Book review

Climate Change and Cities – First Assessment Report of the Urban Climate Change Research Network

 Climate Change and Cities Edited by Cynthia Rosenzweig, William D. Solecki, Stephen A. Hammer and Shagun Mehrotra
CUP (2011)
xxiii + 286 pp.
Price: £ 30 / US$ 50

Climate Change and Cities is intended to provide a comprehensive, international perspective on climate change impacts on cities. It is intended to categorize mitigation and adaption responses that cities can take to reduce the negative impacts and take advantage of the (substantially-fewer) positive impacts. It aims to help mayors and urban leaders by providing knowledge that they can act upon. These goals are solidly met, as the book includes a wealth of information, with information accessibly-presented to the nonacademic reader. The target audience is well picked, considering that more than half of all people live in cities, which are responsible for at least 40% of greenhouse gas emissions. Mayors and civic leaders are well served by the wealth of examples in this book. Considering too that cities form at the intersections of trade routes, and along rivers and coasts, and given the impacts of climate change on transportation and coastal cities, mitigation and adaptation are self-serving interests of cities’ planners.

This book provides excellent large city case studies, informative tables and charts, and “boxes” that summarize critical issues, such as the linkage between urban form, travel patterns, and energy use. Many examples of practical approaches for climate change adaptation are provided throughout. Passive approaches, like tree shading, permeable pavements, rainwater harvesting, and active approaches, like elevated roadways and hardened power plants, are given. The writers display a strong recognition of the importance of hazards management and the social equity implications of climate change.  The significance of urban design in mitigating greenhouse gas emissions and the need to balance mitigation and adaptation responses in addressing climate change impacts are emphasized throughout.

A number of key urban issues are covered by the authors, starting with an assessment of the type, scale and peculiarities of climate change impacts on cities. This assessment is followed by an analysis of four critical urban sectors: energy, water and wastewater, transportation and human health systems. Finally, urban land use and city governance issues are covered.  From the perspective of a meteorologist practicing in climate services, the treatment of these sectors and issues is appropriately broad. The book provides the reader with an understanding of the differences in impacts and focus of developing cities and wealthier cities in responding to climate change. The book also includes good analysis of future research needs, particularly in the human health sector.   

From the perspective of a city planner practicing in small to mid-sized communities in the United States, three other areas of focus for future iterations on the subject of cities and climate change are suggested.  First, the issue of climate as a significant factor in human migration and internal displacement, whether the impetus is survival, economic, or lifestyle, could be addressed. Sea-level rise, strong storms, drought, high temperatures, wildfires, and flooding may prompt such response. Second, economic development, though peripherally treated in the book, would be a welcomed topic for expansion. Economic impacts from climate change, through an interlinked international economy, will be transformed through new markets and new transportation routes. New routes opening (e.g., the Northern Sea Route), and existing routes closing permanently or temporarily (e.g., ports or roadways with low-lying access that will be flooded by sea-level rise or storm surge) are of concern. Third, the role of private governance, while addressed, could be further explored to include recent work on “behavioral wedge” analysis. Private actions in developed economies (e.g. weatherizing homes, carpooling and purchase of energy-efficient appliances) will likely have greater short-term impacts on greenhouse gas reduction than central government action due to the inertia of politics and scale, though informal networks of private markets, for example, the way water supply is handled in Lagos, is perceived as risky decentralization.

Climate Change and Cities, or ARC3, as the book title is abbreviated, represents a strong effort to assess the implications of and responses to climate change from an urban perspective. Editors Cynthia Rosenzweig, William Solecki, Stephen A. Hammer, and Shagun Mehrotra put together a solid collection of papers by authors around the world. This book will be particularly useful to large city managers and planners. Due to its fine case studies and its accessibility to policymakers, it will be a useful tool to those who have the political will, fiscal resources, and the interest in addressing climate change. It sets an ambitious goal, and largely delivers, recognizing the critical role cities will have in mitigating and adapting to climate change.    

Scott Shuford, professional city planner
Marjorie McGuirk meteorologist practicing in climate services

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