Museologia Social e Urbanismo XXXIX

Climatic impacts, adaptation and mitigation

Discussion prompts:

  1. What are the various implications of climate change on our current as well as future generations?
  2. What are the various strategies put in place by many cities across the world to fight these climatic impacts?

Climate change has gone from a relatively unknown phenomena to become one of the most important urban challenges that we have to respond to. Why? Only 600 cities are estimated to produce 60% of global output yet, many of these concentrate climate risk lie in climate hot spots including in low elevation coastal zones. Climate Change also has a disproportionate impact on the poor and vulnerable and can become a serious impediment to poverty reduction. How is Climate Climat change related to urban areas?

Since the industrial revolution of the 19th century a range of new energy and production technologies especially those that use fossil fuels like coal, oil and more recently gas have helped propel some developed countries to their high income status.

They’ve used this by using the atmosphere as a huge global sink. While no single factor explains their variation in per capita emissions across cities, key urban drivers of energy and greenhouse gas emissions are population density, consumption trends, the land-use mix, connectivity and accessibility. Greenhouse gas emissions and their concentrations in the atmosphere have led to a mean elevation of global temperatures of about 0.72 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial average.

Incidentally these mean global temperatures are not the same all over the world, they translate into a much higher temperature in the higher latitudes leading to the melting of the Arctic ice, permafrost and potentially the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets.

This could lead to massive sea level rise, impacting cities that are on or near the seacoast. Human-induced greenhouse gas emissions have grown steadily from the 1970s but have accelerated since 2000. The bulk of this addition is from carbon dioxide, from fossil fuel burning and industrial processes like power generation or from cars followed by CO2, from changes in land use and methane emissions due to deforestation, agriculture and urban expansion. How has this happened? With changes in the world economy the most significant increases in GHG emissions are from upper middle income countries and come from the expansion of the energy and industrial sectors and changes in land use in them. The gross emissions of low-income countries have changed only marginally over the last 40 years. In lower middle-income countries emissions have more than doubled coming from land use changes, the energy and industrial sectors. The growth in global urban population over the early 21st century will require a massive buildup of buildings and urban infrastructure which in turn are key drivers of GHG emissions. The very factors that help some of the most economically dynamic cities thrive like strategic positions along trade routes, access to sea ports or river waterways, now make the most vulnerable to the effects of Climate Change.

Even well-endowed cities will struggle with dangerous Climate Change as their best adaptation measures and technologies reach their limits towards the latter part of the century. In short, if dramatic mitigation is not put into place early in the century, even the most developed cities will only be able to put off irreversible impact by a decade or two. There is already clear evidence of human-induced Climate Change impact on unique and threatened systems including marine systems. What are the expected impacts of Climate Change on cities?

Increased frequency and intensity of current hazards, drought, flooding, cyclones and hurricanes, storm surge, rainfall variations and increased temperatures. Urban environmental degradation leading to deteriorating ecosystem services like air quality and water storage and of course developmental deficits, increased rates of morbidity and mortality due to water washed diseases and water scarcity, exposure to a wider spectrum of diseases caused by altering environments, vector-borne diseases, heat disorders and respiratory disorders due to a high concentration of air pollutants.

New emergent vulnerabilities with different spatial and socio-economic impacts that are expected to further degrade the resilience of poor and vulnerable communities. Who are the most vulnerable in cities? The most vulnerable people are usually those who are poor and who live in informal settlements like slum-dwellers, with limited access to tenure security, safe housing and public services. Women, children and the aged are also particularly vulnerable.

Lifetime infrastructure and informal economic enterprises also need special care. What is Climate mitigation? Climate mitigation is a set of interventions to limit the magnitude and reach of long-term Climate Change, typically over the 21st century by reducing Greenhouse Gas emissions for example, by shifting to renewable energy, implementing energy efficiency, reducing energy intensity and consumption and increasing the capacity of carbon sinks for example via reforestation or more radical ideas like Carbon Capture and Storage.

