Environmental Management and Development: Volume 11 (Routledge Perspectives on Development)

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Second, while high-income cities, mostly in the North, have contributed most to climate change, it will be cities in low-income countries, mostly in the South, that might be impacted most. Climate change-related impacts and risks affect urban populations differently, and so do measures of mitigation and adaptation to climate change. This is especially pronounced in cities, where people of different abilities, resources and coping capacities concentrate.

Adaptation and mitigation policies may disproportionately affect vulnerable populations if they are not properly designed, and therefore manifest inequities and inequalities in cities. However, if properly designed — addressing the concerns of the most vulnerable urban populations — policy measures can alleviate burdens and reduce equity concerns of climate change.


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Substantial progress towards a number of the Millennium Development Goals MDGs was not universal, nor the benefits evenly shared. It is the interface of climate change and cities with equity and equality that we examine. To do so we review the impact of climate change and related adaptation and mitigation policy measures on equity concerns in cities, focusing on people in poverty and on women.

We first provide crucial background by disentangling various equity perspectives and introducing climate change and equity concerns in cities Section II. We then explain the type of research and assessment done Section III. Afterwards, we systematically summarize differential impacts of a number of climate hazards on urban populations, as well as the differential outcomes of mitigation and adaptation policies for certain groups, particularly women and the poor Section IV.

Finally, we summarize our findings and highlight policy implications for addressing climate change in cities equitably Section V. In this section we explain the main types, domains and principles of equity as distinguished in the climate change literature. The main types are used as a framework to conclude the main findings of the article.

Promoting equity is an implicit and sometimes explicit goal of many local and regional climate initiatives, 5 aiming at current and future generations. However, it is often unclear which type of equity concern is being referred to. Three types are commonly identified:. Contextual equity, linking the first two dimensions by taking into account pre-existing political, economic and social conditions.

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To operationalize equity concerns, McDermott, Mahanty and Schreckenberg 8 relate the three types to three parameters: Operationalization is further based on principles and indicators, of which a large number have been proposed. Table 1 Commonly applied equity domains in international climate change mitigation efforts. Support for equity domains, principles and indicators differ between countries 11 and potentially even more between regions, such as rural or urban areas — underlining the need for consideration of procedural and contextual equity.

However, so far only resolutions regarding adaptation have included robust gender-sensitive language see Box 1. Few decisions on mitigation refer to gender, with no guiding mandate for gender-sensitive mitigation actions. Equity, equality and environmental justice issues first entered the debate on climate change when it was recognized that countries that historically have contributed least to climate change might be impacted the most by it in the future. It is now recognized that impacts are also increasing in high-income countries due to, for example, supply chain interdependencies.

This is of particular importance for urban areas, as it is at local and regional scales where differential impacts and adaptation needs will unfold. Considerations of equity need to be central to all three domains —impacts and risks, adaptation, and mitigation— of the contemporary urban climate change debate. This study is a review of the current scientific literature on climate change impacts, mitigation and adaptation in urban areas, and their relation to equity and environmental justice issues.

Data included in the review comprise scientific publications controlled by commercial publishers, such as scientific journal papers, but also a limited amount of grey literature, such as reports or working papers. We try to maintain a balance in looking at cities in low-, medium- and high-income countries. The main part of the review draws from an international assessment exercise on climate change and cities —the Assessment Report for Climate Change in Cities 2 ARC3.

For the full description of findings, including other aspects of climate change and equity in cities, see Reckien et al. Impacts and risks of gradual changes in climate and of extreme weather events differ across and within cities 18 by way of the following factors:.

Most of these factors are closely related, and play out in low-, middle- and high-income nations, as well as large, medium and small cities. There is evidence that impacts of both gradual climate change and extreme weather events disproportionately affect people with low incomes and low social status, 23 especially women. The risks of low-income residents are also related to high population densities 28 and poor-quality buildings, 29 the lack of risk-reducing infrastructure and services, 30 and the failure to draw or implement lessons from previous disasters.

Climate change, equity and the Sustainable Development Goals: an urban perspective

It is also important to note that gender and poverty status critically intersect with other social vulnerability markers. For example, while women are on average more vulnerable to climate impacts than men, upper-class women may be less vulnerable than low-income men living in informal settlements, and healthy adult women are often less vulnerable than disabled men or children. Heat-related impacts are one of the main hazards associated with climate change in cities. These dynamics can be beneficial when reducing the mortality and morbidity risks of cold temperatures, but result in heightened morbidity and mortality during periods of excessive heat or heatwaves.

