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Unlocking the Potential for Transformative Climate Adaptation in Cities

Authors:

Abstract

Cities are increasingly integrating climate adaptation priorities into development policies and plans. However, there remains a gap in understanding how incremental urban adaptation solutions can lead to more transformative change over the long term. Transformative adaptation reorients urban climate actions around addressing entrenched equity and climate justice challenges. It focuses on systemic changes to development processes that improve people’s quality of life, enhance the social and economic vibrancy of cities, and ensure sustainable, resilient, and inclusive urban futures. This paper systematically reviews literature and case studies across the global north and south to assess the barriers and enablers to transformative climate adaptation, focusing on examples and evidence from a wide range of cities. This paper is part of a series of background papers commissioned by the Global Commission on Adaptation to inform its 2019 flagship report. This paper reflects the views of the authors, and not necessarily those of the Global Commission on Adaptation.
UNLOCKING THE POTENTIAL
FOR TRANSFORMATIVE CLIMATE
ADAPTATION IN CITIES
Eric Chu, Anna Brown, Kavya Michael, Jillian Du, Shuaib Lwasa, and Anjali Mahendra*
BACKGROUND PAPER
About this paper
This paper is part of a series of background papers commissioned by the Global Commission on Adaptation
to inform its 2019 flagship report. This paper reflects the views of the authors, and not necessarily those of the
Global Commission on Adaptation.
Suggested Citation: Chu, E., A. Brown, K. Michael, J. Du, S. Lwasa, and A. Mahendra. 2019. “Unlocking the
Potential for Transformative Climate Adaptation in Cities.” Background Paper prepared for the Global Commission
on Adaptation, Washington, DC and Rotterdam. Available online at ww.gca.org.
*Corresponding author. Please address all correspondence regarding this paper to amahendra@wri.org.
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
Highlights
Cities are increasingly integrating climate adaptation
priorities into development policies and plans. However,
there remains a gap in understanding how incremental urban
adaptation solutions can lead to more transformative change
over the long term.
Transformative adaptation reorients urban climate actions
around addressing entrenched equity and climate justice
challenges. It focuses on systemic changes to development
processes that improve people’s quality of life, enhance
the social and economic vibrancy of cities, and ensure
sustainable, resilient, and inclusive urban futures.
This paper systematically reviews literature and case studies
across the global North and South to assess the barriers and
enablers to transformative climate adaptation, focusing on
examples and evidence from a wide range of cities.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Executive Summary 1
1. The Challenge of Urban Climate Adaptation 8
2. Climate Risks, Vulnerabilities, and the
Costs and Benets of Urban Adaptation 17
3. Development Dividends from Integrated
Adaptation Action—Cities Making Strides 23
4. Enablers of Transformative
Adaptation in Cities 37
5. Conclusion and Key Messages 51
Endnotes 60
Acknowledgments 73
About the Authors 74
2 October 2019
We highlight three key action areas that cities can
focus on to help advance transformative urban
adaptation: mainstreaming information on climate risks
in the spatial planning and delivery of urban services;
partnering with vulnerable and informal groups to build
their resilience; and using nature-based solutions to
respond to water, heat, and other risks.
Adequate resources for infrastructure and service
delivery, strong leadership, accountable institutions,
and data-driven metrics co-created with communities
can help cities prioritize climate adaptation solutions.
Partnerships across public, private, and civil society
actors can build support for adaptation priorities, which
must be implemented in conjunction with climate
mitigation, ecosystem protection, economic growth, and
sustainable development objectives at the local level.
The Challenge: Cities and Vulnerable
Populations at Grave Risk
Home to over half of the world’s population and
producing more than 80 percent of global GDP, cities1
face grave risks from sea level rise, ooding, heat and
water stress, degradation of urban ecosystems, loss of
biodiversity, and other climate change impacts.2 Sea level
rise and storm surges alone could cost coastal cities US$1
trillion each year by midcentury, affecting more than 800
million people.3 Urban areas in drylands, which host over
2 billion people, face increased water stress and frequent
droughts that exacerbate health and food insecurity.4
These impacts not only threaten urban economic assets
and people’s livelihoods, but also the social networks that
foster resilience and quality of life, especially for those
living in poverty.
By 2050, two-thirds of the world’s population will live in
urban areas,5 with the most rapid growth occurring in
underresourced cities in the global South that have large
vulnerable populations and low capacity to adapt to climate
change. 6 Many of these cities have growing informal
settlements, home to over 880 million residents globally,7
with limited access to secure shelter, electricity, clean
water, sanitation, and employment opportunities. Climate
impacts are likely to worsen access to such services,
especially for vulnerable populations, including women
and girls, children and the elderly, migrants, indigenous
populations, and minorities.
Urban development that is blind to climate risks is
increasing exposure to climate hazards in cities. Natural
protections like oodplains, wetlands, and biodiversity
zones within and around cities have been lost, and
natural drainage areas have been built over.8
As cities have grown, rampant and often unregulated
construction in at-risk areas is compounding ooding
damage and temperature-related losses to the
environment, human health, and productivity. Climate
change is also increasing the damage from extreme events
to critical urban infrastructure like rail and road systems,
bridges, electricity grids, and water supply lines.
About This Paper
This paper is part of a series of background papers
commissioned by the Global Commission on Adaptation
(GCA) to inform its 2019 Flagship Report, Adapt Now: A
Global Call for Leadership on Climate Resilience. The GCA
seeks to accelerate adaptation action and support by
elevating the political visibility of adaptation and focusing
on concrete solutions. It is convened by 17 countries and
guided by 30 Commissioners, and comanaged by the
Global Center on Adaptation and the World Resources
Institute. This paper reects the views of the authors,
and not necessarily those of the Global Commission on
Adaptation.
The Way Forward: Building Resilient and
More Equitable Cities
Cities need transformative approaches to deal with
climate change (see Figure ES-1). The IPCC 1.5°C
Special Report identies cities as a critical global system
to “accelerate and upscale climate action.9 Cities must
adapt to climate change in a way that corrects underlying
inequalities, while remaining centers of opportunity for
people and economic powerhouses for nations. This
requires new types of institutions, communities, built
environments, and production and consumption systems
that help ensure the integrity of urban and regional
ecosystems.10
Such transformative adaptation approaches require action
at all levels, from grassroots community groups and
private actors to city planning departments, and regional
and national agencies. Done carefully, through mobilizing
resources, harnessing synergies between climate
Unlocking the Potential for Transformative Climate Adaptation in Cities 3
adaptation and mitigation, and simultaneously tackling
persistent problems like poverty, inequality, and basic
infrastructure decits, adaptation efforts can put cities on a
stronger, safer path that offers economic opportunities and
higher quality of life for all.
Three Action Areas to Make Cities More
Climate-Resilient and Inclusive
1. MAINSTREAM INFORMATION ON CLIMATE
RISKS INTO SPATIAL PLANNING AND THE
DELIVERY OF URBAN INFRASTRUCTURE AND
SERVICES, WHILE STRENGTHENING LOCAL
CAPACITY
Knowledge providers and local, national, and global
actors should make the latest modeling technologies
and credible data on climate risks available to cities and
communities. Many cities in the developing world
currently lack even basic oodplain maps that are crucial
to adaptation efforts. All cities urgently need updated
topographic and elevation maps, along with weather
and climate information, satellite, and remote sensing
data; models that reveal risks of climate impacts to local
areas; and assessments of the vulnerabilities for specic
population groups, such as women and people living in
poverty. Importantly, cities should build capacity to use this
information for decision-making. Collaborations among
local research institutions, civil society, community groups,
the private sector, and city governments are essential to
address gaps in information and capacity, and can create
efciencies with high returns on investment.
City decision-makers should build capacity to use this
information in a transparent and inclusive manner
to drive integrated urban planning, investments, and
operations to reduce climate risks. Cities can select
less hazard-prone locations for infrastructure, improve
standards to which infrastructure must be built, better
understand accelerated asset depreciation due to climate
change, and respond more efciently when disasters occur.
Surat, India, for instance, relocated key industry clusters
Responds only to
near-term risks
Improves
existing
infrastructure
INCREMENTAL
ADAPTATION SOLUTIONS
Envisions new
communities,
institutions,
and economies Produces
behavior and
lifestyle changes
Requires new
people-centric
city planning
ADAPTATION TRANSFORMATIVE ADAPTATION
DEEP, LONG-TERM
SYSTEMIC CHANGE
Adds on to
business-as-usual
urban development plans
Ensures integrity
of urban and regional
ecosystems
Addresses
underlying
inequalities
FIGURE ES-1 Incremental vs. Transformative Urban Adaptation to Climate Change
Source: Author’s synthesis, adapted from Bazaz et al. 2018.11
4 October 2019
away from ood-prone zones and created an early warning
system for ooding.
12
These planning and decision-making
processes must prioritize the needs of the most vulnerable.
City decision-makers should construct new buildings
and infrastructure to withstand projected climate impacts
and must retrot existing infrastructure and services.
Protecting built assets from extreme storms, ooding,
and heat will reduce maintenance costs, safeguard users
and tenants, and increase building and infrastructure
lifetimes. Disaster preparedness and response systems
must be made an essential part of designs and operations.
Examples include elevating docks and wharfs at ports
based on ood risks; increasing ood protection and
water pumping capacity at underground public transit
stations and tunnels; building potential redundancies into
service delivery systems as part of disaster response;
using corrosion-resistant materials for roads, bridges,
and utility networks; and designing open space to soak
up more stormwater. All these actions typically require
more resources, and too many city governments have
very limited investment and technical capacity. None
of these steps are easy, but they offer major payoffs in
future losses avoided, greater economic returns, lower
infrastructure maintenance costs, and longer building
and infrastructure lifetimes. In coastal cities, for instance,
the annual cost of global adaptation is one-tenth the total
cost of no action.
13
Adaptation action in cities can even
mitigate climate change. Better public transit infrastructure
can both improve resilience and cut carbon emissions,
for example, and make it possible to connect low-income
urban dwellers—who increasingly live in women-headed
and minority households—to better jobs.
City decision-makers need to coordinate within city
agencies and across sectors and scales of government
to mainstream climate adaptation across planning
and infrastructure delivery. Integrated, cross-sectoral
approaches are the best way to enhance resilience in
cities. For example, against a backdrop of decreasing
water availability and rising unpredictability in many
cities, integrated planning of water use across residential,
industrial, energy, agricultural, and other sectors is
essential. Higher levels of government can incentivize such
collaboration as a condition for cities to receive nancing.
Decision-making processes should bring together formal
and informal institutions and include vertical collaboration
across national, regional, and local governments. The
Surat Climate Change Trust in Surat, India, for example,
was born out of the realization that more than a dozen
different agencies and institutions had a share of the
overall ood-management responsibility for the city—and
that successful adaptation required city ofcials, natural
resource authorities, and state disaster management
authorities to work together.14
2. BUILD CLIMATE RESILIENCE BY UPGRADING
LIVING CONDITIONS IN VULNERABLE
COMMUNITIES AND INFORMAL
SETTLEMENTS, DRAWING UPON LOCAL
EXPERIENCE AND COMMUNITY KNOWLEDGE
City governments must strengthen the adaptive capacity
of vulnerable and informal communities.15 Climate risks
and resource scarcities disproportionately affect the poor
and most vulnerable, many of whom live in underserved
informal settlements. These communities are often
at risk from ooding or landslides,16 are susceptible to
extreme heat, and have little or no political voice in cities.
Government and community-led schemes to upgrade
informal settlements involve installing infrastructure for
improved housing, water, sanitation, drainage, waste
management, and thermal comfort. This lowers the
disease burden on poor households, increases the
productivity of informal workers, and improves health
outcomes with lasting benets for communities and
cities, while building resilience. For instance, the Asian
Coalition for Community Action (ACCA) program had
supported community-led upgrading across over 2,000
communities in 207 cities in 18 countries by 2014.17
However, the huge decits in basic infrastructure in
many cities require signicant investment in climate-
resilient trunk infrastructure (water mains, sewerage
lines, electricity grids) that community-led upgrading
efforts can then connect to, and many city governments
lack this investment capacity. National government and
external funding can support such partnerships between
city governments and informal communities, as seen in
numerous cities across Africa and Asia.
City decision-makers must tap into citizen knowledge
and experience, especially from marginalized
communities, to support more inclusive climate
adaptation strategies. To redress development inequalities
and support poverty reduction, adaptation must address
Unlocking the Potential for Transformative Climate Adaptation in Cities 5
head-on the issues of power and economic, social, and
political marginalization in urban areas. Because accurate
information on informal settlements and climate impacts
is often lacking, many actions, when taken, are ineffective
or make things worse. Cities thus must do more to
engage vulnerable communities in improving resilience,
as in the “Know Your City” Initiative, where residents of
informal settlements in over a 100 cities help gather
data to understand climate risks and prioritize upgrading
investments.18
3. PRIORITIZE NATURE-BASED SOLUTIONS TO
HOLISTICALLY MANAGE WATER AND HEAT
RISKS
Cities, regional agencies, and water utilities must adopt
integrated approaches that together address ood and
heat management, and protection of water sources.
Cities face increasing uncertainties in the availability of
water. They face growing challenges of water scarcity and
excess, and droughts due to extreme temperatures, from
the water crisis in Cape Town, South Africa, to heat waves
in European cities. Managing water more holistically can
help cities protect natural water sources and channels,
track water consumption and stormwater runoff, and
utilize water reservoirs to create zones of comfort from
heat. Green roofs and greater tree cover can cool cities and
reduce energy use, and wetlands and forests can temper
oods and increase water supplies by protecting water
sources. In many cases, these and other nature-based
solutions are remarkably cost-effective: In São Paulo, for
instance, the reduction of sediment ow from restoring
4,000 hectares of forests near the city’s watershed was
estimated to be $4.5 million cheaper than the cost of
dredging reservoirs to improve urban water quality.19 Such
steps must be implemented carefully, however, to prevent
inequities and “green gentrication.20
City decision-makers must coordinate nature-based
solutions across jurisdictions and with regional agencies,
since ecosystems such as watersheds typically extend
well beyond urban boundaries. The city of Durban, South
Africa, helped establish a transboundary partnership to
address water security problems across the broader
uMngeni River catchment, while also improving water and
sanitation access for impoverished and peri-urban areas
and experimenting with graywater reuse techniques.21
Enablers of Transformative
Adaptation in Cities
The above strategies cannot be considered mutually
exclusive; they must be integrated with each other and
require common enabling conditions (see Table ES-1).
Given the diversity across cities, implementation of the
above recommendations must respond to different levels
of technical and nancial capacity and varying institutional
structures in cities.
Conclusion
Climate change poses systemic risks to cities and
the vulnerable populations and ecosystems within
them. Transformative strategies are needed to integrate
adaptation into cross-sectoral development objectives
(see Figure ES-2). These strategies should address long-
term equity concerns in urban planning, infrastructure
development, and decision-making, as well as emerging
adaptation solutions. An increasing number of cities are
recognizing diverse urban interests, the need to include
marginalized and vulnerable populations in decision-
making, and to fairly distribute the costs and benets of
climate adaptation actions.22 However, creating an urban
future that is more inclusive, sustainable, and resilient will
require a transformative vision and a reorientation toward
justice and rights–based frameworks that can drive large-
scale, long term, and qualitative change.23
6 October 2019
ENABLING CONDITIONS RECOMMENDATIONS TO MAKE PROGRESS TIME SCALES
Strong leadership Nurture political leaders, knowledge entrepreneurs, and social movements that can raise awareness and
advocate for climate adaptation.
Short/Medium
Reframe current and future urban development trajectories through the “climate lens,” taking into account
recent scientic projections and the need for more innovative and inclusive visions of urban futures.
Medium/Long
Promote transformative resilience thinking in decision-making and planning. Medium/Long
Inclusion and equity Prioritize engagement with urban poor, vulnerable, and marginalized stakeholders in climate adaptation
planning.
Short
Design participatory arenas to ensure the coproduction of adaptation solutions between public, private,
community-based, informal actors, as well as international experts.
Short/Medium
Ensure strong community ownership and buy-in to adaptation interventions and resilient development
outcomes.
Short/Medium
Devise parameters to ensure procedural and distributive inclusiveness, social equity, and climate justice. Medium/Long
Finance and local
capacity
Step up nancial support for urban adaptation, and ensure international nancial institutions, donors, and
the private sector prioritize valuing and incentivizing such investments.
Short
Harness and share the value created from adaptation investments between local governments and private
actors,ensuring equitable distribution of benets across population groups.
Short
Create funding incentives or commit resources for local engagement and demonstration projects with
cross-agency coordination at city level. Design intergovernmental funds that support adaptation planning
and action.
Short
Address and analyze capacity and skills gaps in the context of climate adaptation, risk management, and
resilient development at the local level.
Short
Recognize the “resilience dividend” in the design, prioritization, and implementation of both “soft” and “hard/
engineered” adaptation actions. Increase climate-resilient investments and capture value from adaptation
benets.
Short/Medium
Revisit regulatory frameworks to allow for more effective pooling and steering of public, private, and
community-based sources of adaptation nance.
Short/Medium
Provide training and institutional support to municipal authorities to prevent outsourcing of adaptation
planning and to better reect local priorities.
Short/Medium
Delineate nancial logic and investment criteria for socially responsible, sustainable, and equitable forms of
infrastructure and service delivery.
Short/Medium
Synergies across
regional, national,
and global scales
Facilitate more comprehensive adaptation strategies by harnessing networks and partnerships with
transnational actors, rural districts, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and transboundary institutions.
Short
Ensure that regional and local adaptation plans build upon major national policies and commitments,
particularly in the context of urbanization trajectories; other subnational climate strategies; economic
development plans; land use and transportation plans; critical infrastructure policies; and strategic, scal,
and investment plans.
Short
Support global scientic assessments and toolkits that include city-level knowledge and experiences. Short
Embed and synchronize adaptation planning within national, regional, and international resource
distribution, regulations, and nancing strategies through incentives and guidance.
Short/Medium
Offer incentives for sharing knowledge, capacity, and resources across city networks, focusing on South-
South collaborations, in particular.
Short/Medium
TABLE ES-1 Key Recommendations for Transformative Adaptation Action in Cities (with time scales)
Unlocking the Potential for Transformative Climate Adaptation in Cities 7
Source: Authors’ synthesis.
TABLE ES-1 Key Recommendations for Transformative Adaptation Action in Cities (with time scales)
ENABLING CONDITIONS RECOMMENDATIONS TO MAKE PROGRESS TIME SCALES
Knowledge, data, and
partnerships
Require and support cross-agency and cross-sectoral knowledge exchange and consultation on urban
climate adaptation and resilient development.
Short
Foster data and knowledge co-production platforms between city government, civil society and community
groups, and research and academic institutions to make climate science and possible adaptation pathways
specic to the needs of local decision-makers and users.
Short/Medium
Enable multiscalar partnerships, mechanisms for resource transfer, and knowledge communities between
cities and global, national, regional, and community-level institutions.
Short/Medium
Support long-term science-policy-practitioner coordination with effective citizen communication strategies. Medium/Long
Evaluation and
learning
Devise and apply inclusive monitoring, assessment, and evaluation metrics for cobenecial urban
adaptation actions.
Short/Medium
Facilitate South-North and South-South models of peer learning and evaluation of urban adaptation actions. Medium
Create a global open access repository of data at the city level capturing climatic and socioeconomic
variables, thereby generating lessons that can be replicated across scales.
Medium
Accountable
institutions and
governance
Ensure and encourage planning for urban adaptation at the national level because many cities depend
heavily on national transfers and policies.
Short
Break the silos of urban governance and management to incentivize more holistic and multi-jurisdictional
spatial planning and policymaking around climate adaptation.
Short
Promote autonomy and exibility in local government policymaking to support more innovative forms of
adaptation action.
Short/Medium
Develop robust institutional mechanisms to manage potential economic losses and navigate tensions and
conicts in climate adaptation.
Medium
Develop governance accountability frameworks to ensure transparency, equity, and inclusivity in climate
adaptation.
Medium
8 October 2019
National
ministries, financiers
Municipal local government, private sector, civil society
Community
NGOs, research orgs, informal groups
Global MDBs, city networks, aid, commitments
Regional planning bodies, partnerships
SPATIAL PLANNING
AND INFRASTRUCTURE
DELIVERY
TRANSFORMATIVE ADAPTATION PRIORITIES
NATURE-BASED
SOLUTIONS
ACTORS
PEOPLE-CENTRIC
AND INCLUSIVE
APPROACHES
ENABLING CONDITIONS
Strong
Leadership
Synergies Across
Scales
Accountable Institutions
and Governance
Inclusion
and Equity
Finance and
Local Capacity
Knowledge, Data
and Partnerships
Evaluation
and Learning
FIGURE ES-2 Transformative Adaptation Priorities in Cities with Enabling Conditions and Scales
of Decision Making
Note: See Table ES-1 above for detailed recommendations on Enabling Conditions.
