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At Last, a Practical Guide to Climate-proof Our Cities

Available in: العربية, 中文, Français, Español
  • Mega cities are now facing greater risks from extreme weather events due to climate change
  • Damage inflicted could undermine the world’s economic gains of the past few decades
  • The Climate Resilient Cities Primer offers a tool to self-assess if a city is a "hot-spot" and to create strategies that will increase its resilience to these impacts

August 6, 2008 — What do Bangkok, Jakarta, Shanghai, and Hanoi have in common? These mega Asian cities are now facing greater risks from extreme weather events, thanks to climate change.

The world’s urban centers—many are coastal—are increasingly exposed to rising sea levels and other consequences of climate change. These changes threaten the property and the lives of billions of urban citizens. Damage inflicted could even undermine the world’s economic gains of the past few decades, experts warn.

Now the good news: cities’ vulnerability to climate change-induced disasters can be reduced. Policy-makers responding to the greater risks will find support from international development institutions including the World Bank. Cities that have already responded are also willing to share good lessons with others, especially those in poorer countries. Technical and financial assistance for local governments is also available.

However, most of the necessary measures must be taken by the cities themselves. To help local governments do just that, the World Bank joined with the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UN/ISDR) and the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR)  to publish an interactive report entitled, “Climate Resilient Cities.” The report is being launched today throughout the East Asia and Pacific Region.

A Primer on reducing cities’ vulnerability to climate change disruption and strengthening disaster risk management, Climate Resilient Cities should prove a useful tool for city managers the world over. After all, eight of the world’s 10 most populous cities are located near rivers or sea and are already exposed to hazards (flooding, earthquakes, typhoons, and low-quality infrastructure). With the trend toward more frequent and extreme weather events, city managers should plan for these impacts now rather than later.

“Ultimately, the cities hardest hit by climate change will be the ones least prepared,” said Neeraj Prasad, the Lead Environmental Specialist of the World Bank in East Asia and Pacific.  

The stakes are high. Cities form the center of the economy in many countries, so climate change’s impact on urban populations also damages the nation. For every one-meter rise in sea levels, Climate Resilient Cities estimates a loss of 2% in national Gross Domestic Product due to shortage of fresh water, damage to agriculture and fisheries, disruption of tourism, reduced energy security, and other consequences.

Concentration of people in the cities also increases their vulnerability to climate change disruption. By 2030, the world’s urban centers will be home to almost 4 billion people. As a result, making cities more climate-resilient must be a priority for city planners and managers around the world today.

“The vulnerability is real in East Asia,” said Jitendra J. Shah, who coordinates the World Bank’s environmental program in Cambodia, Lao PDR, Malaysia and Thailand. “Four out of the top 10 most vulnerable cities are in this region. We have seen events like the 2004 tsunami, and recently Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar and a typhoon in the Philippines. Local governments are facing the challenge of dealing with that.”

Dealing with the impact of climate change at the city level requires better understanding of what makes any city vulnerable. To this end, Climate Resilient Cities offers a tool to help policy-makers identify characteristics that make the city a “hot spot,” create strategies to increase their resilience to impacts of climate change, and establish the link between climate change, disaster risk reduction, and city planning as well as management.

The report uses a dual track approach to encourage cities to develop strategies for adaptation to climate change and plans to mitigate the consequences of future natural disasters, as well as find ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the first place. Some of the measures are as simple as increasing public awareness of the consequences of climate change; providing more green space; using bicycles or walking more; and increasing the use of energy-efficient public transport vehicles. Others require legislative support and public investment, including providing alternatives to fossil-fuels, and improving the quality of public infrastructure and buildings.

The report provides sound practices from cities that have taken the climate change challenges seriously, among them Milan, Tokyo, New York, China’s Dong Tan, Hanoi, Singapore, and a few cities within the Metro Manila area.  This affords the cities still defining their own climate change strategy a wide range of mitigation and adaptation options.

“Every city is different. You have to respond based on what your city is,” Mr. Prasad said. “There is no cookie-cutter solution to climate change impacts. It's important that you are able to anticipate the likely impacts on your city and make the decision to deal with that."

Read the full report
Self-assessment tool: is your city a hotspot?
City Profiles

How to climate-proof our cities -  Neeraj Prasad explains the thinking behind the handbook and asks for your feedback.

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Natural hazards: Seismic and climatic. Enlarge the graphic


Examples of impacts associated with global average temperature change. Enlarge the graphic