Cities and Climate Change Governance

Cities are our cradle of civilization in the post agricultural economy information era that we live in.  NASA Climate scientist has called climate change a ‘moral issue on par with slavery’ [1].  The recent discourse on Climate Change has primarily focused on rural areas in the developing world. Climate Change as a phenomenon is systemic; its impacts are to be seen in all shades of colours and across different time scales. Climate Change in a very simple nuance concerns with extreme weather events. Sociological characteristics of society such as class, gender, cultural and economic capital are brought in the spotlight, in the canvas of Climate Change. Extreme weather events threaten normalcy, such as flooding, drought and earthquakes. The focus of this paper is to re-direct the climate change conversation to urban communities and especially the urban poor. According to a recent Mc Kinsey study, by the year 2030 majority of the world’s population will be based in urban centres. China’s population as per newspaper reports has tipped over to the urban part. Climate Change cannot be compartmentalised within intellectual silos. It has to be dealt with in an inter-disciplinary manner. When rural folk move to urban areas in search of livelihood leaving their lands behind as they are not lucrative enough as a career path, an additional ecological cum economic load is added upon the urban ecosystem. Urban planners design city infrastructure for a certain population and model population growth over a period of time. These assumptions are usually confined to reports as reality is often stranger than fiction.

The main stress on urban infrastructure is not land scarcity, but water. It is either too much or too little of it. Variations in precipitation are climate controlled events. The urban poor who live in shanty towns of Mumbai and Manila often share similar issues. The slum dweller in Dharavi, Mumbai is so vulnerable of a single heavy shower which can wipe out these efforts for life.  The recent Bangkok floods have shown the kind of disruption to the economy an extreme weather event can have.  City level governance is often weak and hence more vulnerable. Centralized governance mechanisms are fragile, as the capital cities are in land entities and the cities on the frontline of climate change are on the coasts. These cities are positioned on the global maritime highways of commerce and since old coastal cities are economic centres, drawing inland rural folk. Urban resilience is a function of additional capacity to withstand shock. Spatial planning of cities also add to the climate change divide between the have and have not’s. The affluent will always be positioned on higher ground than the poor folk, struggling for survival.  The case of Mumbai and Manila exemplifies climate change needs in the governance discourse.


[1] (information retrieved on 6/04/2012)

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