Source: Authors’ synthesis.
1. THE CHALLENGE OF URBAN
CLIMATE ADAPTATION
By 2050, two-thirds of the world’s population is projected
to live in urban areas, presenting an immense challenge
for decision-makers and residents alike. Globally, rapid
urban growth already poses urgent challenges, including
inadequate infrastructure, rising social inequality, and
entrenched poverty. Climate change is exacerbating
those challenges.24 This section introduces the emerging
opportunities and constraints surrounding adaptation
in cities and explains why cities and city-regions are
suitable contexts for innovative and systemic intervention.
It synthesizes insights from recent scientic ndings
and policy developments, which call for developing new
methodologies to account for the benets, costs, and
synergies of adaptation, while recognizing the systemic,
multiscalar, and interregional drivers of climate risks and
vulnerabilities. The section then broadens awareness of
the potential resource, capacity, and knowledge pathways
for scaling up adaptation interventions. Finally, it outlines
emerging knowledge gaps and describes the structure of
the paper.
1.1. The Urgency of Transformative
Climate Adaptation in Cities
Urgent climate adaptation action is needed in cities
because cities concentrate critical assets such as
infrastructure, manufacturing, nancial services,
knowledge, and the capacity for innovation. These assets
are increasingly exposed to both extreme and slow-onset
climate change impacts (see Section 2.1 for details). The
Unlocking the Potential for Transformative Climate Adaptation in Cities 9
0 – 1%
1 –15%
15 – 30%
30 – 100%
Projected Change in Urban
Population, 2015–2030
FIGURE 1 Growth Rates of Urban Agglomerations by Population Size, 2015–2030
Source: Beard, Mahendra, Westphal, 2016, based on data from Oxford Economics, 201630
half of the world’s population that currently lives in cities
produces more than 80 percent of global GDP, and just
380 of the world’s largest cities account for half of global
GDP.25 Sub-Saharan Africa now produces the smallest
share of global urban GDP. The largest share comes from
East Asia. Over the next 10 years, the McKinsey Global
Institute’s Cityscope 1.0 model anticipates that cities will
generate 75 percent of global economic growth. It predicts
that cities smaller than 10 million people will deliver more
growth than all the megacities in the global North and
South combined.26 Between 2015 and 2030, cities with
populations between 1 million and 5 million will experience
the fastest economic growth.27 Massive numbers of people
will ock to cities in the Global South. In the next three
decades, the urban population is expected to surge by 2.5
billion, and 90 percent of that growth will likely take place
in emerging cities in Asia and Africa.28 The fastest-growing
cities will be in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia—places
with the fewest resources per capita to deal with the
challenges of rapid urban growth.29 Figure 1 illustrates how
urbanization pressures are particularly acute across the
global South.
On top of rapid population growth, cities in the global South
face the pressures of coping with poverty, unregulated
settlement, informality, and rising inequality. The areas
under greatest economic stress are also those most
vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Degraded
and inhospitable urban lands—such as oodplains, steep
slopes, and areas near dumps and other environmental
hotspots—often house a city’s poor, underrepresented, and
marginalized populations. In coastal areas and riparian
zones, the poor are also concentrated in hazardous places
such as oodplains or neighborhoods surrounding toxic
waste facilities.31 Even though more afuent populations
also inhabit high-risk zones (such as high-income seafront
10 October 2019
properties), those privileged groups have greater access to
resources important for adapting to and coping with shock
and stress events.32
City budget per capita is an indicator of both a city’s
available nancial resources and its capacity to cope with
climate challenges. Figure 2 compares municipal budgets
across 30 cities, illustrating the stark contrast between
cities in more developed countries and those in Asia and
Africa that have only a fraction as much to spend.
Resources pose just one challenge. Because climate
change has the potential to worsen social and economic
inequalities, cities urgently need comprehensive adaptation
strategies. Whereas an incremental approach concentrates
on immediate risks and development needs, a more
comprehensive—or transformative—approach reaches
further, seeking to rectify underlying inequalities and
injustices while envisioning new types of communities,
socioeconomic pathways, and built environments.34 A
transformative vision for urban adaptation therefore entails
more innovative, sustainable, and resilient lifestyles; human
settlements; and economic production systems, while
bringing about a reorientation toward justice and rights–
based frameworks for decision-making and policymaking
(see Figure 3).
1.2. Insights from Recent Climate
Assessments
Global scientic assessments—including the recently
published Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
(IPCC) Special Report on 1.5°C of Global Warming36 and
the Cities IPCC agenda37—point to urban areas as centers
and drivers of more transformative climate change action.
The report identies cities as a critical global system
0
2
4
6
8
10
12
14
16
$0
$2,000
$4,000
$6,000
$8,000
$10,000
$12,000
$14,000
$16,000
New York
Singapore
Copenhagen
Yokohama
Shanghai
Beijing
Tianjin
Guangzhou
Wuhan
Qingdao
Chengdu
Seoul
Belo Horizonte
Rio de Janeiro
São Paulo
Porto Alegre
Mexico City
Bogo
Medell ín
Mumbai
Ahmedabad
Surat
Bangalore
Colombo
Johannesburg
Durban
Lagos
Nairobi
Mombasa
Accra
City budget Per Capita
City population (millions)
FIGURE 2 Municipal Budgets per Capita and Population across Cities
Source: Beard, Mahendra, and Westphal, 2016.33
Note: Budget data represent years 2010 to 2016. Cities are ordered on x-axis in increasing order of city budget per capita.
Unlocking the Potential for Transformative Climate Adaptation in Cities 11
to “accelerate and upscale climate action.” Cities must
adapt to climate change in a way that corrects underlying
inequalities, while remaining centers of opportunity
for people. This requires new types of institutions,
communities, and built environments, and production and
consumption systems that help ensure the integrity of
urban and regional ecosystems.
While global climate models and projections are
increasingly becoming more robust, predicting local
impacts on cities and particular neighborhoods within
them remains a challenge. Scientic uncertainty shrouds
questions of how multiple impacts mapped against
time will interact with or compound each other, or how
climatic shifts will permeate local social, political, and
economic conditions. Consequently, it is imperative to
assess how climate change might inuence land, air,
and water systems, and how these risks might affect
urban infrastructure, assets, and people. Those who rely
on downscaled climate projections need better tools for
anticipating needs. Recent scientic assessments note the
need for a clearer picture of what will happen to residential
and commercial buildings, roads, utilities, communication
networks, hospitals, schools, industrial and manufacturing
sites, and environmental hotspots (including waste sites,
brownelds, etc.). It is also vital to collect and disaggregate
demographic data on the socioeconomic and health
status of vulnerable groups such as informal residents and
workers, female-headed households, the elderly, youth,
people with disabilities, and others. For smaller cities and
towns in the global South—surging in both population
and size—visualizing future urban growth can also inform
discourse on how to identify and prioritize adaptation
measures and allocate scarce resources.
Responds only to
near-term risks
Improves
existing
infrastructure
INCREMENTAL
ADAPTATION SOLUTIONS
Envisions new
communities,
institutions,
and economies Produces
behavior and
lifestyle changes
Requires new
people-centric
city planning
ADAPTATION TRANSFORMATIVE ADAPTATION
DEEP, LONG-TERM
SYSTEMIC CHANGE
Adds on to
business-as-usual
urban development plans
Ensures integrity
of urban and regional
ecosystems
Addresses
underlying
inequalities
FIGURE 3 Incremental vs. Transformative Urban Adaptation to Climate Change
Source: Authors’ synthesis, adapted from Bazaz et al. 2018.35
12 October 2019
Cities are important sites for climate nance, technology,
and policy innovation. This has been noted in recent global
assessments by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate
Change (IPCC), World Resources Institute (WRI), World
Bank, UN-Habitat, and others. Cities are also emerging
arenas of experimentation and citizen participation,
where diverse stakeholder groups are taking action and
engaging in local climate action planning to achieve
mitigation and adaptation goals.38 Over the past decade,
numerous studies have documented the emergence of
urban “early adopters” of adaptation.39 They note that
robust scientic projections, strong municipal leadership,
and relevance to ongoing planning and development
agendas are key drivers of adaptation action across the
global North and South.40 Other studies have also pointed
to cities as nodes of political awareness and arenas of
participatory action, especially in places where knowledge,
resources, and capacity are limited.41 However cities
pursuing climate adaptation and resilience priorities face
hurdles and constraints. These include limited nances
and bureaucratic capacity; weak local authority; competing
development priorities; and political pressure to focus on
immediate, rather than long-term, goals.
Transformative adaptation focuses on systemic changes
to development processes that improve people’s quality
of life; enhance the social and economic vibrancy of
cities; and ensure sustainable, resilient, and inclusive
urban futures. It also reorients urban climate actions
around addressing entrenched equity and climate justice
challenges. Recent assessments (see Box 1) call attention
to principles of justice as integral to developing a more
transformative vision of adaptation and informing cities’
responses to climate change.42 Justice is central, given
the inequitable impacts of climate change on the poor,
women, children, the elderly, and ethnic/class minorities.43
This is highlighted in the New Urban Agenda agreed
at UN-Habitat III, which envisions cities that address
pervasive marginalization and cater to all groups’ needs.
Examining adaptation through a justice lens allows us
to unpack the social, economic, and political differences
that can inuence how disparate groups are exposed
to and affected by climate change. This approach also
speaks to the variable costs and benets associated with
adaptation actions, particularly for marginalized groups
such as migrants, informal settlement dwellers, and other
urban poor populations. Mainstreaming justice in urban
Photo Credit: Aji Jayachandran.
Unlocking the Potential for Transformative Climate Adaptation in Cities 13
adaptation emphasizes the need for a people-oriented
vision. It asks the questions, for whom, through what
mechanism, andto what end.44 This means engaging; giving
due recognition; distributing risks, costs, and benets fairly;
and adopting procedures to achieve parity of participation,
improved equity outcomes, and the long-term stability of
the adaptation program (see Section 3.2).45
1.3. Knowledge Gaps
To help answer these questions, this comprehensive study
assesses the potential for transformative adaptation action
in cities, examining contextual requirements, enabling
conditions, policy constraints, and sources of resource and
capacity support. It asks the following questions:
1. What innovations can make it easier to cope with
local, often uncertain, climate change risk and
impacts, and how will political, social, economic, and
cultural conditions shape adaptation strategies and
implementation?
2. What institutional and governance mechanisms are
necessary for designing, implementing, and evaluating
adaptation actions at scale.
3. Which concrete examples of successful—or even
transformative—climate adaptation in cities can provide
a model for others?
This paper builds upon the recent Cities IPCC Research
Agenda (2018) that identied key urban-related priorities
for the Sixth Assessment cycle of the Intergovernmental
Panel on Climate Change (2018–2022) (see Box 1). It takes
a critical and comparative look at common weaknesses
and gaps in existing approaches to urban adaptation and
explores ways to empower local governments and urban
residents to pursue more equitable and transformative
strategies. We highlight the essential role of cities as
centers of innovation; the need for collaboration; and
the importance of integrating climate adaptation with
economic development, social protection, infrastructure/
asset investment, land management, ecosystem
preservation, and other priorities.
This paper is part of a series of background papers
commissioned by the Global Commission on Adaptation
(GCA) to inform its 2019 Flagship Report, Adapt Now: A
Global Call for Leadership on Climate Resilience. The GCA
seeks to accelerate adaptation action and support by
elevating the political visibility of adaptation and focusing
on concrete solutions. It is convened by 17 countries and
guided by 30 Commissioners, and comanaged by the
Global Center on Adaptation and the World Resources
Institute. This paper reects the views of the authors,
and not necessarily those of the Global Commission on
Adaptation.
1.4. Barriers to Transformative Climate
Adaptation
Climate adaptation priorities have yet to be fully or
systematically incorporated into the wider urban planning
and development agenda.47 Cities are sometimes hobbled
by institutional fragmentation, scarce nances, limited
autonomy from national governments, and contending
environmental and development goals.48 For many cities,
adaptation planning encapsulates both “traditional”
development goals (providing public services, maintaining
economic competitiveness) and emerging climate-related
development goals (reducing risk, ensuring safety and
well-being, and confronting policies that generate more
vulnerability).49 Adaptation priorities can be complicated
by a rapidly shifting demography, burgeoning informal
economies, political patronage and corruption, privatization
of basic services, and the lack of expertise in municipal
administrations. These challenges are particularly profound
for secondary cities in the global South whose growth is
outstripping their capacity to effectively meet needs.50
Table 1 provides a selection of barriers to adaptation action
in cities across the global North and South.
Many cities cite governance, nance, skills, and capacity
constraints as the primary barriers to adaptation action.51
Fine-grained, localized climate projections and scenarios
may be unavailable, inhibiting steps to integrate adaptation
priorities into long-term land management, infrastructure
development, and asset protection programs. Recent
improvements in the resolution of downscaled climate
projections are sharpening understanding of how different
events or impacts will likely unfold. Still, in the urban
context, vulnerability and risk stem not only from direct
climate impacts, but from a multitude of socioeconomic
and cultural conditions that should be better understood
and represented. Spatial planning, economic growth, and
community development may all be affected. Governments
14 October 2019
The Global Research and Action Agenda on Cities and Climate Change Science (2018) highlights a number of key
action agendas for cities.46 This agenda was drafted in anticipation of the Sixth Assessment cycle of the IPCC
(2018–2022), with the view to highlighting cities as sites of experience and knowledge that can inform global
scientific assessments. A summary of those agendas relevant for urban climate adaptation is listed here:
Sustainable consumption and production: Understand how the urban and regional economy affects modes,
patterns, and chains of production and consumption, and their long-term effects across regional, national, and
global scales. Develop pathways for social change that enable urban populations to alter their consumption
behaviors in ways that are less resource intensive.
Finance: Develop frameworks and tools to systematically integrate climate considerations into cities’ fiscal and
financial decision-making, including the full social and economic value of adaptation investments. Explore how
public budgets can be strategically used, and can attract private investment to raise the funding needed to invest
in economically viable and resilient urban infrastructure. Include low-income and other marginalized urban
residents in fiscal and financial decision-making.
Informality: Gain insight into the extent and nature of challenges and opportunities of the informal sector. Inform
policy interventions on informality that respond to climate change and recognize the interdependence between
the formal and informal economy. Investigate ways to increase adaptive capacity and productivity of the informal
sector (including informal housing, residents, workers, and businesses) and scale up solutions from and for the
informal sector.
Uncertainty: Evaluate whether existing models are fit for purpose and provide guidelines for simplified approaches
to help cities gauge climate change projections and associated uncertainties. Develop tools and methodologies to
strengthen decision-making, build confidence, and identify sources of uncertainty.
Urban planning and design: Develop more rigorous analysis of the connections between urban planning, design,
infrastructure development, and climate action. Understand the continuum between urban, peri-urban, and natural
areas, and the dependencies across them, to better assess cobenefits, synergies, trade-offs, and spillover effects
of planning decisions.
Built and natural infrastructure: Explore infrastructure options beyond traditionally dominant gray infrastructure
to promote transformational climate solutions in developed and rapidly developing urban areas. Identify the
cobenefits of natural infrastructure and ecosystem-based adaptation, and support decision-making about future
infrastructure priorities.
BOX 1 Summary of Cities IPCC Research Agenda
Unlocking the Potential for Transformative Climate Adaptation in Cities 15
and urban institutions need to be able to deal with
uncertainty and advocate for adaptation strategies that
stand the best chance of succeeding.
The public’s uctuating interest in climate change is
well documented,52 and poses another hurdle. Various
communication strategies have been deployed to
focus people’s attention on the risks and increase their
willingness to accept or manage trade-offs.53 Some climate
change messaging has been criticized for veering away
from the truth by downplaying risks or exaggerating them,
pandering to sensationalism, or using “bad” science,
which can nurture conspiracy theories or incite public
hysteria. In response, subsequent outreach efforts have
offered accurate but simple and clear messages, relying
on metaphors and analogies, and appealing to emotions,
experiences, and normative beliefs.54 Experiential,
psychological, and sociocultural factors can shape public
perceptions of risk and the ways in which people respond.55
Framing messages about future, slow-onset climate risks
in ways that connect with people’s personal experiences
and emotions can be complicated.56
Political leaders may lack the kind of in-depth knowledge,
incentives, or support they need to understand and
prioritize climate change. It may be hard to juggle today’s
problems and pressures while giving due attention
to what a changing climate will mean for the future.57
For cities, climate change is one of many looming
development issues and may not be the most visibly
pressing.58 Urban residents in the global South have
unmet needs, for example clean water, decent shelter,
accessible transportation, safe neighborhoods, and viable
livelihoods. Even though climate change will exacerbate
these problems directly and indirectly, this danger is more
abstract than what is happening now and may not be
politicians’ most immediate concern.
KEY BARRIER DESCRIPTION
Data, knowledge, and
awareness gap
There is often a lack of robust downscaled climate models and datasets that are suitable, applicable, and accessible
for local decision-making. Scientists often take a technocratic approach. Policymakers take a political or bureaucratic
perspective, while urban residents may rely on personal experiences of climate or weather impacts. Even if data are
available, cities lack technical capacity to apply them in decision-making.
Lack of effective leadership,
compounded by incomplete or
competing planning and policy
mandates
This can include the absence of strong political mandates and conicting departmental development agendas.
Many cities also do not have adequate planning and technical capacity for acting upon climate data and models.
Economic priorities, bureaucratic stafng, cultures, and mandates, and resource consumption patterns may thwart
environmental protection.
High levels of social and
economic inequality
This encompasses socioeconomic differences, disparate access to public services, gaps in skills and attainment, as
well as outright discrimination and prejudice. Inequalities can be both intentional or an outcome of unjust political
and economic processes. Potential implications include being excluded from adaptation decision-making and
distribution of adaptation resources, information, and support.
Spatial and scalar mismatch
in authority
Political jurisdictions often do not correspond to ecosystem boundaries. The location, scale, and scope of challenges
can make them difcult to manage for those confronting them. They may lack authority or responsibility because of
how power is divided and distributed between national/regional and local governments or between municipalities
and traditional power systems.
Diminishing public sector
prerogatives due to lack of
accountability
Adaptation can be further constrained by diminishing condence in the public sector. Worries over corruption and
calls for democratization can curtail local governments’ power to act. So can ideologies and rhetoric shift away from
collective welfare and toward purely market-oriented strategies, private gains, and personal liberties.
Lack of adequate nancial
resources, local capacity,
and skill sets
To change mindsets and practices, adaptation actions require expertise around climate science, infrastructure
planning, communication, social science and community engagement, and monitoring and evaluation. Many cities,
especially secondary ones, lack the required expertise, skill sets, as well as the associated nancial resources and
technical capacities to support comprehensive adaptation actions.
TABLE 1 A Selection of Key Structural Barriers/Constraints to Adaptation in Cities
Source: Authors’ synthesis.
16 October 2019
Poor governance can hinder adaptation, particularly in the
global South. A lack of transparency in decision-making,
opportunity for public discourse, or means of seeking
redress can allow elite interests to elbow aside those
who are less politically and economically well-connected.
Corrupt or inequitable systems, structures, and processes
of governance heighten a city’s vulnerability to disasters
and the impacts of climate change. Poor governance can
especially jeopardize groups already marginalized and
disadvantaged; and inequality, poverty, and displacement
compound the ability to cope and adapt. Informal
settlements pose a particular challenge. These have
expanded in recent years, as record numbers of people
have been uprooted by poverty, persecution, and violence.
In 2016, 60 percent of refugees were living in urban areas
rather than in camps.59 Most informal settlements lie
outside the ambit of formal governance mechanisms, and
planners often lack information about their vulnerabilities
and developmental needs. This inhibits their ability to
produce more inclusive adaptation plans.60
Cities may lack the authority or autonomy they need to
manage the risks they face. Spatially, cities have unique
ecologies—including their ecosystems, built environments,
and human communities—that are not clearly bounded.61
Decisions that need to be taken to protect humans and
ecosystems in cities may require action at regional,
national, and international levels, and this divided authority
creates scale issues (see Box 2).62 Coordinating climate
actions across diverse landscapes and populations is
challenging. Those most susceptible to harm may hold
the least inuence over policy, and those asked to make
sacrices may not see what is in it for them. Differences
between jurisdictions—social, cultural, political, legal,
and ecological—can complicate matters as well.63
Transboundary risks—such as sea level rise and storm
surges—that span ecosystems and infrastructure networks
make coordination across political jurisdictions vital.64
Finally, planning and implementing adaptation and
resilience strategies require investment, and cities typically
lack the necessary nancing. Even if they can secure it,
they may not have the organizational capacity needed
to spend the money effectively.65 The scale of resources
available for urban adaptation remains woefully small.
