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Integrating solutions to adapt cities for climate change

Published on July 19, 2021

A picturesque view of Tacoma showing Mt. Rainier in the background.

A new article explores how record climate extremes are reducing urban livability, compounding inequality, and threatening infrastructure. Co-authored by Marina Alberti, Professor of Urban Design and Planning at the University of Washington; Brenda B Lin, Alessandro Ossola, Erik Andersson, Xuemei Bai, Cynnamon Dobbs, Thomas Elmqvist, Karl L Evans, Niki Frantzeskaki, Richard A Fuller, Kevin J Gaston, Dagmar Haase, Chi Yung Jim, Cecil Konijnendijk, Harini Nagendra, Jari Niemelä, Timon McPhearson, William R Moomaw, Susan Parnell, Diane Pataki, William J Ripple, and Puay Yok Tan, the article examines three cities with different urban contexts and climates (Freiburg, Germany; Durban, South Africa; and Singapore) and examines the use of adaptation measures that integrate technological, nature-based, and social solutions. The article highlights the need for cities in systematically disadvantaged countries to be prioritized. Read an excerpt of the article below.

Cities confronting unprecedented climate challenges

Extreme weather events are increasingly common across cities on every continent.1 Climate records in 2019 have chronicled widespread heatwaves across the northern and southern hemispheres.2 Wildfires induced by climate change devastated cities and towns in California, Chile, and Australia during 2018 and 2019,3 and at the same time more extreme precipitation patterns are increasing both urban drought and flood risk.4 Rising sea levels, coupled with other environmental issues in coastal cities, have triggered environmental and social change with no historical parallel.5 Current climate change models predict that the mean maximum temperature in cities globally will increase by 2–8°C in just a few decades, with cities in Europe, South America, and Africa potentially facing stronger and more frequent droughts, exacerbating current water scarcity and crises.6 Today more than half of the world’s population lives in cities, with the proportion of urban residents set to rise to over 70% by 2070.7 The increased focus on cities over the past decade, coupled with the challenges that climate change will certainly bring about, has encouraged a large push by all scales of governments to generate activities, innovations, and transformative changes to help cities address the impacts of climate change.8,9 These actions have proven to be insufficient, and there is a clear need to help decision makers think strategically about layering adaptation solutions within cities that can lead to greater resilience across multiple potential futures.10 Integrating diverse adaptation measures will be required to realise the transformations needed to build resilience to climate change and protect urban infrastructure and communities. This Viewpoint aims to spur a discussion on how to systematically integrate three types of solutions (ie, technological, nature-based, and social solutions), to strengthen urban climate resilience, and outline ways for overcoming the range of challenges that hamper integration. We present three case studies with different limitations and contexts of decision making to highlight diverse approaches. Finally, we describe how integration might enable long-term and fundamental change.

Major types of urban solutions

A large body of evidence supports the relevance of a range of technological, nature-based, and social solutions to adapt cities to climate challenges, but the question remains as to how best to integrate these different, but complementary, solutions to maximise benefits. We present a summary of each solution type, indicate what some of the main benefits are, consider the challenges and enablers that might exist to integrate them, and then present three short case studies to show how integration has occurred and how challenges were overcome to achieve multiple goals related to sustained mitigation and adaptation.

Continue reading at The Lancet.

Originally written by Brenda B Lin, et al., for The Lancet.
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