Cities’ climate exposure

Latin America's cities most at risk from exposure to climate change.

According to the United Nations Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (“ECLAC”), 80% of people in the region live in an urban environment. Furthermore, the region’s cities are more exposed to flooding, extreme heat, droughts and landslides. The ability of a city to respond to climate change and its impacts will depend on its level of development, political capacity and spatial context.

Fernando Aragón-Durand, lead author of the ‘Special Report on Global Warming 1.5C’ for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC, 2018) and lead author of the 5th Assessment Report (5AR) (IPCC, 2014), chapter 8 Urban Areas, Working Group II, warned, “A city that functions well under ‘normal’ conditions will respond better to the potential impacts of climate change than a city that has deficits in infrastructure and equipment, low economic development, weak state institutions etc.”

A climate and justice department coordinator at an environmental NGO in Brazil predicted a widespread impact, “Climate change will be felt directly or indirectly across the continent. Even those areas where the effects are less evident will suffer from migration flows that will cause increased costs of living and insecurity.”

“Even those areas where the effects [of climate change] are less evident will suffer from migration flows that will cause increased costs of living and insecurity.”

Climate and justice department coordinator, NGO, Brazil

The Inter-American Development Bank (“IDB”) predicts that temperatures will continue to increase not only in urban areas but also in all suburban regions where natural disasters could potentially have an annual cost of USD 100 billion over the next 30 years. For instance, the Eta and Iota 2020 hurricanes caused an economic impact of USD 3.5 billion in Nicaragua, Honduras and Guatemala alone. Similarly, the International Labour Organisation (“ILO”) claims that 2.5 million jobs could be lost in the region by 2030 due to heat stress.

Urban areas should adopt a multidisciplinary approach to combat the long-lasting impact of climate change. This requires strong institutional support, programmes implemented by individual sectors and integrating climate change responses with other current urban problems in the economic, social and environmental domain.

Fernando Aragón-Durand and his colleagues, in Chapter 8 of Working Group II of the IPCC 5th Assessment Report, affirmed that, “Cities can prepare, designing and implementing social, political and technological changes that have to do with the governance of adaptation.” The report goes on to list a series of conditions and factors for the construction of urban adaptive plans and capabilities that should be developed.

“Cities can prepare, designing and implementing social, political and technological changes that have to do with the governance of adaptation.”

Fernando Aragón-Durand, main author for the 5th IPCC Assessment Report

A climate change analyst in London also explained that implementing adaptive strategies doesn’t always have to be a cost, “In Latin American urban centres, climate action can also be seen as a growth opportunity through the implementation of long-term strategies for decarbonisation. There are opportunities in recovering degraded areas which can result in  opportunities for sustainable development.”

The national governments of Latin American countries are in charge of compiling and promoting the necessary adaptation strategies and measures in the face of climate change, which must be reported in their Nationally Determined Contributions (“NDCs”). Fernando Aragón-Durand commented, “As far as I know, all Latin American and the Caribbean governments are in this task and must present their progress and ambitions at the next COP in Glasgow. The challenge will be for the countries’ NDCs to reflect progress towards decarbonising the economy, increasing the mitigation of problematic sectors such as energy, and combating inequalities and poverty to reduce vulnerability.”

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