Cities worldwide are failing to take necessary steps to protect residents from the likely impacts of climate change, even though billions of urban dwellers are vulnerable to heat waves, sea level rise and other changes associated with warming temperatures.
A new examination of urban policies by Patricia Romero Lankao at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colo., in conjunction with an international research project on cities and climate change, warns that many of the world's fast-growing urban areas, especially in developing countries, will likely suffer disproportionately from the impacts of changing climate.
Her work also concludes that most cities are failing to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that affect the atmosphere.
"Climate change is a deeply local issue and poses profound threats to the growing cities of the world," says Romero Lankao. "But too few cities are developing effective strategies to safeguard their residents."
Romero Lankao's studies appear this month in a special issue ofCurrent Opinion in Environmental Sustainability and in a synthesis article in an upcoming issue of European Planning Studies.
The research was conducted in association with the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT) and funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), NCAR's sponsor.
"Cities are major sources of greenhouse gases, yet at the same time urban populations are likely to be among those most severely affected by future climate change," says Sarah Ruth, program director in NSF's Division of Atmospheric and Geospace Sciences, which funds NCAR.
"The findings highlight ways in which city-dwellers are particularly vulnerable, and suggest policy interventions that could offer immediate and longer-term benefits."
Romero Lankao, a sociologist specializing in climate change and urban development, surveyed policies in cities worldwide while drawing on a number of recent studies of climate change and cities.
With more than half the world's population living in cities, scientists are increasingly focusing on the potential impacts of climate change on these areas. She concluded that cities are falling short in two areas: preparing for the likely impacts of climate change and cutting their own greenhouse gas emissions by reducing fossil fuel use.