City Adaptation in the Spotlight

 

ND-GAIN's upcoming climate change adaptation index of US cities' highlights the vulnerability and critical role of cities in preparing for climate change. MOMA
ND-GAIN’s upcoming climate change adaptation index of US cities’ highlights the vulnerability and critical role of cities in preparing for climate change. MOMA

The University of Notre Dame Global Adaptation Index (ND-GAIN) is delving into new territory by partnering with the Kresge Foundation to create a new index measuring US cities’ climate change vulnerability and adaptation progress. Five indicators will be identified by resilience experts to determine the most important identifiers of a city’s ability to continue functioning during and bounce back after environmental catastrophe. Five urban areas will undergo pilot assessments, scoring, and ranking before the system expands across the US.

The ND-GAIN Index currently only ranks countries. The new index will rank US cities.
The ND-GAIN Index currently only ranks countries. The new index will rank US cities. ND-GAIN

ND-GAIN’s existing global adaptation index takes over 50 variables into account to rank over 175 countries according to climate change vulnerability and readiness. Indicators include access to water, infrastructure development, climate exposure, governance, and the economy.

The ND-GAIN Index has been instrumental in providing a comparable global measure of climate risk. The index is free and open-source and has been applied to such evaluation as analyzing climate change risk to businesses and supply chains. As risk becomes more apparent and companies encounter more and more supply chain stoppages due to extreme weather, companies may begin to move operations to countries that rank higher in climate change readiness. The CDP reported in 2013 that 77% of S&P 500 corporations reported risks from climate change. That number was up from 61% the year before and is likely to continue increasing. Risk managers of major global corporations are already taking climate change vulnerabilities into account when making critical business decisions.

US economic activity is concentrated in cities, with only about 20 urban areas making up 50% of the US economy.
US economic activity is concentrated in cities, with only about 20 urban areas making up 50% of the US economy. The Guardian

Cities are bound to be at the forefront of climate change adaptation for a number of reasons. Decades of urbanization currently has 54% of people living in cities globally, with this concentration even further exaggerated in the US at 80.7%. Cities also generated 85% of the US GDP in 2010. This concentration of population and wealth represents greater vulnerability to climate change as more lives and economic value are clustered in such a small area. The denser the center of activity, the more damage a single storm can cause. Hurricane Sandy alone is estimated to have caused as much as $30 billion in losses to businesses from damages and lost revenue.

Hurricane Sandy damaged and shut down businesses throughout NYC, causing an estimated $30 billion in losses.
Hurricane Sandy damaged and shut down businesses throughout NYC, causing an estimated $30 billion in losses. Reuters

Another reason cities have led the charge on adaptation action has been necessity. Until very recently, lack of initiative and a unified adaptation plan from the federal government has made US cities unusually vulnerable to climate change. However, the long-term impact of President Obama’s 2013 “Executive Order on Preparing the United States for the Impacts of Climate Change” and the recent launch by the White House of the “Climate Toolkit” paves the way for greater support from the Federal government to local communities across the country.

As businesses increasingly take climate change as a serious consideration in core business decisions, ND-GAIN’s new city-focused index may become a yardstick dictating future business strategy. Just as the index may expose a city’s vulnerability and risk as a site for new business development, it will also promote cities with effective adaptation strategies. The most vigilant cities will be repaid with private investment. When cities compete to be the safest and most prepared in the face of climate change, residents, businesses, everybody wins.

By Sasha Merigan

Lima’s Tragedy of the Climate Change Commons

Delegates talk during a break at a plenary session of the U.N. Climate Change Conference COP 20 in Lima December 12, 2014. REUTERS/Enrique Castro-Mendivil
Delegates talk during a break at a plenary session of the U.N. Climate Change Conference COP 20 in Lima December 12, 2014. REUTERS/Enrique Castro-Mendivil

The UN Climate Summit in Lima has been reluctantly considered a success in preparing the world for a global climate action plan to be signed next year in Paris. Despite the recent symbolic accord between the US and China to cut future emissions, developing nations such as China, Saudi Arabia, India, and Brazil took a hard-line stance on the issue of financial climate assistance. A unified front of developing nations successfully maintained language differentiating their role in causing climate change and limiting the burden they will bear in the final agreement.

