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How to climate-proof our cities

Neeraj Prasad's picture
The handbook provides a self-assessment process so a city can judge for itself how much it needs to focus on climate change and where to go for help. See more here.

The last few years have seen a significant increase in interest on how our lives will be affected by the changing climate.

First, we saw the emergence of a major series of analytical pieces on the economics of climate change, and the potential legacy we are in danger of leaving to our future generations – hundreds of billions of dollars of avoidable expenditure on protecting their lives from climate impacts that can be substantially mitigated by action today at much lower costs. For the first time, the Stern Review put numbers into the debate. People argued about the discount rates and the target audiences, but the process had begun.

Then we saw a movie. To some, it was a power-point presentation in over-drive; to others, it was a life-altering experience. To the man who brought it together, it delivered an unlikely combination: an Oscar and a Nobel Prize. We can argue about whether or not it was indeed an Inconvenient Truth, as Mr. Gore called it, but it had clearly brought the discussion to a new audience.

And then, as the pressure was ratcheted up, came the 4th assessment of the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change, which confirmed and deepened many of the assumptions people were already making. This too, quickly found its way into the public imagination, and was widely reported even before its authors were recognized by the Nobel Prize process.

For us in the development field, there was a lot of introspection – how will our lives be affected by climate change?
There is information out there on almost every aspect of this: sea levels, temperatures rising, rainfall patterns changing. But what does this mean for where we live, in the cities? Especially in East Asia, which is urbanizing faster than any other region and which has more people living ‘on the edge’ – in coastal zones – what should we tell our city counterparts about climate change? There isn’t a lot of information to share, and at the same time we have had some very severe climate and disaster events in EAP in recent years. We know from literature that many of these events are linked, but in these early days what advice can we provide? While we developed strategic responses on climate change overall, we were also concerned about how to move forward on urban topics, and the links with disasters brought us to the doorsteps of GFDRR,  which also wanted to understand these linkages.

With their help, we put together an expert team and worked with them to prepare a handbook that would give good, simple guidance to city administrators on climate change. It had to be relevant: in other words, it had to contain important information about climate change, but it also had to be able to point them towards how important it was for them. Therefore, we thought up an assessment process by which a city could judge for itself how much it needed to focus on the subject. We suggested how this could be done. We brought together a compendium of good practice from elsewhere in the world – how have cities successfully addressed such issues?  If you know what to do, where should you go for help?

This primer is the result of all these ideas coming together into a single document. From what we have seen so far, cities and organizations seem to like it – a lot. But of course we have questions: does it work? How can we improve it? What is wrong and what is right with it? Would there be an appetite for translated versions or executive summaries? 

Let us know your thoughts.


Submitted by ex-Expat in PRC on
As some who lived in China until quite recently I have a few comments regarding your Climate/Risk-Management Primer. Although there are a number of indicators suggesting that China's central government is taking more seriously the acute negative environmental impact of its economic / developmental policy, as far as I know there is scant evidence the same can be said about risk management. One example of that are the Chinese plans to build nuclear plants in Sichuan, a region known for its high seismic risk. Add to it the hydroelectric dam construction policy in the same area already noted here by the comment "Re: Sichuan earthquake reconstruction" posted on 7/15/2008 by another reader. It is a pity such observations have yet to be responded by the corresponding blogger. My other comment is that things are much worse at the level of local governments. Though there may be exceptions, my opinion is that they are in general almost obsessed with achieving production or other forms of economic goals at nearly ANY cost, with little or no regard for the well-being of the locals themselves and an absolute lack of interest on the disastrous side-effects in neighboring regions. (Traveling through some of the smaller cities in non-littoral China one encounters scenes and attitudes reminding those described for the 1800s ˝Far West˝ of the United States.) Unless the central government were to become interested in climate and risk management, and pressured local governments, there seems to be no much of a chance local governments will be interested in the plans and objectives of your Primer.

Thank you for your very useful comments, which we will also share with our China team. We are of course trying to build on the linkages between climate change and disasters specifically, but here too there will be lessons for all governments from the preparedness factor for earthquakes/ We would certainly be focusing our efforts first with the Federal Government. In fact we have discussed this with them at early stages and they were interested in seeing a Chinese language version focused specifically at china, something we can think about as a second stage.

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