Preparing Cities for Climate Change:
An International Assessment of Urban Adaptation Planning

Case Studies
Bellagio Meeting
Case Studies  


Case studies of climate adaptation planning and mainstreaming are being conducted in cities around the world. The locations listed below are cities where pilot and case study research on adaptation has been completed.

Boston, United States
Boston is located in the Northeastern United States and, with more than 4.5 million people residing in the region, is the 10th largest metropolitan area in the country. The City has a strong mayor-council government system in which the mayor is vested with extensive powers. Boston, situated on the Atlantic Seaboard, has a continental climate, with warm, rainy, and humid summers and cold, windy, and snowy winters. Major projected climate impacts include sea level rise, increasing frequency and intensity of heat waves, and increasing intensity of storms.

Boston across the Charles. Image: Nikhil Nadkarni

In 2007, Mayor Thomas M. Menino signed an executive order on climate action that articulated the government’s commitment to climate adaptation. Moreover, he convened a working group of 8 city agencies and departments under the leadership of the Office of Environmental and Energy Services to coordinate municipal adaptation efforts. In 2010, the City published Sparking Boston’s Climate Revolution and, in 2011, A Climate of Progress: City of Boston Climate Action Plan Update, outlining the City’s climate mitigation and adaptation priorities. In particular, both of these documents focused on the need for incorporating climate adaptation into all planning and review processes for both public and private activities. These plans also make explicit the importance of focusing on vulnerable populations and sectors and the need to review projected climate impacts on existing programs and infrastructure.

Cape Town, South Africa
Located on the northern tip of the Cape Peninsula, Cape Town is the geographically largest and second most populous city in South Africa.The city has a Mediterranean climate, consisting of cool, wet winters, and dry, windy summers. Climate projections suggest that the city will be exposed to a variety of impacts in the coming decades that will take weather to extremes. These impacts include sea-level rise, drought, increased temperatures, and heavy rainfall. In 2006, the Environmental Resource Management Department (ERMD) developed a preliminary framework for adaptation, drawing from a Province-wide vulnerability assessment completed in 2005.

Cape Town City Center. Image: Yuan Xiao
The framework and initial assessment provided summary recommendations for adaptation. However, adaptation planning did not begin in earnest until 2008 after a city-specific sea level rise risk and adaptation study was completed under the auspices of the ERMD. Building on this study and the 2006 framework, the ERMD is currently developing a City Adaptation Plan of Action (CAPA), in consultation with relevant departments across the city government. The final version will be submitted to the Council for formal adoption by the city.

Chicago, United States
Chicago is located in the Midwestern state of Illinois and, with a metropolitan population of nearly 10 million, is the third largest city in the United States. The City is situated on the shores of Lake Michigan and experiences a continental climate with four distinct seasons throughout the year, plus periodic extreme cold and extreme heat events in the winter and summer seasons respectively. The City of Chicago operates under a mayor-council political system and the City, under the direction of Mayor Richard M. Daley (1989-2011), initiated the process of planning for climate change in late 2005. The City is projected to experience increasing extremes in its weather events, such as increasing incidences of heat waves that lead to more deaths and rainfall events that contribute to household basement flooding.

Chicago Public Transit. Image: Nikhil Nadkarni

Before Chicago’s Climate Action Plan was launched in September 2008, the City produced a climate risk assessment that outlined the economic impacts of climate change. Speared headed by a partnership between the Chicago Department of Environment and the private consulting agency AT Kearney, Chicago’s Climate Action Plan focused on buildings, renewable energy sources, transportation, waste, and adaptation issues, and explicitly sought to make Chicago the leader in climate change action across the United States. Chicago’s adaptation strategy builds upon the City’s existing urban greening and sustainability initiatives, with a focus on managing heat, pursuing innovative cooling technologies, protecting air quality, managing stormwater, and engaging the public in decision-making.

Durban, South Africa
Durban is South Africa’s third largest city, boasting over 3.5 million inhabitants and the busiest container port on the African continent.  Sprawling along 97km of the Indian Ocean coastline and westward into hilly terrain, Durban has a subtropical climate with warm, wet summers and mild winters. A climate vulnerability assessment commissioned by the city’s Environmental Management Department (EMD) in 2004 predicted a future with hotter temperatures, increased total rainfall, changes in seasonal distribution and intensity of storm events, and coastal erosion and flooding due to sea level rise. 

Carbon Sink Team in Durban. Image: Debra Roberts
To plan for and offset the associated impacts, the EMD worked with other departments to create a “headline strategy." This was followed by the creation of the Municipal Climate Protection Programme, which is taking a sectoral approach to developing adaptation strategies and applying a climate lens to ongoing city operations. A variety of pilot initiatives are also underway to test innovative approaches to increasing community and household-level climate resilience.

London, England
 London is the capital of the United Kingdom and, with a metropolitan population of nearly 14 million, is one of the largest cities in Europe and a leading global financial center. Located in the southern portion of the country along the River Thames, London’s 33 boroughs are governed collectively through the Greater London Authority (GLA). The GLA was established in 2000 and is represented by a directly elected mayor and a 25-member assembly. London has a temperate oceanic climate, with warm summers, cold winters, and generally even precipitation throughout the year. Major projected climate impacts for the City include increasingly intense heat waves, urban heat island effects, heavy wet weather, and flooding of the River Thames.
Historic London. Image: Nikhil Nadkarni
Coinciding with initial projections provided by the UK Climate Impacts Programme (UKCIP), former Mayor Ken Livingstone (2000-2008) established the London Climate Change Partnership in an attempt to create a stakeholder base for climate action within the City. In 2003, an unusually intense heat wave resulted in more than 2000 deaths across the UK and was a further motivator for advancing adaptation planning. After passage of the UK’s Climate Change Act in 2008, the GLA began drafting a Climate Change Adaptation Strategy. The GLA gathered support from all 33 boroughs, the UK Environment Agency, the UK Department of Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), and various other public utilities and private institutions, and drafted a strategy focusing on identifying potential flooding, drought, and heat risks. Recently, though, because of changing economic circumstances and the subsequent austerity measures imposed by the government, adaptation planning in London is experiencing transition and will likely be mainstreamed into existing environmental planning initiatives.

