Harmonizing urban growth as climate adaptation strategy

By FrontierManipur | Published On 18th Aug, 2021, 07:51 GMT+0530

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Green paddy fields in Manipur (TFM PHOTO)

The Northeast India region is already predicted to have errant rainfall conditions in the coming years, with predicted incessant rainfall likely to induce flash floods and massive landslides. Understanding this event is necessary to prevent loss of lives, crops, and properties ultimately.

By Salam Rajesh

The discourses on finding solutions to address climate issues reflect the urgency to meet targets set in different global summits, focused at limiting global temperature rise by 2050 to thwart ‘predicted’ catastrophe. Unprecedented weather conditions and backlash by nature in a harsher tone has set the global community to re-think their strategies to deal with the climate issues.

The C40 Cities, an initiative of nearly 100 mayors of leading cities in the world, and McKinsey Sustainability recently brought out a publication titled ‘Focused Adaptation: A strategic approach to climate adaptation in cities’ (July 2021). The publication outlines city adaption plans in two types of action strategies.

The action strategy is broadly defined as (a) Systemic-resilience actions, which are described as actions that ‘increase the adaptive capacity of a city, regardless of the hazard exposure(s) the city might face’, and (b) Hazard-specific actions, which are actions that ‘reduce the impact of a specific hazard or enhance a city’s ability to recover from that hazard’.

The action strategy encompasses field adaptive methodology to address climate change adaptation, revisiting cities’ plans to strike a balance between developmental needs and the requirement of ‘breathing spaces’ for both human and the natural environment.

The strategy involves re-designing streets and built-up areas, giving more space to the environment-friendly modes of transportation such as biking, walking, and open space for people to relax, specifically for those with health issues.

‘Cities are on the front lines of the growing physical risks associated with climate change’. This hard statement comes from the thought leaders knocking heads together to find ways for cities to adapt to the growing concern. Cities like Jakarta and California are already feeling the heat of climate change, the one threatened by rising sea level and the other by intense heat from rising temperature.

Several options are being tabled to find the best workable solutions. The first suggested priority is on nature-based solutions. The second suggestion is on investing in actions that increase resilience systemically. Resilience is a by-word in climate adaption strategy, so much as resilient agricultural crops are being promoted to resolve food crises in underdeveloped countries where food insecurity and famine-like conditions have killed millions.

With cities, nature-based solutions like planting street trees, managing river catchment, using nature-based sustainable urban drainage solutions, and creating coastal nature-based barriers are suggested actions in terms of their impact on reducing risks, and in achieving ‘benefits beyond adaptation in areas such as decarbonization, health, and economic growth’.

The C40 Cities’ suggested systemic resilience includes increasing awareness of physical climate risks, incorporating risk assessment into city processes, optimizing emergency, and enhancing financial and insurance programs. In short, cities have to gear themselves up to move forward with the emerging threats from severe climatic conditions, both in short and long terms.

In designing cities with climate adaptation strategy in mind, the report suggests delving into considerations such as extreme heat, inland flooding, drought, wildfires, coastal flooding, and storm surges amongst the several issues. It is already being assessed that erratic climatic conditions could influence recurrent cyclonic storms, impactful tidal waves, relentless rainfall, and extreme heat. And, cities across the globe irrespective of population and strength could bear the brunt of these processes.

To achieve a certain level of success in addressing resilience to erratic weather impacts, the report suggests focusing more on increasing awareness, incorporating risks, optimizing response, and enhancing financing programs. Creating awareness on the possible threats in both short and long the term is a priority for cities that are in the frontline of direct impact from extreme weathers, in specific with reference to cities in coastal zones and in mountainous regions prone to earthquakes and heavy rainfall.

The report informs that more than half of the world’s people live in urban areas and this figure is projected to rise up to 68 percent by the year 2050. This broadly suggests an increasing number of people moving into cities to seek employment and businesses, and the expanding population increases the risks that are already there. This risk was manifested by the number of houses and properties destroyed by the recent wildfires that devastated California’s suburban areas.

The C40 Cities report reminds readers of few examples of cities that already have experienced ‘debilitating natural disasters’. For instance, in the year 2018, South Africa’s Cape Town city almost completely ran out of water, threatening the city’s residents with exhaustion from want of potable water. Ground water depletion at an unprecedented scale caused extensive damage to human lives, livestock and crops, threatening famine and deaths.

Citing another example of a 2019 extreme heatwave, the city of Patna, Gaya, Bhagalpur, and other cities in eastern India experienced hundreds of fatalities and daytime outdoor work were banned. August month in 2019 was cited as one of the hottest in this century, scaling beyond 50 degrees Celsius in many places.

In January 2020, flooding in Jakarta killed 66 people and displaced more than 36,000 residents. The Indonesian city is already under tremendous pressure from the process of sea-level rise, wherein the city is said to be sinking gradually with each passing year. The Indonesian Government had taken the decision to shift the capital city from Jakarta to Kalimantan on the basis that the former city is already a ‘dead’ city. Such examples continue to spring up as the years pass on.

A 2018 UN report found that from 1998 to 2017, climate-related and geophysical disasters caused 1.3 million fatalities and incurred 2.9 trillion USD in economic losses globally. The damages suffered in these two decades time-scale is expected to increase manifold in the coming years as extreme weathers are forecast to happen in the immediate future.

In looking at systemic resilience, the C40 Cities report suggests incorporating climate risk into urban planning as of priority basis. This would entail understanding the risk assessment through designing hazard maps, impact assessment, and spatial analysis. Subsequently, the strategy is to mobilize climate response and resilience training for city staff and civilians in preparing residents at large for the impending extreme weather-related events.

The strategy would further necessitate early-warning systems and protocols as optimizing response to a forecast event, such as an in-coming tropical cyclonic storm. The North-East India region is already predicted to have errant rainfall conditions in the coming years, with predicted incessant rainfall likely to induce flash floods and massive landslides. Understanding this event is necessary to prevent loss of lives, crops, and properties ultimately.

(The writer is a media professional working on environmental issues. He can be contacted at [email protected])

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