Many of the world's fast-growing urban areas, especially in developing countries, will likely suffer disproportionately from the impacts of changing climate, a new study said.
Cities worldwide are failing to take necessary steps to protect residents from the likely impacts of climate change, even though billions of urban dwellers are vulnerable to heat waves, sea level rise and other changes associated with warming temperatures, the study by Patricia Romero Lankao at the National Center for Atmospheric Research showed.
Fast-growing urban areas are most likely to feel the heat, the study concludes. Most cities are failing to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that affect the atmosphere, the study reported.
Climate change is a deeply local issue and poses profound threats to the growing cities of the world, said Lankao. But too few cities are developing effective strategies to safeguard their residents.
Lankao, a sociologist specializing in climate change and urban development, 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.
She cites three reasons for the failure to prepare: fast-growing cities are overwhelmed with other needs, city leaders are often under pressure to downplay the need for health and safety standards in order to foster economic growth and climate projections are rarely fine-scale enough to predict impacts on individual cities.
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, the study found.
Cities are also failing in many cases to curb their own emissions of greenhouse gases, according to the study.
Instead of imposing construction standards that could reduce heating and air conditioning needs or guiding development to emphasize mass transit and reduce automobile use, many local governments are taking a hands-off approach.
Cities can have an enormous influence on emissions by focusing on mass transit systems and energy efficient structures, Lankao said. But local leaders face pressures to build more roads and relax regulations that could reduce energy use.