Between 2010 and 2015, only 5 percent of the US$1.83
billion dedicated to fund climate projects went toward
strengthening urban climate resilience.66 Only ve such
projects were approved. In addition, cities frequently do
not have the agency or authority to access climate funds
directly. Instead they must rely on allocations transferred
from central, state, or provincial budgets. Funding from
international nance institutions and multilateral and
bilateral agencies typically requires political and economic
negotiations between the donor and the country’s Ministry
of Finance. This dynamic, and erce competition for scant
resources between and within countries, means cities
that cannot directly access or manage loans, grants, or
investment get pushed to the back of the queue. There
are other hurdles for cities, including the need to analyze
the additionality of investments—that is, whether they are
actually contributing something new to adaptation. While
important in principle, this is difcult in practice.67
In Boston, a state agency is responsible for the
public transportation system, while different
municipal and state agencies are responsible for
the road network that traverses over 100 adjacent
municipalities across the region. The historical
role of metropolitan or regional planning agencies
and the influence of funds from the federal
government complicate the picture even further.68
Numerous agencies and authorities with distinct
yet highly interconnected roles and responsibilities
have the challenging task of managing
infrastructure that spans municipalities. To design
adaptation programs that are “at scale,” public
sector authorities like those in Boston must share
communication arenas with equally powerful
and informed local and regional actors, ranging
from private entrepreneurs and neighboring
governments to transnational networks.69 Within
these competing interests, cities must also find
ways to appropriately balance the scope—in
terms of both spatial and scalar reach—of any
adaptation action.
BOX 2 The Need for Vertical Coordination
for Public Transit in Boston, MA, US
Unlocking the Potential for Transformative Climate Adaptation in Cities 17
1.5. Structure of Paper
The structure of the paper maps onto the key knowledge
gaps illustrated in Section 1.3 and ties directly to the key
messages and high-priority action areas in Sections 5.1
and 5.2, respectively. In terms of methodology, the survey
of literature for this paper draws on a web-based keyword
search of academic articles, policy reports, and working
papers from nongovernmental and multilateral sources.
Notable examples, which are used to highlight particular
innovative experiences, are drawn from assessing
recent literature, from consultations with experts and
practitioners, and from the authors’ own professional
experiences. To gather feedback on emerging ndings
and key messages, the authors conducted a web-based
consultation with issue experts in March 2019, and an
in-person consultation workshop in New Delhi, India, in
April 2019. Attention was given to synthesizing key lessons
(as illustrated by the various summary tables), as well as
contributing to recommendations for potential solutions
(Sections 5.1 and 5.2).
Section 2 assesses recent science on climate risks and
impacts in cities, including a synthesis of the major trends
in sea level rise, precipitation change, urban heat, changing
disease vectors, and increasingly uncertain extreme events
across the global North and South. Section 3 highlights
exemplars of adaptation and resilience building around
the world, focusing on experiences from particular plans,
projects, and programs designed to increase adaptive
capacity and resilience and urban equity and inclusion.
We organize the discussion around the three priority
action areas, which include spatial/infrastructure planning,
people-centric or inclusive approaches, and nature-based
solutions. Section 4 then offers a reective assessment
of key political, economic, and social enablers of climate
adaptation in cities. To inform future action in cities,
this section offers insights into how climate adaptation
priorities can be applied in conjunction with climate
mitigation, ecosystem protection, human security, and
sustainable development objectives at the local level.
The concluding Section 5 draws out key lessons and
strategies for scaling up urban actions (see Sections 5.1
and 5.2), and remaining key questions that researchers and
policymakers will need to address. This focuses on urban
adaptation actions that are either in planning phases or
are already being implemented. It considers whom climate
adaptation interventions may affect, and how they have
different impacts on different groups. It shows how social
equity, inclusion, and justice are important in framing the
social implications of policy designs and interventions.
Thus, this paper offers a unique urban perspective, building
upon existing and concurrent global assessments such
as the IPCC’s Special Report on Extreme Events (2012),
the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report (2014), the Sendai
Framework on Disaster Risk Reduction (2015), the New
Urban Agenda (UN-Habitat III), the IPCC’s Special Report on
1.5°C Climate Change (2018), and WRI’s World Resources
Report series, Towards a More Equal City (2016–2020).70
2. CLIMATE RISKS,
VULNERABILITIES, AND
THE COSTS AND BENEFITS
OF URBAN ADAPTATION
The growth of urban centers across the globe has
concentrated people, assets, and infrastructure, and
fueled socioeconomic stratication.71 Cities are exposed
to climatic hazards like the urban heat island effect,
urban oods, and human-induced water scarcity.72
This section offers an integrated analysis of urban
climate risks, vulnerabilities, and impacts. It does this by
assessing recent research outlining the major trends in
sea level rise, precipitation change, urban heat, shifting
disease vectors, and increasing disaster impacts across
the global North and South. It shows that pre-existing
socioeconomic vulnerabilities, together with unequal
exposure to environmental impacts lead to particular
patterns of infrastructural, human, and environmental risks
in cities. This section also provides broad quantitative and
qualitative assessments of adaptation costs and projected
benets from the literature. It explains the economic, social,
and political valuation, potential cobenets, and “dividends”
that make adaptation imperative.
2.1. Key Climate Impacts and Risks
for Cities
Rapid growth of the urban population over the last two
decades has multiplied both the number of people at risk
and the threats to urban systems. The IPCC denes risk
18 October 2019
as the potential for uncertain outcomes where something
of value for urban populations and decision-makers
is at stake.73 Risk results from exposure, hazards, and
vulnerability. Recent assessments have identied key
types of cities most exposed to extreme climate change
impacts. Table 2 below offers a high-level synthesis of
critical climate risks affecting cities. It is important to note
that these risks will vary over time and place, and there is
uncertainty in how they will manifest in specic cities. This
is why localized data and projections of climate risks are
essential.
Based on the risks outlined in Table 2, coastal cities—
which host large populations, economic centers, and
environmental hotspots—are especially threatened by
climate change. Many of the world’s urban areas are
situated in low-elevation coastal zones, regions susceptible
to rising sea levels, and more frequent and severe storm
surges. Though they represent just 2 percent of the
world’s land area, low-elevation coastal zones are home
to 10 percent of the global population (see Figure 4 for
examples on Cairo and Dhaka).74 Nearly two out of three
coastal inhabitants worldwide live in cities or towns, where
the potential for asset damage or loss is signicant.75
Furthermore, economic and industrial activities
concentrated in urban areas strain natural systems.
Where environmental regulations, social protections, and
infrastructure are weak, intensive economic activity can
have especially deleterious consequences. Intensive water
use, high inputs of chemicals, large volumes of toxic waste,
as well as losses of natural habitat and ecosystems often
turn portions of urban zones into environmental hotspots.76
These factors, along with the loss of permeable surfaces
and the conversion of vegetated land to developed land,
compound the risk and exposure in coastal areas.77
Water scarcity is another hazard, especially for cities
in desert or dry climates. Drylands are estimated to
cover about 41 percent of the Earth’s land surface and
house approximately 2 billion people.80 Such areas are
characterized by extremely low and erratic precipitation,
which often falls in intensive bursts that cause extensive
erosion.81 Climate change is projected to increase water
stress, with a cascade of direct and indirect impacts. In
addition to threatening supplies of clean, safe drinking
water, more frequent droughts can stop hydropower plants
from providing adequate electricity to cities and towns.
Water shortages will also affect food security (including its
production and distribution) and human health. As glaciers
melt, the ow of water to rivers like the Ganges and
Brahmaputra and those in the Andes will slow, and the ow
of some rivers that have supported human settlement for
centuries could eventually become seasonal.82
Beyond global trends and threats to ecosystems, it is
important to note that impacts and needed adaptations to
climate change are also highly localized. The composition
of soils, vegetation, and shape and slope of topography
affect drainage patterns, as do urban development
patterns.83 Impermeable surfaces, roads, and other barriers
can channel water ows to specic geographies in a city.
These features can interfere with natural hydrology and
cause extreme ooding during regular seasonal rains.84
Measures taken to decrease risk for one population
sometimes shift risk elsewhere.85 In this way, climate
adaptation measures applied in one context may not
always be appropriate or relevant when introduced in a
different setting. Adaptation in one location may also lead
to cascading impacts or even maladaptation in another.
Photo Credit: Flickr/Huitzil.
Unlocking the Potential for Transformative Climate Adaptation in Cities 19
IMPACT DESCRIPTION OF IMPACT POTENTIAL URBAN RISKS
Temperature
change
Temperatures are rising in cities around the
world. Mean annual temperatures in cities
around the world are projected to increase by 0.7
to 1.5°C by the 2020s, 1.3 to 3.0°C by the 2050s,
and 1.7 to 4.9°C by the 2080s.
In the short term, above-normal temperatures lead to heat waves (which
exacerbate urban heat island effects) and below-normal temperatures lead to
cold waves in cities. Poorly constructed shelters are at risk from heat stress,
which can be compounded by indoor air pollution, scarcity of drinking water,
increased prevalence of diseases, etc.
In the long term, the combination of rapid urbanization, climate change, and
population growth will increase stress on energy systems. Warming will
intensify demand for cooling, which will pose threats to urban energy supply.
Precipitation
change
Mean annual precipitation in cities around the
world is projected to change by -7% to +10% by
the 2020s, -9% to +15% by the 2050s, and -11%
to +21% by the 2080s.
Increasing potential for urban ooding and inundation, particularly for coastal
and low-lying cities. Some cities will also experience more severe droughts.
Sea level rise Climate change and sea level rise will exacerbate
hazards such as storm surges, erosion, and
saltwater intrusion. Sea level in coastal cities is
projected to rise 4 to 19 cm by the 2020s, 15 to
60 cm by the 2050s, and 22 to 124 cm by the
2080s.
In the long term, coastal cities, urban aquifers, the built environment,
transportation, and marine ecosystems will be severely affected.
Flooding and
inundation
Flooding and inundation will exert additional
pressure on existing urban water systems due
to competition and demand for limited water
resources. This will lead to negative impacts in
health, economy, and environment.
Varies by location, depending on water stress. Large volumes of storm water
runoff, rising sea level, changes in surface water and groundwater. For example,
farmers in the urban periphery, housing in low-lying areas, and populations with
little or no access to piped water will suffer most. Urban dwellers without tenure
security, migrants, informal dwellers in risk-prone areas will also be affected.
Ecosystem
change
Climate change and urbanization are likely to
increase the vulnerability of biodiversity hotspots,
urban species, and critical ecosystem services.
Ecosystem degradation can lead to the loss of biodiversity, open space, or green
infrastructure that may serve as barriers to extreme climate risks. Clean air and
water are also necessary for healthy cities. Nature-based solutions can present
opportunities for green economies, social equity, and better health and quality
of life.
Disasters
and extreme
risk events
Climate change will increase the risks of
morbidity, mortality, and mental illness in urban
areas due to greater frequency of weather
extremes.
Climate-related disasters will disrupt movement
of people and goods and have economy-wide
impacts. Extreme impacts will also destroy
existing physical infrastructure, such as melting
asphalt and buckling railway tracks.
Extreme events will pose both short- and long-term risks to children, the elderly,
the sick, and the poor disproportionately. Some chronic disabilities and health
conditions (e.g. respiratory and heat-related illnesses) will be exacerbated by
climate change. The experience of extreme impacts also induces mental stress
and trauma.
Interdependencies between transportation and other economic, social, and
environmental sectors can lead to citywide impacts.
TABLE 2 A Selection of Key Climate Impacts and Potential Risks for Cities
Source: Based on Rosenzweig et al. 2018, modied by the authors.78
20 October 2019
2.2. Key Vulnerabilities
Climate change threatens urban communities, assets,
and infrastructure. For example, informal settlements in
the global South are especially vulnerable to the impacts
of climate change. It can be difcult to differentiate
climate-specic impacts from those that stem from
uneven development and informality.86 However factors
such as the poor quality or fragility of housing and work
environments in these settlements, the precariousness
of livelihoods, and residents’ limited capacity to adapt87
expose them to disproportionate risk. Disasters that disrupt
transport, health care, public services, and labor markets
can leave informal workers and settlement dwellers
destitute and unable to cope. Despite the prevalence of
autonomous coping strategies, such as various forms
of community-based response mechanisms, systematic
neglect by urban authorities makes it difcult to manage
climate risks confronting this vulnerable population. Poor
ventilation and sanitation; uninsulated, corrugated iron
roofs; and other hazards in informal settlements can
magnify the effects of soaring temperatures, humidity,
and heat waves, which can sicken and kill.88 In many
cases, local governments are favoring the urban political
economic elite in decision-making at the expense of the
urban poor.89 Figure 5 summarizes key dimensions of
urban vulnerability.
While the key sources of climate risks (see Table 2)
and vulnerabilities (see Figure 5) are now known, and
the urgency is clear, policymakers and citizens lack
either the will or the means to respond. Often, decision-
makers must seek economic justications for specic
investments. Financiers—including private investors,
insurance rms, and donors—may demand this type of
cost/benet analysis. However, this information has been
difcult to gather and measure due to a lack of data on
“successful” adaptation actions, robust metrics on how
to quantify adaptation losses and benets, as well as
uncertainties around the capacities and resources required
Areas
within 10
meters of
sea level
Damanhur
Alexandria
Cairo
Kafr el Sheikh
Ismailia
Dumyat
Port Said
Suez
Dhaka
Chittagong
Barisal
Khulna
Kolkata
Urban centers
Urban centers
within 10 meters
of sea level
Urban clusters within
10 meters of sea level Urban clusters
FIGURE 4 Large Portions of Major Urban Areas Are in Low-Elevation Coastal Zones
Source: CUNY Institute for Demographic Research, Institute for Development Studies and the Center for International Earth Science Information
Network (CIESIN) at Columbia University, 2019.79
Unlocking the Potential for Transformative Climate Adaptation in Cities 21
• Lax building standards, poor maintenance
and upkeep, aged and shoddy construction,
and/or materials leading to inadequate
buildings and infrastructure.
• Increased climate vulnerability due to lack
of access to basic urban infrastructure in
underserved locations and informal
settlements.
• Discrimination that can render communities
and individuals invisible or exclude them from
prevailing adaptation plans.
• Lack of recognition of traditional cultures and
values, non-Western knowledge frames, and
active erasure of indigenous community
structures.
• Physical and mental health problems that affect
a person’s mobility and sensory experience (e.g.,
sight, hearing).
• Chronic health issues that create physical
vulnerabilities and disabilities that can limit devel-
opmental, intellectual, and emotional
capabilities, creating vulnerabilities often
compounded by discrimination.
• Deficient social capital, networks, and
welfare support systems at the community
and individual levels.
• Increased climate vulnerability due to
broken kinship networks; lack of informal
resource support; low access to education,
technology, and health care; and various
forms of discrimination and marginalization.
• Inadequate access to capital, chronic
debt, or lack of capacity to manage financ-
es.
• Underdeveloped models of (public or
private) revenue generation, overreliance on
particular forms of revenue tools, and
inability to secure credit rating or invest-
ment grade to support adaptation projects.
• Instability of political systems that can
prevent sustained adaptation action across
time. This includes protracted forms of
conflict, war, and civil violence, the
prevalence of corruption, underdeveloped
bureaucratic and managerial institutions,
elite capture of decision-making, and the
lack of autonomy around performing basic
urban functions.
• The destruction of waterways, forests, mangroves,
hillsides, coastlines, open spaces, ecological buffer
zones, and other forms of ecological infrastructure
reduces ability to deal with climate impacts.
POLITICAL
SOCIAL
ECONOMIC
INFRASTRUCTURAL
ECOLOGICAL
HUMAN HEALTH
CULTURAL
FIGURE 5 Key Sources of Vulnerability
Source: Authors’ synthesis.
22 October 2019
to adequately monitor complex, cross-sectoral adaptation
actions. The section below attempts to synthesize existing
information on adaptation costs and benets from recent
assessments.
2.3. Quantifying Adaptation Costs
and Benets
The costs of climate change will be high and will affect
national economies. Average global economic losses could
reach between 1 and 5 percent of GDP by 2100 under a
4°C increased mean temperature scenario, but regional
losses could be substantially higher.90 For example, by
2100, potential annual GDP losses for Indonesia, the
Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam could amount to 5.7
percent of GDP. This projected loss climbs to 6.7 percent if
catastrophic risks are taken into consideration.91 Cities are
often economically central to nations; therefore, risks to the
economic functioning of urban areas will lead to signicant
impacts for national and global economic security.
Protecting the people, assets, and critical infrastructure
crowded into urban areas will be expensive. However,
less than 5 percent of global climate adaptation nance
between 2010 and 2014 was spent on cities.92 Coastal
cities, in particular, confront the high cost of preparing for
storms and oods. Sea level rise could reach 0.5 meters by
2050 and more than one meter by the end of the century.
Recent studies put 800 million people in 570 cities at risk
from rising seas and storm surges by 2050.93 Another
analysis nds that the value of assets in port cities exceeds
US$3 trillion (5 percent of gross world product in 2050).94
It is unclear who will bear these costs.95 Estimates of the
annual cost of climate change adaptation range from
US$80 to US$100 billion, and 80 percent of this is expected
to be for urban areas.96 The annual costs of coastal
protection could reach US$12 to US$71 billion by 2100.
However, it is important to note that these expenses
would be dwarfed by the cost of failing to prepare.97 Global
estimates predict that damage from sea level rise, storm
surges, and ooding linked to climate change could cost
cities US$1 trillion each year by mid-century, meaning
that nancing global adaptation would be one-tenth
as expensive as taking no action and dealing with the
consequences.98 Considering potential losses and other
consequences of climate change, investing in proactive
Photo Credit: United Nations.
Unlocking the Potential for Transformative Climate Adaptation in Cities 23
climate resilience and adaptation today is highly cost-
effective. Conservative estimates indicate that US$1
invested today in disaster preparedness can avoid US$4 in
postdisaster reconstruction.99 Where climate insurance is
feasible, the estimate on returns is US$7 per dollar paid.100
The need for such investments can be particularly acute in
places hit by repeated shocks and stresses. Leaving these
places exposed can trigger a downward spiral, especially
for poor populations, that can be hard, if not impossible,
to break. Investments to strengthen resilience in advance
of these disruptions can both limit losses and hasten
recovery, giving rise to a “resilience dividend”.101
Cities can save money by making climate resilience an
integral part of their planning. Implementing adaptation
plans in cities can also help respond to other challenges,
especially if cities are building adaption into investments
they need to make anyway. Studies show that to meet
the growing demand for physical infrastructure and to
address infrastructure decits, cities will need to double
annual capital investments to more than US$20 trillion by
2025.102 One study calculates that US$5 to US$6 trillion
will be required each year and that the annual decit in
infrastructure investment will be U$1 trillion a year.103
Seventy percent of these projected investment needs will
be in emerging and developing countries.104 By 2050, the
World Bank estimates that US$11 to US$20 billion will be
needed annually to safeguard urban infrastructure against
climate risk. The United Nations Environment Programme’s
(UNEP’s) report includes more types of infrastructure
and predicts that protecting them will cost them close to
US$120 billion by 2030.105 Building basic infrastructure for
urban resilience, such as piped water supplies, sewers,
storm water drainage, and electricity that many cities in the
global South lack, would likely cost still more. However, it is
important to note that weak infrastructure systems come
at a price. For example, the World Health Organization
(WHO) reports that providing clean drinking water to all city
dwellers would cost US$141 billion over ve years, but total
global economic losses from unsafe water and sanitation
systems are 10 times that high.106
The economics of adaptation are not always
straightforward or equitable, so attempts to quantify costs
and benets can be misleading. Measures to increase
adaptive capacity can result from effective planning and
restructuring of service delivery. Rather than added costs,
these may require shifts in governance, operations, and
budgeting processes. Some benets, such as preventing
death or promoting social welfare, can be harder to
measure, but are nonetheless critically important.
Judgments about what to protect are not straightforward.
A city may determine that a high-cost infrastructure project,
such as a sea wall, makes nancial sense to protect an
economically valuable property. The calculus would look
different if the area at risk were a shing community or
informal settlement where nancial assets and economic
output were low or unmeasured. Decisions about what
actions to take are therefore built upon an implicit and
explicit calculus of what (and who) is valued and how.107
There is also great uncertainty on the long-term economic
returns of adaptation and development investments, which
are often difcult to monetize.108 This is problematic from
an equity perspective. Traditional methods of evaluating
the benets and costs of actions therefore must be
modied to better account for uncertainty and foster
greater equity.
3. DEVELOPMENT DIVIDENDS
FROM INTEGRATED ADAPTATION
ACTION—CITIES MAKING STRIDES
Having discussed key climate impacts, their risks for cities,
and the economics of adaptation actions, we now move to
assessing emblematic climate adaptation and resilience-
building efforts in cities across the global North and South.
