As the world becomes more urbanized, cities are compelled to plan and respond more rapidly than national governments. The C40 is a network of the world’s megacities dedicated to addressing climate change. The lights have to stay on. Traffic has to keep flowing. Emergency services have to be ready to respond at a moment’s notice. To accomplish these goals, every major coastal city in the world has established a Climate Action Plan (CAP).
Flooding and Heat Extremes
Floods and heat extremes are the two most common climate-related events that cities face. The cost of responding to these events can be overwhelming, yet it costs many times more to be unprepared. A study by the Multihazard Mitigation Council found that for every $1 that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) invests in resilience, it saves the nation $4 in disaster recovery costs. This does not include the savings to private property and insurance costs.
The UN has identified climate change priorities as mitigation, resilience and adaptation. Cities play a major role in each of these priorities. They mitigate global warming by reducing urban emissions. Sound management improves capacity for both resilience and adaptation to extreme events.
Cities have different exposures and risks to climate change, but the core fundamentals of adaptation are the same. There are three fundamental adaptive priorities:
- Protecting lives
- Protecting critical functions
- Protecting economic priorities
Each of these priorities has three component strategies.
Protection may include hard or soft structural defensive measures. Armoring a shoreline might be considered hard. Zoning to keep high value priorities away from potential danger could be considered a soft strategy.
Accommodation establishes the means to deal with an extreme event. Increasing the capacity for storm water runoff is a form of accommodation. Designing resistant bridges and residential zoning requirements may better resist or avoid flood events. Housing projects may be set away from a potential slide area. Cities located where tornados frequently occur may require underground utilities.
Retreat is a third critical strategy for city managers. Vulnerable assets may be moved away from high risk areas. Escape routes and sanctuary structures should be planned and designed to remain accessible in an emergency. Safe locations should be identified for people to assemble and receive aid.
In addition to protection, good management must also consider improving city efficiency and ensuring economic prosperity. The future will have little resemblance to the past we remember. The changes happening because of anthropogenic emissions are essentially permanent. They will be outside the 200,000 years of human experience, even if emissions were to cease today. This fact cannot be overemphasized. Extreme events are the new normal.
How Rotterdam and Seattle Lead the Way on Adaptation
Rotterdam is an international role model for cities located near or below sea level. As the city writes in its Climate Change Adaptation Strategy:
The growth of Rotterdam has always been driven by visionary foresight – from the Oude Haven and the Nieuwe Waterweg to the Tweede Maasvlakte, from the dam in the Rotte to the delta metropolis of the Netherlands. Continuing in this tradition, the Rotterdam Climate Change Adaptation Strategy has been developed with the aim of making Rotterdam climate proof by 2025. By climate proof we mean:
- by 2025 measures will have already been taken to ensure that every specific region is minimally disrupted by, and maximally benefits from, climate change both then and throughout the following decades
- structurally taking into account the long-term foreseeable climate change in all spatial development of Rotterdam, while allowing for any associated uncertainties
Critical facilities and urban housing may one day be built on floating modules capable of rising with rising sea level. This prototype is already being tested in Rotterdam.
Seattle is the home of Microsoft, Amazon, airplane manufacturing and other high tech industries. They play a significant role in the nation’s economy, as well as Seattle’s. Each of these businesses has established strategic climate change plans to ensure efficient, safe and sustainable operation.
In 2000, Seattle became the first city in the nation to adopt the green building goal for new municipal buildings. In 2001 the city created a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) incentive for private projects. That same year, Seattle’s Mayor launched the Mayor’s Climate Protection Initiative. More than 1,000 mayors representing 89 million citizens have joined Seattle to meet or exceed greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions set by the Kyoto Protocol at seven percent below 1990 levels. In 2006, Seattle was one of the first cities in America to adopt a Climate Action Plan (CAP). By 2015, fifteen of the eighteen areas for action had been implemented or were in the process of implementation.
The “Greenest Commercial Building in the World” describes the Bullitt Center building. This completely self-powered, self-contained office structure further illustrates Seattle innovation for a sustainable future.
Seattle’s Bicycle Master Plan (BMP) is designed to reduce GHG emissions, improve public health and reduce urban traffic. In 2015, a bicycle share program was established. Seattle is also reducing urban emissions by purchasing hybrid fleet vehicles, hybrid buses, building a light rail commuter system and encouraging smaller vehicles in the city core like the “car2go” program.
Education and research are also significant parts of the Seattle climate adaptation strategy. NOAA and the University of Washington are centers for climate research and education. Elementary and primary education has increased emphasis on science, math and engineering. The Perkins School built one of the world’s first fully self-contained and “off-the-grid” science classrooms for primary students. Other Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) oriented schools are being constructed in the Seattle area to prepare the next generation for a rapidly changing world.
New York City has heeded the message sent by tropical storm Sandy. Mayor Bloomberg marshaled his forces and set a $19.5 billion plan in place to adapt to climate change. It includes reducing coastal vulnerability to storm surge, retrofitting hospitals and nursing homes, elevating electrical infrastructure, drinking water systems, flood walls, coastal ecosystem restoration and research.
London has responded to unprecedented flooding in the UK with its own Climate Action Plan (CAP). Miami has responded to flooding with its own CAP. Paris, Cairo, Shanghai, Cape Town, Karachi, Calcutta, and Dhaka are just some of the C40 cities addressing climate change as integral to city planning and management. Hundreds more are getting on board every year — not because it is politically correct or even because it is just good business. They are doing it because they have no other choice.