Friday, 21 October 2016

Can the New Urban Agenda reduce loss and damage in cities?

Good news?

So finally the New Urban Agenda has been adopted by countries adding onto the list of international agreements that have been reached within the last nearly 12 months! The recently celebrated first anniversary since the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development (SDGs) was adopted, the Paris Agreement on climate change that continues to be ratified by parties, and the Sendai Framework Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) 2015-2030. The New Urban Agenda outlines provisions that would ensure, among other things, integrated urban planning that includes climate change aspects.

Urban population at a glance…

"By 2050 the world urban population is expected to nearly double, making urbanization one of the 21st century’s most transformative trends."  
The distribution of the  regions' population from 1950–2010, with 2030 and 2050 projections are summarized below;

 Source: EM-DAT: The OFDA / CRED International Disaster Database as compiled in IFRC, 2010 

A few more facts from the UNHABITAT report

  • Urban population likely to double by 2050
  • Roughly 7 out of every 10 urban dwellers are found in developing world accounting for 82% of the world population
  • Cities in Africa among the fastest growing in the world
  • Latin America is the most urbanized with 80% of population living in urban areas. This is expected to be 87% by 2050.
  • European population increasing at an average of 0.67%
  • Africa and Asia are ranked least urbanized despite the high urban population in urban areas.

How are cities vulnerable to loss and damage due to climate change?

The greenhouse gas emissions are highest in cities due to exponential growth in industrialization (hence intensive use of energy), human population and related activities.  If we treat cities as closed systems with inlets but no outlets, you can picture a situation where the system itself is overstretched to its limits. The unprecedented increase in urban population and the subsequent overutilization of resources, especially in least developing countries, by no means places enormous pressure on urban resources and the capacity of existing systems to cope or respond to any uncertainties.

UNHABITAT and International Federation of the Red Cross reports agree that cities, especially those that are unplanned, continue to be susceptible to natural disasters like flooding, extreme increase in temperature, drought and earthquakes. The table below summarizes the major losses and damages faced in some of cities around the world due to natural disasters.

Can the New Urban Agenda address loss and damage in cities?

Despite the fact that the New Urban Agenda is non-binding and lacks clear strategy of tracking the progress, a number of provisions address key climate change and DRR concerns. For instance, the agenda envisages
"cities and human settlements that;…adopt and implement disaster risk reduction and management, reduce vulnerability, build resilience and responsiveness to natural and man-made hazards, and foster mitigation and adaptation to climate change … protect, conserve, restore, and promote their ecosystems, water, natural habitats, and biodiversity, minimize their environmental impact, and change to sustainable consumption and production patterns."
Perhaps some of the great environmental scores of this agenda is that it acknowledges threats posed by climate change and its related risk, and recognizes that vulnerabilities vary depending on various demographic characteristics. The agenda commits to promoting resilience within cities and reducing GHG emissions in line with Sendai Framework and the Paris Agreement respectively, and further to support “adaptation plans, policies, programmes, and actions that build resilience of urban inhabitants”

For cities to thrive, the provisions in the agenda  need to be implemented by countries. The Sendai framework emphasizes that;
“More dedicated action needs to be focused on tackling underlying disaster risk drivers, such as the consequences of poverty and inequality, climate change and variability, unplanned and rapid urbanization, poor land management and compounding factors such as demographic change, weak institutional arrangements, non-risk-informed policies, lack of regulation and incentives for private DRR investment, complex supply chains, limited availability of technology, unsustainable uses of natural resources, declining ecosystems, pandemics and epidemics.”
However, the resilience of cities also go a step further. Childers et al, 2014 argue that there is need for transformative integration where urban design meets the ecological realities of the time. The authors believe that such a model will enhance resilience of urban dwellers in the face of climatic hazards and future uncertainties. Taking the case of Indian cities, for instance, the animation below summarizes the how cities can build resilience.