Around the world, cities are racing to adapt to climate change – World Today
In Tanzania’s commercial capital, Dar es Salaam, one of Africa’s fastest growing cities, families come to enjoy the scenic coastline along Barack Obama Drive, gazing out over the vast Indian Ocean.
That would have been impossible a few years ago, when this stretch of the city’s coastline was on the brink of collapse, battered by increasingly violent waves fueled by climate change. Locals still remember when salt poisoning from rising seawater killed the line of trees that once lined the coastal promenade.
With the support of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and the United Nations Office of Project Services, the construction of a sea wall – built to last a century – has made it possible to reclaim this area of the city. It now thrives as a thriving commercial and leisure area, filled with vacationing families and newlyweds posing for photos. For some, the wall has become a powerful symbol of hope in the face of the climate crisis ravaging communities across the Indian Ocean.
This year’s World Environment Day, which falls on June 5, marks the fourth anniversary of the official opening of the seawall. “Now the opportunities are back,” said William Buco, a local engineer and father of five.
Dar es Salaam is one of a growing number of cities around the world trying to adapt to climate change. Rising global temperatures, fueled by man-made greenhouse gas emissions, are wreaking havoc on finely tuned climate systems everywhere from Mexico to China. Adapting to these changes is widely seen as one of the greatest challenges of the next century and could cost developing countries alone up to $500 billion a year by 2050.
Cities, which are responsible for 70% of our greenhouse gas emissions, are home to more than half of humanity, a number expected to rise to 68% by 2050. The impending age of climate breakdown coincides with humanity’s greatest wave of urbanization. history, as hundreds of millions of people migrate to cities, many of whom are already suffering from climate impacts.
This noxious mix of population density and an unstable climate is giving way to a cocktail of urban disasters, from water shortages to mega floods to heat waves. The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), produced by 270 scientists and researchers, notes that “an estimated 350 million additional people living in urban areas are at risk of water scarcity due to severe droughts at a warming of 1.5°C”.
Yet cities also present major opportunities, not necessarily despite increasing urbanization, but in some cases because of it. While the IPCC report clarifies the threats cities face, it also maps a set of urban adaptation options. “Global urbanization offers a time-limited opportunity to work towards widespread and transformational adaptation and climate-resilient development.”
“Cities are both a hotbed of climate threats and a hotbed of climate solutions,” said Jessica Troni, Head of UNEP’s Climate Change Adaptation Unit. “More and more cities are developing adaptation plans, and we’ve seen cutting-edge innovations around the world, from rainwater harvesting systems to green infrastructure. There is no doubt that the need to adapt to climate change and urbanization may force us to rethink the way our cities are built – and for the better.
Building on this recognition, UNEP has provided technical support and helped governments access adaptation finance through an extensive network of projects in major cities around the world.
These projects tackle an assortment of climate disasters, such as droughts, floods and heat waves. In doing so, they use a mix of strategies, including restoring ecosystems to absorb climate impacts, building weather stations and early warning networks, encouraging governments to develop city adaptation plans, and l investment in rainwater harvesting technologies.
Some of these initiatives are on a large scale. In Lao PDR, UNEP is supporting an $11.5 million initiative, funded by the Green Climate Fund, to leverage nature-based solutions in four cities to build resilience to climate-induced flooding . The project is expected to benefit 700,000 people – 10% of the country’s population – by restoring urban ecosystems of wetlands and waterways to regulate water flow and reduce the risk of flooding.
Similarly, in cities across Latin America and the Caribbean, UNEP is helping governments develop and use nature-based adaptation solutions through a project known as CityAdapt. In San Salvador, for example, mountain slopes around the city are being reforested to absorb floodwaters and stop landslides that are increasingly destructive to coffee growers.
In an episode of the Resilience podcast, launched by UNEP last year to explore climate adaptation solutions, a coffee farmer from San Salvador, Hector Velasquez, explained: “This project has helped people see what they can do to prevent or minimize the impacts of climate change.
Velasquez recounts how water runoff on the slopes surrounding the city leads to major flooding below: “So the more preventative work we can do at higher elevations minimizes the risk downstream of the city. We have received economic aid, but I think the most important part has been to make us aware of what we are doing and the impact on people downstream.
The practice of using ecosystem restoration to combat climate change is becoming increasingly popular around the world, as evidenced by the launch of the United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. At the last United Nations Environment Assembly in March, Member States showed a clear interest in these kinds of approaches to climate change – particularly because of their holistic benefits – demonstrated by the new resolution on the definition universally accepted nature-based solutions.
UNEP’s CityAdapt project is also building rooftop rainwater harvesting systems in major cities – such as Xalapa, Mexico and Kingston, Jamaica – to boost their water supply. This is considered an essential technique to improve drought resistance. It also provides advice to local communities on how and why to set up such systems.
As we see today in India, one of the major climate impacts affecting cities is the heat wave. As part of the Cool Coalition, UNEP and partners have established a District Cooling Program to help Indian cities take comprehensive action against extreme heat and growing demand for cooling.
The program will provide technical assistance to 100 urban areas, helping them integrate city-, neighborhood- and household-scale solutions. The program draws on best practices from around the world, many of which are outlined in the UNEP report Beating the Heat: A Sustainable Cooling Handbook for Cities.
Energy-efficient and climate-friendly cooling could avoid up to 460 billion tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions over the next four decades, according to the Emissions and Cooling Policies Summary Report, demonstrating why the race for sustainable cooling is crucial both to reduce global emissions and build resilience.
A practical guide to climate-resilient buildings and communities*, *published by UNEP last year, shows how buildings and community spaces can be constructed to increase their resilience to heat waves and a range of other climate impacts, from droughts , floods or forest fires. As many cities recognize the need to adapt to climate change, UNEP’s Adaptation Gap Report 2021 finds that more is urgently needed.
“The story of how nations tackle climate change will necessarily be a story of how we redesign and rebuild our urban environment,” Troni said. “The longer we delay, the greater the challenge becomes.”
Hosted by Sweden, the theme for World Environment Day on June 5, 2022 is #OnlyOneEarth – with a focus on “Living Sustainably in Harmony with Nature”. Follow #OnlyOneEarth on social media and take transformative global action, because protecting and restoring this planet is a global responsibility.
UNEP is at the forefront of supporting the Paris Agreement goal of keeping global temperature rise to well below 2°C and aiming for 1.5°C, above normal levels. preindustrial. To do this, UNEP has developed a six-sector solution, a roadmap to reduce emissions across all sectors in line with Paris Agreement commitments and in pursuit of climate stability. The six sectors identified are: energy; Industry; agriculture and food; forests and land use; Transportation; and Buildings and Cities.