Can Climate Change Adaptation Relegitimize Urban Planning?

Linda Shi, Research Associate

Cities at the Forefront of Climate Change Adaptation As national governments continue to grapple with the politics of carbon mitigation, many cities have moved on to the issue of how they can adapt to changing climates because they have been bearing the brunt of severe climatic events. On June 2-4, Linda Shi attended the 2nd Annual Resilient Cities Conference organized by ICLEI in Bonn, Germany, on how cities can address climate adaptation. Discussions centered on issues such as vulnerability assessments, insurance, governance, infrastructure, and financing.

Urban Planning as the Basis of Climate Change Adaptation These discussions demonstrated that, in the end, climate change adaptation comes back to the issue of urban planning. Those cities that can successfully compete economically will invest in improvements such public transit, reduced flood risk, and energy efficiency. But those cities that have been unable to plan their cities under “normal” conditions will continue to lag in their progress to prepare for climate change.

As Joan Clos, the Under Secretary General and Executive Director of UN-Habitat, noted: “The challenge is that urban planning has disappeared over the last 20-30 years. It is no longer fashionable. But if you are not planning your cities, if no authority has a plan or if there is no authority to figure out drainage, land use, water protection, urban legislative capacity, then there can be no effective adaptation capacity. We need to re-legitimize urban planning in the face of climate change.”

Refocusing International Attention on Urban Issues Throughout the conference, representatives from the World Bank, GIZ (formerly GTZ) and other donor groups repeatedly cited the need to target more funding at urban issues now that the world is more than 50% urbanized. What climate adaptation presents, therefore, is an opportunity for the climate-focused international community to focus some of those energies and funds on urban and planning, two topics that have been neglected by development assistance.

Photo by Linda Shi