Cities can enable deep decarbonisation and mitigation by doing the following things: focusing on urban economic sectors with considerable mitigation potential like buildings, energy, transport and industry, making the transition to low-carbon cities through urban regeneration, through compact mixed-use development, promoting transit, walking and cycling, adaptive reuse of buildings, the use of energy efficient building designs; through better land use planning and management, creating more compact cities with accessible public transport and containing automobile driven sprawl; by fuel switching in public transport, cutting private vehicle use and encouraging fuel-efficient vehicles and active mobility; using a range of policy instruments effectively by promoting the collocation of high-density residential and employment areas, achieving mixed land use and public transit; shifting power generation to renewables and lower emission fuels, integrating photo-voltaic and renewable productions from local small grids like in Northern Europe.

What is Climate adaptation? Adaptation is a set of responses that seeks to reduce the exposure and vulnerability of economic, social and ecological systems to Climate Change. This is caused by the inability to mitigate their impacts fast enough. Their limits to adaptation that if breached could cause irreversible impacts on particular systems or regions. Cities can become sites of transmitive adaptation by addressing increased exposure and vulnerability through ecosystem-based adaptation, enhanced urban food security, good quality affordable and well located housing, a reduction in basic service deficits and building resilient infrastructure.

What are Co-benefits, and how can one realize them? Co-benefits are adaptation and mitigation interventions that mutually reinforce each other, they’re often related to good development practices. Co-benefits can be realised by integrating Climate Mitigation and Adaptation, poverty reduction and disaster risk reduction to reduce risk to households, enterprises and critical infrastructure. Working within the SDG frame can certainly help this. It is important to take into account the contextual urban landscape and risk drivers focusing on both mitigation and adaptation. For example, the overall climate risk to Indian cities are associated more with vulnerability than hazard exposure, hence, improving universal access to basic services and housing is a more effective strategy in Indian cities than let’s say, exposure modification by raising dykes in Dutch cities. How can cities help to address Climate change?

Cities are not only local Climate hotspots, they also provide the opportunity for fast track Climate action that can be propelled by the momentum of urban investment, growth in institutional capacities and the potential for social, economic and technological innovation. Most of the urban infrastructure expected to be in place by 2050, has yet to be built. This means that there is significant space to map out appropriate urban solutions today that prevent or reduce carbon lock-in.

With integrated long-term planning these windows of opportunity can be kept open as new buildings and infrastructure is built and new energy consumption patterns are established. At the same time, urban and regional infrastructure in mature and established cities in North America and Europe are ageing and there will be new opportunities to rebuild and redevelop these taking advantage of the latest scientific and technological advances. Much of the opportunities to foster sustainable low-carbon urbanisation will be concentrated in low and middle income countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America.

This provides us an opportunity to dramatically reduce carbon intensity and climate risk if we make appropriate technological and institutional choices in the ongoing urbanisation processes in these regions.

Cities and regions as diverse as Seoul, Durban, Stockholm and Manizales and the state of California in the United States have led ambitious mitigation and adaptation interventions that are hard to legislate and implement at national level. This has been done successfully by engaging with local, regional and national governments, key city networks and urban climate research institutions to craft a deeper scientific understanding of viable, mitigation and adaptation pathways. The SDGs include an explicit standalone urban SDG11- make cities and human settlement inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. When read with SDG13- take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts and SDG7- ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all, we have a policy frame of goals, targets and evidence-based progress monitoring towards climate action at all scales. In conclusion, cities and regions are not only sites that produce two-thirds of current greenhouse gas emissions but they host half the world’s population and three-fourths of the global economy which is at varying levels of risk to Climate Change. As we approach an era of dangerous Climate Change, urban areas are expected to be impacted by extreme climate events and associated health risk, well before sea level rise and other irreversible changes take place.

There are clear limits to adaptation in most regions of the world. This implies that deep decarbonisation of urban systems from energy and infrastructure to buildings, transport and production is necessary, if irreversible impacts are not to be felt from mid-century onwards.

The role of local and regional governments and local action is crucial to effective implementation of the climate agenda in cities. Strengthening this will require concerted action and devolution of power, finances and resources. Joining up the development, poverty reduction, disaster risk reduction and climate adaptation and mitigation agendas is an effective way to accelerate the response to Climate Change, use less resources and build synergies within the SDG frame.

If you look at population trends and growth right – what we call here two-tier cities right – so maybe the small cities and the medium-sized cities.

