Shi says adapting to climate change in cities may require a major rethink
Photo: Adam Cohn / Flickr
Fellows in the News


Linda Shi

Around the world, urbanization and climate change are transforming societies and environments, and the stakes could not be higher for the poor and marginalized. The 2015 UN climate conference in Paris (COP-21) highlighted the need for coordinated action to address the profound injustice of the world’s most disadvantaged people bearing the greatest costs of climate impacts. Among those at the COP were mayors from around the world advocating for the important role of cities in these efforts.

In theory, local urban leadership on climate adaptation could significantly reduce the vulnerability of those who need the greatest protection. More people live in cities than ever, providing an opportunity to concentrate climate investments.

In reality, most adaptation proposals try to protect existing development in coastal and low-lying urban areas in ways that perpetuate continued growth in these exposed areas. It remains unclear how large proposed infrastructure projects such as the Great Garuda Seawall in Jakarta, Indonesia, or Eko Atlantis Island in Lagos, Nigeria, will affect vulnerable groups. The fact is, there are winners and losers in urban climate adaptation projects, and it is the poorest and most marginalized who (as always) tend to lose.


In response, in a paper published in Nature Climate Change, my 10 co-authors and I outline a roadmap of four areas of research to shed light on the equity impacts of urban adaptation efforts and uneven planning processes. Our research strategies were developed at the memorial symposium honoring the late JoAnn Carmin, associate professor of environmental policy and planning at MIT and renowned scholar of climate adaptation and environmental justice.

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