A How-To Manual for Large Cities to Build Climate Resilience

NEW YORK, New York, August 6, 2008 (ENS) – With eight of the world’s 10 largest cities located near rivers or seas and exposed to such climate hazards as flooding, sea level rise, and hurricanes, a United Nations-World Bank report released today offers advice on how to make these population centers more resistant to the effects of global warming.

“Climate Resilient Cities” [web.worldbank.org] is intended as a primer for East Asia and the Pacific to curb vulnerability to climate change and strengthen disaster risk management in the face of the frequent and extreme weather events expected as the planet’s temperature climbs.

“Ultimately, the cities hardest hit by climate change will be the ones least prepared,” said Neeraj Prasad, the World Bank’s lead environmental specialist for the region.

Jointly produced by the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, the World Bank and its Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery, the report urges managers to protect their cities sooner rather than later.

Downtown Mumbai fronts onto the Arabian
Sea. (Photo by Jasvipul Chawla)

With an estimated population of 13.6 million, India’s financial capital Mumbai, formerly Bombay, is the world’s largest city.

Located at the mouth of Ulhas River on India’s Arabian Sea coast, Mumbai is among the cities most vulnerable to global warming and rising sea levels, says a 2007 study published by the Institute for Environment and Development.

Mumbai was listed along with Tokyo, New York, Shanghai, Jakarta and Dhaka as cities where millions are at risk of heavy storms and flooding.

“Ninety percent of disasters are already weather-related, and more intense and frequent hurricanes and floods are predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, says Salvano Briceño, director of the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction. “We cannot wait. We already have the tools to reduce the impact of climate-related hazards and we need to use them now.”

Briceño points to the Hyogo Framework for Action adopted by 168 governments in Hyogo, Japan in 2005 as a tool that offers practical and efficient measures to reduce the impact of disasters, including extreme climate events.

These measures include not building houses in floodplains or close to coastal areas and instead building on higher ground with resilient materials able to sustain the force of winds and water pressure.

Protecting critical infrastructures such as schools, hospitals and roads; and building early warning systems and shelters for people who must evacuate are some of the common sense measures included in the Hyogo Framework.

Briceño urged governments to start sourcing adequate funds for adaptation to climate change, as many vulnerable countries will be unable to pay for adaptation out of their own budgets.

Shanghai, China, the world’s fourth largest
city, lies at the mouth of the Yangtze
River, which empties into the East
China Sea. (Photo by Nat Meyr)


The UN points to estimates predicting that for every one meter (39 inch) rise in sea levels, there will be a corresponding two percent drop in a country’s Gross Domestic Product due to the decrease in fresh water, damage to agriculture and fisheries, disrupted tourism and reduced energy security, among other consequences.

The concentration of people in cities increases their susceptibility to damage from the warming climate. The study finds that East Asia is one of the world’s most vulnerable areas.

“We have seen events like the 2004 tsunami, and recently Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar and a typhoon in the Philippines,” said Jitendra Shah, who coordinates the World Bank’s environmental program in Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia and Thailand.

The report advises cities to strategize now to adapt to future climate change and to slash greenhouse gas emissions.

Some of the recommended measures are simple, such as raising awareness of global warming’s impact, promoting the use of bicycles and increasing the use of energy-efficient public transport vehicles.

Other measures entail legislation and increased investment, such as providing alternatives to fossil fuels and improving public infrastructure.

“Every city is different,” said Prasad. “There is no cookie-cutter solution to climate change impacts. It’s important that you are able to anticipate the likely impacts on your city and make the decision to deal with that.”

Seeking to lead by example in addressing climate change, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has initiated a “Cool UN” policy to reduce energy consumption and the shrink the carbon footprint of United Nations Headquarters building in New York City.

Lauched on July 30, the campaign will reduce the use of air conditioning, cut greenhouse gas emissions and save money by raising the temperature of the headquarters building by 5° F.

During a month-long trial period in August, the thermostats would be turned up from 72° F (22.2° C) to 77° F (25° C) in most parts of the Secretariat building and from 70° F (21.1° C) to 75° F (23.9° C) in the conference rooms, UN officials said.

Accompanied by a relaxed business casual dress code, the UN will shut down the buildings’ heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems on weekends.

The initiative is expected to save about 4.4 billion pounds of steam during the month of August, or the equivalent of 300 tons of carbon dioxide in terms of greenhouse gas emissions – equal to a 10 percent reduction in energy consumption.

It is expected to produce cash savings of $100,000.

In winter, the process could be reversed, with a 5° F reduction in thermostat settings.

The campaign is expected to reduce emissions by 2,800 tons of carbon dioxide annually.

Secretary-General Ban hopes the initiative will encourage staff to explore other innovative ideas for making the United Nations a model in the global fight against climate change.

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