Those are the rapidly growing cities. Most of the world’s largest cities, there are some other still but they’re peaking right they are capping and it’s a second tier of cities that are growing really fast that don’t have enough resources, they don’t have that much tax revenues because they’re not that big yet and these are the cities where they’re going to balloon in their population and that’s right where some really some scary issues the change especially the rate of urbanisation in Africa, things that are occurring or have (been) occurring in China, and India are just staggering in terms of the speed again and the lack of planning, lack of passive, lack of funding, lack of technology and that those issues no small cities actually as you model them out over time will dwarf the C40’s emissions. So C40 for a long time,  had had kind of a gap in our footprint and engagement in two parts of the world – India and China. India has been difficult and continues to be difficult because of the governance structure there, and the model that we have in terms of the mayor and and how kind of central government, it’s not the way India is set up, so it’s tricky there amongst other issues. And then of course in China it is very kind of closed off and it’s top-down control and they don’t let a lot out. We’ve been very fortunate in last year and a half to really make a breakthrough in China and once you’re in China you’re in, they make a decision and you’re out.

We had some good signals and meetings with NRDC, they started a few cities for us to work with – that’s gone well – and now we’ve got six cities in China, by the next year we’ll have 12 – so we have a huge footprint there. We’re also doing something with the Peaking Cities Alliance which is a great thing and we’re also been helping them usher in and host a US-China City Summit, which was the beginning of this kind of collaboration which has been really remarkable and moved the world, frankly between the US and China national leaderships in Paris and basically came together in the failures that we had in Copenhagen was the opposite. They basically said we’ll get together and single-handedly move the markets because we’ll agree to this and it’ll happen. Now we’ve just seen this huge movement and I think what’s really interesting is that again for practitioners who’s been there means that you can hear this stuff and you can read this stuff, when you go to China and you actually see the scale – the immense scale of these, of the issues that they’re facing, the size of their cities, the dirtiness of their air, the congestion of the traffic, I mean it is really, you HAVE to see it to believe it and this is what they’re dealing with everyday. So China is completely bodying on this, it’s not an angle, it’s not an issue, this is life, quality, all out on it and in fact depending on what we’re searching to look at, it very well may be the case the Chinese cities have already peaked in terms of their emissions.

That’s how rapidly they are going after this. So I think what was for the last decade a huge cause of concern and still is, is actually maybe one of the best stories on this topic in the world. On how quickly, how swiftly a country of that size can move on one agenda and one topic very aggressively going after this and I think part of what we’re trying to to do is by collaborating with that and take some of those good case studies and the stories out and radiate it out and show the rest of the world what is possible, how you can so radically go from one really intense curve to another and that’s occurring in China to an extent maybe nowhere else in the world.

It’s both coupled technology and policy, because of the size and the breadth of the economic prowess of China- I mean they’re one of the large manufacturers in the world PV, of batteries – they got it all there – and they recognise that they cannot only be a producer but a consumer and self-generate their economy. So initially and this is a big thing that they were grappling, they turn into the largest automaker in the world, they are tanking out cars like crazy.

So how on earth are we going to have some kind of you know policy, a really draconian policy on limiting vehicle use when that’s how we just lifted up everybody out of poverty into middle class in China.

And we have you know, literally a national Right on our hands we do that. Well, we’ll just make electric vehicles. So as an example one of the things that they have done – Shenzhen and I can’t remember the number, some staggering number of electric- they just electrified the entire busfleet, something like 10,000 buses, it’s staggering what they can do when they make the decision to do it and how quickly they can implement it based on the governance structure which is a big thing that we’re working on now, maybe we’ll come onto it a little bit but just to flag it for the people on the big issues – vertical and horizontal policy integration between local, regional and national government and then even within horizontally, within the city. And what happens is you’ve got a very very vertically aligned system of governance in China, for right or for wrong, but what we’re seeing is you know, how you move that supertanker – when it’s that aligned you can do things very quickly, if the decision is the right one that you want to take – well whether it’s right or not, you can move quickly, if you get my point. So anything also have that the economic prowess in the manufacturing capability to do this; so they’re building their own buses, they’re building their own PV, high-speed trains, bridges one of the really interesting things happening in China too, is that China is the largest consumer of concrete cement in the world. And I love that… many people know that, the concrete production is hugely energy-intensive and huge amounts of off-gasing, in terms of concrete cement, so the impact they can have even alone on that as the largest consumer of what they do and how they do it is that really can keep changing the game of the materials they use and the process with which they manufacture it. And they are really really thinking about this and that some of the research coming out of their organisations over there is really kind of astounding and the last point

