Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Policy & Practice: Responding to the Risks Posed by Climate Change: Cities Have No Choice but to Adapt

Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Policy & Practice: Responding to the Risks Posed by Climate Change: Cities Have No Choice but to Adapt

Article excerpt

Cities, particularly those in coastal areas around the world, need to pay close attention to the risks posed by global warming and climate change. These risks are substantial, and the costs of not taking them into account are likely to be enormous. Planners should take the lead in preparing climate mitigation and adaptation plans, although these need to be approached somewhat differently from other planning assignments. Adaptation planning, in particular, should be viewed as a collective risk management task. As such, new tools for collaboration such as scenario planning, joint fact-finding and the use of role-play simulations to build public support in the face of high levels of uncertainty and complexity might be helpful.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, greenhouse gas emissions pose a serious threat to the well-being of communities all over the world (IPCC, 2007). Natural 'environmental services' such as water purification and soil revitalisation, as well as basic infrastructure for power production, waste disposal and transportation, are threatened by the likely effects of global warming. Sea level rise, saltwater intrusion into freshwater areas, storm surges and changing patterns of precipitation pose serious risks. As the population of Louisiana learned after Hurricane Katrina, most cities are ill-prepared to deal with unexpected changes in weather patterns or natural disasters, and climate change is very likely to alter and intensify weather events of all kinds.

Even the most ambitious reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, such as those discussed at the 2009 global treaty-making conference in Copenhagen (including a substantial shift to 20 per cent renewable energy, a 20 per cent improvement in energy efficiency and a 30 per cent cut in greenhouse gases by 2020) will not be enough to head off temperature increases that threaten to drown small island nations, chase vast numbers of people from their homes in the river deltas of Africa, Asia and Latin America and cause public health problems far more dire than the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. It is quite likely that almost all the countries that signed the Kyoto Protocol in 2008 will not meet their current greenhouse gas reduction targets - an average reduction of 5.2 per cent from their 1990 emission levels by 2012 - let alone the 20 per cent reductions that would be required over the next few decades to head off severe climate disruption. So, the most likely scenario is that global temperatures will rise and cities around the world will have to cope with the impacts. If average global temperatures rise more than 4°C before the end of the century, the impacts of climate change will be catastrophic (Table 1). Even a rise of 2°C would cross a significant tipping point. Unless greenhouse gas emissions are held at 450 ppm (some say 350 ppm) by 2050, we are sure to experience a greater than 2°C increase in mean global temperature. This seems destined to cause a wide range of deadly impacts. Current levels of CO2 emissions are 379 ppm and rising annually at a faster rate than ever before, in spite of the voluntary emission reduction efforts adopted in a number of countries. Even if we achieve the very ambitious goal of holding greenhouse gas emissions at 450 ppm, there is still a 40 per cent chance that temperature increases will exceed the 2°C level (Maslin, 2009).

Some communities will not experience any of these effects, at least not right away. The impacts of global warming will be uneven. In some places, global warming might even seem to be a plus, as some cooling or increased rainfall might have advantageous impacts. It is almost impossible to predict with any accuracy, especially in the short term, what the effects of climate change will be in a particular city or metropolitan area. The complexity of the socio-ecological systems involved and the relatively primitive state of our forecasting models make it hard to forecast what is going to happen. …

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