Secretary-General ban Ki-moon addresses the UN Climate Change Conference in Lima, Peru. UN Photo/Mark Garten
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon applaudes “…important advances” achieved at the Lima COP. UN Photo/Mark Garten

Although this language helped get everyone on board and paves the way for countries to begin making concrete pledges on emissions cuts to be submitted in May of 2015, this stipulation could excuses less ambitious pledges. Another ambiguous success is the removal of the vital review process providing transparency and allowing for direct comparisons between national plans after pressure from China. The talks also punted on whether or not an agreement would be legally binding, a question that will have to be answered in Paris. Nations have six months to submit their national emission reduction targets, to be signed next year at COP 2015.

Discussions at the UN climate talks in Lima, Peru hit familiar hurdles as developing nations demanded increased funding to combat climate change. Developing countries adhere to the argument that the developed world needs to pay more as it is most responsible for historic CO2 emissions that cause climate change. In contrast, the developed world says it is time for up-and-coming economies to begin doing their part in cutting emissions. The developing world was exempt from making emissions cuts in the Kyoto Protocol, but will be asked to share the burden in its successor agreement.

In addition to being less responsible for causing climate change, poorer nations are also generally at greater risk from the impacts of climate change due to their location and lack of resources and resilient infrastructure. Exemplifying this disparity in risk, Typhoon Hagupit barreled through the Philippines last week only one year after the devastation from Supertyphoon Haiyan. This rapid succession of debilitating onslaughts has given the developing nation little time to recover between storms. Due to the lack of resources and a slow bureaucracy, only 6 ports and 3 bridges have been repaired out of the 43 and 34 damaged by the storm, respectively. Although the storm caused less devastation than Haiyan, over half a million people were evacuated and business ground to a halt throughout the archipelago. Climate change is expected to increase the frequency of extreme storms.

Soldiers carry in emergency supplies as normal trade routes are shut down from Typhoon Hagupit. Erik De Castro / Reuters

 

Soldiers carry in emergency supplies as normal trade routes shut down from Typhoon Hagupit. Erik De Castro / ReutersEven though Typhoon Hagupit weakened before reaching the Philippines’ coastline, it still had significant and far-reaching effects in the modern global economy. The Philippines is a manufacturing-based economy, exporting semiconductors and electronics, transport equipment, and textiles across the globe. Although tentative estimates of local damage exceed $71 million, real losses are even more significant from flights, cargo shipping, and trucking still affected even a week out from the storm. These disruptions cause a chain reaction impacting supply routes in the US, Japan, China, and Singapore among many others. This example of shared risk and interconnectedness shows the commonality climate change impacts. Reaching a global accord between all nations to limit the effects of climate change and mitigate drags on the global economy needs to be approached with that same commonality in consideration. A problem for one is a problem for all.

The high risk to developing nations contrasts heavily with their limited role in contributing to climate change. The basis for developing nations’ demands for financial assistance in reducing emissions and preparing for and recovering from impacts stems from the premise that developed nations are responsible for up to 80% of total historical greenhouse gas emissions.

The developed world is responsible for as much as 80% of historic GHG emissions, creating a conflict over who should pay for cuts now. Source: Petrolog.
The developed world is responsible for as much as 80% of historic GHG emissions, creating a conflict over who should pay for cuts now. Source: Petrolog.

One counter argument takes the stance that developing nations’ emissions are reduced through the use of modern technology during their current industrialization, which would not have been possible without technological advances resulting from the West’s industrial revolution. However, there is a general understanding that it is time for developing nations to participate in making cuts, the remaining question is simply “How much?”.

In a step towards compromise, wealthy countries have already contributed $10 billion to the Green Climate Fund, which is scheduled to reach $100 billion annually by 2020 to be distributed among developing nations to support concrete climate change mitigation initiatives. Developing nations question the likelihood of reaching this goal and whether it constitutes sufficient financial support to offset the contribution of historical western emissions to climate change.

While the outcome from the Lima negotiations is not ideal, the agreement sets the stage for countries to submit emissions reductions targets ahead of the final negotiations in Paris. The remaining tough questions will ultimately need to be answered, and will ultimately decide the success or failure of a global climate change accord.

 

What is behind the US-China climate deal?

The US and China reached a landmark climate change deal to cut greenhouse gases on November 12. The agreement is a groundbreaking departure from the two countries’ reluctance to commit to aggressive emission reduction targets and highlights the increased importance of climate change on the national agenda in both countries. The deal is also a strong indicator of the world’s two largest polluters’ support for an international climate change agreement.