I would say on China is that I think it’s quite exciting and hopeful is that we’re actually beginning on working with them on data collection as well. So actually working with them on the GPC- Global Protocol for Community-Scale Greenhouse Gas Emissions; doing citywide inventories that matchup to the cities around the world, you can have like comparison finally what’s happening in Chinese cities and getting some of the data out of there which hass been kind of slow and reluctant but now we’re seeing it happen. I think a couple of interesting things that the Chinese contacts have, one is the the cultural systems and norms that they have, and there’s a lot of acceptance of decisions and policy where it’s not like that in context for example for the US, not at all. So you can set a policy in the US and people don’t care, don’t engage, don’t know it’s there or outright don’t like it and won’t follow it and which they have the right to do, unless that’s law but there’s difference between policy and law.

It’s not the context in China, in most cases. And in policy context, it’s socially understood that you will accept it different than what you ask though that’s more like in the individual level but they’re also strong engagement and mandate between politics and private sector in China. Which again, in the case of US is not the case. They’re totally kind of getting that horizontal, so when in some of those cases they don’t have those issues to the same extent in China. But because it is so structured and rigid you do still have a.. it comes together but it doesn’t blend interestingly enough so that’s where you see I think this proliferation in China of eco-cities and it really aggressively going after this like have what does that look like, how do we build it, how do we build it, at the rate in you know they’re kind of models these concentric ring roads and their designs- is that the right one, is it not the right one?

They have these concept called superblocks, because of the size and speed and you get a block that big it makes it not usable at the human scale, you can’t walk it or yeah you can kind of bike it but the access as the roadways aren’t enough. So they’re doing some really interesting stuff to try to tear down the superblocks, make it more manageable.

Is concentric ring roads the right one? Do we cap the size of the city and make smaller cities so we shouldn’t have 15 million person city, maybe we should cap it at 10? I laugh you know? How many 10 million-person cities in the U.S.?

Not that many, China- they’re you know they’re abundant but so they are grappling at figuring out how to blend that together and what it looks like, but again at a ferocious pace, you can’t take the governance structure of China, pick it up and put it down on another country – doesn’t work. What you can do however, is you can link together and use kind of tangible examples of what worked, at what cost, at what scale and you can transfer that at other places or you can learn from that. So that’s something we’ve spent a lot of time at C40.

You know, initially one of the reasons, and even still to this day while many private sector businesses and national governments have bypassed and overlooked cities was because of their complexity. They’re messy, they move quickly, they’re hard to keep accountable, they are hard to track and not transparent in some instances and the biggest issue is that you can’t replicate it. So we can get smarter about what happened in one city and not just like a broad-brush spectrum kind of share that with everybody but share with cities that may find it useful, you get a much more higher rate of uptake, so how do we do that?

The good news in terms of building energy efficiency is we know that we know what you need to do right, the technology, the insulation, the passive house standards, the ability to do and design buildings that operate, you know practically a fraction of what the current buildings do – that’s the good news.

