Science To Support Adapting To Climate Change

Options to adapt to the impacts of climate change in cities and built-up areas encompass a wide array of potential actions. To date, most of the options considered have fallen into the category of structural or engineering strategies such as protecting existing development and infrastructure from sea level rise (e.g., NYCDEP, 2008); improving water supply, drainage, and water treatment infrastructure; and reducing urban heat island effects. In some cases, local and regional entities sharing a common problem thought to be amplified by climate change, such as water in the American

West, have begun planning to address adaptation beyond infrastructure per se, including more efficient water markets. Although noninfrastructural strategies, such as improving emergency preparedness and response (above), have also been considered, in general there is insufficient concern with, or scientific understanding of, the underlying social-ecological vulnerabilities that cities and the people within them face (see Chapter 4). Many more ways to reduce vulnerability and enhance adaptive capacity may become available when the vulnerabilities of cities are better understood, particularly the vulnerability of subpopulations (e.g., the urban poor, minority groups, children, the elderly, or manual laborers; Campbell-Lendrum and Corvalan, 2007) and the differences between large and smaller urban areas in different regions (e.g., Bartlett, 2008; Hardoy and Pandiella, 2009; Hess et al., 2008; Porfiriev, 2009; Thomalla et al., 2006). Urban areas adjacent to ecological reserves or bordering on forested areas or wildlands may also have to take preventive and preparatory measures to reduce wildfire risks and find ways to protect urban ecology (Collins, 2005).

In general, urban areas face all the climate-related problems faced in other sectors described in this report, but focused on a particular spatial scale. While lessons and techniques on adaptation to climate change from one urban area may be transferrable to others, many will be location specific, and clusters of municipalities in close proximity will have to devise integrated responses across extended metropolitan areas. These considerations raise both institutional and economic opportunities and challenges for adaptation (see the companion report Adapting to the Impacts of Climate Change [NRC, 2010a]). They also open up the opportunity to develop sustainable solutions to climate change that integrate actions to limit the magnitude of climate change with those taken to adapt to its impacts—a challenge that some cities around the world are already exploring (e.g., Heinz Center, 2008b). Important scientific questions remain, however, about how to analyze these dual strategies in an integrated fashion (e.g., Hamin and Gurran, 2009; Wilbanks, 2005).

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