Cities found unprepared for climate change impact

Cities worldwide are failing to take necessary steps to protect residents from the likely impacts of climate change, even though billions of urban dwellers are vulnerable to heat waves, sea level rise and other changes associated with warming temperatures.

A new examination of urban policies by Patricia Romero Lankao at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., in conjunction with an international research project on cities and climate change, warns that many of the world’s fast-growing urban areas, especially in developing countries, will likely suffer disproportionately from the impacts of changing climate.

Her work also concludes that most cities are failing to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that affect the atmosphere.

“Climate change is a deeply local issue and poses profound threats to the growing cities of the world,” said Ms. Romero Lankao. “But too few cities are developing effective strategies to safeguard their residents.”

Ms. Romero Lankao’s studies appear this month in a special issue of Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability and in a synthesis article in an upcoming issue of European Planning Studies.

Ms. Romero Lankao, a sociologist specializing in climate change and urban development, surveyed policies in cities worldwide while drawing on a number of recent studies of climate change and cities.

She concluded that cities are falling short in two areas: preparing for the likely impacts of climate change and cutting their own greenhouse gas emissions by reducing fossil fuel use.

With more than half the world’s population living in cities, scientists are increasingly focusing on the potential impacts of climate change on these areas.

The locations and dense construction patterns of cities often place their populations at greater risk for natural disasters, including those expected to worsen with climate change.

Potential threats associated with climate include storm surges that can inundate coastal areas and prolonged hot weather that can heat heavily paved cities more than surrounding areas.

The impacts of such natural events can be magnified in an urban environment.

For example, a prolonged heat wave can exacerbate existing levels of air pollution, causing widespread health problems.

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