Cities Fit for Climate Change

Members of the launching week of the project in Leipzig; Photo: Amina Schild

Members of the launching week of the project in Leipzig; Photo: Amina Schild

Cities in (climate) change

Nongcebo Hlongwa from Durban during the Dialogue Forum in Santiago; Photo: Adapt ChileThe Indian Ocean is a 15-minute walk from Nongcebo Hlongwa’s office. It is less than two kilometres away from the buildings of eThekwini Municipality (Durban), where Nongcebo works in the Environmental Planning and Climate Protection Department. Where the city meets the ocean, it is fringed by a modern, open beach promenade that serves as a popular public space. This is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, it generates a unique quality of life, attracts tourists to the city and boosts the local economy. On the other hand, the noticeable annual sea level rise is threatening the infrastructure and the 3.5 million inhabitants of this South African metropolis. In a worst-case scenario, the sea level may rise as much as one metre by the year 2100. Large parts of the city would then be underwater. Like many cities in the Global South, Durban is not just a perpetrator but, above all, a victim of climate change.

Durban, South Africa; Photo: Amina Schild

Arun Krishnamurthy during the Launching Week of the project in Bonn; Photo: Amina SchildSeven thousand kilometres to the east, an eight-hour flight across the Indian Ocean, Arun Krishnamurthy is standing at the edge of one of the countless arterial waterways of Chennai, a city in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Chennai faces flooding almost on an annual basis. The most recent devastating floods of December 2015, which attracted worldwide media attention, claimed more than 500 lives and left hundreds of thousands of people homeless. It is often suggested that the drastic consequences of flooding could have been mitigated if the city had prepared better for those foreseeable events. Arun, founder of the non-governmental organisation ‘Environmental Foundation of India’, which is dedicated to cleaning and maintaining rivers, lakes and ponds in and around Chennai, sees a further problem: ‘Decades of rapid urbanisation have completely soiled Chennai’s waterways, and they can no longer perform their function of collecting and draining additional rainwater.’

Chennai, India; Photo: Daphne Frank

Climate-proof urban development – it can be done!

When Nongcebo and Arun met in Santiago de Chile in September 2017 in a dialogue forum on the theme of climate-friendly urban development, they had a lot to discuss. Even if the circumstances of their cities are very different, the challenges and approaches for overcoming them offer ample opportunities for mutual learning. The dialogue forum is organised by the global project ‘Cities Fit for Climate Change’ (CFCC), which has been commissioned by the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU) in the context of its International Climate Initiative (IKI) and is being implemented by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit GmbH (GIZ). The key idea is in the project name: equipping cities to cope with climate change. More specifically, it is about enhancing cities’ resilience and their potential for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The project activities follow the ‘climate-proofing’ approach. That means ensuring that urban development strategies, development proposals, land-use and building plans as well as all associated investments are resilient and adapted to the current and future impacts of climate change. They also have to involve climate action, that is, pathways to decarbonisation. In urban development, a climate-proofing strategy can take a variety of different forms. A simple example is the expansion of municipal green areas. Whether they are roof gardens, green roadsides or public spaces: green areas improve air quality, bind carbon dioxide and enable rainwater to soak into the ground. That reduces flooding and provides for a cooler microclimate.

Arun Krishnamurthy during the Dialogue Forum in Santiago de Chile; Photo: Adapt Chile

Cities Fit for Climate Change – partner cities are taking the lead

However, many cities are slow to address climate change and the consequences for urban areas and time is running out. Cities cover 2% of the earth’s surface and already produce 70% of greenhouse gases. Considering that nothing has yet been built for half the people who will be living in cities in the year 2050, it is clear why climate-resilient urban development is so important. But where exactly should this begin? Given the magnitude of the challenge, how can effective impetus be provided? During its three-year term, the CFCC project is focusing on the three partner cities Santiago de Chile, Chennai and eThekwini/Durban. They were selected on the basis of a comprehensive catalogue of criteria and are representative of the climatic as well as social challenges facing many countries of the Global South.

