Urban Adaptation to Climate Change

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This initiative seeks to present an urban perspective on the adaptation challenge. Looking at cities is important when thinking about climate change adaptation for various reasons. For instance, due to the high complexity of the systems operating within and servicing a city (e.g. food, energy, water, waste, transport systems, etc.), changes in climate can affect its sound operation. Also, as urbanisation trends are on the rise – in 2008, and for the first time, the majority of the world population (3.3 billion) consisted of city dwellers, and by 2030 the number is expected to grow to 5 billion  - pressure is increasingly exerted on the capacity of cities and of the ecosystem services that they rely on to provide quality of life to its residents.  

As adaptation efforts need to be context-specific, local knowledge and the participation of local authorities and actors in the adaptation process should play a major role.  Indeed, cities often lead the way, ahead of national or supra-national (e.g. EU) adaptation efforts. At the same time, there is a need to coordinate and synergise initiatives at levels higher than the local, which requires constructive interactions between multiple levels of governance (i.e. between different levels of government, plus private sector and civil society).

Challenges to adaptation at the urban level include funding constraints, weak stakeholder engagement processes, insufficient knowledge, difficulty in integrating and creating synergies with mitigation efforts and other city initiatives, and the inability to exploit local knowledge potentials (e.g. because the information held by certain groups, and the groups’ needs, are not taken into consideration), among others. Furthermore, adaptation at the local level is often conducted with a piecemeal approach, failing to take advantage of the benefits of understanding the city systems and the linkages between sectors and climate impacts in a holistic way.

Appropriate frameworks for planning and conducting adaptation work, therefore, can provide a useful guide to city officials in their efforts to achieve desired results for various stakeholders and city departments, who often have different and competing values and priorities. 

If you work on any of these topics please do consider joining this initiative and adding urban adaptation related content that you have developed, and that others can engage with and learn from. Thank you!

Further resources

  • Urban challenges to adaptation: These include funding constraints, weak stakeholder engagement processes, insufficient availability and sharing of knowledge, difficulty in integrating efforts with adaptation and other policies or urban initiatives, inability to leverage local knowledge potentials, and multi level governance issues. Share your views and read more...
  • Frameworks and methodologies to plan and conduct adaptation work at the urban level: Appropriate frameworks for planning and conducting adaptation work can provide a useful guide to city officials in their efforts to achieve desired results for various stakeholders and city departments, who often have different and competing values and priorities. Relevant information on this subject is available in the Adaptation Decision Making initiative.
  • Vulnerability indicators at the urban level: Is it important, worthwhile, necessary or even feasible to develop vulnerability indicators? How can these be proper and socially fair representations of urban vulnerabilities? What use can city actors give them? Share your views and read more...
  • Funding adaptation initiatives at the local level: Is adaptation funding trickling down to the urban level? Who is responsible to provide funding - is it international organisations, or private sector funding, or national and local authorities, or does it come down to individuals? Where is the available funding going? Share your views and read more...  
  • Location specific urban adaptation material: Read about cases on urban adaptation in the Adaptation Layer


Related Resources

  • Urban Resilience Roadmap [USAID ADAPT Asia-Pacific] - this roadmap is an interactive tool to help cities, government agencies, and development partners better navigate a course for building resilience, starting from strategy development and resulting in project implementation
  • Urban Climate Change Adaptation and Resilience – A Training Manual [USAID ADAPT Asia-Pacific] - this is a standalone capacity building program that aims to improve climate change knowledge among mid- to senior-level managers working in urban and infrastructure planning and, in turn, help them design better adaptation projects.


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Friederike Mikulcak

Agriculture Specialist at World Bank
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Elsona van Huyssteen

Principle Urban and Regional Planner & Researcher at CSIR (South Africa)
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Steve Jennings

Partner, 3Keel LLP at 3Keell LLP
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Hannah Caddick

Senior Communications Officer at ODI
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Linn Marie Heimberg

Advisor on climate change adaptation
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David Macpherson

Information Officer at Adaptation Scotland
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Monitoring and Evaluation Officer, Vi Agroforestry, Kigali, Rwanda at Vi Agroforestry
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Anthea Stephens

Climate Resilience Component Lead, Cities Support Programme
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Joe Lufkin

Trustee at APAP
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Debra Butler

graduate researcher
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Filippo Fossi

Regional Food Security Specialist
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Tim Sherry

Policy and Communications volunteer


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