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Finding solutions for cities on the frontline of climate change


Dominique Charron

Vice-President, Programs and Partnerships, IDRC

Santiago Alba-Corral

Director, Climate-Resilient Food Systems

Cities are major contributors to climate change, but they also have the power to change the world. They are key to addressing the global climate change crisis, and some are already doing so thanks to the scientific data they have collected. However, we need more cities to follow in their footsteps and take action.  

The appetite and capacity for change on a global scale is high, as demonstrated by the millions of people worldwide demonstrating for climate action on the streets. This call for action is at the forefront of the Conference of the Parties (COP25) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, taking place in Madrid from December 2–13. This crucial annual meeting brings the international community together to share solutions, galvanize change, and track progress towards the Paris Agreement climate commitments. As the scale and frequency of climate change-related crises continue to grow, we must seize these opportunities for collaboration and shared solutions. 

Widespread devastation caused by extreme weather events is contributing to the growing demand for climate action worldwide, and Canada is not immune. Last spring, the cities of Montreal, Ottawa, and Gatineau declared a state of emergency when they were hit by the worst floods in 25 years. Climate change is an urgent concern that has real implications for every person on Earth — and the time to act is now.   

Accelerated urbanization  

Why target cities, and why now? Because of the accelerated pace of urbanization. 

Cities consume 78% of the world’s energy and are responsible for more than 60% of greenhouse gas emissions, yet they only cover 2% of the world’s surface. More than half the world’s population already live in cities (where most infrastructure, assets, and economic activity are concentrated), and this is expected to rise to two-thirds of the world’s population by 2050.  

Strong evidence is available to inform local and national governments to design resilient cities and mitigate their impacts. For inhabitants of the most vulnerable cities, especially women and girls, this may be a question of life and death. 

Cities must invest in research to understand their unique challenges and contexts, how their citizens are affected, and what solutions are best suited to them.

Praveen, Lab analysist collect the polluted water sample from the stream flowing from Summanahalli in the Banglore city.
IDRC / Atul Loke

Science-based solutions for resilient cities

Many climate change adaptation solutions in urban areas are simple, inexpensive, and nature-based. In the small industrial town of Yumbo, Colombia, green infrastructure was used to mitigate flooding. Paved roads were replaced with porous “green” roads that allow water percolation and reduce the heat island effect in urban areas. Results have shown that these roads significantly reduce the risk of localized flooding.  

Proven solutions backed by rigorous scientific evidence already exist for many of the climate shocks and stresses facing cities at risk. Throughout the Global South, urban planners and regional leaders have been working for several years to strengthen their capacity to anticipate, adapt, and cope with climate shocks and stresses.   

In addition to these efforts, secure funding at the city level is needed to combat climate change. The resilience and adaptability of cities in the face of climate change will influence whether we meet global climate change and sustainable development goals.  

When a city is hit by floods, record rainfall, and other extreme weather events, the focus on a crisis response can cloud the bigger picture, which reveals the common ground between the challenges and solutions that exist in the world.   

If we are to live up to the global commitment to “leave no one behind”, we must tackle the multiple factors that contribute to urban poverty, vulnerability, and inequality. This means that the commitment to our climate, which will presented at COP25 in Madrid, will need to be strengthened so that the need for action is infused in the political, policy, research, and investment agendas worldwide.

This article was previously published in Nature Middle East on December 5th, 2019.