CFCC cities; Photo: GIZ

Globally connected – shared knowledge grows

Implementation of the project focuses on three aspects. The first is to prepare and make knowledge accessible for urban practitioners and decision-makers in order to identify and implement targeted urban development measures that address climate change. The project works with the environment departments of the municipal councils to ensure that knowledge does not remain within a sectoral logic but is adequately fed into other departments. This applies in particular to departments that are responsible for urban development and construction in the cities. With that in mind, the CFCC project has already initiated a ‘Climate Change Academy’ in Santiago de Chile that brought together relevant departments of the municipality as well as various levels of government over a period of one year to share knowledge, improve coordination and clarify responsibilities. The Academy has now evolved into a platform that plans climate-proof measures for Santiago in the form of a cross-sectoral and multi-level approach.

This integrated approach to climate-proof urban development is also at the heart of the second aspect of the project: supporting municipalities in developing climate-sensitive measures. This is not concerned with the implementation of infrastructures, however, but involves aligning the instruments and strategies of urban planning more closely with the challenges of climate change in the future. In Durban, a climate resilience implementation plan has already been developed which is to be integrated into municipal development planning processes. As a result, the city is incorporating environmental factors and the need for adaptation more strongly in its strategic planning and allocating the necessary budget to climate-relevant measures. The project pursues a similar approach in Santiago de Chile, where it advises the project teams of two large-scale projects. The urban development projects involve constructing a new residential district and upgrading a main traffic artery in Santiago. Previously, both projects took little account of climate change aspects, but this is changing as a result of the advisory services. For the residential project, for example, climate modelling demonstrated how heat would develop in the district if climate-relevant aspects were incorporated or ignored. The data gathered thus guides decisions on expanding green spaces, reducing soil sealing, using alternative energy sources and incorporating natural ventilation corridors. In Chennai, project activities focus on building municipal knowledge and rehabilitating a section of the canal network that is symbolic of the city’s fragile ecosystem as a consequence of insufficient environmental awareness and contamination. By running an architecture competition for the rehabilitation of the canal section, the project is supporting the city in developing a new vision in managing its precious waterways. Successful ideas and their possible implementation will be discussed with the participation of the affected population and presented to the municipal council.

The third project component is based on global knowledge sharing and joint work on possible solutions. Climate change is primarily a global phenomenon and does not distinguish between perpetrators and victims. The project therefore regards itself as both a mouthpiece and a laboratory for the three partner cities and all other participating cities. For one thing, it repeatedly provides platforms through which the cities can present their needs and contribute their experiences to the international debate, whether it be at climate conferences such as COP 23 in Bonn or at international events in the area of urbanisation such as the Habitat III Conference in Quito. For another, the CFCC promotes a collective learning and designing process by bringing partner cities together in face-to-face workshops referred to as dialogue forums. The face-to-face formats are supplemented by online opportunities such as webinars in order to dive deeper into themes. One special feature of these dialogue forums is the participation of German pioneer cities that are invited to contribute good municipal practice from Germany. Both the international and the German cities perceive this additional component of North-South learning as an enrichment. In addition to exporting German achievements, it enables new ideas to be imported from abroad. Specifically in the area of climate change adaptation, German cities can learn from international practical experience because extreme weather events are already occurring there with greater frequency and intensity. But it is not only knowledge sharing that defines the added value of a globally designed project.

Dialogue forum in Santiago de Chile; Photo: Adapt Chile

Strong together – a vision for the city of the future

The project is also developing new approaches on the basis of its experience and from good, climate-friendly practice. The focus is on developing a climate-proof urban development approach that provides municipal practitioners with a framework within which they can plan and implement resilient and low-emission urban development. Generated from the collective work performed under the project, this approach will be prepared in a digital sourcebook by the end of the project and made available to the partner cities and many other cities. The next dialogue forum will take place in Chennai in August 2018 and will provide all project partners with an opportunity to put the approach developed for climate-proof urban development to the test before the sourcebook is finalised. After that, it is to be disseminated through national and international urban networks. Arun from Chennai and Nongcebo from Durban will also meet again in this dialogue forum. Together with their colleagues from Santiago de Chile and German municipalities, they will passionately debate the boundaries and possibilities of sustainable, integrated urban development. The forum in India, a country with extreme social contrasts, will illustrate again to all project partners how challenging it is to negotiate climate action targets alongside other development objectives. However, socially inclusive urban development and climate action efforts are not polar opposites. Rather, over the past three years the project has demonstrated that an integrated perspective holds enormous potential for positive mutual effects at the juncture between both themes. The cities of the future must look different from today. In what ways? Arun, Nongcebo and many other partners of the CFCC are sure to have plenty of answers.