Cities are home to half the world’s population and produce around 75 percent of the world’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and greenhouse gas emissions (GHG). By 2050, between 65 percent and 75 percent of the world population is projected to be living in cities, with more than 40 million people moving to cities each year. That’s around 3.5 billion people now, rising to 6.5 billion by 2050; a huge and singular event in human history.
Here is a reality check – the average annual loss from natural disasters in cities is estimated by the United Nations at over $250 billion. If cities fail to build their resilience to disasters, shocks, and ongoing stresses, this figure will rise to $314 billion by 2030, and 77 million more city dwellers will fall into poverty, according to a new World Bank/GFDRR report presented at COP22.
Unfortunately, the frequency of natural disasters is becoming a norm which indeed is the result of climate change. The fact of the matter is that natural disasters can have a life-altering impact on the individuals and families fortunate enough to survive them. But the effect of natural disasters can be felt at the community, city and state level, or many times can impact an entire country. Natural disasters can have huge environmental impacts as well, even when human communities are relatively unaffected. How well the impact of a disaster event is absorbed has much to do with the intensity of the impact and the level of preparedness and resilience of the subject impacted.
The cities around the world, regardless of the size or location, are attempting persistently to transform their cities into climate-resilient cities. Here are how climate-resilient cities defined:
Climate-resilience for cities is demarcated as the climate elasticity for a socio-ecological system to absorb stresses and maintain function in the face of external stresses imposed upon it by climate change and adapt, reorganize, and evolve into more desirable configurations that improve the sustainability of the system, leaving it better prepared for future climate change impacts.
In other words: The term “Resilient” means possessing inner strength and resolve. Thus a resilient city takes into consideration appropriate form and physical infrastructure to be more prepared for the physical, social, and economic challenges that come with depleting carbon-based fuels and climate change.
According to the World Bank, almost 60 percent of the areas that will be urbanized by 2030 haven’t been developed yet, which means that the world has a brief window of opportunity for investment—but it will take a significant amount of funding. Research has estimated that, worldwide, the need for urban infrastructure investment is $4.5 trillion per year, and that making this infrastructure low carbon and climate resilient will take a premium of 9 percent to 27 percent. Much of this demand comes from cities in the developing world.
The funding to support these projects is out there: Between public, private, and philanthropic sources of funding, there is $106 trillion of private institutional capital available worldwide. Yet, right now, only 1.6 percent of it is invested in infrastructure at all, let alone in making that infrastructure resilient.
According to a report, the State of City Climate Finance, the infrastructure planning and financing decisions made today will determine the world’s climate and development outcomes for the next century. These decisions, of course, will lead to the building of either low-emission, climate-resilient infrastructure that increases economic opportunity or more of what we have already, effectively locking the world into a carbon-intensive pathway with sprawling human settlements, hazardous pollution, and heightened vulnerability to climate change. The reality is that nowhere are infrastructure decisions more critical than in cities, which house half the world’s population, consume 70 percent of the world’s energy, and release at least the same proportion of energy-related GHG emissions.
The World Bank’s growing investment in disaster risk management reflects this conceptual shift. The Bank’s work on urban resilience aims to help cities adapt to a greater variety of changing conditions and withstand shocks while maintaining essential functions. The bottomline is that:
- In recent years, the World Bank has worked in cities and towns across over 140 countries, investing $5.3 billion in disaster risk management during fiscal year 2018;
- With its innovative tools and powerful financing products and services, the World Bank Group (WBG) is helping the urban poor and boosting resilience at the household, community, city, and regional levels; and
- The cities initiative associated with The International Finance Corporation (IFC) focusses on addressing the financing gap for sustainable urban infrastructure by providing and attracting commercial financing to the sector. In the last 10 years, IFC invested more than $12 billion in over 350 urban improvement projects and provided advisory services to cities in more than 60 countries.
Canada is a relatively small country and the population of Canada this year was 37.2 million in March 2019. Canadian population is equivalent to 0.48 percent of the total world population. However, Canada is among the world’s largest countries, and its territory is second to Russia only. The country has a total area of 3.8 million sq. miles or 9.9 million sq. km, including 291,571 sq. miles (755,170 sq. km) of water. Canada touches three oceans – the Pacific, the Arctic, and the Atlantic, and its coastline is 151,473 miles or 243,791 kilometers long. Canada is known for having the greatest number of lakes in the world. There are an estimated 31,752 lakes in Canada that are larger than three square kilometers.
Over 80 percent of Canada’s population lives in cities. Like everywhere else, it is expected that Canadian cities will soon face increased climate change impacts, such as more frequent and intense extreme weather events.
An article, “The three most resilient cities – They are all in Canada”, published by the Guardian, reported that Grosvenor, the London-based property company led by the Duke of Westminster, analyzed more than 100 independently verified data sets in order to determine two key elements of what makes a city resilient:
- Vulnerability: Vulnerability was measured by looking at climate threats, environmental degradation (including pollution and overconsumption due to sprawl), resources (particularly access to energy), and infrastructure and community cohesion. Weakness in any of those areas reduced a city’s score; and
- Adaptive: Adaptive capacity, or a city’s ability to prevent and mitigate serious threats, was a combination of governance (high value here on democracy, freedom of speech, community participation, transparency, accountability and long-term leadership vision), strong institutions, learning capacity (including good technical universities), disaster planner and finally funding (from budget to credit and access to global funding).
Accordingly, Toronto tops the list, following by Vancouver and Calgary and closely trailed by several US cities. London is 18th, suffering as Grosvenor pointed out from social tensions due to lack of affordable housing. Eight of the weakest 20 cities are in the Bric countries of Brazil, Russia, India and China, where blistering economic growth has not yet led to long-term resilience. One particularly disturbing trend is that some of the least resilient cities on the list are also the ones where the population is expected to grow fastest.
Here are some quick facts about Canada which will help the Canadian cities to become climate-resilient:
- Through the $180-billion Investing in Canada infrastructure plan, the Government of Canada is renewing the country’s public-transit infrastructure; green infrastructure, such as water systems and renewable energy systems; social infrastructure, such as community, cultural or recreation centres; trade and transportation infrastructure; and public infrastructure in rural and northern communities;
- Under the plan, more than 48,000 infrastructure projects, worth a total of $42.3 billion, have been approved since 2016. Of these projects, almost all are either underway, or already completed;
- The Department of Finance Canada estimates that investments made under the Plan have contributed 0.4 percent to Canada’s gross domestic product and will provide employment opportunities to an average of 100,000 Canadians each year throughout the remainder of the Plan; and
- The World Council on City Data (WCCD) works with a global network of cities to propel high caliber, globally standardized and independently verified city data, through 100 key performance indicators within ISO 37120.
Perhaps the key to selecting a climate-resilient city for retirement is a realistic retirement planning with the focus on the financial as well as environmental priorities which should help navigate to an evocative senior life-style in a climate-resilient city regardless of which country you live in.
31 August 2019 – Ottawa, Ontario, Canada