nature-based solutions (NBSs) are one of the best solutions to address urban climate problems.
NBSs help us to adapt to and mitigate the effects of climate change, while sustainably conserving, managing and restoring natural and modified ecosystems to protect natural disasters like urban flood, drought and heat waves. Key NBSs include wetlands, urban forests, grasslands, green roofs, permeable pavements, bioswales, bioretention areas, rainwater harvesting vessels, and riparian buffers. NBSs are not only cost-effective but also have numerous benefits (such as improving public health, heat reduction, carbon storage, and tourism and energy savings) and co-benefits, for example, reducing water and air pollution.
Globally, the application of NBSs for managing urban disaster is gradually increasing. For instance, China has been massively investing in constructing 30 ‘sponge cities’ through mainstreaming green infrastructures to manage surface flooding. Germany is promoting the sponge city concept to reduce (urban) flooding. Of late, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has published a flagship report on “Global Standard for Nature-based Solutions” for presenting a user-friendly framework for designing and scaling up of NBSs.
Second, due to having similar aims and mutual benefits, it is crucial to link climate change adaptation and city disaster risk reduction (DRR)—measures undertaken to reduce human and social vulnerability. This integration ensures a comprehensive climate risk management approach, which provides many benefits, including (a) reduction of climate-related losses through more widespread implementation of DRR measures linked with adaptation. This approach ensures more efficient use of financial, human and natural resources, and increases effectiveness and sustainability of both adaptation and DRR approaches.A plethora of measures provide mutual benefits of reducing climate-related disaster risk and offsetting the long-term implications of climate change. For instances, reforestation (a key ‘DRR’ measure) lessens the impact of a flood, but also control local temperature and rainfall. Conservation of water resources offsets drought and moderates longer-term water scarcity.
Non-structural measures (e.g., policy implementation and awareness building) serve both a DRR and a climate change adaptation agenda. Likewise, measures like poverty reduction and underlying risk management are essential components of reducing vulnerability to hazards and climate change.
Third, formulating and effective implementation of ‘urban climate action plans’ in partnership with non-governmental stakeholders is crucial. To this end, processes should be inclusive, transparent, par¬ticipatory, multi-sectoral, multi-jurisdictional, and interdisciplin¬ary so that they promote relevance, flexibil¬ity, and legitimacy.
The World Bank has developed an innovative CURB tool aimed at climate action for urban sustainability. This tool has been applied cities globally in a number of ways including estimating realistic energy-use, prioritising investments, and formulating environmentally friendly plans. The CURB tool can be exploited for developing and implementing city climate action plans. Salient features of this tool include city-specific, requires minimal training, free and accessible and others.
Fourth, government must place emphasis on the needs of the disadvantaged and most vulnerable urban slums in climate change planning and action. Bangladesh has one of the highest proportions of the urban population living in slums in South Asia. Proactive measures are required for building equity and climate resilience.
Initiatives for addressing urban climate change contingent on (a) identifying and profiling ’hotspots’, (b) determining the particular vulnerabilities of target groups, and (c) integrating and empowering the urban poor through community-based adaptation and livelihoods. Pro-poor climate actions are needed to incorporate community-level efforts into broader city-wide planning processes and facilitating integration of climate resilience of the urban poor into Bangladesh Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan (BCCSAP) 2009 and Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).
And fifth, financing climate change solutions in cities is one of the vital factors of sustainable urban development. Access to city corporation and outside financial resources is important to fund climate change adaptation and mitigation solutions. To this connection, presence of effective urban climate governance is critical.
Effective urban climate governance can be built on three pillars: longer plan¬ning horizons, effective implementation mechanisms and coor-dination. Advancing the strength and success of city-level climate planning and implementation must expand connections with national and international capaci¬ty-building networks.
Public sector finance usually facilitates climate actions. In tandem, they can generate investment by the private sector through employing diverse mechanisms. Public-private partnerships (PPPs) are proven for effective action. These partnerships should be tailored to the local conditions to create institutional and market catalysts for participation. Moreover, financial and climate-related strategies and policies must enable local governments to initi¬ate actions that will minimise the costs of climate impacts.
Climate change and cities are deeply connected, that is, cities are a cause of and solution to climate change. Many cities are already excellent job in using renewable energy sources, limiting industrial emissions, and applying cleaner production techniques.
Cities are at a crossroads. Inaction will reduce welfare of city dwellers and increase exposure and risks of urban catastrophes. Urban climate problems can only be successfully tackled through rethinking urban governance, planning and finance. Concurrently, governments must make cities an integral part of the solution in fighting climate change.
The writer is a Professor at Sher-e-Bangla Agricultural University, Dhaka and author of a book: “Coronavirus & Climate Change: Tales of Two Crises.”