Fast-growing urban areas worldwide, especially in developing countries, will suffer disproportionately from the impacts of changing climate, a new study has warned.
An examination of urban policies by Patricia Romero Lankao at the National Center for Atmospheric Research said cities worldwide are failing to take necessary steps to protect residents even though billions of urban dwellers are vulnerable to heat waves, sea level rise and other changes associated with warming temperatures.
Her work also concluded 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. But too few cities are developing effective strategies to safeguard their residents," said Lankao, a sociologist specializing in climate change and urban development.
She surveyed policies in cities worldwide while drawing on a number of recent studies of climate change and cities.
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.
The locations and dense construction patterns of cities often place their populations at greater risk for natural disasters, including those expected to worsen with climate change.
Potential threats associated with climate include storm surges that can inundate coastal areas and prolonged hot weather that can heat heavily paved cities more than surrounding areas.
The impacts of such natural events can be magnified in an urban environment. For example, a prolonged heat wave can exacerbate existing levels of air pollution, causing widespread health problems.
Poorer neighborhoods that may lack basic facilities such as reliable sanitation, drinking water, or a dependable network of roads, are especially vulnerable to natural disasters.
Moreover, populations are increasing most quickly in small- and medium-sized urban areas, which often lack the services and infrastructure to manage the rapid influx, according to Lankao.
The study appeared in a special issue of Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability.