Thinking Beyond the City: Regional Climate Adaptation Planning and Habitat III

Thinking Beyond the City: Regional Climate Adaptation Planning and Habitat III

Climate change threatens cities worldwide, but urban leaders face a myriad of funding, logistical, and political challenges in trying to reduce the associated risks at the local level. When planning for climate adaptation, or “climate-proofing,” some urban planners and civic leaders are thinking beyond their jurisdiction to develop creative solutions and partnerships at the regional level. From California to Nepal, organizations are demonstrating that taking a collaborative, regional look at climate change adaptation planning can help leverage resources and increase community resilience.

The upcoming UN Habitat conference, Habitat III, in October will be one of the largest gatherings of global urban decision makers to date. It presents an ideal forum for catalyzing new regional climate adaptation planning partnerships already happening across the world.

A Regional Approach

In the U.S., the Southeast Florida Climate Compact is widely recognized as one of the United States’ leading examples of regional-scale climate action collaboration. The Compact forms a formal agreement between county governments to leverage federal funding and resources, forge partnerships throughout the region, and collectively address the impacts of climate change. Similarly, in New England, the entire six-state region is included in one U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Regional Climate Action Plan.

City climate adaptation planning is supported worldwide by the efforts and guidance of international organizations like Local Governments for Sustainability (ICLEI) and the Cities Climate Leadership Group (C-40), the United Nations’ Human Settlements Programme (UN Habitat), and the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities initiative. Because of differing guidance and the context-specific nature of climate risk, there is no single formula for climate adaptation planning at the local level. And, due to challenges of scale and complexity, regional approaches to climate adaptation planning remain rare.

However, taking a regional approach is valuable not only for the resource sharing benefits identified above. At the regional scale, cities benefit from collaborating with the peri-urban and rural areas surrounding the metropolitan core and addressing climate risk at the ecosystems level. Rivers, coastal systems, and other areas experiencing climate changes transcend political boundaries, and a city-centered approach often misses critical risk -reducing opportunities. Planning regionally affords the opportunity to both share resources and acknowledge the entirety of the ecological and social systems that are at risk.

Looking Beyond the Region

In the drought, flood, and forest fire-prone state of California, cities across the state have been including adaptation and disaster risk response measures in their climate action plans (CAPs) and other policies for some time. And, there are several regional climate adaptation groups that are well established, such as the Bay Area Regional Collaborative. Understanding that the challenges the state faces go beyond the city or even the regional scale, the Alliance of Regional Collaboratives for Climate Adaptation (ARCCA) formed as a broader network connecting existing regional climate adaptation groups – including government and non-government agencies. They provide support and guidance at the state level to local actors, and carry local needs back up to the state level. The Governor’s Office of Planning and Research fills an ad hoc role in the Alliance, providing a link to state policy makers. This network of regional groups is able to work across the entire state of California, share lessons-learned, leverage resources, and facilitate planning across rural and urban jurisdictions and regions from the mountainous east to the coastal west and desert south.

Climate adaptation planning that crosses county, state, or international borders faces challenges of legislative and jurisdictional difference. However, regional advocacy and research organizations like the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development in the Himalaya are active in helping to advance climate change adaptation efforts across borders in areas with similar climate impacts. Though not a government agency, their work is influential in advising policies and climate risk reduction interventions. A similar model has great potential in other trans-boundary ecosystems worldwide.

Catalyzing Partnerships

During the UN Habitat conference in October, organizations and city stakeholders will be able to share lessons learned and planning methodologies, collaborate on new innovations, and support each other in forging new coalitions to increase climate resilience.

The number of people at risk from climate change challenges in cities is only on the rise. Water scarcity recently hit Los Angeles, California and is predicted for cities in Pakistan, while urban heat waves have challenged Delhi, Chicago, and Paris in recent years. For large cities in coastal areas like New York and Mumbai, sea level rise is a concern, while mountainous cities like Quito and those along rivers like Dhaka are at risk from flooding and landslides caused by extreme weather events. However, leveraging the funding and political capital to plan for climate change adaptation is often a challenge when there are many other pressing needs for growing cities.

All of this presents an opportunity for a regional climate adaptation approach. In order to encourage safer and healthier cities in a changing climate, urban leaders should expand the scale of planning and leverage connections with neighboring cities and the rural areas surrounding the urban core. The Habitat III conference will be an invaluable opportunity for non-governmental organizations, national governments, and cities to come together around this challenge, reach beyond their own borders, and help ensure that the New Urban Agenda helps cities plan for the regional nature of climate risk.