Nearly half of cities lack plans to address climate threats

Source: press release, 12 May 2021

illustration: CDP
illustration: CDP

New analysis of 812 global cities publishing environmental data has found that nearly half lack plans to keep their populations safe from climate threats.

Though nearly all (93%) of cities reported facing climate risks, 353 (43%) disclosed no adaptation plan. This means a population projected to reach 400 million over the next decade live in poorly prepared cities.

The report marks 10 years of cities reporting environmental data to CDP, the non-profit which runs the world’s environmental disclosure system. It reviews the progress being made to cut emissions in line with 1.5° C and protect populations from climate hazards.

An adaption plan is vital for a city to be able to tackle climate hazards now and in the future. Studies have shown that Europe already has the highest mortality rate from heatwaves, while EU data links one in eight deaths to pollution

The report highlights investment as a key barrier. Globally, 25% of cities responding to CDP – including Amsterdam, Heidelberg and Athens, cited budget as a main barrier to taking adaptation actions.

Among 157 disclosing cities in Europe, over €10 billion in capital was flagged as needed for specific planned climate-related projects. Other studies have estimated global sustainable infrastructure needs at nearly USD 100 trillion.

Globally, the most pressing projects requiring funding relate to transport (16% of projects), renewable energy, energy efficiency/retrofits and water management. Other key barriers to act on adaptation include housing issues and poverty challenges.

The report also finds that 41% of cities have yet to carry out a climate risk and vulnerability assessment – a key step in climate preparedness to identify the people, infrastructure, and resources at risk from the growing physical hazards of a changing climate. Research shows that cities with assessments report 2.7 times more actions than cities without.

However, the report does illustrate progress being made in cities tackling climate risks. In 2011, there were just 30 cities with adaption plans, compared to today where there are 459 to 120 of which are in Europe.

Further, 103 cities in Europe have emissions reduction targets. Crucially, 47 European cities have reported setting a 1.5°C aligned target.

To build resilience, cities are taking many actions ranging from tree planting and greening (20% of cities) to flood mapping (18%). In Berlin, for example, the 1000 Green Roofs programme was launched, Paris is creating ‘cool islands’ to manage the impact of increased heatwaves, and Malmö is managing flood risks by ensuring all new buildings must be 3 metres above sea level.

As well as adaptation, cities are also taking action to reduce their own emissions. Cities disclosing through CDP are outperforming on decarbonisation compared to the global average: 42% of their energy mix comes from renewable sources compared to 26% across all global cities.

Mirjam Wolfrum, Director Policy Engagement at CDP Europe commented:

“European cities must be a driving force for delivering a climate neutral EU by 2050 and achieving the newly-ambitious 2030 emissions reduction target. Since March 2020, we have seen the huge and disruptive impact COVID-19 has had on lives and livelihoods across the globe, with cities needing to divert resources to saving lives, bolstering economies and protecting vital health services.

But environmental action cannot slow down. With COVID-19 stimulus packages totalling USD 12 trillion globally, national governments have an opportunity to implement a green recovery in cities. As a first step to managing climate threats, every city must carry out a climate risk and vulnerability assessment to identify the crucial actions they must take. We also encourage cities to set science-based targets to support them on their journey.”

In the past 10 years, CDP has seen a 17-fold increase in the number of cities disclosing through the CDP-ICLEI Unified Reporting System, from 48 in 2011 to 812 in 2020. Globally, cities produce 70% of emissions and in Europe cities house three quarters of the population. Cities are critical partners in tackling climate change, cutting emissions and building a resilient future for all.