We highlight the need to take an integrated approach to
adaptation in urban areas to avoid conicts with other
priorities such as housing, transport, recreation, and
industry. In view of the potential development dividends
associated with urban adaptation, we illustrate three
broad priority areas: spatial and infrastructure planning,
people-centric and inclusive approaches, and ecosystem-/
nature-based solutions. These priority areas are described
in Sections 3.1, 3.2, and 3.3, respectively, and are reinforced
through Figure 3.
Section 3.1 explores what cities are already doing from
a spatial planning perspective. This includes investing in
sustainable infrastructure (see Section 3.1.1), incorporating
adaptation into land use planning, and factoring climate
risk into other municipal policies and regulations (see
Section 3.1.2). Section 3.2 documents emerging people-
centric or inclusive approaches to adaptation in cities.
24 October 2019
Examples include building social resilience and reducing
poverty (see Section 3.2.1), and improving health,
security, and well-being (see Section 3.2.2) in underserved
and at-risk communities. Section 3.3 illustrates notable
nature-based solutions, focusing on potential dividends
between adaptation and climate mitigation and pollution
control (see Section 3.3.1), and ecosystem protection
(see Section 3.3.2). In this section, we pay special
attention to tier two and three cities in the global South,
where urbanization is taking place the fastest, municipal
budgets are modest, local technical capacity is often low,
and vulnerability to climate impacts is high. Although we
note that many cities are already centers of adaptation
action, these efforts need to be supported, scaled, and
contextualized across more cities.
3.1. Spatial Planning and Infrastructure
Delivery
3.1.1. MAINSTREAMING CLIMATE ADAPTATION
INTO DEVELOPMENT AND INFRASTRUCTURE
DELIVERY
Climate change and development are closely related
through three conceptual links. First, climate change is
the direct result of unsustainable development. Second,
sustainable development can reduce vulnerability to
anticipated impacts and mitigate future emissions through
improved resource and institutional management.109 Lastly,
climate impacts threaten to erode past gains in reducing
poverty as well as society’s capacity to effectively adapt.110
The literature on climate justice notes that modications to
the atmosphere that threaten future persons are, therefore,
unjust.111 Similarly, on the development side, theories on
more inclusive and “alternative” development stress the
role of the rights of the marginalized and disempowered,
local knowledge, and popular grassroots movements.112
Most of these relationships illustrate that climate change,
and especially the issue of adaptation, involve trade-offs
and, sometimes, uncomfortable choices between industrial
development, environmental sustainability, and risk and
vulnerability reduction.113
Rather than seeing climate and development as
antithetical, many scholars have introduced the idea of
“mainstreaming” adaptation into development planning and
implementation. The rationale here is that adaptation can
both build people’s capacity to cope with climate change
and contribute to their livelihoods.114 This integration takes
place at a range of governance levels—local, national, and
global.115 For example, cities can embed climate change
adaptation into different urban development paradigms.
Framing climate change as a development priority—to
spur both economic growth and scientic innovation—can
attract investment and galvanize action.116 Others frame
climate change in terms of public health, national security,
mobility, and infrastructure development or disaster risk
management.117 Natural disasters often trigger greater
public awareness and political impetus for urban climate
adaptation planning.118 For example, Hurricane Sandy in
2012 prompted New York City to retrot and construct new
infrastructure to prepare for future risks.119 Communicating
adaptation cobenets can help to connect mitigation,
adaptation, and risk management priorities to other social,
economic, and political objectives that are at the forefront
of people’s minds.120 For cities in the global South, a
connection between climate change and development may
yield further buy-in from politicians.121
Given the close relationship between adaptation and
development, many cities have articulated adaptation
needs within existing and forthcoming strategies
for improving infrastructure and public services.
Infrastructure—including roads, railways, ports, and
telecommunication networks—is critical to the functioning
of urban systems; the ows of goods, resources,
information, power, and people through them;122 and their
resilience in the face of climate change risks.123 More
climate-informed infrastructure planning and capital
investments can lead to more innovative thinking around
what can be done differently in the infrastructure cycle. For
example, infrastructure can be sited in less hazard-prone
areas or regulated more stringently. Existing buildings
and infrastructure can be retrotted, with considerations
of lifecycle costs and more exible design standards
embedded within more effective disaster preparedness
and response mechanisms. These approaches can reduce
maintenance costs and increase building and infrastructure
lifetimes. Figure 6 illustrates key urban infrastructure and
development domains that are relevant to adaptation
action.
Unlocking the Potential for Transformative Climate Adaptation in Cities 25
• Physical engineered infrastructure that
reduces a city, neighborhood, or an asset’s
exposure to climate risks and impacts
(e.g., dams and sea walls).
• Critical infrastructure that can build
adaptive capacity (e.g., energy grids and
transport networks).
• Social systems that provide formal and
informal links between people and their
communities.
• Sociocultural relationships that provide
social assistance and resource support
(e.g., social safety nets, community-based
networks, and civic organizations).
• Political arrangements that serve as more
structured forms of decision-making either
within government or between government
and constituents (e.g., political parties and
forums for public debate).
• Mechanisms for transparency and
accountability (e.g., expert committees,
voting blocks and coalitions, public planning
meetings, and consultations).
POLITICS
SOCIAL SYSTEMS
INFRASTRUCTURE
ECOLOGY
• Financial systems that include the
actors/institutions, nodes, networks, and
pathways of resource transfer.
• Examples include multilateral finance,
intergovernmental arrangements,
banks/savings groups, social insurance
(e.g., subsidies, asset transfer programs),
insurance, development aid, philanthropy,
and job/skills training.
FINANCE
COMMUNICATION
• Communication infrastructure that includes
networks and pathways of knowledge and
data dissemination through web-based
platforms, Internet services, or social media
applications.
• Information and communication technology
(ICT) that supports many planning/regulatory
functions, as well as knowledge and aware-
ness campaigns.
• Ecological systems harness the benefits of
ecosystem characteristics and services to manage
risk and build resilience.
• Key ecological solutions that combine adaptation
with the protection of waterways, coastlines, forests,
mangroves, natural areas, etc.
FIGURE 6 Key Urban Infrastructure and Development Domains Relevant for Climate Adaptation
Source: Authors’ synthesis.
26 October 2019
3.1.2. SPATIAL PLANNING, POLICIES, AND
REGULATIONS INFORMED BY CLIMATE RISKS
Local governments that have begun adaptation planning
tend to formalize this process within their jurisdiction,
which helps to legitimize, facilitate, and coordinate projects
across sectors and departments.124 Integrating adaptation
priorities into municipal laws, rules, and regulations can be
key to ensuring that they are recognized and implemented
in practice. Spatial planning informed by climate risks
can ensure that settlements, assets, infrastructure,
and services are located away from potential hazards,
while fostering equitable access to services and the
opportunities of the city (see examples of Rotterdam in Box
3 and Semarang in Box 4). Larger primary cities often enjoy
some level of regulatory autonomy, meaning that they are
able to devise, evaluate, and apply regulations. They tend
to have authority over taxation, land management, and
zoning regulations. In other cases, national governments
and the private sector may work with cities to incentivize
adaptation, or create, explain, and implement new rules.
For example, in 2012, the government of Australia
produced a regulation on climate adaptation calling for
stricter performance-based building standards, national
incentives to encourage adaptation in cities, and regulatory
approaches that respond to evolving needs and avoid using
the past to predict the future.
Air quality, stormwater discharge, coastal ood protection,
ecosystem protection, freshwater management, and
public health/sanitation are all vulnerable to the impacts
of climate change. So the regulations that cover them
need to be included in adaption plans. This would help
to synchronize expertise and nancial resources to meet
interconnected environmental challenges. But integrating
adaptation requirements at the local level is made harder
by current regulatory and legal arrangements. Often these
are too rigid and static to meet the needs of rapidly growing
cities facing the repercussions of a changing climate.128
As Birkmann et al.129 note, even though various urban
planning tools, such as land use plans and zoning
regulations, do consider climate change and natural
hazards, they often operate within the assumption that
what has happened in the past will continue to happen in
As a low-elevation harbor city, Rotterdam faces sea level rise, saltwater intrusion, and storm surges. To respond to
extreme flooding and water-related risks, Rotterdam has transitioned from viewing water as an isolated policy arena
to a holistic, multisectoral policy sphere.125 In 2009, the city of Rotterdam designed Rotterdam Climate Proof (RCP)
to build upon the Rotterdam Climate Initiative (RCI), which was Rotterdam’s signature mitigation policy. The goal of
the RCP was to envision a “climate-proof” city by 2025, increasing the city’s engagement with climate change across
all policy domains, and to develop an institutionalized climate governance structure between the city government
and local stakeholders. The RCP also had three ancillary action goals, which were meant to enable knowledge and
innovation on water and spatial development, implement green infrastructure projects, and market RCP’s work to
other cities. During this period, Rotterdam developed a reputation as an innovative city and assumed the role of a
knowledge distributor in C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group and other networks, particularly in the area of adaptive
water management.
In 2013, Rotterdam published its Adaptation Strategy, which aimed to increase capacity and centralize decision-
making authority to address Rotterdam’s increasing vulnerabilities. Rotterdam’s Adaptation Strategy sought to blend
sectoral policy arenas, integrate planning domains, and mix local government actors with stakeholders in a new
fashion.126 Because the RCP managed the scoping of the Adaptation Strategy, the city government paid attention
to building coalitions with the Port of Rotterdam Authority as well as the private sector to facilitate greater learning
and cooperation throughout the policy process.127 When Rotterdam became a member of the 100 Resilient Cities
network, many of these lessons were shared with other cities through the “Platform Partners” service.
BOX 3 CASE: A Comprehensive Adaptation Strategy in Rotterdam, the Netherlands
Unlocking the Potential for Transformative Climate Adaptation in Cities 27
As a low-lying coastal city, Semarang is susceptible to both sea level rise and river inundation. Semarang’s
vulnerability assessment showed its vulnerability to flooding, and its recent Resilience Strategy (2016) noted the
importance of strengthening riverbanks, fortifying coastlines, and implementing early warning systems.134 The
city government implemented a Flood Early Warning System (FEWS) project. The project was conducted between
2012 and 2014 and was located in the Beringin watershed. It created an early warning system and evacuation
strategies to alert and protect vulnerable communities. Semarang subsequently joined 100 Resilient Cities and
has also experimented with early forms of crowdsourcing technology. Different digital portals now collect social
media information for emergency response purposes. This technology now supports different response efforts by
community and volunteer groups during disaster events.
BOX 4 CASE: Flood Risk Informed Action in Semarang, Indonesia
the future. Thresholds for restrictions of future settlement
and development are most often based on observations
of the past (such as past ooding or coastal inundation
events) and are xed to one hazard scenario and single
development strategy. This is problematic since ood
patterns observed in the past are changing due to climatic
and land use changes.130 The city of Houston experienced
three so-called 500 year oods in the space of just three
years.131 Conversely, tightening regulations may yield
unintended negative consequences, such as displacing
people from their homes. So local governments must focus
on making adaption action palatable and fair in dynamic
urban environments.
Physical planning and design for adaptation typically
involves conventional zoning and building regulations, land
use planning, and urban design. Local and regional zoning
and land use regulations aim to eliminate or minimize slow
and/or rapid onset risks. They enlist measures such as
controlled retreat (relocating residents, businesses, and
infrastructure from high-risk areas); avoidance (restricting,
preventing, or containing growth and development); or
accommodation (modifying or converting land use).132
Moving people away from risk-prone informal settlements
can reduce longer-term risks while signicantly improving
living conditions. For example, with community input
and participation, the city of Rosario, Argentina, resettled
people from informal settlements to new locations
with better services and infrastructure, improving their
livelihoods, health, and quality of life.133 However, such
measures sometimes entail higher economic and social
costs, breaking social networks and reducing access to
employment. Building codes and architectural guidelines
can promote climate-responsive buildings that adapt to
changing environmental conditions. Planning and zoning
regulations can also expand soft land cover and green
infrastructure, contributing to mitigation by enhancing air
quality, conserving energy, and sequestering carbon, while
also preserving and expanding habitats. For example,
New York City’s recent Waterfront Revitalization Program
(2018) promotes building setbacks, permeable surfaces,
and planting trees along the waterfront. Ecological
infrastructure and ecosystem-based adaptation are
explored in Section 3.3.
New information and communication technologies (ICT),
data, and modeling can inform spatial and infrastructure
plans. Technology now exists that enables us to see
changes in the built and natural environments using high-
resolution satellite data. Such data can include topographic
and elevation maps, relevant weather and climate
information, remote sensing data, localized climate risk
models, and vulnerability assessments. These geospatial
data can be coupled with disaggregated socioeconomic
data and decision-support tools for governments and
residents. A data-driven approach to adaptation can make
it possible to visualize potential climate impacts and risks
to specic assets and neighborhoods (see examples in Box
5). Collaboration between local research institutions, civil
society, community groups, the private sector, and city
governments can address gaps in information and capacity
and can provide a huge return on investment.
28 October 2019
3.2. People-Centric and Inclusive
Adaptation Approaches
3.2.1. SOCIAL RESILIENCE AND POVERTY
REDUCTION
The growing scholarship on social resilience and
community-based adaptation reveals that improvements
in local adaptive capacity can be tied to efforts to redress
development inequalities.137 Examples of community-based
adaptation include the formation of community water
collectives, microcredit groups, and stronger social safety
nets through increased social interaction, problem-solving,
learning, and mutual support.138 These strategies offer
different opportunities to address lagging structural and
institutional capacity to adapt to climate impacts.139
Inclusive approaches to climate change policymaking in
cities emphasize the representation of divergent voices
and interests. Procedural inclusiveness entails bringing
communities into the policymaking process that have
traditionally been marginalized due to class, ethnicity,
age, gender, or other socioeconomic categories.140 For
example, in the late 2000s, a citizen’s climate change panel
was established in Quito, Ecuador, with representation
from youth groups, indigenous communities, and local
women’s associations. This panel advocated for a set
of guiding principles to prioritize actions that balanced
mitigation, adaptation, and sustainable development
needs.141 Similarly, cities in South and Southeast Asia that
participated in the Rockefeller Foundation’s Asian Cities
Climate Change Resilience Network (ACCCRN) facilitated a
series of “shared learning dialogue” workshops that brought
diverse stakeholders together to envision appropriate
actions to improve urban climate resilience.142 The case
study of Gorakhpur, India, in Box 6, provides a good
example of how this works. Such inclusive programs have
been prevalent in the United States as well. Climate change
plans in New York City, Chicago, and San Francisco all
advocated for broadly representative risk and vulnerability
assessment approaches.143 The objectives of these
programs were to improve citizen awareness of and
action on issues—that is, to develop civic capacity and
knowledge to deal with uncertainty—while also legitimizing
eventual climate change policy, planning decisions, and
their outcomes.
Community-based adaptations are an important, direct
way to target populations that may bear disproportionate
risks. Table 3 highlights examples of community-based
adaptation plans around the world. In spite of policy
Cities are information and technology powerhouses, spreading information that has nurtured innovation, social
advancement, and economic growth. New information and communication technologies (ICTs) have been deployed
to create early warning systems, monitor air quality, energy use, emissions, and hydrological processes. But they
have rarely been used to support long-term adaptation or share learning from successful experiences. One critique
is that ICT-based solutions can entail high initial costs associated with siting new infrastructure, so cheaper
alternative solutions may provide better, more immediate adaptation benefits.
In Ghana, the University of Legon and collaborators have installed real-time water-level sensors for weather and
hydrologic monitoring of the River Odo, which runs from the highland areas outside Accra and eventually to the
outfall in the Atlantic Ocean.135 Such sensors provide a critical early warning system for communities living on the
river. In Chengdu, China, monitoring sensors have been deployed to provide real-time data on hydro-logic changes to
help protect multiple cities in the lower valleys of the subcatchment areas.136 While data and information can provide
a valuable input for transformative adaptation, more experimentation and practice is needed in this space.
BOX 5 CASE: Role of Information and Communication Technologies
Unlocking the Potential for Transformative Climate Adaptation in Cities 29
Beginning in 2009, the city of Gorakhpur, India, became actively involved in urban climate resilience building,
developing a climate resilience strategy and implementing several resilience building interventions. Gorakhpur is one
of the fastest-growing cities in the Indo-Gangetic plains, though the urban systems have not kept pace with this rate
of growth.144 The city regularly experiences flooding and waterlogging. Although the mayor and other city leaders
supported the climate resilience agenda, their ability to meaningfully promote citywide change was constrained
by larger governance problems. India’s 74th Constitutional Amendment Act is supposed to decentralize power
and delegate basic service provision to urban local bodies; however, this has been unevenly enacted. The state of
Uttar Pradesh, where Gorakhpur is located, has not fully implemented this decentralization, which has meant that
local authorities lack the agency and financial means to make decisions over the functions and services in their
jurisdiction.
To overcome this hurdle, Gorakhpur pursued ecosystem-based adaptation actions that could yield multiple benefits
through grassroots-led efforts. A civil society organization, the Gorakhpur Environmental Action Group (GEAG), led
much of this effort and helped stakeholders in the city identify an opportunity to strengthen resilience. They did this
by launching a project in the peri-urban zone of the city with four interlinked goals. These were to develop models
of climate-resilient integrated agriculture; improve income and food security for poor and vulnerable populations;
ensure the sustainability of peri-urban agricultural lands through different regulatory and incentive mechanisms; and
improve the flood buffering capacity of the city through the sustainable management of agricultural ecosystems.145
A formative evaluation found that farmers in Gorakhpur’s peri-urban areas who participated in this project more
than doubled their average agricultural income through lower input costs, crop diversification and intensification,
expansion of the land under cultivation, and reduced crop losses from flooding and other natural hazards.146
GEAG’s efforts also strengthened market linkages and product pricing, which helped raise incomes and enhance
food security.147
BOX 6 CASE: Citizen-led Flood Resilience Building in Gorakhpur, India
Photo credit: Anna Brown
30 October 2019
LOCATION DETAILS
Baltimore, MD, US Baltimore’s updated Sustainability Plan (2019) has a strong focus on equity. Its detailed explanation, outcomes, and
indicators directly related to equity/inclusivity. The process was highly participatory, including a wide array of Baltimore
residents.
Seattle, WA, US Seattle’s 2035 Comprehensive Plan (2005) has a strong focus on inclusivity throughout the process, policy, and impact.
It set this priority by acknowledging historical discrimination, displacement, etc.—issues that citizens brought up at
community meetings.
Durban, South Africa Durban’s Resilience Strategy (2017) notes that collaborating with informal settlement residents is one of the main
objectives.
Dhaka, Bangladesh ActionAid has been facilitating community-based adaptation by fostering community-awareness and empowerment
programs for the last two decades.
Lami, Fiji After Cyclone Winston in 2016, the Fijian government partnered with the civil society organization, People’s Community
Network, and began a project to map socioeconomic data, adaptation actions, and settlement analysis. This scenario
study compared ecosystem- and engineering-based adaptation options. Estimated benets ranged from F$8–F$20 for
every F$1 spent.
Greater Geraldton, Australia The Batavia Regional Organisation of Council’s Climate Change Adaptation Action Plan (2010) included a series of
consultation events for local residents. Proposed adaptation actions were assessed according to “win-win,” “no regrets,”
or “cost effectiveness” criteria. Members of the public also identied opportunities for cross-agency collaboration in the
region.
Quito, Ecuador In the late 2000s, Quito established a citizen’s climate change panel with representation from youth groups, indigenous
communities, and local women’s associations. This panel advocated for a set of guiding principles to prioritize actions
that balanced mitigation, adaptation, and sustainable development needs.
Dosquebrada, Colombia;
Santa Ana, El Salvador;
Santo Tomé, Argentina
Three cities hosted adaptation workshops to analyze problems and trade-offs and propose a portfolio of options.
Community participants highlighted the need to establish a common vulnerability and risk baseline, develop
comprehensive plans of land management, dene green and gray infrastructure needs that reduce risks, and strengthen
a communication strategy. This generated project proposals for city portfolios that included reforestation with native
vegetation and recovery of creeks and streams within urban and peri-urban areas.
Maputo, Mozambique Maputo established a participatory urban planning process for climate-compatible development, with a focus on
underserviced and informal settlements. The processes included community workshops, open meetings, and risk
mapping, and demonstrated that the coproduction of knowledge contributed to a better understanding of structural
inequalities in relation to climate change over three years in the early 2010s. However, challenges remain in
understanding the relevance of climate information at the neighborhood level.
Surabaya, Indonesia In the late 2000s, informal houses that encroached on rivers were voluntarily moved back by residents to make way for
a riverside path to facilitate dredging of the river by the municipality. This project improved the local environment and
reduced the risk of oods. In response to calls for their eviction, residents of informal settlements mobilized to show that
they should be seen as the “guardians of the river” rather than for using the river as a solid waste dumpsite.
