Amplifying vulnerable communities’ voices in adaptation decision-making to advance effective, equitable and resilient urban development
Rapidly growing cities face a deluge of intensifying climate impacts, with 70 percent of urban areas already grappling with the risks of a warming world. Rising seas, coastal flooding, heatwaves and drought are challenging efforts to improve the lives of one billion people living in urban poverty and may push another 77 million city residents below the poverty line by 2030.
But cities are also sources of great resilience and key players in the global movement to prepare some of the world’s most vulnerable communities for climate change. Many are investing in climate-proofing infrastructure, risk-reduction programs and information management systems. Yet these adaptation planning and implementation processes often sideline poor urban residents, overlooking crucial differences in their needs and adaptive capacities.
Measuring vulnerability, resilience and access to municipal services across different neighborhoods. Today’s cities are not homogenous landscapes, and communities just a few miles apart can experience vastly different climate impacts. One of the biggest challenges that urban planners encounter in building resilience is not only understanding these distinct risks, but also predicting how families will respond. What are their strengths? How can policymakers augment existing capacities, tackle weaknesses and close key gaps in urban services like water, sanitation and energy provision?
Supporting officials in integrating local knowledge into traditionally top-down urban development and adaptation priorities. A long history of unsustainable urban development coupled with political exclusion amplify the urban poor’s vulnerability. Lower income residents, for instance, may suffer more adverse health effects on extreme heat days than wealthier residents who can afford to spend scorching days in air-conditioned buildings. The UCRA tool helps adaptation planners identify these disproportionate burdens and develop programs that address them.
Providing a forum for poor, oftentimes marginalized communities to have a voice in resilience plans, policies and programs. Without vulnerable neighborhoods’ input, policymakers often struggle to understand the technology, language and infrastructure barriers residents encounter. Early warning systems, for example, may distribute alerts in languages that some poor families cannot read or email messages that people without cellphones cannot access. Establishing more inclusive, gender-responsive decision-making processes can help officials avoid these challenges and implement more effective policies.