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April 5, 2015

Responding To: Week 9: Climate Change

Cities and Climate Change

Noureen Ramzy

Cities just might be the next “big thing” on the development agenda.

Development experts, economists and politicians alike fawn over cities. Cities foster innovation and are more politically manageable. Cities are nodes for development and growth. UN figures suggest that 54 percent of the world’s population currently lives in urban areas, with a projected increase to 60 percent by 2050. As cities continue to grow in both developing and industrialized countries, the sustainability of these cities becomes imperative for climate change mitigation. Urbanization has been one of the more evident manifestations of globalization that is taking place across the developing world. With the rise of the city, experts agree that cities offer a unique opportunity for more efficient, targeted development.

Cities, however, tend to pose a greater risk of insecurity for the urban poor. Climate change is expected to affect developing countries disproportionately, particularly island nations, and those with extensive coastlines. The urban poor are often the most vulnerable as they live in informal areas with poor infrastructure. Further, these populations often fall outside the realm of the state’s urban planning. Low incomes and lack of economic opportunities elsewhere limits their ability to move to safer areas, leaving them directly in harm’s way. 

Some 90 percent of all urban areas are coastal, putting them face-to-face with rising sea levels, a symptom of climate change. Cities are major contributors to climate change, producing 60 percent of all carbon dioxide, because of the concentration of economic activity, use of non-renewable energy, pollution and over-population. Combined with the development challenges posed by rapid urbanization, this begins to paint a dire picture for the future of “the city”, particularly in the developing world. 

The pace of both urbanization and climate change make the current urbanization phenomenon unsustainable. Urban planning needs to incorporate climate resilience for all as a necessity, particularly to ensure against high vulnerability among the urban poor. The development benefit that the city poses is particularly important when looking to tackle climate challenges. The density of cities presents an opportunity for greener means of living. Upgrading mass transport, moving to reliance on renewable resources, and building greener infrastructure offer efficient ways of reducing the carbon footprint of cities to the gain of both people and planet. 

Noureen Ramzy is a graduate student pursuing her Master’s in global affairs at the University of Toronto. Ramzy has interned with the UN Development Programme in Cairo and worked with Intel Corporation Egypt.

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