Manila, Philippines
Metropolitan Manila, located on Luzon Island, is comprised of 17 distinct local government units that collectively form the capital of the Philippines. The largest city in Metro Manila is Quezon City while the largest commercial district is located in Makati City. The Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) is responsible for coordinating key planning functions between the local government units that make up the metropolitan region. With a total population of 12 million, Metro Manila is the largest city in the country and is the 11th most populous in the world. The City is situated entirely within the tropics and, therefore, experiences little temperature fluctuations thorough the year, high humidity levels, and a distinct wet season that lasts from May through to December. Major projected climate impacts include increasing intensity of typhoons, urban flooding, and high vulnerability of urban informal settlements.

Local roadway in Makati City. Image: Eric Chu

A series of national policies kick-started adaptation planning in the City: Republic Act No. 9729 (2009) required the mainstreaming of climate change into government policy formulation. Similarly, Republic Act No. 10121 required the mainstreaming of climate change with disaster risk reduction. These two legislations resulted in the drafting of the National Framework Strategy on Climate Change (2011) and the National Climate Change Action Plan (2011) that both instructed local government units to integrate climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction into local comprehensive development plans. After the passing of these policies, Makati City and Quezon City, in particular, have taken initiative in integrate adaptation and DRR into their municipal planning. The MMDA is currently investigating the feasibility of coordinating a larger, metropolitan-wide strategic plan that seeks to incorporate all 17 local government units. 

Quito, Ecuador
Located in the Central Andes, Quito is highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. The shrinking of the Antisana is a critical issue since this glacier and its nearby ecosystems supply a large portion of water to the city’s 2.1 million inhabitants. Climate change also is expected to intensify extreme weather events in Quito, which will exacerbate landslides and mudslides, stress transportation systems and infrastructure, and endanger indigenous populations living in the hillsides and slopes. The city’s climate adaptation efforts are taking place within the framework of the Quito Climate Strategy, which was first initiated by the Metropolitan Council in 2007 and formally approved as climate policy in October 2009.

City Square in Quito. Image: Isabelle Anguelovski
The climate strategy was developed with input from municipal departments, corporations, research centers, civil society organizations, and the public. The strategy places a priority on improving risk management in Quito, securing water availability for all residents, and strengthening the ability of indigenous communities to sustainability manage traditional crops and nearby ecosystems.

Tokyo, Japan
Tokyo is the capital of Japan, and one of the largest cities in the world.  With more than 13 million people living in the Metropolis, the city serves as the economic, political, and social center of Japan.  The Tokyo Metropolitan government administers 23 special wards and 39 municipalities.  Due to land reclamation and extraction of groundwater through extensive development, more than 1.5 million residents live below sea level.  As concentrated development in the urban center continues, Tokyo has been prone to heat island effect. The city also is experiencing increases in sudden and concentrated heavy rains.

Tradition in contemporary Tokyo. Image: Shoko Takemoto

After hosting a C40 Conference on climate change adaptation in 2008, Tokyo began conducting a detailed impact assessment based on original climate forecasting and impact models.  The Environmental Policy Department of the Bureau of Environment is working with various departments within the Tokyo Metropolitan Government as well as research institutions and the national government. The assessment will form the basis of Japan’s first climate change adaptation policy at the local level.

Walvis Bay, Namibia
Walvis Bay is Namibia’s second largest city and the largest port in Southwestern Africa. Perched on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean and surrounded by the dunes of the Namib Desert, the city’s natural deepwater harbor makes Walvis strategically important for the land-locked economies of Botswana, Zimbabwe and Zambia. Much of the city lies at or below sea level. Recent national sea-level rise assessments for the coast of Namibia have drawn attention to the city’s vulnerability to climate change. Walvis has been working in partnership with both UN Habitat and ICLEI Africa to identify key vulnerabilities the city faces from potential climate impacts.

Walvis Bay port. Image: Ian Gray

The Environmental Management section of the City’s Department of Water, Waste and Environmental Management is taking the lead in mapping out a preparedness plan that draws on these assessments and other participatory planning techniques that include inputs from a wide-range of local stakeholders.

Windhoek, Namibia
Windhoek is the capital and the largest city of Namibia. It plays an important role as the administrative, commercial and service industrial hub of the country. Lying in a semi-arid region, rainfall in Windhoek is highly variable and unreliable, putting great pressure on water supply. At the same time, the thin and rocky soil allows for little water infiltration, making the city prone to flooding. Windhoek has been active in discovering new sources of water supply in the past decades, and is a pioneer in water reclamation and conservation. Other municipal departments, such as Disaster Risk Management and Environmental Management, also have been proactive in their planning.

Katurua township, Windhoek. Image: Yuan Xiao

The Environmental Management Division of the Municipal Government initiated a city-level vulnerability assessment of climate change, the first of its kind in the country. It has been a learning process for various participating government divisions as well as the city’s council members. Windhoek’s climate adaptation strategy is being promulgated based on this assessment study.