Durban classified as a city facing multiple environmental risks, according to a UK Report

Submitted by: Amanda Botes, Friday, December 7, 2012

<p>The city of Durban has been classified as a city that is facing multiple environmental risks according to a recent report on 129 cities in the developing world (Image source: Jonathan Ramayia).</p>

The city of Durban has been classified as a city that is facing multiple environmental risks according to a recent report on 129 cities in the developing world (Image source: Jonathan Ramayia).

Durban has been classified as a city facing ‘multiple environmental risks’. This is according to a report on environmental risks and opportunities facing cities in developing countries– Future Proofing Cities- Risks and opportunities for inclusive urban growth in developing countries.

The report, developed by UK consulting firm Atkins in partnership with The Department for International Development and University College London, classifies 129 cities in Asia and Africa into five different groups based on the most significant environmental risk that they face. The report claims that identifying a city’s urban type by environmental risk helps cities to identify appropriate responses and focus their efforts on the most pressing areas. The report not only groups cities by their environmental risk, but it also identifies a range of 100 policies that are suitable for each type of city identified. A framework is also provided to guide decision makers in identifying and prioritising policy options.

The report says that cities, especially in the developing world, are vulnerable to environmental risk and need to ‘future proof’ themselves.  Cities in developing countries are most at risk from future changes in climate as their populations are growing and development is happening at a fast pace placing strain on natural resources. Future proofing according to the report “is about cities looking in an integrated way at the risks they face and developing solutions which can catalyse inclusive urban development, maximise value for money, and provide a foundation for broader urban transformation.”

Five urban typologies

The report classifies 129 cities into five urban typologies based on the significant environmental risk that they face. The typologies identified in the report are:

Energy intensive cities with significant carbon footprints: These cities are sprawling and have high carbon footprints (Cape Town falls under this category). Cities in this category should focus on moving to a lower carbon and less energy intensive economy by focusing on policies in the transport, energy, and building sectors.

Cities with major climate hazards: These are cities that face major climate hazard risks, mostly from flooding. Cities in this category should focus on investing in infrastructure to manage risks but also look at managing these risks at a more strategic level. Possible strategies include: diversifying the economy away from climate sensitive sectors, managing land in climate vulnerable areas, and disaster management planning.

Cities with risks to regional support systems: Cities under this category face significant risks to their water security, food security or risks to biodiversity. There are a wide range of possible solutions for these cities, but attention must be made to managing environmental risk in the city’s catchment areas. 

Cities facing multiple risks: These cities are energy intensive, have high carbon footprints and are facing major climate hazards. Some of them also face significant risk to their food and water security (Durban falls under this category). These cities should focus on multiple sectors and aim to strike a balance between long term measures and focusing on disaster risk reduction.

Cities with a low current risk profile: Some of the cities in the study have low environmental risk, but this could increase due to increases in population and changes in climate. These cities have an opportunity to future proof their cities from potential environmental risk in the future.

A five stage future proofing approach

Although cities in the same urban typology may face the same environmental risk, they will have different vulnerabilities to that risk based on levels of poverty, basic services and quality of the urban form. Cities also have different capacities to be able to respond to environmental risk and should focus on the strategies that are most feasible. Cities therefore need to take into account their risk, vulnerability and capacity to respond to risk in order to prioritise policies to cope with environmental change.

The report outlines a five stage multi criteria approach to identifying and prioritising policies for future proofing cities. The approach takes into account risk, vulnerability and capacity. The report states that this approach will help cities to develop investment programmes that deliver environmental, social, and economic benefits. The five stages to develop a programme for future proofing are:

1.      Identify solutions relevant to the city type (based on environmental risk)

2.      Identify the city’s potential to address vulnerabilities and deliver wider economic development benefits.

3.      Identify the capacity required for implementation.

4.      Assess the impact and cost effectiveness of the solutions in delivering environmental, social, and economic benefits.

5.      Bring these elements together to assemble policy portfolios.

The report outlines a five stage multi criteria approach to identifying and prioritising policies for future proofing cities (Future Proofing Cities Report).

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Amanda Botes