Cities and local governments worldwide are facing the challenges of dealing with, and responding to climate change, with limited financial resources and in some cases limited support from national governments. Two recent reports, the CDP Cities Global Report and the ICLEI /MIT Urban Climate Adaptation Planning Report, highlight the pressing issues associated with climate change and how cities and local government are responding to these challenges.
The CDP Cities 2012 Global Report released by the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) provides data on 48 cities, including the largest cities in each region of the world and outlines climate change related activities and how they are tracking.
Key findings of the CDP Cities 2012 Global Report include:
- Larger, denser cities, on the whole, demonstrate smaller per capita greenhouse gas emissions.
- City governments anticipate economic opportunities from climate change, such as green jobs or new business opportunities resulting from climate change.
- Climate change risks to cities are here and now, with 89% of cities identifying physical risks from climate change.
- City governments with emissions reduction targets, report three times as many emissions reduction activities as cities without targets. This finding suggests that setting reduction targets provides a strong catalyst for taking action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The CDP Cities report highlights that “What gets measured gets managed” a mantra often associated with the business world. But as Michael R. Bloomberg, Mayor of New York and Chair of C40 Cities, points out in one of the report chapters, this mantra is just as true for the business of local government. Part of the purpose of CDP Cities is to encourage cities to measure key indicators, so that they know where to start taking action. The report focuses on quantifying greenhouse emissions, undertaking actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and identifying activities to adapt to, and reduce the risks from climate change.
Reduction of Greenhouse Gases
Cities surveyed for the CDP Report identified energy demand in buildings and transportation initiatives as the primary focus of their emission reduction activities, followed by waste, urban land use and energy supply focused activities. Cities acknowledged that taking action is not easy and that advocates within city governments at times have to fight for the resources to address these issues. While some cities lack the funding or capacity to undertake climate change actions, others report a wide breadth of creative actions, generally funded out of their own budgets.
The graph below shows the city-wide reduction activities reported, with the number of cities participating in each activity. Reducing energy demand in buildings was the most frequently mentioned activity, with 48 cities reporting actions in this area.
Adaptation to Climate Change
Cities also report undertaking a wide variety of initiatives to adapt to, and reduce their risks from climate change. Actions that were top of the list include the creation of green space (including tree planting) and stormwater capture.
Interestingly, cities in developing countries are more likely to report planning for climate change than cities in the developed world. However, while developing cities outperform on resilience planning, they have not yet been able to convert the planning to action, with cities in developed nations reporting on average 5.7 adaptation actions per city, while cities in developing nations report around 3.7 actions per city.
The CDP report highlights the need for regular and standardised reporting, the benefit of targets in motivating action and the need for greater funding and commitment from government, elected officials and the community to emission reduction activities.
In contrast the second report by ICLEI Local Governments for Sustainability in association the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) focuses primarily on adaptation planning and obtained feedback from a wide pool of ICLEI members from around the globe. The report looks at 468 cities throughout the world and their progress and challenges in adapting to a changing urban climate. All cities that responded were members of ICLEI, with the majority based in the United States.
Key findings of the ICLEI report included:
- 79% of cities reported that in the past 5 years they perceived changes in temperature, precipitation, sea level or hazards which they attribute to climate change.
- Nearly half reported impacts they attribute to climate-related changes with the most common being damage to local government property.
- Approximately 19% of cities report they have completed a climate impact assessment Surprisingly cities in the U.S. report the lowest rate of completion for climate risk assessments, with a completion rate of only 13% compared to over 90% of cities in Australia, New Zealand and Africa indicating that they have conducted, are conducting or plan to conduct an assessment.
- Increased stormwater runoff and storm water management are the main issues identified as needing to be addressed in the near term.
- 68% of cities reported that they are pursuing adaptation planning, with Latin America and Canadian cities having the highest rates of engagement.
The report also identifies that cities that undertake risk and vulnerability assessments are typically able to identify the projected impacts and climate-related threats that they face.
Challenges and Innovation
The ICLEI/MIT report identifies the top 3 challenges reported by cities as they pursue adaptation planning are:
- Securing funding for adaptation;
- Communicating the need for adaptation to elected officials and local departments; and
- Gaining commitment and generating appreciation from national government for the realities of local adaptation challenges.
Challenges also exist for cities in coming up with new and innovative ways to respond to climate change impacts. Traditionally urban planning has drawn on past trends as a basis for decision-making, however adaptation planning presents the challenge of needing to draw on future climate forecasts to determine suitable land uses and alleviate risks both now and into the future.
Communication with the community and elected officials, improving governance and creating incentives for developments to respond to climate change risks are some of the challenges facing local government. Innovative and cost-efficient responses are critical, as local government and cities worldwide increasingly experience being in the front-line of responding to climate change impacts.
The below infographic highlights information collected in the 2011 CDP Cities survey that celebrates the actions taken by local governments to ensure that cities remain safe places to live and do business despite the effects of climate change.