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By Patrice Geoffron, Member of Le Cercle des économistes

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Adapting the city! The imperative can be interpreted in many ways which, taken together, form a particularly dense set of specifications.

For adapting the city means :

  • anticipating that in 2050, 70% of the world’s population will be urban (compared to just over 50% today) and deploying the equipment and infrastructure to meet the continuing dynamic of rural exodus;
  • in particular, generalise essential urban services (such as water supply, which is universal only in the OECD);
  • reduce the environmental footprint of the activities carried out there, in particular CO2 emissions (cities account for 70% of global emissions), but also various local pollutants, such as those that affect air quality (a major source of mortality), destroy biodiversity, etc;
  • and to make this ‘new’ city resilient to the climate disruptions that are inevitable, even in the most voluntarist scenarios (those that would make it possible to contain the average temperature increase to 1.5°C by the end of the century).

A recent report gives an idea of the extent of the need to adapt to climate change and the measures undertaken (Carbon Disclosure Project-CDP, Cities on the route to 2030, Building a zero emissions, resilient planet for all, May 2021):

  • In addition to the risks of heat waves and heat islands (linked to soil mineralisation), pollution peaks and water invasions, health threats have been added in the light of the Covid 19 crisis. Among these threats, urban heat islands (city-specific microclimates) are an acute risk, with spatial differences that can result in 2-3 times higher temperature increases in the city core compared to the hinterland.
  • Although 93% of CDP-assessed 800 cities face significant climate risks, almost half of them do not yet have an adaptation plan (although only a few did so a decade ago). Active cities report more than 3,000 different measures, ranging from tree planting and greening (20% of cities) to the development of hazard-resistant infrastructure (10% of cities).
  • Cities with a climate action plan are already performing better (e.g. 42% of their energy mix comes from renewable sources, compared to 26% for the global average) and identifying more “opportunities” from their approach (business innovations; source of additional funding, …). And, to this end, three quarters of the cities are already working with the private sector on sustainable development projects or plan to do so in the coming years.

One (more) challenge is emerging: that highly resilient cities are also inclusive. So that mid-century urbanites can find a place in them, without drastic selection by means. A challenge that is utopian at the moment.