We know what that is. The difficulty and the trick is having to implement that, and largely that comes through a kind of incentive programs, comes through policy, it also comes through standards and codes and a lot of cities don’t have building codes of any kind let alone ones that are more stringent and that’s a situation where we need strong kind of vision and leadership that a city can provide and then there’s different roles the city can play in developing that. So for example, city can set a citywide vision and policy and standard at one level and they can do it to another level even higher level for the building’s they’re going to operate – the municipal buildings, they can lead by example, show proof of concept but you also have to engage the stakeholders because you’ve got a lot of buildings that are private and you’ve got the private sector who has commercial builders, developers who have to buy into this understand this. So you have to bring that along it and it does take time and the issue here is time right; so that’s the other thing that’s really interesting about buildings is they stay around for a long time, you need deep and swift retrofits and part of the problem there is even though we know that we have the technology and we know kind of the process and procedural things that we need to do, we have to change the market in terms of the ROI or Return On Investment because it’s easy to get some quick paybacks and even that the low-hanging fruit you know isn’t kind of completely taken yet and then we need to kind of spur more of that but you’ve got to be very careful because when you strip out that low-hanging retrofit fruit, that also strips out the payback on the things that take a longer time. So if you don’t bundle efficiency measures and buildings together the short-term returns and the long-term returns to kind of, get it an average that’s more appealing to everybody but what you end up doing is you strip out that kind of saved money out of the building from the beginning because it’s very hard to do the deeper retro fits that ultimately will have to happen. So that’s the kind of the context of more in the Global North and then we’ve got a lot of building stock and I think Global South- it’s very different because there our issue is that we’ve got a lot of informal settlements, you don’t even have formal buildings right and within that you don’t have building codes and in some cases you know there aren’t even addresses, so how are you going to have a system that tracks energy use in a building that isn’t even a formal building, that doesn’t even have an address? So you have those everything I just described previously now is and what we’re talking about here in Global South is how do you build buildings that are cheap, that are safe, that are efficient? How do you build them in advance because the urbanisation’s happening so rapidly that in many cases that’s why the informal settlements are getting set up because the city isn’t aware of, doesn’t know, can’t predict where they’re going to that population growth is going to occur in the city,  in the inner city  or outskirts of the city, how will they have the funds, and the capacity to build the buildings – so informal settlements get(instead). So they you’ve to convert those without displacing communities that grow up around them and then how do you get energy into those buildings that you can track and use, even though there’s a lot of informal use for tapping in of that electricity. But there’s some really amazing examples that are happening around the world.

Since you don’t see that energy demand, you don’t see that those GHG emissions that’s not to say it won’t be there very very soon and go up really quickly, so wehave to be very aware of that context of making sure we avoid the emissions and in Global South there’s a very low emissions per capita right now. Global North is very high GHG emission per capita and Global South you’ve got to have new systems and new processes in place that allow uplift of economic opportunity and prosperity, but do not follow Western civilisation in the consumption and development pathways, but actually have a keep there where they’re at now flat so you don’t have a curb in terms of the emissions profile. That’s gets a little bit complicated and tricky because you have to deal with the same thing from two totally opposite ends of the spectrum. Especially if you look at kind of cities and urban agglomerations kind of sinks and sources, not of emissions but rather of energy and of resources purely. Water as an example of different services and it becomes a really big one and I think there’s also we’re talking about kind of institutional governmental, governance shifts, you got to do that now and you gotta be really careful about accelerating around the rate of action to reduce emissions that are future proofed. Because then we’re following bad behaviours, more bad behaviour, you’re gonna have to rip out infrastructure even if it was for a good purpose for mitigation because it wasn’t future proofed that might be underwater and very thoughtful in the beginningm so it’s kind of a really exciting time at C40, we’re kind of looking at the things that we’re touching on and how we’re impacting transportation system to reduce emissions but reducing black carbon and increasing air quality and using the impact of health associated with air quality like in China, like in Dar es implementation of bus rapid transit and the motivation wasn’t to reduce emissions, the motivation was to  create better air quality, reduce the pollution in air. So it’s really interesting in terms of the premise and the mechanism in which you would do this, but ultimately you find out these things are all interconnected, aren’t they? they’re all linked and trying to tie that together weave a narrative that brings the people along in this decision.


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Pedro Pereira Leite (2017, 11 Abril). Museologia Social e Urbanismo XXXIX. Global Heritages. Recuperado em 23 de Junho de 2024, de

Pedro Pereira Leite

Researcher and professor. He had his PhD. on museology in 2011, with the title “Muss-amb-ike Homeland: The commitment on musicological process”, that was published in 2011. In 2012 he finishes a Post-PhD Research on "Biographical Glances: The intersubjectivity poetry on museology, at Lusófona University (Lisbon). Presently he is working in his Post PhD. Research about: “Global Heritages" with the aims to build a network on local cognizance and memory manager has a tool to build the will of action in 3 different communities, linked by past communed heritages.” He works at CES. He participates on different Research network, presented papers in national and international conferences, and had published books on research subjects.

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