The majority of the world’s population lives in urban areas, and they continue to grow by more than 75 million people per year. Cities, especially rapidly growing cities, are likely to be the driving economic force in many countries, even more so than they are now. Worldwide, almost one in three people in cities live in slums. As more people move to cities, climate change and climate variability will magnify many urbanization challenges.
Cities also have a large role to play in reducing air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Cities consume over two-thirds of the world’s energy, and account for more than 70 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions.
Increasing the efficiency of building heating, cooling, and lighting systems is one way that cities can reduce their overall emissions.
City dwellers rely on services provided by local governments, such as transportation, water and wastewater, electricity, and others. There will be a bigger demand for these services as cities grow. Climate change and variability put added stress on the provision of services essential for cities to effectively function. For example, coastal cities may suffer from salt water intrusion, threatening clean water supply to growing populations. Or, increased intensity and frequency of floods may create challenges to build both hard and soft infrastructure to protect citizens from floods, resulting in loss of property or even life. Infectious diseases, such as water- or vector-borne diseases, may increase during both floods and droughts, putting more people at risk. Extreme heat is another concern in cities, many of which are already experiencing the urban heat island effect. Climate change will result in more intense summer temperatures and more frequent heat waves, putting urban populations at risk.
USAID recognizes the importance of addressing urbanization challenges in its Environment and Natural Resources Management (ENRM) Framework, which helps guides document the Agency’s natural environment and urban systems investments. Two priority areas are outlined in the Framework, and the second of these focuses on the improvement of urban systems for a cleaner environment and enhanced human well-being. Within the urban priority area, USAID’s goals include pollution reduction, reduced urban pressure on natural resources, and increased resilience. One way that the Framework departs from previous work in urban areas is by emphasizing an integrated approach and looking to address the root causes of environmental threats to and caused by urban populations.
While the ENRM Framework helps direct the way in which USAID works in cities, a number of past and ongoing initiatives have considered the impacts of climate-related shocks and stressors within urban contexts. Below, find a selection of related programs, blogs, and resources.
The Adaptation Thought Leadership and Assessments (ATLAS) project, which concluded in early 2020, was a USAID-funded activity that assisted the Agency and its partners to test approaches and develop good practices for climate-resilient program investments. The ATLAS “Resources by Sector” page contains an urban resilience and infrastructure section, alongside health, the economic costs of climate change, and other adaptation topics.
The South Africa Low Emissions Development (SA-LED) Program, which also concluded in 2020, focused on strengthening the capacity of the public sector to plan and implement low emissions development projects. While SA-LED activities were quite diverse in nature, many involved small-scale clean energy, infrastructure, and urban planning. View all SA-LED resources here.
Building Climate Adaptation and Resilience of the Urban Poor in South Asia tells the story of Meena Soni, a resident of an informal settlement in Ahmedabad, India. By working with a group called Mahila Housing Trust (MHT). Meena is able to become a vikasini, a community leader who is able to influence city planning and enable adaptation and resilience actions which reflect a pro-poor agenda.
Catalyzing Change in South Africa’s Cities “From the Neighborhood Up” features work undertaken by the South Africa Low Emissions Development (SA-LED) Program to improve equity and sustainability through “neighborhoods for all” through a partnership with EcoDistricts, a U.S.-based non-governmental organization. A related success story, available through the Climatelinks resource library, focuses on a participant in a one-day training given to municipal staff in the city of Johannesburg.
Monitoring and Evaluation for Climate Adaptation Initiatives: Lessons from the Philippines highlights lessons learned from work undertaken by the ATLAS project in the city of Cagayan de Oro, Philippines. To assist the city with its needs for guidance and support in climate change adaptation monitoring and evaluation (M&E), ATLAS produced a literature review and reference guide for city officials looking to establish a M&E plan. The lessons are meant as a starting point for cities looking to develop similar systems and plans.
Clean cooking in urban areas can both reduce forest loss and improve urban air quality. Inclusive Private Sector Engagement—A Key to Growth in Malawi’s Urban Cooking Transition explores the ways that private sector engagement can ensure adoption at-scale, as well as long-term sustainability, through greater inclusion of local actors along cleaner cooking value chains.
Progress Toward Financing Urban Infrastructure—An Update on the C40 Cities Finance Facility highlights milestones achieved during the pilot phase of the C40 Cities Finance Facility (CFF). These include job trainings, workshops, and learning exchanges in support of the city governments of Bogotá, Colombia, and Mexico City, Mexico. A 2020 update on the CFF has been published as part of our November 2020 “urban climate action” theme.
Heat in Cities: Impacts of Heatwaves and Measures to Mitigate Risk is a series of six infographics produced by the ATLAS project. The infographics feature steps cities can take to mitigate heat risks, and highlight topics including the impacts of extreme heat, how strategic urban planning can diminish heat risks, and what research gaps currently exist in understanding urban vulnerability to heat waves.
Three resources comprise the ATLAS project’s Heat and Urban Environmental Issues: Quick Guides for Air Pollution, Water Quality and Solid Waste Management. These guides detail the impacts of heat on each topic area, as well as the effects of the interplay of heat and each of the three issues. The guides also provide details on the most vulnerable locations worldwide, as well as actionable recommendations that city officials can take to reduce risks from heat.
Advancing Gender in the Environment: Gender and Urban Services focuses on gender gaps and gender-responsive opportunities for urban development as part of the Advancing Gender in the Environment (AGENT) program. It provides an overview of gender issues across four urban service areas: water and sanitation, waste management, energy, and transportation and mobility. It also provides gender-responsive strategies, as well as examples from USAID and other leading organizations working on gender and cities.
Productive Landscapes: Lessons from Regulating Urban Woodfuel Markets: The Case of Senegal details how Senegal, a country that is heavily dependent on woodfuel, has implemented national policy reforms for the purpose of transforming the market system that supplies charcoal to urban centers. Senegalese cities heavily depend on charcoal, which creates strong demand and places the country’s limited forest cover at risk. This case study provides recommendations for governments intent on using state regulatory power to mitigate the impact of woodfuel production and use on forests and forest carbon.
Climate Risks in Urban and Urbanizing Geographies: Madagascar (also available in French) provides an overview of urbanization and climate risk in Madagascar, a country with annual urban growth of nearly 5 percent. The document is a robust version of the highly popular climate risk profiles that are available on Climatelinks, and includes case studies and sector-specific impacts, vulnerabilities, and adaptation options. A similar document focusing on South Africa is also available on Climatelinks.
Stephan Hardeman is the Site and Community Manager for Climatelinks. He draws on more than five years of experience in communications for international environmental trust funds to support Climatelinks through USAID’s Sharing Environment and Energy Knowledge (SEEK) initiative by engaging the Climatelinks community and featuring its work. Stephan has MAs in International Affairs (American University) and Natural Resources and Sustainable Development (United Nations University for Peace) and BAs in English and Anthropology from the University of Texas at Austin.
Colin Quinn is a climate advisor in USAID’s Africa Bureau. He is an ecologist who is dedicated to addressing society’s most pressing environmental and climate change challenges by linking science to policies and decision making. He has over 15 years of experience in ecological research and climate change adaptation, with a focus on urban resilience and how climate change impacts public health. Through strategic leadership, team and partnership building, and vision, Colin aims to provide both thought leadership and action to tackle society’s most critical environmental challenges.
Colin has a PhD from Colorado State University in plant ecology, and an undergraduate degree in biology from the University of Canterbury in New Zealand.