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Dumping climate risk on cities

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Our cities are some of the most spectacular and creative places on this planet. Today, half of the world’s population lives in cities, generating more than 80% of global GDP[1]. Cities are the future of global growth and prosperity.

But our cities are under threat. According to the World Bank, up to 80% of the expected climate change adaptation costs are expected to be borne in urban areas[2]. Cities are fixed assets: the high levels of infrastructure, density of population, frequent proximity to coastlines and dependence on natural resources (water, agriculture etc.) make them highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

In deciding the fate of our urban centres of prosperity, national governments are biting the hand that feeds them. No city can manage climate risk alone. Central governments are exposing and burdening our cities with uncontrollable risk.

Some cities are coping. For example, Singapore is one of the few countries in the world to harvest urban rainwater on a large scale. Singapore is now known in the business as a ‘hydro-hub’, a laboratory for innovating and commercialising solutions to water scarcity[3]. But as temperature rise, cities will be burdened with unmanageable climate risk. They will bear the brunt, and the tax revenues so cherished by finance ministries will be absorbed by ever-increasing climate damages, unless central governments actively chose to protect our urban centres.

As well as being vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, urban residents are responsible for as much as 80% of GHGs[4]. The recent third report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) emphasises that cities will determine future global emissions trajectories.[5] Many cities are taking up this challenge, demonstrating to their national leaders that they have got ‘skin in the game’. Cities in the C40 network are taking over 4,700 climate change actions with more actions to come.

But unless cities challenge their respective national governments, these centres of commerce and ingenuity will become increasingly dependent upon the political whims of their national politicians. Some are taking action. Recently, 1000 European cities challenged current levels of European climate ambition,[6] and governments are inclined to pay attention to these centres of wealth and prosperity. But in order to survive, cities will need to be vastly more proactive in challenging central governments to safeguard their levels of exposure to climate risk. The Climate Action Summit hosted by Ban Ki-moon in September offers a platform for cities to challenge world leaders to do more to protect them.

References

[1] http://www.mckinsey.com/insights/urbanization/urban_world

[2] http://www-wds.worldbank.org/external/default/WDSContentServer/WDSP/IB/2010/11/21/000333038_20101121222743/Rendered/PDF/578590revised0101Public10DCFIB0141A.pdf

[3] http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/beea8628-a518-11e3-8988-00144feab7de.html#ixzz2yYhrRPN2

[4] http://web.worldbank.org/WBSITE/EXTERNAL/TOPICS/EXTURBANDEVELOPMENT/EXTUWM/0,,contentMDK:22781089~pagePK:210058~piPK:210062~theSitePK:341511,00.html

[5] http://www.rtcc.org/2014/04/15/cities-hold-the-key-to-addressing-climate-change-says-un-panel/

[6] http://www.euractiv.com/energy/cities-back-parliament-2030-effi-news-533570

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