Urban climate change resilience is vital

+ Across the world cities are finally embracing a comprehensive approach to urban climate change resilience.

In the last decade the understanding of the threats and risks cities face has deepened greatly, not least due to the Asia Cities Climate Change Network. Urban Climate Change Resilience (UCCR) refers to the ability of cities to manage the threats an increasingly urban population faces due to climate change and associate risks. But beyond its core agenda of dealing with climate change, UCCR also presents cities with an incredible opportunity to tackle existing failures of urban development.

Awareness of the importance of city resilience as a critical urban development agenda is growing, as are the benefits of investing in resilience. In the international development community we used to speak in terms of planning for disaster risk reduction (DRR). Now resilience means looking at ways cities can withstand, adapt and transform, staying focused on long-term benefits rather than short-term fixes. History is full of examples of cities turning uncovered weakness into advantages. Think about London after the Great Fire or again, after the Blitz. We rebuilt with a clearer vision of how to improve.

Rather than focusing on single threats, UCCR recognizes that climate change may result in a wide range of hazards, which it’s impossible to predict. It addresses risk as part of a wider agenda emphasizing the importance of inclusive governance and integrated planning. The governance issue is key. If cities are to become truly resilient, the population must have a voice: consultation breeds better long-term decision making.

UCCR represents a maturation of the climate change agenda. In the last decade the climate change sceptics have finally been silenced, not just by the growing evidence base, but by cities across the world responding to the real change they’re experiencing locally. The agreement signed at COP21 in Paris in December 2015, cemented this realisation as a global agenda. And given cities are now projected to house 70% of the world’s population by 2050, they have become central to the debate which has understandably shifted to adaptation and mitigation. The work of the C40 cities and the Compact of Mayors are testament to cities recognizing the critical role they play in tackling climate change.  

UCCR’s breadth of perspective is a key strength, focusing on ‘the ability of cities to persist in the face of the multiple threats posed by climate change’. Today, UCCR embraces the capacity of cities to prepare for and withstand sudden shocks familiar from disaster risk reduction thinking. It also focuses the need to adapt progressively as stresses accumulate. Finally, it’s able to identify the opportunities pressures provide to think differently, adopt new strategies and transform. 

The most exciting part about UCCR’s momentum is its role as a paradigm shift, one that takes us beyond ‘development as usual’. Development has typically focused on economic growth and prosperity, at the expense of social inclusion or sustainable development. UCCR inherently recognises that within a city, climate change impacts are experienced unequally, and it challenges cities to engage in collective action that benefits all.

For the world’s newest and fastest growing cities, particularly across Asia, UCCR is a timely tool as they grapple with development issues. UCCR recognises that the quality of urban development and governance is the key not only to prosperity and well-being, but the ability to survive and thrive. It shows us the best path forward.