Following an extensive report on the impacts of climate change last year, the second installment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the United Nation's body for assessing the science related to climate change, addresses the current and anticipated impacts of climate change on ecosystems, biodiversity, and human communities across the globe, along with action plans on how the natural world and human societies could adapt to these changes before reaching an "irreversible" state.
In August last year, the IPCC released the first part of the sixth assessment report (AR6) which explained the reasons behind climate change and urged immediate and large-scale actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to avoid surpassing the 1.5 degrees Celsius threshold. The report warned of detrimental consequences if global warming were to go beyond that rate, highlighting "irreversible risks" that will narrow down any opportunity to secure a sustainable future for living beings. This year's report, titled Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability, found that while adaptation efforts are being observed across all sectors, the progress being implemented so far is greatly uneven, as there are gaps between the actions taken and what is needed.
Along with an extensive evaluation of the conditions of the natural world, the report also addresses the built environment and the impact climate change has on it. Approximately 3.3 to 3.6 billion people “live in contexts that are highly vulnerable to climate change”. Cities and settlements built by the sea, which cover nearly 11% of the global population, are the most implicated by climate change as they face the highest climate-compounded risks. Since economic activities are often concentrated near the sea, around 896 million people are already living on low lying coasts which are heavily exposed to coastal hazards. It is expected that by 2050, many cities by the sea will face severe disruption to their coastal ecosystems a a result of heat waves, droughts, pluvial floods, tropical cyclones, marine and land heatwaves, and ocean acidification, all due to climate change.
To manage coastal risks and ensure resilience, the authors suggest a mix of infrastructural, nature-based, and socio-cultural interventions. These solutions include "disincentivizing developments in high-risk areas (vulnerability reducing measures and avoidance), building up and out to sea (hard- and soft-protection, accommodation), and landward movement of people and developments (retreat)". Other solutions include implementing multi-level coastal zone governance, planning, ensuring behavioral change, and alignment of financial resources.
In terms of cities and urban areas, the most rapid growth in urban vulnerability to climate change has been observed in cities where adaptive capacity is limited, such as in cities with informal settlements in low and middle income nations. Between 2015 and 2020, urban populations increased by more than 397 million people, with more than 90 percent living in less developed areas. These economically and socially marginalized nations are found to be the most affected, with issues like poor air quality from traffic fumes or wildfire, floods with contaminated water, and minimal infrastructure plans, to name a few.
Among the many ways to prevent drastic implications on an urban level is through city and local governments. These entities can invest and collaborate with communities, national, and private agencies to address climate risks and provide sustainable solutions. In addition, the way settlements and key infrastructure are planned, designed, and maintained defines the levels of risk exposure of these areas. "Integrated development planning" that combines innovation and investment in infrastructures can significantly increase the adaptive capacity of urban settlements and cities.