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Adapting to climate change in urban areas: the possibilities and constraints in low- and middle-income nations

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D. Satterthwaite
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This paper discusses the possibilities and constraints for adaptation to climate change in urban areas in low- and middle-income nations. These contain a third of the world’s population and a large proportion of the people and economic activities most at risk from sea-level rise and from the heatwaves, storms and floods whose frequency and/or intensity climate change is likely to increase. The key issue is how to build resilience to the many impacts of climate change in these countries. There measures should- amongst other things- be strongly pro-poor, be based on a strong local knowledge base of climate variabilities, recognise the role of government policies in supporting adaptation to climate change, build resilience in rural areas and build in a mitigation framework.Section I outlines both the potentials for adaptation and the constraints, with Section II discussing the scale of urban change. Section III considers direct and indirect impacts of climate change on urban areas and which nations, cities and population groups are particularly at risk. This highlights how prosperous, well-governed cities could generally adapt, but most of the world’s urban population lives in cities or smaller urban centres ill-equipped for adaptation. A key part of adaptation concerns infrastructure and buildings - but much of the urban population in Africa, Asia and Latin America lack the infrastructure to adapt. Most international agencies have long refused to support urban programmes, especially those that address these problems.Section IV discusses innovations by urban governments and community organizations and in financial systems that address such problems, including the relevance of recent innovations in disaster-risk reduction for adaptation. It notes how few city and national governments are taking any action on adaptation. Section V focuses on how local innovation in adaptation can be encouraged and supported at national scale, and the funding needed to support this. Section VI considers the mechanisms for financing this and the larger ethical challenges that achieving adaptation raises - especially the fact that most climate-change-related urban (and rural) risks are in low-income nations with the least adaptive capacity, including many that have contributed very little to greenhouse-gas emissions.