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How Cities Understand the Fight Against Climate Change – An Assessment through Local Climate Change

Despite the importance of adapting to climate change, not many cities have a plan to tackle it. From those that do, not all contemplate climate adaptation, which is essential given the irreversible damages that climate change will bring. Cristina Bernal Aparicio takes a look at eleven local climate adaptation plan to assess if cities are ready for the climate challenges to come.

Not only countries count on a strategy or plan to adapt or act against climate change. some cities have also joined efforts to push action forward and making development more sustainable and just. In fact, failing to address climate change increases social vulnerability, especially for marginalised and poor communities. If emissions are not reduced and the impacts of climate change become more severe, people in poverty will be worse off, a risk that grows as global warming increases. As acknowledged in the climate change adaptation plan from the city of Barrie (Canada):

“Having a detailed Implementation Plan and access to a wide range of implementation approaches is essential to achieving an action. Planning for implementation improves the likelihood of effective adaptation, provides new opportunities for outreach and engagement, and fosters long-term sustainability of the action by integrating multiple streams of support.”

Hence, those cities with a plan in hand are more likely to act and invest resources to act against climate change. However, 1. How do these cities understand the fight against climate change? 2. Are these plans complete for action?

In order to give an answer to these questions, this article briefly examines and compares the climate change plans of eleven cities:

Produced by the author. Base map layer: “World Countries”. Downloaded from Carlos Efraín Porto Tapiquén. Orogénesis Soluciones Geográficas. Porlamar, Venezuela 2015. Based on shapes from Enviromental Systems Research Institute (ESRI). Free Distribuition.

Assessing the Plans: How do Cities Understand the Fight Against Climate Change?

The cities analysed understand the fight against climate change as a process, where both mitigation and adaptation needs to take place. Mitigation is a must to enable a sustainable economic development and adaptation to avoid or reduce the negative impacts from climate change. However, some cities focused mainly on mitigation (Paris, Barcelona, Wellington, and Yokohama), leaving very few room to adaptation.

Although in different ways, all cities state as priorities the protection of the public health and safety of their cities, of the buildings and properties, and of the community services. Other sectors that were recurrent in most of the plans are green transport and mobility, efficient management of their natural resources and sustainable consumption and production, the protection and preservation of biodiversity and ecosystems and, last but not least, food (waste, sovereignty, and security).

Key determinants in selecting actions appear to be benefits and costs of each action, urgency, effectiveness, and their potential to encourage other places to replicate it. Others equally or more important determinants take a secondary place, such as acceptability (political and social), capacity to implement each action, and data and funding.

All cities recognise the importance of participation by all agents in society, although in their plans this participation takes place differently. While most of the cities include as many agents and sectors as possible, others rely mainly on the public sector and studies previously done.

Are these Plans Complete for Action?

These plans are the result of a great effort by the municipalities and involves many parties trying to reduce the negative impacts of climate change on their development and population. However, reading and comparing the plans, one can find that cities can improve their plans by learning from each other.

One improvement that could be added to most of the plans is the inclusion of so-called climate refugees and migrants. Surprisingly enough, only two cities talk about them: Johannesburg and Barcelona. Refugees, internally displaced people, and the stateless are on the frontline of the climate emergency. Many are living in places without the necessary resources to adapt to an increasingly hostile environment. The domino effect of disaster upon disaster triggered by climate change, battering already impoverished communities, leaves them no time to recover. Just cities need to contemplate in their climate adaptation plans how to allocate resources to these vulnerable communities, given that planned relocation or resettlement may be the only strategy to save lives.

Sustainable consumption and production play a key role in the mitigation of climate change. In all the plans reviewed, sustainable consumption is mentioned in the areas of energy, electricity, water, and natural resources. However, not much emphasis is given to responsible consumption of the products one buys. More concretely, only Barcelona, Paris, and Seoul present projects to influence consumers’ decisions when it comes to buying products:

For instance, the implementation of carbon footprint labels for products that are sold on the market; economic incentives and education, and government support to citizens and businesses to buy/develop green products and recycle.

All cities should give more emphasis to overconsumption and green products, since they have a great ecological impact on our planet.

Another aspect that is lacking in many plans is the budget: for most of the plans, the budget estimated for each of the actions is either missing entirely, or they do not mention where the budget will be taken from. While some cities include a financing strategy, most of the cities do not even mention it. The only city that includes the total budget and the financing resources is Sydney. This increases transparency and reliability when implementing the plan.

Plans should also specify an approximation of when each of the actions is going to start and for how long they will be implemented (as is done in the plans of Barrie, Barcelona, Santiago, Sydney, and Paris). For most of the plans and actions, this is not the case. Knowing this information helps identify the budget needs and how to implement them.


First, the cities analysed understand the fight against climate change as a process where both mitigation and adaptation need to take place, prioritising the protection of public health and safety in different ways – adapting buildings and properties, community services, and fostering sustainable production and consumption, among others. Not only should the prioritised actions serve these criteria, but the actions need to be cost-effective with social benefits, urgent, effective, and replicable. Finally, for this fight to be effective, cities need to ensure the participation of all agents in society.

Second, comparing across plans, one can conclude that all of them have aspects to improve and learn from other cities. For example, additional sectors should be included in the plans – such as refugees and migrants, and sustainable consumption and production – as should be the estimated cost and time-span of the actions that are to be implemented. Improving these plans does not only make them more effective in the implementation and improve commitment but makes them more successful in ensuring that no one is left behind from development. In other words, they advance the creation of just cities.

Article by Cristina Bernal Aparicio, from (CC)


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