TABLE 3 Select Examples of Participatory and Community-based Adaptation Plans
Source: City of Baltimore 2019; City of Seattle 2005; City of Durban 2017; Batavia Regional Organisation of Councils 2010; Carmin et al. 2012;
Anguelovski et al. 2014; Hardoy et al. 2019; Broto et al. 2015; UN-Habitat 2018.149
Unlocking the Potential for Transformative Climate Adaptation in Cities 31
efforts to stitch together sets of adaptation measures
that link citywide and community-based efforts, more
signicant strides are needed in this domain. It should be
possible to integrate the knowledge, perspectives, and
needs of different communities into more top-down and
government-led resilience and adaptation-building efforts.
However, it is hard to nd examples of this being done
in any meaningful way.148 The notion of “participation”
has in many ways been mainstreamed in development
practice, but this principle is applied as merely a box
that must be ticked. Additional progress is needed to ip
the epistemological frame so that the experience and
knowledge across marginalized and poor communities
is valued and plays a foundational role in framing the
problem, identifying solutions, and evaluating adaptation
benets.
3.2.2. URBAN HEALTH, SECURITY, AND WELL-
BEING
The nexus between cities and health is a growing eld of
interest for analysis and policy intervention. Protecting
city populations from infectious diseases and other health
outbreaks with transboundary effects is a key concern for
urban managers and nation states. A recent Lancet study
showed how climate risks can lead to undernutrition and
cardiovascular, respiratory, and water-borne and vector-
borne diseases.150 Climate stressors can also jeopardize
mental health. A recent study from the United States
documented this link, showing a 2 percent increase in the
cases of mental illness diagnosis across the population
associated with a 1°C rise of ve-year warming.151 Climate
change is also expected to increase the death rate from
exposure to ozone, ne particles, and other airborne
pollutants.152
In addition to worsening air quality, climate change
threatens human health by contributing to heat
waves. Other dangers include new diseases, more
noncommunicable diseases, and food shortages. Although
data on the climate change burden of disease and injury
are not rened enough for proper detection and attribution,
evidence does suggest that climate-induced health risks
can reinforce each other. The most documented and
analyzed relationship between health and development is
the loss of productive labor using the disability-adjusted life
years (DALYs) methodology.153 Thus, more transformative
adaptation strategies that combine preventive responses
and integrate green (ora); blue (water); and cultural,
economic, and gray (traditional-built) infrastructure in urban
development has potential to protect human health while
also supporting the urban economy.
Climate change can imperil security and political stability.
As resources dwindle in fragile ecologies, competition and
conict over these resources can ignite. Climate change
has uprooted people by worsening oods and droughts,
destroying livelihoods, degrading landscapes, and
jeopardizing food supplies. Many have ocked to cities.
Studies show how unrest in cities often stems not from
the quest for political change, but from competition for
scarce resources and the inability to meet basic needs.154
Transformative adaptation would therefore have to gauge
and address the health, security, and development risks
associated with climate change to address the potential
for conict. In this case, adaptation can help protect human
security as well as health and development. The case study
from Indore, India (see Box 7) illustrates some of these
adaptation dividends.
3.3. Nature-based Solutions
3.3.1. CLIMATE MITIGATION AND POLLUTION
CONTROL
Cities can mitigate climate change by shifting to renewable
energy, transforming transportation systems, and helping
improve energy efciency in homes, factories, and
other businesses. These measures can also generate
adaptation cobenets.161 Urban areas are investing in
rapid bus transit and other mass transit systems and
redesigning neighborhoods that are walkable. Cities are
also spearheading the transition toward renewable energy.
Reducing greenhouse gas emissions from cars and
buildings generates the cobenets of improved air quality,
better health, and lower medical costs. Climate mitigation
in cities can also spur cobenets by creating green jobs,
improving mobility, and strengthening inclusion. Energy
sources that contribute to a circular economy include
efcient use of biomass energy, recycling of organic
waste to energy, tapping the methane from landlls, and
decentralized nature-based treatment of sewerage plants
(which directly reduces energy use and emissions).
32 October 2019
Indore, a city in Madhya Pradesh, India, illustrates the many ways that restoring ecosystems and using natural
infrastructure can promote health and well-being. Water is scarce in Indore, and climate change heightens
water stress.155 The city undertook an effort to restore its 26 urban lakes, many of which are located in the peri-
urban zones, to serve as an emergency water supply.156 Many of these water bodies had been filled in through a
combination of eutrophication and waste. The process that led to this initiative and its implementation brought
diverse communities together. It was facilitated by TARU Leading Edge with support from the Asian Cities Climate
Change Resilience Network (ACCCRN), funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, and undertaken in conjunction with
the municipal government and a range of civil society organizations. It included technical innovations in waste
management. Artificial floating islands were introduced to help purify the water, serve as bird habitats, and improve
the aesthetic quality of urban lakes.157 Equally important was the establishment of local Water Conservation and
Management Committees (WCMCs), which regularly monitor the lakes for improper waste disposal and for clean
up. These efforts improved water quality so that it is now safe to use the lakes as an emergency water supply. This
institutional dimension has been important not only for the longevity of the project, but also for galvanizing a new
base of community champions promoting environmental protection.158 It has also helped to build social capital
among community members, an important aspect of community resilience.159 The Indore case demonstrates how
thoughtful approaches to building climate resilience can create an alternative to programming patterns that engage
a narrow set of actors.160
BOX 7 CASE: Community-based Water Conservation and Management in Indore, India
Alternative approaches to sewerage treatment can provide
climate mitigation and adaptation benets, while also
generating economic and social advantages. Models
that manage fecal sludge to produce energy briquettes,
for example, can also spur medium-size businesses,
supporting both job growth and sustainable energy
sources for populations in more rural areas. Sludge
and organic waste can also be used to grow food. The
cobenets of this transformative adaptation include
providing better nutrition for urban dwellers; reducing
pollution;162 supporting urban and peri-urban agriculture;
expanding green infrastructure (e.g., green roofs), local
markets, social (food) safety nets, and alternative food
sources; and requiring people to drive fewer miles to supply
and access food.163
3.3.2. ECOSYSTEM PROTECTION
Historically, cities have undervalued and overrun their
natural environmental assets, treating them as add-ons to
the built environment. The results have been a continuous
loss and fragmentation of ecosystems. The ecosystems
in and around cities are now considered key places for
biodiversity protection. Protecting and restoring these
ecosystems can also provide vital services to urban
inhabitants, including access to water; ood control;
tempering the urban heat island effect; acting as a buffer to
waves and wind; and stabilizing coastlines, riparian zones,
and hill slopes.164
Nature-based or ecosystem-based adaptation uses natural
ecosystems and capital to assist in adaptation, based on
the principle that intact and healthy ecosystems are more
resilient to climate stressors and provide more social
benets.165 The International Union of Conservation
of Nature (IUCN) describes nature-based solutions
as an umbrella concept that includes approaches to
ecosystem restoration, climate adaptation services, green
infrastructure, integrated natural resources management,
and area-based conservation.166 Nature- or ecosystem-
based adaptation is intended to strengthen resilience and
simultaneously reduce poverty, reducing stressors on
ecosystems to enhance ecosystem services. It can include
targeted management, conservation, and restoration
activities, such as protecting, expanding, or connecting
Unlocking the Potential for Transformative Climate Adaptation in Cities 33
Photo Credit: Alex Punker.
ecosystems or restoring natural infrastructure like barrier
islands or coral reefs to reduce the risk of dissasters. It
can also protect or restore biodiversity, support economic
livelihoods, and remove atmospheric greenhouse gases. It
is thus promoted as a win-win solution.167 The benets can
be extensive. Water protection can fuel economic growth;
mangrove protection creates buffers against storm surges;
and protecting oodplains can recharge groundwater
supplies. Many of these actions provide low-cost waste-
water treatment, restoration of degraded ecosystems
in cities for multiple uses, and protection of terrestrial
ecosystems that preserve biodiversity and provide
essential resources.
Natural systems can offer more cost-effective pathways
to climate adaptation and strengthened resilience than
traditional “gray” infrastructure (such as seawalls, dams,
etc.), as the Quy Nhon example in Box 8 suggests. It is
cheaper to protect watersheds by limiting development
and the types of activities permitted in a water-source
area than to install expensive downstream water
treatment facilities to purify water from toxins and other
substances deleterious to human health.173 Ecosystem-
based prevention is both cheaper and more exible
than remediation. The uncertainty surrounding climate
projections and local impacts places a premium on
solutions that can accommodate a range of future
economic, demographic, and environmental scenarios.174
Ecosystems protection helps slow climate change, as
well as insulate cities from its effects, because restoring
natural ecosystems can sequester carbon. Twin benets—
adaptation and mitigation—ow from planting trees,
promoting sustainable agriculture, and preserving coastal
wetlands and peatlands.175 Ecosystem-based adaptation
can also enhance agricultural productivity, food supplies,
and nutrition by ghting erosion and improving the soil.176
One notable initiative is the “Sponge Cities” program in
China, where the Ministry of Housing and Rural-Urban
Development, the Ministry of Finance, and the Ministry
of Water Resources have, since 2014, implemented water
management plans that treat the city like a “sponge,
absorbing, storing, inltrating, and purifying rainwater
and subsequently releasing it for reuse when needed.
34 October 2019
In coastal cities, mangroves provide an important physical buffer to storms and waves while also offering
opportunities to diversify livelihoods.168 Mangroves across Vietnam had been degraded by urban development
and aquaculture, making coastal cities more vulnerable to the effects of climate change.169 Quy Nhon, in mid-
coastal Vietnam, launched a 150-hectare mangrove restoration project in Thi Nai Lagoon (see Figure B1). The Thi
Nai Lagoon abuts a part of the city located in a growth corridor, which also falls within a floodplain. Prior to the
project, in 2009, Typhoon Mirinae struck Quy Nhon and resulted in the deaths of 122 people, widespread property
destruction, and an estimated US$22 million in damages, according Quy Nhon City’s Economic Development
Department.170 This event triggered a temporary pause on development in the floodplain. The mangrove restoration
project in Thi Nai Lagoon is helping shield the area from rising sea levels and more intense and frequent storms.
Behind the mangroves, farmers and others could return to work. A cost-benefit analysis estimated that local people
will earn twice what they would have if they had sacrificed the mangroves and relied only on aquaculture for their
livelihoods.171
BOX 8 CASE: Mangrove Restoration to Withstand Climate Change Impacts in Quy Nhon, Vietnam
FIGURE B1 Timeline of the Mangrove Restoration in Quy Nhon, Vietnam
Source: Roberts et al. 2012; Brown et al. 2012; DiGregorio 2015; Tuan and Tinh 2013. 172
Early 1990s 2009 2012 2012 - 2015
Development
as Usual
Urban Development
and Aquaculture
degrades
mangroves
Coastal cities become
more vulnerable to
climate-induced
sea level rise,
storm surge, and
coastal erosion
Restoration
Begins
150 hectare
mangrove
restoration
project in
Thi Nai lagoon
Temporary pause on
development in the
floodplain
Prime minister calls
for revised master
plan to restrict
floodplain
development
Typhoon Mirina
122 deaths
Widespread
property
destruction
US$22 million
in damages
After Restoration
Mangroves shield
area from rising
sea levels and
more storms
Mangroves generate
jobs for famers
Cost-benefit
analysis estimates
2X salary increase
from mangrove-jobs
Ongoing
Institutional Change
Continued nature-based
efforts established by
Binh Dinh Climate
Coordination Office and
Institute for Social and
Environmental Transition
Unlocking the Potential for Transformative Climate Adaptation in Cities 35
FIGURE 7 Urban Planning with Nature-based Solutions for Climate Adaptation
Source: Anguelovski 2013; Frantzeskaki et al. 2017; C40 Cities 2019; Li et al. 2017, UN-Habitat 2018.178
Barcelona and Durban are
expanding green spaces
and tree coverage to
combat urban heat island
effects, improve health and
livability, and increase
urban biodiversity.”
Chicago’s green rooftops
have helped slow
stormwater runoff by 36%
Dresden is building an
urban gardening network
to help with district-level
regeneration efforts
and encourage sustainable
food production
China’s sponge cities pilot
aims to capture, reuse or
absorb up to 80% of
stormwater runoff in urban
areas by 2030
Increasing permeable
surfaces and
wetlands to increase
natural infiltration of
rainwater and reduce
stormwater runoff
Greening rooftops to reduce
summer heat, provide winter
insulation, and reduce
stormwater runoff
Community gardens help
increase water retention
while encouraging
community-building and
local conservation
Semarang uses
mangroves in mediating
storm-surges and
sea-level rise.”
Increasing tree
cover and green
spaces to battle
heat island effect
Implementing
ecosystem-based
protection, such as
mangroves, for coastline
regeneration and
disaster risk reduction.
FIGURE 8 Ecosystem Functions within and beyond City Boundaries
Source: Adapted from WRI’s Cities4Forests. 182
ECOSYSTEMS ACROSS
REGIONAL AUTHORITIES
Clean air
Drinking water
Reduced flooding
Reduced soil erosion
Timber
Recreation
ECOSYSTEMS IN OTHER,
FAR-FLUNG AREAS
Carbon storage
Rainfall generation
Timber
Medicine
Biodiversity
ECOSYSTEMS WITHIN
CITY JURISDICTION
Clean air
Shade from sun
Urban wildlife
Higher quality of life
Recreation
36 October 2019
Already applied in more than 30 cities across the country,
the Sponge Cities initiative has further promoted ood
control, water conservation, water quality improvement,
and natural ecosystem protection.177 Figure 7 illustrates
additional notable examples of ecosystem-based
adaptation in cities.
While natural infrastructure and thriving ecosystems
play an essential role in climate adaptation, the benets
may not be distributed evenly. In cities with shortages
of affordable housing, green infrastructure is ushering in
“green gentrication.179 Soaring property values that force
some populations out can exacerbate social and economic
inequities and disrupt social and community ties. This
can erode adaptive capacity and resilience, so caution is
needed to anticipate a range of possible outcomes and
ensure that greening efforts do not bring unintended
consequences. Policies, subsidies, and social protections
should be geared to avoid economic displacement.
An obstacle to enlisting ecosystems in climate adaptation
is that the boundaries of ecosystems and cities often do
not match one another. The administrative jurisdiction of a
city does not correspond with the area needed to support
the dense population of city dwellers. Vital resources
and services, such as water and food, come from areas
outside the urban core—in peri-urban zones as well as
more distant ecosystems (see Figure 8).180 Often, multiple
agencies across different scales control the land and
services—including ecosystem services—outside city limits,
creating a challenge of governance.181 The example from
Durban, South Africa, exemplies how once a city created
a partnership across municipal boundaries to implement
nature-based solutions (see Box 9).
Durban is the largest city and port on the east coast of Africa and the third largest of South Africa’s metropolitan
areas. Two-thirds of the municipality remain rural, but these areas are urbanizing rapidly. Among South Africa’s
major cities, Durban has the highest percentage of people in poverty. Durban also has considerable backlogs in
infrastructure and basic services. Climate projections suggest that the city can expect hotter temperatures and more
variable rainfall, sea level rise, and compounding storm surge. This puts the city at risk from both sudden and slow-
onset disasters, ranging from flash floods and droughts to coastal erosion and storm surges exacerbated by sea
level rise, calculated to be 2.7 millimeters (mm) per annum.
The city set up a multistakeholder, transmunicipal partnership to examine how ecological infrastructure could
safeguard water supplies and ward off natural disasters in the uMngeni River catchment area. This shift toward
an integrated “socioecological systems approach” to managing water, biodiversity, climate, and poverty challenges
required the leadership of the (then) head of the Water and Sanitation Unit. Aligning adaptation and biodiversity
agendas has helped the city’s environmental champions to become early adopters of climate adaptation and
effective defenders of biodiversity. An outcome is the Durban Metropolitan Open Space System (D’MOSS), which
created a 94,000-hectare nature reserve to protect biodiversity and ecosystem services.183
Durban has explored the synergies between adaptation and mitigation. For example, it initiated three large-scale
community reforestation projects to offset the carbon footprints of the FIFA Football World CupTM in 2010 and
COP17-CMP7 in 2011. These projects have created new carbon sinks and delivered multiple adaptation cobenefits
by enhancing biodiversity and supplying ecosystem services such as clean water and air. The socioeconomic
cobenefits of these projects (such as job creation) are particularly important in encouraging and sustaining local
climate action.184
BOX 9 CASE: Ecosystem Protection and Management in Durban, South Africa
Unlocking the Potential for Transformative Climate Adaptation in Cities 37
4. ENABLERS OF
TRANSFORMATIVE CLIMATE
ADAPTATION IN CITIES
As the examples in Section 3 suggest, preparing for the
consequences of climate change will take more than
engineered solutions like sea walls. It will take integrated,
climate-informed urban planning, policymaking, nancing,
and community mobilization at the grassroots level.
These enabling conditions are essential for cities to
pursue transformative climate adaptation, which calls
for synergizing the urban adaptation agenda with other
pressing priorities, including environmental sustainability,
socioecological resilience, and socioeconomic
transformation. (see Table 4). Transformative strategies
will include developing city-level early warning systems and
clear protocols for community preparedness or moving
people and infrastructure out of harm’s way. They will be
based on robust partnerships across public, private, and
civil society to build support for adaptation and help shape
the appropriate regulations, incentives, and assessment
criteria. Finally, in the interest of equity and justice, it will be
important to raise citizens’ awareness and promote rights-
based approaches to change behaviors and policies.
4.1. Strong Leadership
Mainstreaming adaptation into development at the
urban scale is not only a planning challenge, but also
a governance challenge.185 The ultimate outcome of
mainstreaming is a local-level development plan that
anticipates future climate crises while also tackling
KEY ENABLING
CONDITIONS DETAILS
Strong leadership Knowledgeable and visible issue leaders in local government, community-based organizations, or the scientic community can
help raise awareness and advocate for resources and capacity. They can drive collaborative action across multiple levels of
government and jurisdictions.
Inclusion and equity Adaptation plans and actions must address historic inequities and varying degrees of vulnerability across cities by including
marginalized communities in decision-making; distributing future losses and benets in fair and equitable ways; and
recognizing nondominant cultures, values, interests, and norms in determining which actions to take.
Finance and local
capacity
Adaptation plans can support and pool resources from public nance (including intergovernmental transfers), private
investments, multilateral support, and local/community-based nancing. A combination of these sources can then help target
the costs and demands of transformative adaptation by improving infrastructure; alleviating poverty; protecting human health
and the environment; and building dedicated skills and capacity across public, private, and civil society organizations. These
actions can be further supported by new actors, such as insurance/reinsurance providers or philanthropic entities.
Synergies across
scales
Adaptation priorities should align with global priorities, such as those set out by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs),
Paris Agreement, the New Urban Agenda (UN-Habitat III), Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Management, and others. This
will help attract resource/capacity support, increase knowledge and awareness, and draw attention to the need for fairness in
transformative adaptation.
Knowledge, data,
and partnerships
Meaningful, localized information and empirical evidence must be available to decision-makers across scales and partnerships
to enhance the adoption and spread of new ideas and practices. Partnerships and city-to-city peer exchanges can help scale up
good practices.
Evaluation and
learning
Emerging technologies make it easier to launch, monitor, and share information about climate adaptation projects. Evaluating
outcomes in a participatory and inclusive way is critical for drawing and comparing lessons across cases, understanding the
conditions under which specic actions work, and assessing the impacts on different socioeconomic groups.
Accountable
institutions and
governance
Strong, accountable, informed, and equitable institutions can translate scientic data into appropriate actions, matching
adaptation to local needs; ensuring democratic decision-making; and promoting nancial, social, and political accountability.
Institutions can also work across mandates to promote integration.
Source: Authors’ synthesis.
TABLE 4 Key Enabling Conditions for Transformative Climate Adaptation in Cities
38 October 2019
the underlying structural factors that make the city
vulnerable.186 Strong leadership can support the integration
of adaptation into development, which can further
streamline decision-making and reduce future remedial
costs.187
Urban climate adaptation leadership requires the ability to
build linkages across sectors, scales, and stakeholders.188
Adaptation leaders need a mindset that embraces
uncertainty. Such a perspective leads to an exploration of
measures that promote exibility and allow for adjustment,
recognizing that knowledge and understanding will
evolve.189 Climate leaders also help sensitize others
to this mindset, promoting adaptive approaches that
strengthen systems and institutions, rather than planning
and designing for a specic set of climatic conditions.
