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Climate Change: A Challenge for Cities in Developing Countries


, United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), Geneva, Switzerland


The Impacts of Climate Change on Cities in Developing Countries


Humanity stands at a turning point in history. The year 2007 will see, for the first time, the majority of human beings living in cities. And by 2030, three-quarters of the world’s population will be living in urban areas. This urban transformation, which represents a major challenge for attaining the Millennium Development Goals, is inseparable from the issue of climate change.


The latter part of the 20th century has seen the increase in the Earth’s average temperature of 0.6˚ C. Projections of further increase in the 21st Century vary considerably, between a minimum of 1.4 C and a maximum of 5.8˚ C, depending on the level of stabilization of carbon emissions, the pace of de-carbonization of the global economy, and the patterns of demographic and economic development.

Such increases represent a dramatic shift with regard to the natural variability of the planet’s mean temperature, which has remained within 0.5˚ C over the last 1,000 years. The latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) (“Fourth Assessment Report") establishes a direct correlation between the sustained use of fossil fuels – which has occurred primarily in the industrialized countries – the resulting accumulation of CO2 and other gases in the atmosphere, and global warming.


Climate Change is now recognized as one of the defining challenges of the 21st century. Global warming, the risk of rising of sea levels, ever frequent and stronger tropical cyclones, and inland flooding have become significant in the public debate and media coverage. Mitigation and adaptation are no options; they are a must if humankind wants to survive.

The futures of hundreds of millions of people in urban areas across the world will be affected by the different impacts of climate change. Global warming will put cities at risk. With ongoing climate change, we are entering a new era of urban vulnerability. The rapid pace of urbanization with the concentration of an ever-increasing share of the population will also significantly increase the overall vulnerability of urban areas to natural and man-made dangers.

Global warming exacerbates existing environmental, social and economic problems, while bringing new challenges. The most affected today, and in future, will be the world’s urban poor – and chief among them, the 1 billion slum dwellers.


Indeed, it is no coincidence that climate change has emerged at the forefront of international debate precisely at the same time, and virtually at the same pace, as the world becomes urbanized. This is because urbanization brings about irreversible changes in our production and consumption patterns. How we plan, manage and live in our growing cities determines, to a large extent, the pace of global warming.

This is because 75% of global energy consumption occurs in cities, and 80% of greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming come from urban areas. Roughly half of these emissions are caused by burning fossil fuels for urban transport; the other half comes from energy to heat or cool our buildin.....[read full text]

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• Water quality and shortage: Floods of the urban areas will likely damage water treatment works and flood wells, pit latrines and septic tanks; sewage treatment systems and solid waste disposal areas will likely be equally affected, contaminating water supplies. Where overall rainfall will decrease, droughts will likely compromise the replenishment of the water tables and thus the normal sources of water supply for the urban areas.

• Heat and cold waves: Intense episodes of thermal variability will likely severely strain urban systems, by representing an environmental health risk for the more vulnerable segments of the population, imposing extraordinary consumptions of energy for heating and air conditioning where available, and disrupting ordinary urban activities.


In addition to these major threats, the IPCC Report indicates additional risks related to the increased possibility of urban fires and severity of hail and windstorm episodes, the negative impacts on the productivity of fisheries and agriculture on which some of the urban economies partially depend, the worsening of urban air pollution exacerbated by increased ground ozone formation, and the enhanced effect of urban heat islands due to higher overall temperatures.


The indirect impacts of such climatic threats are of course much wider. They include environmental health problems due to the expected changes in geographic ranges and incidence of vector-borne and infectious diseases, allergic and respiratory disorders, nutritional disorders related to climate-related food shortages, as well as the physical damages and institutional strains imposed on the health care system.


Developing countries are considered to be particularly vulnerable to climate change, as they are mostly located in tropical and sub-tropical areas, and given higher dependency of their economies and societies to climate in the first place. Mainly in the Tropics and sub-tropics, cities are more vulnerable to impacts of climate .....

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Until now, few comprehensive examples of mitigation and adaptation at the local level exist. However, cities worldwide are alerted to take action. This is done either in sectoral fields, like for example, improved building standards, more compact settlement structures, improved energy efficiency, transport demand management, the use of cleaner energy sources as well as first examples of municipal climate change action plans that also foresee the hardening up of infrastructure or the long-term relocation of the most vulnerable parts of the city.

What is still missing is a global overview and a platform for the discussion and exchange of good practices as well as a normative support for local authorities to mitigate and adapt to climate change.


