Nearly 70% of the world’s population will reside in urban areas by 2050, a 15% increase from today.[i] Cities emit more carbon dioxide than their rural or suburban counterparts.[ii] It is also clear that climate-related disasters are not stopping anytime soon, as evidenced by the floods in Pakistan and Nigeria, hurricanes in the United States and Cuba, and the extreme heat across Europe this past summer. With these realities in mind, governments and development organizations are turning their attention to building resilience strategies for climate change in the world’s cities. As USAID noted in their new Climate Change Strategy, “climate action in cities...will be critical for meeting immediate climate targets while investing in long-term systemic transformation.”[iii]
Strong resilience requires city governments to work across ministry boundaries and budgets, collaborate with the private sector and civil society organizations, and contend with urban and rural priorities. Through RTI’s experience in urban resilience we have identified four ways to improve work in this growing area.
Four Ways to Improve Urban Resilience Strategies
Conduct vulnerability assessments
Make data-driven decisions
Create urban coordination centers
Coordinate across silos
As evident in the forthcoming examples, coordination with local government entities plays a pivotal role in the success of urban resilience work.
Conduct Climate Vulnerability Assessments
Each city is unique and possesses its own set of climate hazard risks and vulnerabilities. Efficient, targeted actions need local knowledge and involvement. Before city governments can improve resilience, they must first develop a shared understanding of where the vulnerabilities lie. Conducting a vulnerability assessment is a good start. RTI recently worked with Thai Nguyen City, Vietnam to design and implement an innovative, low-cost tool that used GIS to map and develop an inventory of the city’s assets, such as buildings, stormwater drainage, streets, car and motorbike parking, open spaces, parks, and above-ground utilities. The goal was to help Thai Nguyen better understand their vulnerabilities and prepare for future climate-related events. The tools we created helped threefold towards that goal:
- Understand the conditions of their existing assets;
- Identify data gaps in their existing infrastructure;
- Demonstrate how data analysis and visualization tools can be used to develop integrated and climate-resilient urban plans.
Maricopa County, Arizona provides another example of the benefits of a vulnerability assessment. In collaboration with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), RTI developed a scalable, indicator-based approach to assess vulnerability to waste sites and surrounding communities due to extreme events.[iv] We developed indicators to use as a screening tool to prioritize resources and adaptation actions rather than conducting site-specific modeling for each waste site. This helped us gain a thorough understanding of the intersections between where vulnerable populations are located and where the risks might be high, giving us a county-level view of vulnerability that was equitable and supported future environmental justice efforts. This was done in close collaboration with the City of Phoenix and the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, who were critical in identifying local vulnerabilities, vetting data, methods, maps, and communication products of climate risks that were locally relevant and easy to communicate. The efforts were included in Phoenix’s Climate Action Plan, making them more prepared for future disasters in their city.[v]
Make Data-driven Decisions
Another impactful way to enhance collaboration among municipal government stakeholders is to drive decision-making through a shared understanding of the data behind current and future shocks and stressors. There are a variety of tools that can provide decision-makers with relevant data. For instance, Hydro-BID is a software tool developed by RTI for the Inter-American Development Bank that uses hydrological modeling and visualization to simulate water resources in changing land use and climate scenarios. In urban areas, it can support projects related to flood mitigation, urban drainage improvement, and hydraulic works design. It can help municipal stakeholders see the “what-if” scenarios: showing different water management scenarios, characterizing water resources under changing climate conditions, identifying possible future water shortages, and supporting capacity building to strengthen urban water resources. Collaboration is enhanced when all stakeholders are making decisions based on the same science-backed data.
Scenario analysis and data from these and other tools make it easier to predict and plan for future disasters. These tools are a great start, but more work is needed in this area to provide cities with reliable data that is both accessible and has high utility for local decision-making. Without tangible, real-time data we are only taking educated guesses.
Create Urban Resilience Coordination Centers
RTI collaborated with the Government of Bangladesh to create an urban resilience center (URC) in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Through the World Bank-funded Urban Resilience Project we supported other government agencies and professionals, and planned for and mediated the impacts of disasters. Dhaka is at high risk of building and other infrastructure-related disasters during an earthquake or fire. In partnership with those in the government responsible for the city's development, the unit improved the construction plans of new buildings, created plans for retrofitting 3,000 existing buildings, and increased public awareness of building safety.
This project laid out the foundation for prioritizing improvements of Dhaka’s buildings over time, strengthening the city’s resilience by collaborating actions among policymakers, professionals (e.g., architects, engineers, and planners), government agencies (i.e., Capital Development Authority, Department of Environment, Fire Service & Civil Defense, Department of Disaster Management, Civil Aviation Authority, and utilities), academicians, civil society, and donor agencies. The project also produced communication materials for the public. Continued efforts from multiple stakeholders will be important for the operationalization and sustainability of the city. This project is also a model that can be replicated in other urban centers to increase their infrastructure resilience.
Coordinate Across Silos
There are many ways work can be siloed. Government agencies and other organizations are set up to be effective by having rigid areas of focus, but in the process, problematic budgetary obstacles and power dynamics that discourage collaboration can be created. We all continue to do this, even though we know that coordination across sectors and entities provides the best results for communities. At RTI, we recognize this challenge in our own work and have created the Center for Climate Solutions, as one example, to support the integration of our work in science and technology, modeling and tool development, and the implementation of international programs.
Improved urban governance is achieved through inclusive brainstorming and integrated planning. Holistic programming can lead to better use of funds and improved outcomes. Improved outcomes in terms of climate change can mean the difference between life and death for those facing droughts, rapid migration, pandemics, and natural disasters.
Moving Toward Collaborative Action for Climate and Urban Resilience
Through our monitoring, evaluation, and learning work, we have learned the importance of agreeing to a shared goal and building integrated communities of practice. These tactics can help bridge silos and lead to better results. Funding and programming must also break down these silos and take a more holistic approach.
How can you bridge those gaps in your resilience work so that decision-makers focused on health, education, housing, food, energy, water, and other key areas are pulling in the same direction towards the same goals?
[i] United Nations (2018). “World Urbanization Prospects.” United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs.
[ii] Day et al. (2018). “Climate Opportunity: More Jobs; Better Health; Liveable Cities,” NewClimate Institute, C40, GCoM.