Many of the skills and sensibilities needed fall outside
standard silos and areas of expertise. They call upon
the facility to think and work in an interdisciplinary and
multidisciplinary style. In addition to connecting the dots
between city departments, areas of the city, and sectors,
leadership must examine the diversity of interests, realities,
and experiences in the context of uneven socioeconomic
factors, demographics, and adaptive capacity.190
Leadership from different spheres within a city can help
capture diverse needs and opportunities while also
supporting a long-term adaptation agenda.191 Political
leadership and agendas change with election cycles, so it
is important to have steady leadership coming from civil
society and research institutions. This can ensure that
the knowledge—of vulnerabilities and priorities, of what
work has been carried out and how to continue it—does
not get lost in a government shufe.192 Advocates for
inclusive and equitable climate adaptation can play an
essential role as well, since climate change and adaptation
actions can distribute costs and benets unevenly,
and disproportionately affect marginalized and poor
communities. Leadership from business and industrial
sectors of a city can help build an agenda promoting
long-term economic health. In Surat, India, a city regularly
battered by oods, the local Chamber of Commerce
emerged as an important advocate for climate resilience.193
These examples highlight how government can provide
important enabling forces for action, like policy and
nance, but that it is not the sole repository of knowledge
or catalyst for action.
4.2. Accountable Institutions and
Governance
Climate adaptation requires engagement from a range of
institutional actors in a city. Our denition of institutions
includes formal and informal institutions, as well as explicit
and implicit standards and norms.194 The denition also
includes the organizational structures that play a role in
creating and enforcing these rules and norms. Institutions
can create the enabling environment for adaptation
through incentives, guidelines, and protocols that promote
resilience and adaptive measures.195 Alternatively, they can
constrain adaptation or promote maladaptation through
policies and practices that perpetuate development
by exacerbating risk, only protecting individual or elite
interests, or undervaluing public goods.196 Institutions also
affect—positively or negatively—the capacities of vulnerable
and marginalized groups.197
As noted in Section 3, local governments that have begun
adaptation planning tend to formalize this process within
their jurisdiction, which helps to legitimize, facilitate, and
coordinate projects across sectors and departments.198
Some do this by setting up dedicated urban climate units
and programs and drafting regulations, policies, and
codes.199 These institutions provide formal guidelines and
norms that enhance predictability, establish order, and
promote coordination.200 Conversely, there are bottom-up
practices, such as community-based adaptation, that
involve participatory approaches.201 These approaches
often target poor communities and are emerging as
a means for promoting engagement in assessments,
fostering community self-reliance, and raising awareness
of climate vulnerability.202
Cities are arenas for deliberating both the process
and substance of climate change needs and potential
interventions. Since different urban actors frame the
challenge differently, cities must reconcile divergent
interests and ideals, as well as opportunities and
constraints to action. Building climate resilience requires
extensive interaction and collaboration among public,
private, and civil society stakeholders. Multiple agencies
at various levels of government and numerous private
or civil society actors typically need to be at the table to
devise effective climate change strategies that respond
to challenges that transcend traditional jurisdictional
Unlocking the Potential for Transformative Climate Adaptation in Cities 39
boundaries. While existing institutional arrangements can
provide guidelines, new relationships and arrangements
that bridge institutions and foster wider consensus are
required for effective and accountable adaptation actions.
The case study from the Netherlands provides a good
example of this (see Box 10).
More resilient and adaptive cities will need policies and
practices that morph and evolve as needed, adjusting
to both anticipated and even unanticipated changes.
The concept of adaptive urban governance emphasizes
the need for a governance structure that goes beyond
formal planning and state regulation; one that creates
mechanisms to bring together formal and informal
rule systems, social learning, and continuous feedback
cycles.204 This calls for a paradigm shift in adaptation
governance from the focus on physical systems and
infrastructure to the development of more integrated
workplans across sectors and jurisdictions.205 Boyd and
Juhola206 dene adaptive governance as decision-making
that brings together formal and informal institutions,
all relevant stakeholders and social networks that can
adapt in the face of uncertainty. This calls for integrating
scientic expertise and the knowledge and experiences of
local people at risk, and building in opportunities to revise
strategies and change course based on feedback and data
provided in part by intended beneciaries of adaptation
actions.
Local governments establish standards and codes around
climate change, and distribute nancial resources from
state and national pools and, in some rare instances,
from international nance institutions. However, in the
face of equity and other considerations, government
alone is not equipped to advance adaptation. The case
study from Santiago, Chile, illustrates how different
regional departments and agencies can work together
(see Box 11). In contexts where poverty is criminalized
(formally or informally), or where rights and entitlement
systems exclude certain populations or are difcult to
access, or where powerful vested interests hold sway
over government, community-based and civil society
organizations can offer an important counterweight in the
negotiation of policies, practices, and customs.
City governments therefore need a range of partners to
inform and support climate adaptation. Community and
civil society organizations and movements that organize
The Dutch approach to water management has
been evolving since the 7th century to the 21st
century. It has gone from natural to defensive to
offensive to manipulative. An intensive engineering
project—the Deltaworks—installed a network of
dams, dikes, levees, and storm surge barriers, but
did not stop river flooding from snow melt. So
planners took a new tack in 2006, launching the
“Room for River” program, widening rivers using
“de-engineering” measures to accommodate
natural fluctuations.203 The transition involved
“hard” measures (changing the land) and “soft”
measures (sociocultural water acceptance).
Instead of continuing complex, costly, and risky
measures to tame nature, this new approach
included building floating homes. This shows how
it is possible to avoid lock-in and identify windows
for change.
BOX 10 CASE: Management of Deltas
and Polders in the Netherlands
and direct social capital can advance inclusive climate
adaptation and demand accountability. Universities
and think tanks can play a key role in providing locally
relevant climate information, vulnerability and capacity
assessments, and adaptation options. Nongovernmental
actors are important for ensuring continuity of adaptation
efforts in light of political cycles and the changes that can
result. Even if election results stall political momentum,
mission-driven nongovernmental institutions and
knowledge centers have a particularly important role to
play in nding new pathways to bring about change.
The uncertainty and complexity surrounding climate
change and the many choices available to decision-
makers213 will require agile, exible, and robust solutions
that succeed over a range of potential climate scenarios.
Comparing scenarios, evaluating trade-offs, and using
multimetric valuation can all help weigh choices, according
to both outcomes-based and process-based criteria.214
Adaptive management and iterative decision-making
requires ready access to credible, meaningful information
for gauging risk, vulnerability, and adaptation options.215
40 October 2019
The Metropolitan Region of Santiago de Chile is vulnerable to natural hazards, water scarcity, and insecure energy
supply. Political fragmentation has hobbled adaptation in the past, but recent developments have made the city
ripe for adaptation action. These include changes in leadership, participation in transnational networks, and growing
recognition that climate goals should be integrated into existing development policy agendas.
Between 2009 and 2012, Santiago benefited from the Climate AdaptationSantiago (CAS) project, which was funded
by the German government and coordinated by the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ). The
regional government of the Metropolitan Region of Santiago de Chile and the regional secretary of the Ministry of
the Environment together supported a diverse, interdisciplinary approach to adaptation. The project helped experts
and decision-makers across disciplines exchange “usable” and relevant information about climate science, which
improved their capacity to respond effectively. This exchange of information then helped to bridge sectoral gaps
and integrate strategies. The subsequent Regional Climate Change Adaptation Plan for the Metropolitan Region
helped to strategically direct regional planning authorities, and steer associated finances and capacities toward
more integrated adaptation responses.
Assessments of Santiago’s experience highlight the complexities involved in the following: making the case for
integrated adaptation planning; communicating scientific data effectively and being clear about methodologies and
uncertainties; and ensuring a coordinated response that does not devolve into sectoral fragmentation. They find that
a participatory approach can strengthen procedural legitimacy, social capacity, and intersectoral cooperation to help
Santiago and other large Latin American cities prepare for the impacts of climate change.
BOX 11 CASE: Integrated Adaptation Planning in Santiago, Chile
Surat, India, offers an example of institutional coordination to stem the risk of flooding in this low-lying and riparian
industrial city in the state of Gujarat. Flooding in 2006 left 75 percent of Surat underwater, causing major economic
and other losses. The flooding was caused by an emergency release from an upstream reservoir, the Ukai. Situated
in a zone with variable rainfall, the reservoir is managed to maximize water available for hydropower, and irrigation to
help meet the summer needs of farmers.219
Around 2010, the city began a process that strengthened understanding of how more intensive periods of projected
rainfall due to climate change would magnify the risk of floods. The municipal authority decided to invest in an end-
to-end early warning system, including last mile communication via SMS and other mechanisms throughout the
city. The system included more rainfall monitoring in the upper catchment and advances in hydrologic and hydraulic
modeling to better evaluate rainfall on the streams feeding the reservoirs, water released from dams, and impacts
on downstream communities. The city also took steps to integrate different sources of information and models.
Together, these measures widened the window of advance warning from less than one day to as much as four days,
expanding options for residents, businesses, and community and relief organizations to plan and prepare.220
Central to the success of this intervention was the establishment of a new institutional coordination mechanism—
the Surat Climate Change Trust—which ensured regular sharing of information while also establishing decision-
making protocols among downstream city officials, state disaster management authorities, the national agency
charged with dam management, the irrigation department, and the meteorological department.221
BOX 12 CASE: Facilitating New Arenas of Decision-Making in Surat, India
Unlocking the Potential for Transformative Climate Adaptation in Cities 41
Advancements in technology and improved forecasting
and monitoring can support decision-making processes.
Case studies from Santiago and Surat highlight how cities
can channel emerging scientic information to support
local decision-making around adaptation.
Solid scientic and technical inputs are valuable, but these
alone do not guarantee better decisions.216 Cities need
clear channels of communication, protocols, and lines of
responsibility that connect government authorities and
inhabitants, as the risk of elite capture or corruption is
especially high. Relevant institutions and stakeholders
must also be willing to act on the information that
emerges.217 Many cities have responded to this need by
striving to make decision-making processes more inclusive
and adaptable. The Surat Climate Change Trust, described
in Box 12, is a good example of this. Sector-specic
measures are also needed to strengthen resilience in
domains such as public health, solid waste, and emergency
management (see Sections 3.2.2 and 3.3.1). Institutional
partners must collaborate to realign incentives, mandates,
reporting lines, and nance ows to respond to the
interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary nature of climate
change.218 We revisit the idea of inclusive decision-making
in Section 4.3.
How local institutions engage and share information on
climate adaptation can strengthen or limit resilience-
building efforts and provide important lessons for initiating
and sustaining adaptation actions in other peer cities.
A model that relies only on outside experts for analysis
and recommendations without a process to cultivate
understanding, interest, and resonance among the local
institutions may generate narrowly helpful outputs, missing
a chance to seed more transformative change.
4.3. Inclusion and Equity
A transformative adaptation agenda must contend with
not only climate impacts, but also with entrenched political
and economic dynamics that contribute to (current and
past) inequities.222 Responding to the uneven impacts of
climate change requires processes that bring different
knowledge and experience sets together. Otherwise, the
needs of poorer and more marginalized groups may be
overlooked or eclipsed by interest groups that are more
politically powerful and nancially connected.223 Worse,
existing vulnerabilities and risks confronting more excluded
populations may even be exacerbated. Engaging diverse
sets of actors; seeking out local and indigenous knowledge;
and deliberately examining a range of interests, values,
and expectations does not just make climate adaptation
outcomes more equitable, but is foundational to legitimate
decision-making processes.224
The drive for more decentralized forms of decision-
making in cities has led to a proliferation of arenas
for public participation and deliberation, especially for
addressing scientic complexity and uncertainty.225
Adequately representing civil society interests in the
design, implementation, and monitoring of adaptation
interventions is vital, in part because adaptation actions
are ultimately interwoven with specic populations and
regional vulnerabilities.226 Engaging communities that
have intimate knowledge of the place and a direct stake
in impacts make adaptation more effective.227 Cities must
therefore explore new arrangements that allow a much
wider range of actors—including low-income and other
marginalized and at-risk groups—to actively engage with
Photo credit: Slum/Shack Dwellers International
42 October 2019
adaptation planning (see Box 13). In forthcoming work
as part of C40’s Inclusive Climate Action Programme, the
authors of this paper at the World Resources Institute
have helped develop policy design guidelines for cities on
making a series of climate adaptation (and mitigation)
actions more inclusive.
Various nongovernmental organizations (NGOs),
foundations, aid agencies, research bodies, and partnership
networks have also stepped in to support local adaptation
planning.230 For example, a number of NGOs, such as
Mercy Corps in Indonesia and ActionAid in Bangladesh,
are facilitating community-based adaptation through
community awareness and empowerment programs.
Similarly, the Institute for Social Environmental Transition
(ISET) and TARU-Leading Edge are conducting urban
climate impact and vulnerability studies and helping to
draft city climate resilience strategies in Vietnam and
India, respectively. The diversity of actors strengthens the
legitimacy and sustainability of adaptation processes.231
Different interests, reference points, and value systems
can make broadening dialogue challenging.232 Effective
participation also depends upon the capabilities of
individual actors. Power imbalances, cultural differences,
and gender and minority discrimination make it impossible
for marginalized communities to effectively convey
their views. As a result, their participation can amount
to little more than checking off a box. Typically their role
is restricted to identifying vulnerabilities.233 However,
urban adaptation presents an array of opportunities to
reexamine and remedy structural injustices and the habits
and practices that cement them in place.234 Effective
participation in adaptation processes means moving
beyond tokenistic inclusion and empowering multiple
voices to be heard and valued.235 This can be achieved by
including vulnerable groups, such as women and youth,
at all stages with effective mechanisms to develop their
capabilities, prioritize their needs, and incorporate different
sources of knowledge.236 Adaptation measures should
support daily livelihoods of vulnerable groups and should
not reinforce existing inequities and injustices.237 Table 5
highlights some key criteria for enabling more inclusive and
equitable adaptation.
Climate actions should have equitable outcomes, along
with broadly inclusive processes that educate elected
ofcials, the public, and the business community about
risks.238 Some scholarship suggests that targeted political
mobilization organized by powerful elites and advocacy
groups is often more inuential in addressing climate
change concerns than broad participatory processes.239
The issue of who has power over the process is critical
because it ultimately shapes the way climate change
A recent study from Slum/Shack Dwellers International (SDI) illustrates the role of community-gathered data for
urban resilience and inclusion.228 According to this study, many existing development indicators fail to capture the
complex and locally specific conditions of slums. They therefore lead to policies and programs that do not respond
to the most pressing needs of the urban poor and can direct investments away from realistic and affordable
improvements. Without accurate information and a deeper understanding of the needs and priorities of informal
settlements, slum dwellers remain invisible, and efforts to reduce urban poverty and inequality will fail.
To remedy this problem, SDI’s Know Your City program (2018) facilitated processes to provide the detailed
information needed to reframe adaptation issues from a local perspective and identify practical solutions
for informal settlements.229 The central role of slum dwellers in collecting and processing data, such as on
demographics, risks, and access to basic services, ensures a focus on the poor and on operational knowledge for
local actors working to implement global commitments. As a result, several cities, like Durban, have partnered with
SDI federations to codevelop adaptation plans and institutionalize participatory mechanisms.
BOX 13 CASE: Developing Partnerships with Slum/Shack Dwellers International
Unlocking the Potential for Transformative Climate Adaptation in Cities 43
priorities enter the public consciousness.240 For example,
climate change planning in Santiago, Chile, was led by
scientic and technical experts from external development
aid agencies and consulting rms.241 Similarly, large
transnational engineering rms based outside the
country guided much of the decision-making around
the construction of large-scale climate infrastructure in
Jakarta, Indonesia. In both cases, external economic and
political interests dominated the discourse, and although
climate concerns were ostensibly integrated into the
urban development agenda, most local socioeconomic
priorities—particularly those concerning vulnerable social
groups—were neglected in the process, leading to housing
and employment displacement.242
Even in contexts where there is more transparency,
accountability, and “good governance,” decision-making
may not be structured to accommodate the iterative,
adaptive, and learning-oriented processes that inclusive
climate adaptation demands.243 Furthermore, the systems
and processes of the city—as well as the capacities that
have been cultivated over time—may be modeled on
postcolonial conditions.244 Without fundamental shifts that
disrupt existing sociopolitical dynamics and the balance
of power, climate adaptation may perpetuate unequal
development patterns and norms. Adaptation actions may
lead to conicts around green/climate gentrication and
displacement. For example, the construction of sea walls
can displace shing communities or transfer ood risks to
nearby coastal regions.
4.4. Finance and Local Capacity
Public investment in adaptation can generate signicant
value—instead of just averting losses—and pay for
itself. Because cities are engines that power economies,
protecting urban economic assets and building resilience
to climate change may yield positive impacts, not only
within the local and national contexts, but even at the
global scale.245 In coastal cities, for instance, the annual
cost of global adaptation is only one-tenth the total cost of
no action.246 However, cities’ ability to access nance for
adaptation is constrained, particularly for underresourced
cities that do not meet creditworthiness requirements
or lack access to national and regional funding streams
and capital markets. Furthermore, given the limited scal
authority of many cities, more concessional nancing is
needed, with greater coordination across international
nancial institutions to reduce transaction costs for cities.
Partnerships in technical assistance play an important
role; for instance, project preparation facilities by NGOs
and other agencies have helped governments design
CRITERIA DESCRIPTION
Procedural inclusion through
participation
To widen participation in adaptation planning, design, and implementation stages. To recognize differential
power in processes and achieve full representation of all interests, values, and norms.
Equitable distribution of losses and
benets
To achieve fair and equitable distribution of potential adaptation benets and losses across space and time
and across communities. To recognize historic inequities, rights, and responsibilities when delineating future
adaptation benets.
Empowerment and capability
enhancement
To amplify the voices of historically disenfranchised, marginalized, and vulnerable populations, including
women, ethnic minorities, youth, and the elderly. To facilitate mobilization and knowledge-sharing through social
networks/capital.
Recognition of less dominant
identities and cultural frames
To respect traditional knowledge in decision-making. To address the implications of informality, different
intersectionalities, class, identity, and other cultural inequities, as well as the values of the nonhuman.
Recognition of intergenerational
interests
To achieve inclusive and equitable adaptation solutions across time, taking into account intergenerational
interests and cascading/compounding risks. To avoid adaptation lock-ins, unjust development pathways, and
account for the vulnerabilities and rights of future generations.
Source: Authors’ synthesis.
TABLE 5 Criteria for Achieving Inclusive and Equitable Climate Adaptation in Cities
44 October 2019
adaptation initiatives as a well-sequenced bankable
portfolio of projects.247 While there are limitations to
the resources that cities can access for adaptation and
resilience building, Table 6 provides a summary of potential
nancial sources to support urban climate adaptation,
while recognizing that different cities have different scal
powers and sources of nance they can access.
The emerging scholarship on adaptation nance
underscores conceptual tensions between adaptation and
development nance. Allocating adaptation resources
and mainstreaming adaptation objectives within
existing bilateral and multilateral nance mechanisms
is not easy.249 Prevailing institutional arrangements that
guide donor assistance separate external aid ows for
adaptation from those earmarked for development. Klein
explains three worries that developing countries have
about integrating adaptation nance with development
nance: First, developing countries are concerned that
mainstreaming could limit adaptation nance as funds get
absorbed into xed ofcial development assistance (ODA)
budgets. Second, mainstreaming could divert adaptation
funds into more general development activities and reduce
the opportunities to evaluate adaptation funding on its
own terms. Finally, developing countries are concerned
that donor countries could use mainstreaming to impose
restrictive conditionalities on adaptation funding.250
A second tension concerns variations in the potential of
governments, private actors, and multilateral nancing
institutions to mobilize additional adaptation funds
separate from existing ODA pledges and targets.251
Beyond dedicated sources such as those provided by
the Adaptation Fund, governments may nd it difcult to
ACTOR SOURCE OF FINANCE EXAMPLES OF ADAPTATION ACTION
Municipal Central budget allocations, property
taxes, user charges. tourism taxes/
fees, impact fees, betterment levies,
land value capture, vehicle taxes,
licenses/registrations
Maintain infrastructure assets and retrot small capital investments
Set rates to cover differential costs of adaptation expenditures
Cover cost of incremental extension or upgrading of infrastructure and services
Cover personnel costs for research and advisory services
Intergovernmental Earmarked grants, conditional grants,
shared taxes, programmatic transfers,
revenue sharing
Tie grants to programs and give cities exibility to decide how to spend funds
Make grant disbursement conditional on reforms to local public administration
and adaptation policy, programs, and expenditures
Multilateral International donor funds, ofcial
development assistance (ODA),
humanitarian aid, technical and
capacity support
Provide concessional loans through national and/or regional governments for
local infrastructure and service delivery improvements
Provide direct technical assistance to city governments to mainstream climate
adaptation in urban planning and/or project preparation
Lend support during and after climate/disaster emergencies for rebuilding and
rehabilitation
Private Municipal bonds, loans, private
investments, insurance/reinsurance,
individual private capital, pooled
nances from communities
Support private investment or public-private partnerships in local adaptation
services
Provide long-term nance for green infrastructure
Generate income for larger-scale investments in infrastructure and building-scale
adaptation
Fund household and/or community investments in adaptation measures, like
housing upgrades to reduce ood and storm risk
Nonprot Philanthropy, individual donations,
micronance
Solicit donations for targeted urban adaptation capacity programs for local
ofcials and communities
Cover costs of future welfare losses from weather or other climate-related events
Build local capacity across urban stakeholders to adapt to climate change
Source: Authors’ analysis, based on Cook and Chu 2018.248
TABLE 6 Potential Revenue Sources to Support Climate Adaptation in Cities
Unlocking the Potential for Transformative Climate Adaptation in Cities 45
identify funding sources from their general development
budgets that match specic future adaptation needs. To
address this, one approach focuses on the adequacy,
predictability, and “additionality” of funds.252 Another
approach distinguishes funding instruments according
to whether or not a market-based alternative is possible
for the particular intervention.253 For instance, value
capture, structured nance, and risk-based instruments
like reinsurance or catastrophe bonds can be tailored to
account for discrete adaptation responses in specic
urban assets or areas.254 ODA, on the other hand, might
be necessary when no such market-based proposition
can be developed in advance, either because markets are
less mature or because solely market-based responses
are insufcient. Valuing risk and adaptation in nancial
decisions can demonstrate that more climate-responsive
cities are more nancially attractive. However, this can lead
to further socioeconomic marginalization and exclusion
of poor, underrepresented sections of society due to their
inability to pay for adaptation services or their exclusion
from the “formal” urban economy.