Heatwaves can cause increased morbidity and mortality rates in cities 37 as a result of direct heat stress and other indirect effects.

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Direct heat stress is particularly harmful when night-time temperatures are high, which prevents the human body from resting, repose and regeneration. Intrinsic factors include various physiological attributes, of which age, female sex, and pre-existing medical condition have been identified as main factors 40 in a meta-analysis of 18 recent studies.

A study probing the age factors suggests that physical fitness is the underlying variable explaining the age effect. For the extrinsic factors, lower socioeconomic status based on a deprivation index comprising factors such as education, occupation, unemployment, number of household members, overcrowding and household ownership and lower education levels increase relative vulnerability to heat stress.

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Heat also disproportionately impacts socioeconomically disadvantaged households because of their residence in areas with less access to urban green infrastructure and their reduced ability to fund, maintain and develop private green space. Open spaces and waters are risk-reducing environments, as they cool their immediate surroundings. Unsurprisingly, people living in inner cities are therefore generally more at risk than those living in suburbs. Precipitation-induced hazards may occur as a result of a surplus of rain in short timeframes, such as those connected to inland flooding and landslides, and to a lack of sufficient precipitation causing drought.


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  • Inland flooding can occur on a massive scale, e. Inland flood risk in cities of low- and middle-income countries stems from a number of factors: The urban poor are highly affected due to living in these environmentally riskier areas and the lack of risk-reducing measures in their neighbourhoods. However, the exposure to flood risks associated with living close to urban rivers and canals is in many instances a consequence of the ongoing pressure for land in fast-growing cities and can be attributed to a lack of tenure security for the urban poor.

    The poor in Asian cities deserve particular attention, if simply as a matter of scale: Asia is the most populated continent; and an estimated Given the proximity to waterways, the urban poor risk the loss of their homes to flooding and are often displaced, leading to disruption of livelihoods and social support networks. In turn, diseases may increase the amount of care work and number of unpaid hours women have to spend taking care of sick children and elderly.

    On many occasions women have to quit their paid jobs to cope with these sanitary and health emergencies. Excessive rainfall is a crucial risk factor and has also been associated with triggering landslides. In general, rainfall-triggered landslides are the product of a combination of geo-hydrological and locational factors in mostly mountainous cities. Men and women may experience migration and displacement in different ways. After periods of excessive rain and damage to the house and property, evidence suggests that women migrate to urban centres, starting a new life but also facing security risks, lack of skills to access the labour market or lack of linguistic skills related to the dominant language, e.

    After periods of drought, men have been documented to leave in the quest to make money in urban or more prosperous areas, while women stay put to look after the property, facing challenges of food security and water scarcity. Finally, insufficient or delayed precipitation severely impacts populations by way of water shortages, generating crop failures and subsequent food price increases, in turn potentially affecting low-income populations stronger than others.

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    Storm-related hazards hurricanes and storm surges are associated with precipitation-related hazards and constitute a major risk to urban populations. In affected coastal regions, storms lead to inundation of low-elevation coastal zones with differential impacts. Poor settlements are often impacted severely due to inadequate infrastructure protecting the neighbourhoods. Women are often affected because they are present in greater numbers in the urban informal economic sector and home-based businesses. As a result extreme weather may impact the living space and income source of women at the same time.

    The loss of small productive assets such as sewing machines may permanently affect their livelihoods. In the Ganges-Brahmaputra and Zambezi deltas, multiple risks of storm surges and inland river flooding severely affect the cities and settlements within the deltas. Moreover, global warming-induced sea level rise, combined in places with subsidence of coastal land and increasing storm intensity, has put large and growing coastal populations at risk from the rise in sea levels as well as storm surges.

    Compared to rural villagers, urban dwellers are highly exposed to the risks of sea level rise, heavy e. Cities and towns account for nearly two of every three residents of coastal areas worldwide. Equity and environmental justice issues related to climate change adaptation include inequalities in the capacity to cope and adapt, 74 mainly arising from 1 the failure to adapt no adaptation , 2 inadequate adaptation, or 3 maladaptation to climate change among and within urban centres.

    Differentials in the scale and nature of risks among settlements relate to the quality, location and access of and to infrastructure piped water, sanitation, effective drains, all-weather roads and paths , service provision including health care and emergency services and facilities , housing options available for low-income groups, 75 and opportunities and access to education.

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