Will our cities survive climate change?

London after a 7.2 metres  flood surge, enough to breach the Thames Barrier.  Credit: © Robert Graves and Didier Madoc-Jones.

London after a 7.2 metres flood surge, enough to breach the Thames Barrier. Credit: © Robert Graves and Didier Madoc-Jones.

The answer depends on how well we can prepare.

If the world’s greatest cities we’re a fair-ground ride, they would be the most stomach-churning of rollercoasters. Between times of peace they’ve been through catastrophic world wars, devastating earthquakes and fires, not to mention good doses of civil strife and social upheaval. And yet like the weary fairground-goer, they’ve all survived. They’ve recovered, rebuilt and thrived, becoming centres of global finance or culture or simply enviable places to live.

Enter climate change, and recovery no longer seems certain.

Where’s there’s no uncertainty is in the scientific community where there is now widespread agreement about what the current trend in fossil fuel consumption, on a seemingly unstoppable exponential curve, will lead to.

C02 emissions since 1850 (red); exponential growth (blue); cuts to hit climate target (dashed).

4°C is now accepted as the minimum average temperature rise we can expect by 2050 without large cuts to emissions. From the recent book The Burning Question: We can’t burn half the world’s oil, coal and gas, so how do we quit?,

“There is a widespread view that a 4°C future is incompatible with an organized global community, (and) is likely to be beyond adaptation.” Kevin Anderson (Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research)

The UK’s usually conservative MET office (which is still officially exploring natural causes of climate change) puts 4° into starker terms: It predicts the hottest summer days in European cities could be 8°C higher than currently experienced and in New York, 10-12°C. Temperatures such as those, while survivable, might also be a recipe for sheer calamity, dispersion of populations and urban abandonment.


The threat of multi-metre sea-level rises overtaking low-lying coastal cities, New York, Shanghai, London, Alexandria, Bombay and Bangkok among them, currently all unprepared for such an eventuality, bodes poorly as well.

The conclusion from top scientists is that cities will only survive if we drastically reduce carbon emissions, which means city leaders might have to take matters into their own hands. Restricting car use, mandating acceptable sources of energy and educating citizens on responsible food choices should all become part of our local government’s top concern. And as important as they are, bike paths and urban renewal schemes don’t float. Let’s make no mistake: getting emissions down means survival.


One comment on “Will our cities survive climate change?

  1. Pingback: Bike-sharing boom invades Greek cities | Urban Green

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This entry was posted on August 11, 2013 by in Ideas & Issues and tagged .

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