Opportunities for cities and nature amid dire climate change impacts

Human-induced climate change is causing dangerous and widespread disruption in nature and affecting the lives of billions of people around the world, despite efforts to reduce the risks. People and ecosystems least able to cope are being hardest hit, said scientists in the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, released on 28 February.

Cities: Hotspots of impacts and risks, but also a crucial part of the solution

The report provides a detailed assessment of climate change impacts, risks and adaptation in cities, where more than half the world’s population lives. People’s health, lives and livelihoods, as well as property and critical infrastructure, including energy and transportation systems, are being increasingly adversely affected by hazards from heatwaves, storms, drought and flooding as well as slow-onset changes, including sea level rise.

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Together, growing urbanization and climate change create complex risks, especially for those cities that already experience poorly planned urban growth, high levels of poverty and unemployment, and a lack of basic services.

Cities also provide opportunities for climate action.

Green buildings, reliable supplies of clean water and renewable energy, and sustainable transport systems that connect urban and rural areas can all lead to a more inclusive, fairer society.

The headline statement about urban areas from the report is the following:

Interactions between changing urban form, exposure and vulnerability can create climate change-induced risks and losses for cities and settlements. However, the global trend of urbanisation also offers a critical opportunity in the near-term, to advance climate resilient development (high confidence). Integrated, inclusive planning and investment in everyday decision-making about urban infrastructure, including social, ecological and grey/physical infrastructures, can significantly increase the adaptive capacity of urban and rural settlements. Equitable outcomes contribute to multiple benefits for health and well-being and ecosystem services, including for Indigenous Peoples, marginalised and vulnerable communities (high confidence). Climate resilient development in urban areas also supports adaptive capacity in more rural places through maintaining peri-urban supply chains of goods and services and financial flows (medium confidence). Coastal cities and settlements play an especially important role in advancing climate resilient development (high confidence).   

Cities and settlements are crucial for delivering urgent climate action. The concentration and interconnection of people, infrastructure and assets within and across cities and into rural areas creates both risks and solutions at global scale.

Climate change has altered marine, terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems all around the world (very high confidence). Climate change has caused local species losses, increases in disease (high confidence), and mass mortality events of plants and animals (very high confidence), resulting in the first climate driven extinctions (medium confidence), ecosystem restructuring, increases in areas burned by wildfire (high confidence), and declines in key ecosystem services (high confidence). Climate-driven impacts on ecosystems have caused measurable economic and livelihood losses and altered cultural practices and recreational activities around the world (high confidence).