Clearly, the support for local communities, as outlined by the Secretary-General of the UN in his concluding remarks, and also by the Swedish Prime Minister in his address at the High Level Event on Climate Change on 24 September 2007, as well as global cooperation are crucial.


UN-HABITAT’s Mandate


Since its creation in 1978, UN-HABITAT has supported hundreds of cities in improving their living environment. The Agency’s medium term strategic and institutional plan (MTSIP) 2008-2013 aims to achieve “Sustainable urbanisation through the Habitat Agenda: Adequate shelter for all and sustainable human settlements development”.

MTSIP explains clearly, that sustainable urbanization is not only an end in itself. In a world where one billion slum dwellers are living in life-threatening conditions, and where 95 percent of all urban growth is occurring in developing country cities, the battle to achieve the Millennium Development Goal 7, targets 10 and 11 will be won or lost in urban areas.

Sustainable urbanization can only be achieved if the rate of formation of slums is stabilized, subsequently reduced and ultimately reversed. This will require, in addition to sustained economic growth, direct and focused efforts to making human settlements more productive and socially inclusive .....

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SUD-Net relates directly to the goal as outlined in the Habitat Agenda, namely, “Sustainable human settlements development in an urbanizing world”. More specifically the long term goal of SUD-Net is to enhance climate change mitigation and preparedness of cities in developing countries.


SUD-Net responds, among others, to the MTSIP’s call for

  • An enhanced catalytic role in global advocacy, national policy reform, capacity building and partnerships in support of the MDGs.
  • A single, new Global Campaign for Sustainable Urbanization
  • Differentiated Country Strategy to enhance the international community’s ability to respond to countries in different development contexts and/or at different points along their paths to achieving the human settlements related Millennium Development Goals
  • Enhanced country support


SUD-Net, including all environmental dimensions of sustainability, is not only a crucial tool for climate change mitigation and adaptation at the local level, but also supporting strategic urban planning for sustainable urban development, including all social dimensions of sustainability. In this regard, the “Guidelines for Decentralization/Local Authorities” and their dissemination are an integral part of the project, serving as a follow-up to the “Global Campaign on Urban Governance” and a central part of the upcoming “Global Campaign on Sustainable Urbanization”.

In order to share knowledge and create synergy effects, the initiative is also closely linked to the “City Development Strategies”, “Safer Cities Project”, and the “Sustainable Relief Project”, and builds on the partnerships and networks developed in the Sustainable Cities project. The economical dimensions of sustainability (including local economic development and financial management training for local authorities), which are vital for making cities productive in support of sustainable development are addressed by developing and fostering the economic productivity in support of sustainable development through support for improved governance and management at the .....

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Approaches that can be used to cope with the impacts of climate change include educational and training initiatives on the environment and sustainable urban development. While it is recognized that women carry specific burdens of climate change, it must also be recognized that women can make specific contributions to climate change mitigation and adaptation. Thus, the gender dimension of climate change is incorporated into this initiative.


The youth are a major stakeholder in the mitigation of climate change. It is the youth that will be around as the effects of climate change are felt more significantly. And, as they join the labour force, the youth can create sustainable businesses and encourage sustainable activities within their business and personal lives.


Starting from the environmental aspect of city and town planning (“good urban environment”), the issue of climate change must be linked to other topics. Thus, it is important to reveal the impact of climate change on the following crosscutting themes (challenges and adaptation measures)

·         The built environment (including urban design, buildings, physical and social infrastructure, cultural heritage and transportation)

·         Socio-economic development, livelihood and urban poverty (including unemployment, slum settlements)

·         Governance (including multi-level good urban governance, decentralization, sound financial management, and participation of the civil society)

·         Health (including environmental health issues, social determinants of health food .....

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  • Local Governments and their associations will actively collaborate in global, regional and national networks to pursue goals of sustainable urbanization, using cities and climate change as entry points.


  • National and local Governments will enter into policy dialogue in order to create synergies and links between national and local climate change policies with a view to enhance strategies and collaboration.


  • Local governments will apply (change management) tools and Knowledge Management strategies to adopt innovations and undertake reforms to optimize their responses to climate change.


  • Awareness, Education, Training and Capacity Building strategies will be implemented targeting the general public, tertiary education and continues learning institutions, supporting the implementation of climate change strategies



[1] 1. Effective advocacy, monitoring and partnerships, 2. Promotion of participatory urban planning, management and governance, 3. Promote pro-poor land and housing, 4 . Environmentally sound basic urban infrastructure and services, 5. Strengthened human settlements finance systems, 6. Excell.....

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