The implications of specic revenue ows extend beyond
closing the nancial gap to issues of transparency,
accountability, and equity for vulnerable populations.255
Despite growing complexity in the global structure for
nancing adaptation, it operates without established rules
and norms to ensure the inclusion of local institutions or
vulnerable populations in investment decisions.256 As local
governments gain experience utilizing different nancial
resources for adaptation, more studies are needed
to examine how different public and private nancial
instruments inuence patterns of local governance. For
instance, domestic tax revenue might fall short of demand
for urban adaptation investment, but taxation can often
lead to better governance by enhancing administrative
capabilities and increasing accountability.257 Another
important question concerns how to design and implement
investments in adaptation in the global South where
regulatory frameworks for urban nance are incomplete or
nonexistent.258 Domestic capital markets could contribute
signicant adaptation resources, but capital markets for
urban infrastructure in many vulnerable countries have
been slow to develop.259 In these contexts, this can be
an opportunity to develop new nancial regulations that
incorporate climate adaptation considerations.
Uncertainties over climate impacts and the cross-sectoral
nature of many adaptation options can make it difcult
to promise private nanciers what they typically want
from their investments, that is, low transaction costs
or the ability of the asset to produce dedicated streams
of revenue. Cities should work with the commercial
development industry to nd ways to generate local
nancing for adaptation investments. Higher-income cities
will need more sophisticated taxation and value-capture
measures with relevant insurance schemes. Lower-income
cities must strengthen land management systems and
invest strategically in resilient infrastructure for greater
returns. As climate-related risks and potential losses grow
faster than the pace of private nancial ows and ofcial
development assistance, public nance can and will only
serve as a bridge between multilateral/national nancial
sources and community-based nance.
A multiscalar perspective to climate adaptation in cities
allows one to move from capacity building to capacity
exchange, drawing valuable lessons from effective micro-
level adaptations in cities of different sizes. This would
undoubtedly lead to more innovative resource mobilization
and models of success. More innovative nancing and
resourcing models for climate adaptation could bridge
investments between vulnerable communities and local
governments. For example, for more well-resourced
countries, national development banks can support
adaptation investments in cities. Concessional nancing
may also be required given differences in the scal
powers, nancial maturity, and creditworthiness of cities.
Partnerships in technical assistance play a supportive
and growing role, while coordinated action by multilateral
nancial institutions can help reduce transaction costs for
cities. Finally, one could embrace multiple technologies
and build synergies for inclusive, sustainable urban
development.
As stated earlier, smaller and medium-size cities must
build the capacity to access and manage donor resources.
Rather than focusing narrowly on “hard” infrastructure
that responds to certain hazards, urban nance systems
should be exible and responsive to enable holistic
policymaking. Adaptation investment is most needed in
poor neighborhoods and low-income cities in the global
South. These areas typically have limited access to nance
that could enable investment in adaptive development.260
46 October 2019
Urban residents in low-income areas already suffer from
poor public services and government neglect. Informal
settlement residents may lack a legal address, which
means they cannot open a bank account, obtain insurance,
or connect to utilities.261 The “business case” alone should
not drive climate adaptation actions. Instead, these should
be seen as a public good for a stable, well-functioning,
and fair society. Climate adaptation should be a normative
collective position that appreciates diverse coping
capacities, recognizes the urgency of climate change, and
supports the security of all.
Financing climate resilience projects hinges on a ready
pipeline of viable projects. Project preparation and
development more broadly—beyond climate change—
is a constraint for many cities and countries and a
result of capacity limitations. In 2007, this prompted the
establishment of Cities Development Initiative in Asia
(CDIA), an arrangement designed to help ll gaps in
infrastructure development and nancing for the region.264
Even limited nances can support important soft measures
to build resilience.
Financial management skills are required on the part of
national and city governments, including in some cases a
track record of successful budget and project management
and a solid credit history. Cities need political connections
and networks to open doors, even to get on the radar
of decision-makers who hold the purse strings. This
constellation of forces means that smaller cities and towns
tend to rank lower in terms of prioritization of resources.
Their limited capacity to tackle adaptation and resilience
building and to handle the administrative demands of
managing projects from the larger funders perpetuates a
cycle that directs opportunity away from them and toward
a certain class of cities, regardless of need. At the same
time, the integration of adaptation priorities across scales
can help ensure that a series of smaller development-
oriented investments at the local level aggregate toward
larger adaptation benets and more transformative action
(see Box 14).
Finally, upstream decision-makers and program and project
designers need a better understanding of climate resilience
and adaptation. When the donor agencies and ministries
In 2012, the government of Denmark released a new framework in its climate action plan to better integrate
adaptation across municipalities, utilities, and government agencies. The Ministry of the Environment amended the
Planning Act to require all 98 municipalities in the country to carry out a risk assessment and integrate municipal-
level climate adaptation plans directly into local development plans within two years. The central government
provided guidance to harmonize planning and investment decisions and support partnerships across city agencies,
utility companies, and national ministries. The central government and municipalities also agreed that municipalities
should increase adaptation-related investments in wastewater treatment by DKr 2.5 billion (approximately US$445
million) in 2013.263 In parallel, wastewater utilities were tasked with preparing risk assessments for flooding
scenarios, the Ministry of Defense was told to adjust reporting systems for emergency response efforts, and the
Ministry of Transport planned to publish guidebooks for coastal areas and was also directed to map road and rail
network locations at risk for flooding.
Denmark’s approach demonstrates a strong emphasis on vertical and horizontal coordination across agencies and
stakeholders. The central government successfully provided guidance to help municipalities map risks and integrate
with local strategies, while increasing the knowledge base across other national agencies and utilities. The central
government also set timelines for evaluating actions, created financing mechanisms for utilities, and engaged
private enterprises to contribute to new climate adaptation innovations.
BOX 14 CASE: Multilevel Coordination of Adaptation Finance in Copenhagen, Denmark
Unlocking the Potential for Transformative Climate Adaptation in Cities 47
of nance in recipient countries have a limited grasp of
these challenges, this limits the options available for action.
Inside development banks, many of the loan ofcers and
technical assistance providers do not have adequate
training in concepts of resilience and integrated urban
systems, and in how to advance effective and equitable
adaptation measures. Vestiges of “predict and act” inform
some of the responses, resulting in mindsets focused only
on “climate proong” infrastructure, rather than considering
how to design interventions that can realize multiple
benets. Such multiple-outcome interventions require a
different approach to program design and often a different
way to allocate resources. Current institutional structures
and incentives make coordination, budget sharing, and
other approaches that foster cross-unit collaboration and
joint problem-solving seem more risky and costly than
advantageous.
4.5. Knowledge, Data, and Partnerships
Relevant, meaningful information and technology must be
readily available across scales.265 But decision-makers also
need technical capacity and a pathway to learn and use
scientic information. They need institutions or individuals
who can interpret and present it in ways that makes
sense, and frame and apply it in ways that are relevant and
appropriate for each context. Also needed are institutions
with a mandate and a mission to use scientic data,
information, protocols, and practices, and the capacity
to take action. Where resources (including time and
money) are scarce, and institutional capacities are weak,
it becomes harder to learn and make use of new data and
information.
Numerous networks have emerged to bridge and ll the
myriad resource and capacity gaps around adaptation
action in cities.266 Key players include the Rockefeller
Foundation–funded 100 Resilient Cities, ICLEI–Local
Governments for Sustainability, C40 Cities Climate
Leadership Group, and others. They have spearheaded
the dissemination of best practices by supporting
sectoral pilot projects, recognizing adaptation priorities
in municipal budgets, and producing comprehensive
downscaled climate projections. Despite the growing
importance of networks, their inuence is often conned to
larger (or “elite”) cities that receive the most international
recognition and investment, have the greatest stafng
capacity, and attract the most active and vocal policy
entrepreneurs. Networks display this membership bias
because they themselves have an incentive to emphasize
their accomplishments, earn praise, and attract resources
from the international community. This funnels adaptation
knowledge and awareness toward agship cities and away
from small- and medium-size urban areas, particularly
across the global South.
Finally, there is a need for horizontal spreading and
diffusion of ideas and practices. Peer learning, exchange,
and mobilization among urban poor and economically,
politically, and socially marginalized groups could be
transformative. Pooling and organizing social capital can
not only strengthen community resilience, but also shift
power relationships.267 To ensure that the approaches
taken forward are relevant to the diversity of needs and
interests in the city, a legitimate and credible process
must meaningfully draw in the diversity of knowledge
sets from across the city. Building this engagement,
ownership, and championship requires time, capacity,
and skillful facilitation.268 This work is a hard, messy, slow
slog that is not keeping pace with the scale of need. Cities
need innovations and resources to build a cadre of actors
to instigate and implement resilience and adaptation
everywhere. Cities, especially those with limited resources
and autonomy, need policy and nancial commitments
at national, state, provincial, and international levels. This
is particularly true in secondary and tertiary cities in the
global South.
4.6. Synergies across Regional, National,
and Global Scales
A central feature of climate change action in cities is
the political and jurisdictional complexity that shapes
urban decision-making and its outcomes. Efforts to
forward transformative change in cities must confront
the multiple levels and scales at which urban processes
are organized.269 As noted earlier, coordinating climate
change actions across diverse landscapes and populations
is challenging because climate risks and impacts are
affected by geography, ecology, culture, laws, politics, and
jurisdictional issues.270 Cities are typically embedded within
wider governance regimes—with responsibilities divided
across different levels of government—so many climate
48 October 2019
change actions require collaboration across jurisdictional
boundaries. However, the ability to bridge these boundaries
requires institutional exibility and political know-how. For
example, climate impacts and disaster risks are shaped by
both the way in which urban development unfolds and by
broader development policies and practices within a state
and nation.271
At the global level, international environmental and climate
change agreements—such as the Paris Agreement from
COP21 in December 2015; Habitat III, the UN Conference
on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development; and
the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)—all have
strong bearing on local-level actions.272 Figure 9 illustrates
the linkages between urban adaptation and the SDGs.
The multiple scales of governance and decision-making
add layers of actors, networks, and institutions to any
urban adaptation program.273 The three global agendas
of the Paris Agreement, the New Urban Agenda, and the
SDGs help pave the way for transformative adaptation
in cities. Each cites the transformation possible for
cities concentrating on building infrastructure, equity and
inclusiveness, and prosperity for all.
4.7. Evaluation and Learning
From a policy standpoint, we are now moving toward
assessing and evaluating portfolios of policy and planning
tools, as well as comparing collective experiences of
opportunities and constraints.274 The ability to monitor
climate adaptation projects and evaluate outcomes is a
critical ingredient in rening our understanding of what
works when, where, and why.275 As climate adaptation is
especially new in the urban contexts, these insights could
prove invaluable for framing options and evaluating cost-
effectiveness. Ideally, both process and outcome measures
are taken into consideration, given the importance
of engaging diverse perspectives and stakeholders.
In practice, however, monitoring, measurement, and
evaluation are tricky, while evaluation results are often not
adequately applied to inform future programming. Standard
approaches that rely on measuring change against a
baseline are especially challenging in the context of climate
change, since both baseline and context are shifting.276 The
localized nature of impacts and adaptation measures also
make metrics and measurement challenging. Gains and
losses in terms of human development and poverty have
signicant impacts on project outcomes, but may be at
least partially distinct from climate change impacts.
Table 7 illustrates a selection of recent adaptation metrics
used in cities. Efforts to measure resilience have picked
up momentum in recent years. In 2016, for instance,
the Rockefeller Foundation launched the Resilience
Measurement Evidence and Learning Community of
Practice. Similarly, the Asian Development Bank’s Urban
Climate Change Resilience Trust Fund (UCCRTF) is
focusing on how to measure the benets of resilience
investments. The literature is robust on the importance
of iterative decision-making to manage exibly and in the
context of uncertainty. Such an approach requires the
ability to review and assess progress. However, there are
few approaches that are specically relevant to urban
contexts.277
Documenting individual urban experiences can help
illuminate policy levers, strategic planning tools, specic
resource and capacity requirements, and particular
monitoring and evaluation needs. However, because
adaptation action depends on local contexts, generating
wider lessons has been difcult. Differences in political
economy; resources; and the value of informal,
autonomous, or nonstate strategies require further
exploration. Adaptation must be investigated as a cross-
sectoral issue, linked with emerging mitigation, resilience,
and sustainable development priorities to catalyze more
comprehensive, transformative pathways for change.
“Risks” covers indicators on risks, threats, hazards, and the
impacts of climate change and climate change–related
extreme weather events. “Process” includes indicators
on the processes of capacity, strategy, and policy
development, as well as prioritization of actions. “Progress”
includes output, outcome, and performance in the context
of institutional change, as well as the action or response
depending on the publication. “Impact” can focus on
either the direct impact of an intervention, or on the wider
impacts of improved risk management; reduced vulnera-
bility, exposure, impacts, and related extreme weather
events, as well as increased resilience, transformative
capacity, etc.
Unlocking the Potential for Transformative Climate Adaptation in Cities 49
SPATIAL PLANNING &
INFRASTRUCTURE DELIVERY
PEOPLE-CENTRIC AND
INCLUSIVE APPROACHES
NATURE-BASED
SOLUTIONS
DIRECT LINK
INDIRECT LINK
FIGURE 9 Synergies between Urban Adaptation and the Sustainable Development Goals
Source: Authors’ synthesis.
50 October 2019
ORGANIZATION FRAMEWORK INDICATOR COVERAGE
ARUP / C40 Climate Risk and Adaptation Framework and Taxonomy
(CRAFT)
Risk, Progress, and Impact (M)
ARUP / Rockefeller
Foundation
City Resilience Index (2018) Drivers, Vulnerability, Enabling Environment, and “Resilience”
Dimensions (M)
C40 Measuring Progress in Urban Climate Adaptation Framework Process, Progress, and Impact
Covenant of Mayors Sustainable Energy and Climate Action Template (SECAT) Process, Vulnerability, Progress, and Impact (M)
ESPON Climate Change and Territorial Effects on Regions and Local
Economies
Drivers, Risks, and potentially Impact (E)
GPSC Urban Sustainability Framework Enabling Environment (Process), Outcomes (Progress and
Impact) (N)
ICLEI Canada Changing Climate, Changing Communities: Guide and
Workbook for Municipal Climate Adaptation
Process and Progress (M)
ISET Indicators of urban climate resilience: A contextual approach “Resilience elements”
ISO Indicators for Sustainable Development and Resilience in
Cities
Performance on city services and quality of life, and Impact
(M)
ND-GAIN Urban Adaptation Assessment Risk and Readiness—covers Progress and Impact (E)
RESIN European Climate Risk Typology Drivers, Risk, Vulnerability, and potentially Progress (E)
UN-Habitat City Resilience Proling Tool Multistakeholder, people-centered data (E)
Sources: Bours et al. 2013; ARUP and Rockefeller Foundation 2018; Leiter et al. 2019.278
Notes: ESPON = European Observation Network for Territorial Development and Cohesion, GPSC = Global Platform for Sustainable Cities, ICLEI
= International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (now, Local Governments for Sustainability), ISO = International Organization for
Standardization, ND-GAIN = Notre Dame Global Adaptation Initiative, RESIN = Climate Resilient Cities and Infrastructures.
TABLE 7 Frameworks Comprising Adaptation Metrics for Cities
(E = Mainly existing indicators or data, N = Mainly new indicators or data, M = Mix of existing and new indicators or data)
Unlocking the Potential for Transformative Climate Adaptation in Cities 51
5. CONCLUSION AND KEY
MESSAGES
This paper analyzed the systemic risks climate change
poses for cities and the vulnerable populations within them.
Urgent adaptation action is needed in cities to protect
critical infrastructure, economically important assets,
and ecosystems and people in light of projected climate
change impacts. Proactive adaptation measures against
temperature change, extreme precipitation, and sea level
rise can reduce immediate economic losses and preserve
human lives, health, and well-being. Building on this need
for urgent action, the paper called for a reorientation
toward “transformative adaptation” that is equitable and
inclusive and considers climate risks as an integral part
of urban planning, development, and decision-making.
It focuses on systemic changes to urban development
processes, addressing how cities must account for the
potential impacts of climate change as they strive to meet
urgent needs for core urban infrastructure and services
(such as energy, water, sanitation, transportation, land use/
spatial planning, and housing), and for employment, health,
education, and social amenities. We discussed the enabling
conditions for transformative climate adaptation, such as
innovations in governance, nancing, policy, and planning
across urban sectors and scales of government.
Transformative adaptation must harness the
interrelationships between the complex systems that make
cities work. Many cities have been innovators and early
adopters, and we provided evidence that cities across the
world are progressing toward adaptation. Local contexts
notwithstanding, there are many similarities between
cities’ efforts to move along this path. Recent global policy
initiatives, including the SDGs and the Paris Agreement,
have helped channel nancial and human resources
into assessing cities’ vulnerabilities. Such assessments
have mostly been followed up with plans for adaptation
and resilience building. Although we have witnessed
incremental adaptation action in cities, we have yet to
see exemplars of transformative adaptation, particularly
those that address the risk-development nexus, enhancing
the city’s resilience and long-term economic productivity,
while simultaneously integrating goals of social equity,
inclusiveness, and justice.
The paper showed that systemically responding to climate
vulnerabilities, both within and across cities, and including
diverse local interests and values, enhances the potential
for transformative change. Holistic risk management
strategies are needed in London, New York, Tokyo, and
other cities in the global North faced with urban ooding,
poor air quality, and heat island effects. These strategies
are equally important in cities in the global South, where
risks such as sea level rise, extreme weather impacts, and
urban inundation loom against a backdrop of development
and infrastructure decits. Further, in emerging economy
cities, unplanned urbanization, sprawl, and spreading peri-
urban developments are degrading ecosystem services
such as forests, watersheds, and open spaces, and
threatening agricultural lands, food production systems,
and the ecological integrity of the wider region.
For policymakers and practitioners the challenge is to seize
new risk management, asset protection, and adaptation
opportunities while integrating them into cross-sectoral
policy objectives. This must be done while recognizing
long-term equity concerns across diverse urban interests
that may be conicting with each other. The needs of
marginalized and vulnerable populations should be
considered carefully in designing and implementing
adaptation plans and distributing their costs and benets.
Figure 10 synthesizes discussions in Sections 3 and 4
by illustrating ways to identify transformative adaptation
options in cities. It highlights the major dimensions of
such a transformative vision, including the spatial scale
(community, city, national, etc.) and main actions needed
to achieve innovative adaptation cobenets. These
include spatial and infrastructure planning, people-centric
approaches, and nature-based solutions. It also highlights
the enabling conditions needed to implement the priorities
for transformative adaptation, including accountable
institutions and governance, innovative nancing, local
capacity, scientic data, synergies across scales, and a
focus on inclusion and equity.
New and emerging cities are likely to expand rapidly in the
coming years.279 They need to integrate transformative
adaptation into their plans for building infrastructure,
providing services, and promoting development, taking
a holistic approach that avoids the mistakes cities have
52 October 2019
made in the past. There is a key window of opportunity
to transform the pathways and trajectories of cities that
are still emerging or developing. For them, new visions
of climate-resilient development are achievable. Finally,
emerging innovations in infrastructure, technology,
and social service provision can be harnessed in a more
decentralized manner. This means enlisting nonstate,
informal, indigenous, crowd-sourced, or other community-
based sources of knowledge and actors that represent
a similar range. Interdependencies between climate
risks must become opportunities to take cobenecial
actions that balance adaptation, mitigation, sustainability,
resilience, and development concerns. Achieving these
synergies effectively through local action is necessary
to support more transformative, climate-resilient urban
futures.
