Making Climate Resilience a Core Part of City Development

Buses at the Porto Alegre Central Market. Photo by Benoit Colin/WRI

As home to more than half the world’s population, cities are some of the places most vulnerable to the impacts of a warmer world. Yet in many ways, they’re still not equipped to deal with the challenges climate change presents.

While more than 450 cities committed to reduce their emissions as part of the Compact of Mayors, few urban areas have comprehensive adaptation or resilience plans in place. And even in cities with adaptation initiatives, too often these plans are treated as a separate initiative rather than integrated into core city planning decisions like land use or transport planning.

That’s why 100 Resilient Cities (100RC) and WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities are teaming up to help cities see urban planning through a resilience lens. The partnership works to ensure that cities can build resilience into their very foundations, learning from the adaptive successes of their peers and mainstreaming adaptation into city operations and planning decisions. The partnership also works to open up routes to finance cities’ climate-resilient projects.

We’re already starting to see some cities take the lead on these two issues, offering powerful lessons for other urban centers to follow:

Making Resilience Mainstream

Careful climate-minded planning can make a city more resilient. Resilience is necessary not only for adapting to climate change, but for maintaining cities’ social, infrastructure, and economic integrity.

Adaptation and resilience planning will not achieve their intended impacts if they are considered side issues. Rather, these measures must become a part of the regular narrative in cities, incorporating locally adapted projects into every aspect of urban development, from land use planning to transport and housing decisions.

Porto Alegre, Brazil is one city that’s already making strides in this area. The city hired its Chief Resilience Officer and launched a Resilience Strategy to integrate resilience into all aspects of city planning.  Drawing on input from the WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities, Porto Alegre also developed an integrated resilience strategy, which lays out goals like improved land regulation, increased access to sustainable mobility options, and participatory budgeting.

Rio de Janeiro is using a similar resilience lens to examine its urban planning. The WRI Ross Center integrated resilience research with community consultation to produce an innovative set of new indicators of individual and community-level resilience, including factors like social cohesion, institutional reach, climate change risk perception and economic resources.  By focusing on resilience for city residents, this research served to inform the people-centered plan put in place by city leaders and has contributed to Rio’s recently launched Resilience Strategy. WRI and 100RC are now looking to scale some of these practices to other cities, such as Sao Paulo.

Funding Resilience

Recent research estimates a finance gap of approximately $4-5 trillion per year for sustainable, resilient infrastructure. This deficit means that cities will have to do more with less. Resilience thinking is a way to do just that.  By orienting city planning around resilience practices, cities can uncover new efficiencies in investments to achieve multiple benefits.

Some cities are already taking steps toward dedicated funding for resilience. In two dozen cities in the 100RC Network, mayors and city leaders have pledged 10 percent of their city budgets for resilience projects and initiatives. While gaps in funding for urban infrastructure may persist, this is an important first step.

Innovative sources of capital are emerging, and the WRI/100RC partnership will unveil further possibilities. For example, WRI’s Climate Resilience Practice has partnered with the UN Capital Development Fund to help countries develop national systems for channeling global climate finance to local-level resilience projects.

The cities of the future will be determined by the decisions that urban practitioners, local leaders and others make today. WRI and 100RC are ready to help these decision-makers put resilience at the very core of their urban agendas.

This is a cross-post from 100 Resilient Cities.

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