Urban Planning for Disaster Risk Reduction from Climate Change

Pianificazione urbana per la riduzione del rischio dall’cambiamento climatico

Andrea Young
Brazilian National Center for Monitoring and Early Warning of Environmental Disasters, Sao Jose dos Campos (Brazil)

By the end of this decade, more than half of the world's population will live in cities. It is clear that the development of urban areas holds the key for many of the challenges we face in our interactions with the environment. In the last decade, many researchers from the Urbanization and Global Environmental Change (UGEC) were seeking to provide a better understanding of the interactions between urbanization process at the local, regional and national scales with global climate change. This work represents just a part of the joint effort of several UGEC researchers, published in 2016. The majority of world cities have been affected by a great diversity of natural adverse events, such as floods, flash floods, landslides, drought, and also storm surge and erosion on the coast. Generally, the urbanization process, particularly in rapidly urbanizing regions, is not well accompanied by spatial planning, sustainable industrialization, economic growth and welfare considerations or investments in environmental services and infrastructure, leading to poverty (social exclusion and service gaps) and extensive informal settlements. This is one of the reasons why urban areas have become an increasing focus for the global society. The core work on urbanization puts emphasis on global environmental change, both as driver and outcome of economic, political, cultural, social and physical processes in urban areas. Urban areas are complex and dynamic systems that reproduce within their territory the interactions among socioeconomic, geopolitical, and environmental processes at local, regional, and global scales. Many of the most important and significant consequences associated with the impact of climate are taking place in urban areas. As urbanization represents a critical topic of special policy relevance nowadays, the development of a well-crafted designs constitute a pivotal step to urban master plans, as they must primarily provide clear guidance on land use. In this sense, we should make scientific research more effective and translate scientific knowledge in more coherent and visible ways into urban contexts for adaptation opportunities and urban resilience.

The climate system, which is influenced by land use/cover, oceans and water bodies, the atmosphere, cryosphere and biosphere (Pielke Sr. et al., 2002) affects physical and biological systems on all continents and in most oceans. Urban areas, especially in developing countries, are particularly vulnerable to frequent climate variability and associated extreme events (Castàn and Bulkeley, 2013; Hunt and Watkiss, 2011; Romero-Lankao and Dodman, 2011; Rosenzweig et al., 2011b). High-impact weather events have lead researchers to question whether their frequency and intensity have changed and will continue to change over time (Zwiers et al., 2012). Projections reveal that it is very likely that the effects of atmospheric pollution (i.e., disease) (Yuming et al., 2009) as well as extreme weather events such as heavy rainfall, warm spells and extreme heat, drought, intense storm surges and sea level rise will increase in frequency, intensity and duration as a result of climate change (Rosenzweig et al., 2011b; Hunt and Watkiss, 2011; Romero-Lankao and Dodman, 2011; IPCC, 2014). It is clear that climate is also transforming the cities in which we live, with the geographical locations of observed changes showing consistency with spatial patterns of atmospheric and warming trends. Urban areas worldwide, e.g., New York (US) (Rosenzweig et al., 2011a), Sao Paulo (Brazil) (Young, 2013), Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) (Sherbini et al., 2007), Shanghai (China) (Wang and Zheng, 2013), Beijing (China) (Yuming et al., 2009) and London (UK) (Armstrong et al., 2011) are all experiencing multiple climate changes and resulting impacts.

Climate impacts interact with context specific urban conditions (e.g., social, economic and environmental stressors) exacerbating and compounding risks to individual and household well-being (Leichenko et al., 2012, Rosenzweig et al., 2011b; Hunt and Watkiss, 2011; Romero-Lankao and Dodman, 2011). These interactions not only have widespread negative impacts on people (e.g., health, well-being, livelihoods and assets) but also on local and national economies and ecosystems (IPCC, 2014). Together, climate variability and urbanization pressures create profound impacts across a broad spectrum of infrastructure (i.e., water and energy supply, sanitation and drainage, transport and telecommunications), services (i.e., health care and emergency services), socio-economic conditions (i.e., income inequality), the built environment and ecosystem services (Hunt and Watkiss, 2011; Romero-Lankao and Dodman, 2011; Rosenzweig et al., 2011b; IPCC, 2012, 2014). As urban areas continue to experience seasonal shifts, rising temperatures (Armstrong et al. 2011), fluctuations in rainfall patterns, rising sea levels and storm surges (Yuzva, 2012), risks including heat stress, water scarcity and worsening air pollution also increase. Disaster situations can occur when hazards (i.e., floods, landslide and drought) combine with conditions of social vulnerability (i.e., poverty and socioeconomic inequalities) and insufficient capacity or measures to reduce the negative consequences of risk (UNISDR, 2014). In rapidly urbanizing countries, the combination of structural poverty and unequal concentration of income, the absence of infrastructure (i.e., decaying and sub-standard), high population densities and the centralization of economic assets and commercial and industrial activities heighten urban vulnerabilities (Kreimer et al., 2003). This presentation presents an overview of urban climate risks (Young, 2016; Seto, Solecki and Griffith, 2016; and others) in order to understand how cities are being impacted by specific extreme events. We then examine the actions that cities have undertaken in the face of extreme human, environmental and economic loss that could be opportunities for shared learning to effectively respond to future risks. We conclude by making the link between extreme events and the potential for a transition towards a more sustainable future while emphasizing that even in the presence of multiple stressors, policy relevant information from ongoing scientific research, experiential knowledge and observation provide opportunities for future adaptation and urban resilience.

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