5.1. Recommendations to Make
Progress toward Enabling Conditions
In light of a rising call to action, this section briey
synthesizes the six key messages from the survey of
climate adaptation constraints and enablers in cities.
Table 8 lists key short- (two to ve years), medium- (ve
to ten years), and long-term (ten years and beyond)
recommendations corresponding with the “priority action
areas” outlined in Section 5.2.
It is vital to identify the opportunities for advancing
synergies and cobenets between the agendas
of mitigation, adaptation, resilience, transition,
transformation, and sustainable development. Such
agendas should be viewed as advancing along a
continuum, where reaching each stage depends on local
National
ministries, financiers
Municipal local government, private sector, civil society
Community
NGOs, research orgs, informal groups
Global MDBs, city networks, aid, commitments
Regional planning bodies, partnerships
SPATIAL PLANNING
AND INFRASTRUCTURE
DELIVERY
TRANSFORMATIVE ADAPTATION PRIORITIES
NATURE-BASED
SOLUTIONS
ACTORS
PEOPLE-CENTRIC
AND INCLUSIVE
APPROACHES
ENABLING CONDITIONS
Strong
Leadership
Synergies Across
Scales
Accountable Institutions
and Governance
Inclusion
and Equity
Finance and
Local Capacity
Knowledge, Data
and Partnerships
Evaluation
and Learning
Source: Authors’ synthesis.
Note: Each enabling condition is discussed in detail in Table 8.
FIGURE 10 Transformative Adaptation Priorities in Cities with Enabling Conditions and Scales
of Decision Making
Unlocking the Potential for Transformative Climate Adaptation in Cities 53
ENABLING CONDITIONS RECOMMENDATIONS TO MAKE PROGRESS TIME SCALES
Strong leadership Nurture political leaders, knowledge entrepreneurs, and social movements that can raise awareness and
advocate for climate adaptation.
Short/Medium
Reframe current and future urban development trajectories through the “climate lens,” taking into account
recent scientic projections and the need for more innovative and inclusive visions of urban futures.
Medium/Long
Promote transformative resilience thinking in decision-making and planning. Medium/Long
Inclusion and equity Prioritize engagement with urban poor, vulnerable, and marginalized stakeholders in climate adaptation
planning.
Short
Design participatory arenas to ensure the coproduction of adaptation solutions between public, private,
community-based, informal actors, as well as international experts.
Short/Medium
Ensure strong community ownership and buy-in to adaptation interventions and resilient development
outcomes.
Short/Medium
Devise parameters to ensure procedural and distributive inclusiveness, social equity, and climate justice. Medium/Long
Finance and local
capacity
Step up nancial support for urban adaptation, and ensure international nancial institutions, donors, and
the private sector prioritize valuing and incentivizing such investments.
Short
Harness and share the value created from adaptation investments between local governments and private
actors,ensuring equitable distribution of benets across population groups.
Short
Create funding incentives or commit resources for local engagement and demonstration projects with
cross-agency coordination at city level. Design intergovernmental funds that support adaptation planning
and action.
Short
Address and analyze capacity and skills gaps in the context of climate adaptation, risk management, and
resilient development at the local level.
Short
Recognize the “resilience dividend” in the design, prioritization, and implementation of both “soft” and “hard/
engineered” adaptation actions. Increase climate-resilient investments and capture value from adaptation
benets.
Short/Medium
Revisit regulatory frameworks to allow for more effective pooling and steering of public, private, and
community-based sources of adaptation nance.
Short/Medium
Provide training and institutional support to municipal authorities to prevent outsourcing of adaptation
planning and to better reect local priorities.
Short/Medium
Delineate nancial logic and investment criteria for socially responsible, sustainable, and equitable forms of
infrastructure and service delivery.
Short/Medium
Synergies across
regional, national,
and global scales
Facilitate more comprehensive adaptation strategies by harnessing networks and partnerships with
transnational actors, rural districts, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and transboundary institutions.
Short
Ensure that regional and local adaptation plans build upon major national policies and commitments,
particularly in the context of urbanization trajectories; other subnational climate strategies; economic
development plans; land use and transportation plans; critical infrastructure policies; and strategic, scal,
and investment plans.
Short
Support global scientic assessments and toolkits that include city-level knowledge and experiences. Short
Embed and synchronize adaptation planning within national, regional, and international resource
distribution, regulations, and nancing strategies through incentives and guidance.
Short/Medium
Offer incentives for sharing knowledge, capacity, and resources across city networks, focusing on South-
South collaborations, in particular.
Short/Medium
TABLE 8 Key Recommendations for Transformative Adaptation Action in Cities (with time scales)
54 October 2019
political, governance, and ideological opportunities and
barriers. Cities house competing interests and values
in their dense mixture of different actors, agendas,
and assets. These underlying tensions and conicts
can drive cities along particular development and
adaptation pathways, which may or may not be climate
transformative. Climate vulnerabilities in cities result from
complex intersections of climatic and nonclimatic factors,
including the way cities develop. Vying interests exacerbate
existing inequities in cities and may force marginalized and
poor urban populations to bear the brunt of climate and
development impacts. Understanding the multiple linkages
between urban planning and climate adaptation action in
cities is vital.
There is a need for more locally relevant resource
and capacity support. In particular, cities need more
local leadership spread across different institutions and
agencies (with associated capacity, vision, knowledge, and
agency). Skills, training, and support are needed to promote
iterative management, cross-sectoral communication,
collaboration, and coordination. Cities also need political
agency over managerial functions, nance and budgets,
and autonomy over sectoral functions to advance identied
solutions. Robust metrics are needed for distributing
adaptation costs and benets; responding to damage and
lost assets; and gauging how impacts will vary across
populations, communities, and types of assets. Local
knowledge institutions and intermediaries can help build
ENABLING CONDITIONS RECOMMENDATIONS TO MAKE PROGRESS TIME SCALES
Knowledge, data, and
partnerships
Require and support cross-agency and cross-sectoral knowledge exchange and consultation on urban
climate adaptation and resilient development.
Short
Foster data and knowledge co-production platforms between city government, civil society and community
groups, and research and academic institutions to make climate science and possible adaptation pathways
specic to the needs of local decision-makers and users.
Short/Medium
Enable multiscalar partnerships, mechanisms for resource transfer, and knowledge communities between
cities and global, national, regional, and community-level institutions.
Short/Medium
Support long-term science-policy-practitioner coordination with effective citizen communication strategies. Medium/Long
Evaluation and
learning
Devise and apply inclusive monitoring, assessment, and evaluation metrics for cobenecial urban
adaptation actions.
Short/Medium
Facilitate South-North and South-South models of peer learning and evaluation of urban adaptation actions. Medium
Create a global open access repository of data at the city level capturing climatic and socioeconomic
variables, thereby generating lessons that can be replicated across scales.
Medium
Accountable
institutions and
governance
Ensure and encourage planning for urban adaptation at the national level because many cities depend
heavily on national transfers and policies.
Short
Break the silos of urban governance and management to incentivize more holistic and multi-jurisdictional
spatial planning and policymaking around climate adaptation.
Short
Promote autonomy and exibility in local government policymaking to support more innovative forms of
adaptation action.
Short/Medium
Develop robust institutional mechanisms to manage potential economic losses and navigate tensions and
conicts in climate adaptation.
Medium
Develop governance accountability frameworks to ensure transparency, equity, and inclusivity in climate
adaptation.
Medium
TABLE 8 Key Recommendations for Transformative Adaptation Action in Cities (with time scales)
Source: Authors’ synthesis.
Unlocking the Potential for Transformative Climate Adaptation in Cities 55
this understanding. More scientic capacity is needed
to downscale climate models and scenarios to meet
local needs. And these must be matched with robust
assessments of future urban demographic growth trends,
urbanization and development patterns, and “hotspots” of
infrastructure need. One must be able to distinguish and
map out how both extreme and slow-onset risks will affect
different sectors and populations, and analyze factors
that contribute to everyday risks and their interactions
across time.
We must take non-state, informal, and autonomous
or community-led strategies seriously, devising
approaches to harness their potential. Neither top-down
nor bottom-up solutions alone are enough to ensure that
cities are adequately adapting to climate impacts. This
is particularly true in cities in the global South, stymied
by poor governance, lack of accountability, and resource
scarcity. Adaptation must meaningfully engage the range
of actors who live in the city, especially those coping with
development failures, structural inequality, and climate
change. We should enable processes that promote
coproduction and shared learning to build an inclusive
understanding of the range of impacts in the city. This
will help to create a shared vision for the future where
priorities and plans reect not only the wishes of dominant
economic, nancial, or political interests, but the needs of
all constituencies.
From a multiscalar perspective, we must recognize cities’
potential to pioneer new alternative strategies, but also
realize the limitations of actions solely at the local scale.
Policy incentives and institutional enablers at city, state,
national, or international levels can promote adaptation
across multiple scales (local, district, regional, watershed,
and beyond). We must recognize cities and city-regions as
laboratories of adaptation experimentation and innovation.
Cities are unique spaces to explore opportunities to link
climate adaptation and resilience to the SDGs, Sendai
Framework, New Urban Agenda, and other global and
national development policies. We must further explore
the implications of multiple modes of governance—local,
collaborative, informal, and multiscalar—that can effectively
support climate and action in cities. We should also
harness opportunities for cities as sites of more globally
equitable, resilient, and just development in the context of
climate change.
We need to move beyond documenting single case
studies to cross-sectoral and multi-sited analysis
to facilitate comparative learning, assessment, and
evaluation. As we have shown in this paper, many
disparate examples provide important lessons on how
cities need to adapt to climate change. Differences
between cities can make it challenging to distill lessons
and advance relevant and appropriate adaptive measures
that can be more universally applied. Therefore, it is
important to promote and facilitate learning from practice,
advance opportunities for peer exchange at scale, and to
build capacities for adaptation where it is needed. Peri-
urban communities (on the urban-rural continuum) as
well as medium- and small-size local authorities need this
support. Building resilience and advancing adaptation also
requires a different mindset—shifting from a “predict and
act” paradigm to one that can accommodate decision-
making in the context of uncertainty. This paradigm
demands characteristics such as resilience, exibility,
redundancy, modularity, and the ability to monitor and
Photo credit: Lubaina Rangwala/WRI.
56 October 2019
track progress. In addition to developing such a monitoring
and evaluation framework, cities need a global open
access repository of data that captures climatic and
socioeconomic variables, as well as new knowledge and
information that can be replicated across scales.
Finally, transformative approaches to urban adaptation
must recognize the interests, values, and vulnerabilities
of historically marginalized communities, include these in
decision-making and planning, and distribute the benets
and costs of proposed adaptation interventions in a
more fair and equitable manner. Robust mechanisms are
needed to handle potential conicts and identify barriers
and enablers to adaptation in urban low-income or informal
settlements. Transformation also calls for recognizing
existing structural inequalities within cities. This includes
ensuring citizenship rights to all socioeconomic groups,
giving marginalized people essential social protection and
access to basic services, and prioritizing interventions that
build adaptive capacity. Finally, we must align incentives
across the different users and interests to promote
forward-looking measures that build resilience and
promote proactive adaptation, recognizing that repairing
damage inicted by climate change is far more costly
than taking the steps needed to prevent it.
5.2. Advancing Implementation of
High-Priority Adaptation Actions
As discussed in Section 3, the review of literature, study
of cases, and consultations with experts and practitioners
we undertook for this paper points to three high-priority
action areas for urban climate adaptation that can yield
some of the largest development dividends. These include
spatial planning and infrastructure delivery that is informed
by climate risks; prioritizing risk reduction for vulnerable
groups; and, nally, nature-based solutions for managing
water and heat risks and for ecosystem protection. Table 9
below illustrates the importance of multiscalar action and
of involving diverse stakeholders, and organizes these high-
priority action areas according to the roles that actors of
different types, and operating at different scales, may play
to advance implementation.
Unlocking the Potential for Transformative Climate Adaptation in Cities 57
TABLE 9 High-Priority Adaptation Actions and Roles of Specific Actors in Implementation
KEY ACTION AREAS
ROLES OF KEY ACTORS
1. Spatial planning, infrastructure design
and delivery informed by climate risks
Emphasize the role of urban systems
as facilitators of climate-resilient
development pathways.
Integrate adaptation priorities and
resilience thinking into current and pipeline
development strategies, spatial plans,
infrastructure/service designs, nancial
systems, and social welfare provision
schemes.
2. Prioritize risk reduction for vulnerable
groups and those living in informal
settlements
Focus on people-centric, inclusive, and
equitable adaptation approaches.
Pursue climate change knowledge and
action coproduction between public,
private, civil society, and informal actors.
3. Nature-based solutions for managing
water-related and heat risks and for
ecosystem protection
Rescale urban boundaries to account for
adaptation priorities based on ecosystems,
rural-urban landscapes, and regional
networks. 
Uncover cross-sectoral synergies and
itemize cobenets between different
sustainable development, human well-being,
and ecological priorities.
Urban/local authorities
Produce locally grounded climatic models
to assess and visualize environmental risks
and associated socioeconomic, human, and
ecological vulnerabilities.
Require and support integrated
assessments of climate risks to diagnose
different barriers and opportunities to
adaptation action.
Develop metrics and evaluation indicators
on how to design, prioritize, and assess
cobenecial adaptation strategies.
Emphasize translating scientic models
and assessments into general planning,
management, and regulatory functions.
Articulate approaches toward community-
based vulnerability and adaptation needs
assessments within formal development
strategies.
Form broad consultative and participatory
arenas to coproduce potential cobenecial
actions.
Focus on informality. Prioritize the
adaptation requirements of informal
settlement dwellers, design adequate
social security schemes that build adaptive
capacity.
Support cross-departmental coordination,
resource support, and capacity
development, including identifying
strategic opportunities to advance multiple
outcomes.
Establish dedicated funding pathways
to channel external resources to local
adaptation measures, including investment
in nature-based solutions.
Collaborate with nancial institutions
and private rms to develop creative and
innovative approaches to fund/ nance
nature-based solutions.
Offer policy and regulatory frameworks
and incentives for oodplain restoration
and watershed protection.
Support knowledge coproduction through
stakeholder engagement platforms to
identify equitable processes and terms
for managed retreat and restoration of
oodplains and coastal zones subject to sea
level rise.
Proactively anticipate and design policy
mechanisms to avoid fostering “green
gentrication,” and economic and cultural
displacement as by-products of investment
in green infrastructure.
58 October 2019
KEY ACTION AREAS
1. Spatial planning, infrastructure design
and delivery informed by climate risks
(continuted)
2. Prioritize risk reduction for vulnerable
groups and those living in informal
settlements (continued)
3. Nature-based solutions for managing
water-related and heat risks and for
ecosystem protection (continued)
National/regional authorities
ROLES OF KEY ACTORS
Support transboundary and multilevel
assessments of climatic risks and establish
corresponding institutional bodies to
design adaptation strategies that span
ecosystems, rural-urban landscapes, formal-
informal institutions, and regional political
economic networks.
Develop national policy or legislation
mandating climate-informed planning.
Identify clusters of cities (or city-regions)
based on adaptation needs, creating tiered
and phased action plans at regional and
local levels.
Develop guidance on metrics and
evaluation indicators for cobenecial
adaptation strategies for use by localities
and transboundary institutions.
Devolve and decentralize governing
powers to increase autonomy of urban
authorities.
Ensure adequate funding to urban
authorities and support bottom-up
adaptation.
Offer resources for conict management
and mediation in the event of contentious
proposals.
Support knowledge coproduction through
the creation of multiple stakeholder
engagement platforms.
Enable the participation of rural and
peri-urban communities in articulating
adaptation options that protect livelihoods
and security beyond the political boundaries
of the city.
Develop regulations and institutional
mechanisms to support interregional and
cross-sectoral coordination.
Through knowledge coproduction, develop
equitable guidelines, standards, and
protocols to inform managed retreat.
Revise funding and investment criteria
to recognize and value nature-based
solutions for cobenecial adaptation.
Civil society
Mobilize local leaders in decision-making
arenas to advocate for citywide adaptation
and resilience thinking.
Enable grassroots awareness and
knowledge of climate science, current/
future risks, and associated vulnerabilities.
Contest existing paradigms of climate
action to offer more people-centered visions
of urban development. 
Design community-based guidelines for
assessing adaptation benets and losses.
Develop metrics and criteria for delineating
informal, autonomous, or community-
based adaptation actions in relation to
existing risk-management, vulnerability-
reduction, and livelihood-protection
schemes.
Bring forth issues of representation of
marginalized communities in multiple
stakeholder engagement platforms and
other decision-making forums.
Articulate locally relevant indicators for
ensuring climate equity and justice, taking
into the account the need to distribute both
adaptation benets and losses in a fair
manner.
Advocate for a review of urban and social
policies and programs to identify those
that contribute to the criminalization of
poverty.
vHarness community-based knowledge
and actions to guide decisions around use
of nature-based solutions.
Promote social movements, grassroots
and community-based networks that
address unjust adaptation schemes and
advocate for equitable approaches to
nature-based solutions.
Ensure that the rights of the most
marginalized groups are protected in
existing and proposed schemes, including
measures to restore oodplains, remove
dams and levees, and retreat from zones
subject to sea level rise.
Advocate participatory arenas that
emphasize interests of marginalized
communities.
TABLE 9 High-Priority Adaptation Actions and Roles of Specific Actors in Implementation
Unlocking the Potential for Transformative Climate Adaptation in Cities 59
KEY ACTION AREAS
1. Spatial planning, infrastructure design
and delivery informed by climate risks
(continuted)
2. Prioritize risk reduction for vulnerable
groups and those living in informal
settlements (continued)
3. Nature-based solutions for managing
water-related and heat risks and for
ecosystem protection (continued)
Private actors
ROLES OF KEY ACTORS
Devise and apply criteria on socioeconomic
benet and nancial robustness of
adaptation actions.
Support objective monitoring and
evaluation arrangements for ensuring social
accountability and nancial transparency.
Provide funds and expertise for cocreation
of knowledge.
Support adaptation planning and
implementation through engaging with
industry and commercial/trade bodies.
Synchronize economic logic to adaptation
benets and losses with social,
institutional, and ecological criteria.
Develop new models and analyze
partnership opportunities with government
and nancial institutions to enable up-front
investments in nature-based solutions that
can deliver water and heat risk management
benets.
International community
Support knowledge and tools development
for integrating adaptation priorities with
urban functions.
Support autonomous, exible, and
transparent spending on actions that yield
the greatest public good.
Support sharing of lessons from
best practices in designing integrated,
cobenecial adaptation actions.
Articulate equity and justice criteria within
multilateral arrangements that take into
account social, political, and economic
structures of cities.
Support nancial, capacity, and technical
transfer schemes that take into account
local needs, including urban development
priorities, urban-rural stressors, as well as
informality and poverty-reduction targets.
Revise funding and investment criteria
to recognize and value nature-based
solutions for cobenecial adaptation and to
ensure that approaches are equitable.
Create incentives for cross-department
budgeting and program development to
advance multiple adaptation benets.
Support learning, skills, and capacity
development among urban actors.
Foster innovative partnerships around
technology exchange and the sharing of
good practices.
Source: Authors’ synthesis.
TABLE 9 High-Priority Adaptation Actions and Roles of Specific Actors in Implementation
60 October 2019
ENDNOTES
1. We use “cities” to denote areas ofcially dened as cities and urban
areas comprising multiple city jurisdictions.
2. IRP (International Resource Panel). 2018. “The Weight of Cities:
Resource Requirements of Future Urbanization,” in A Report by
the International Resource Panel. Nairobi, Kenya: United Nations
Environment Programme (UNEP).
3. S. Hallegatte, C. Green, R.J. Nicholls, and J. Corfee-Morlot. 2013.
“Future Flood Losses in Major Coastal Cities.” Nature Climate Change
3(9).
4. Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. 2005. Ecosystems and Human
Well-Being. Vol. 5. Washington, DC: Island Press.
5. United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs. 2018.
“2018 Revision of World Urbanization Prospects.” New York: United
Nations.
6. V. Beard, A. Mahendra, and M. Westphal. 2016. “Towards a More
Equal City: Framing the Challenges and Opportunities.” Working
Paper. Washington, DC: World Resources Institute.
7. SDI (Slum/Shack Dwellers International). 2018. “Know Your City
Initiative.” Nairobi, Kenya: SDI.
8. K.C. Seto, R. Sánchez-Rodríguez, and M. Fragkias. 2010. “The New
Geography of Contemporary Urbanization and the Environment.
Annual Review of Environment and Resources 35(1): 167–194.
9. IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change). 2018. “Global
Warming of 1.5°C: An IPCC Special Report on the Impacts of Global
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