China’s pledge to reach peak emissions by 2030 as part of the agreement has been criticized as simply continuing existing emissions reduction schedules. However, analysis from Nan Zhou et al. at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory shows that this may actually lock in the boldest of several possible scenarios [See Figure 1].

Figure 1 – For emissions to peak by 2030 as promised, China would likely have to reduce their reliance on coal significantly Source: Nan Zhou et al.
Figure 1 – For emissions to peak by 2030 as promised, China would likely have to reduce their reliance on coal significantly.
Source: Nan Zhou et al.

Alternatively, China’s emissions in the more conservative “continued improvement scenario” would peak around 2035 and include an additional 86 billion tons of CO2 emissions by 2050. To put this in perspective, this is equivalent to about a decade of emissions at current rates as China released 8.5 billion tons of CO2 in 2012 (Energy Information Agency). To reach this new target, China has promised 20% of their energy from renewable sources by 2030, which will also likely require a significant reduction in their reliance on coal.

While both countries are greatly exposed to climate change hazards, ND-GAIN’s ranking of countries based on vulnerability and readiness for climate change shows China lags in ‘readiness,’ where it is ranked #79 against #11 for the United-States. Readiness ratings assess a country’s ability to effectively manage and implement resilience investments and effectively implement adaptation projects.

Historic precipitation changes in China are predicted to be exacerbated due to climate change Source: Nature
Historic precipitation changes in China are predicted to be exacerbated due to climate change.
Source: Nature

Climate change is predicted to cause vast and differing shifts in climate patterns in China, with centers of commerce particularly vulnerable. Historical precipitation trends and IPCC predictions forecast increased flooding, erosion, and outbreaks of diseases such as malaria in some areas, with increased drought and desertification in others. Much of China’s industry and economic value is concentrated in the increasingly extreme weather- and flood-prone southeast [See Figure 2].

Figure 2 – China’s southeast is the main center of economic wealth as well as the most vulnerable to extreme weather from climate change Source: Wikipedia according to 2012 National Bureau of Statistics figures
Figure 2 – China’s southeast is the main center of economic wealth as well as the most vulnerable to extreme weather from climate change.
Source: Wikipedia according to 2012 National Bureau of Statistics figures

Guangzhou and Shanghai, located in this region, are considered two of the most vulnerable cities in Asia in terms of total value of assets at risk (IPCC). Exemplary of the regional nature of climate change impacts in China, droughts in the northeast are predicted to cause $1.7 billion in losses by 2030.

With emissions representing nearly 1/3 of global totals, China’s new pledge to cut greenhouse gas emissions may help limit future climate change impacts, especially assuming a global effort follows. However, China has recognized the extreme economic risks they are already facing, acknowledging an estimated $32.8 billion in losses due to climate change since 1990. China has been gradually implementing broad adaptation policy measures since 2007 to guide and fund coastal protection, extreme weather forecasting and response, and water management, which culminated in a comprehensive adaptation plan released in 2013. Although adaptation helps to mitigate climate change impacts, greater risk from increased frequency and severity of environmental disasters is unavoidable.

International trade and supply chain interdependencies turn local climate change vulnerability to global business risk. Source: Visual News
International trade and supply chain interdependencies turn local climate change vulnerability to global business risk.
Source: Visual News

As a significant source of global manufacturing and consumption, more frequent disruptions to China’s economy due to climate change could also have substantial impacts on the US economy through supply chain and imports/exports, as well as the global economy at large. Placing itself squarely in the center of the global economic network, China surpassed the US to become the world’s largest trader in goods in 2013. Although the trade balance is uneven, both economies are inextricably linked as the US exported $121 billion in goods to China last year, while China exported $440 billion to the US. This relationship gives both sides great incentive to keep the flow of trade moving. Global climate change adaptation efforts are essential to limiting future losses and cascading impacts to global trade and supply chains, but none are as critical as China’s.

Although global interdependencies can cause major trade flow disruptions as climate change impacts continue to worsen, the same interdependencies are also a strong catalyst for international cooperation. Now that China and the US sit on the same side of climate negotiations, hopes are that this new tone will set the stage for an international treaty on climate change at the 2015 UN COP in Paris.

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