Bangkok Floods Continue To Threaten People and EconomyNew research reveals the majority of European cities are unprepared to deal with climate change risks that seem to be intensifying by the day. The report finds that there are major structural gaps in urban adaptation and resilience planning exacerbated further by a lack of information and funding, as well as misaligned incentives.

Entitled “Underfunded, Underprepared, Underwater? Cities at Risk,” and authored by European non-profit  E3G‘s Nick Mabey, Rosalind Cook, Sabrina Schulz and Julian Schwartzkopff, the study examines how climate risks to European cities are currently being managed and identifies barriers that exist to improving that risk management.

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Source: E3G Report “Underfunded, Underprepared, Underwater? Cities at Risk

Now, if you start feeling a little bit of ‘Schadenfreude’ because Europe – this is of course a generalization – likes to think of itself as a beacon for climate protection and here seemingly does not heed its own advice on climate change, don’t! As happens so often, it comes down to money or as the authors write:

“Yet, despite will and best efforts, many cities are unable to protect themselves against these risks, as they are working on limited resources and with no guidance. Governments are shifting responsibility for climate risk management to city administrations, but do not provide them with powers to act. On the contrary, many cities have faced budget cuts from their central governments over the past five years.”

The situation does not appear to be that different in the US. Moreover, “[w]ith 78% of European citizens living in cities and 85% of the EU’s GDP being generated in these economic hubs,” the report stresses the importance of effective climate risk management in light of this major challenge to the security and prosperity of European cities. “While cities are responsible for 75% of the EU’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and are leaders in implementing solutions for a low carbon economy, their exposure to climate risks is much less understood and reported on,” the authors lament.

Most importantly, the E3G report sheds light on an underestimated aspect of climate impacts, especially with regard to cities: cascading system risks. “Cities, as interdependent, interconnected networks of people, transport, energy and communication systems are at risk from a failure in one system that causes a set of cascading system failures,” the authors elaborate.

The impact of the 2011 floods in Thailand on the global supply chains in the electronics and automotive industries is cited as one example. What is further concerning, according to the report, is that “for the most part current action doesn’t match the scale of the risks” given scarce resources, other priorities or funding shortfalls. Consequentially, the authors warn about simply narrowing the focus to headline-grabbing national targets used by governments in international negotiations to reach a climate change agreement at COP21 in Paris: “National governments also have to pursue ambitious mitigation plans to limit the need for adaptation. Cities need guidance and financial support from the EU and national governments to address gaps in capacity and funding.”

In order to address the identified climate risk management gap, the report makes eight recommendations. In particular, the following recommendations on the list stand out:

  1. The EU should follow a comprehensive climate risk management framework that guides cities and governments when making adaptation and resilience decisions.
  1. This framework should provide cities with new tools to get access to the much needed high quality climate risk assessments at a local level in order to better understand cities’ individual exposure to cascading system failures.
  1. Cities should be given greater direct capacity and budgetary support to build resilience and have contingency plans in place. With respect to such strategic planning, the report correctly points out that “[w]ithout the right information on the range of possible climate impacts and risks it is extremely difficult to assess the costs of resilience measures and the budget local authorities require.” Notably, the authors draw an important and nuanced distinction between ‘resilience’ and ‘adaptation’ – further elaborating why the pursuit of the former is especially critical: “Resilience goes beyond adaptation. Whilst adaptation allows cities to simply deal with new climatic conditions, resilience implies an ability to return to previous conditions without any long-term damage. Resilience is therefore the more challenging task but it is a necessary precondition for lasting prosperity and security.” Note, in the public discourse these terms are often used interchangeably.
  1. Explicit policies are required on where responsibility and liability for “climate damage impacts” fall (public sector vs. private sector).

Check out the other recommendations and the entire E3G report here.

Understanding and being adequately prepared to deal with climate change impacts the recommendations from above are sensible enough to also be considered by many US cities. Thanks to former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who earlier than others understood that cities needed to strongly push for resilient as well as sustainable urban development, both as part of basic quality-of-life considerations and as a means of preserving a competitive advantage in order to continue to attract future investments, New York City has a risk management response plan in place. This will guarantee that businesses can reasonably shield their investments and supply chains from climate change risks by choosing New York City as their home. It is, however, crucial to remember that plans are necessary but alone insufficient without adequate funding for their comprehensive subsequent implementation. Read the latest New York City Panel on Climate Change (NPCC) 2015 report and as part of the Vision 2020: New York City Comprehensive Waterfront Plan the chapter on “Increase Climate Resilience”.

Increase Climate Resilience in New York City: Strategies and Projects

roman cities2 roman cities3Source: New York City Vision 2020 “Increase Climate Resilience