City leaders need to rise to the climate change challenge

City leaders from around the world are meeting in Abu Dhabi for the 10th World Urban Forum on sustainable urbanisation (8-13 February). IIED director Andrew Norton and Maimunah Mohd Sharif, executive director of UN-Habitat, highlight the need for leaders to work with residents of informal settlements in order to prepare for the impacts of climate change. 

As national governments struggle to agree on climate action, city leaders attending the Tenth World Urban Forum (WUF10) in Abu Dhabi this week need to show they can rise to the challenge.
  
Adapting to climate change is a huge challenge for urban areas around the world. It is particularly significant for cities in the developing world, which are expected to be home to over two billion more people by 2050. 

As these cities grow, they will expand further into areas at risk from sea level rise, flooding and landslides, with poorer residents concentrated in the most hazardous places. Already, many are being hit by disasters that science shows will be more frequent or intense due to climate change. 

More than one billion people – mostly in Africa and Asia – are living in slums or informal settlements that are particularly vulnerable to climate impacts. The women, children and men living in these areas face additional problems due to low quality housing, poor access to public infrastructure and services, and are often politically and socially marginalised. Even a small rise in temperatures has a big impact as homes and workshops have corrugated iron roofs, making them unbearably hot. 

The mayors and governors gathering from around the world have a major role to play in making sure their cities are prepared for the rapidly escalating impacts of climate change.   

Planners will need to use new types of information to guide their investment decisions, including more detailed scientific data on climate trends and how they will affect urban environments, such as whether higher temperatures, sea level rise or river flooding are likely to be the most critical issues for their cities. They will need training and support to use this information to guide their decisions on what infrastructure to prioritise and how to work with residents to reduce these risks. 

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