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Climate change is currently having a major impact on Small Island Developing States (SIDS) in the Caribbean and Indian Ocean. Rising sea levels and increasingly frequent and intense hydro-meteorological disasters are putting communities, economic infrastructure and basic services at risk. There is an urgent need to redesign island cities and transform them into areas of climate resilience innovation. In the lead-up to the World Urban Forum in Katowice, Poland, below is a review of the methods deployed by the AdaptAction program.

While SIDS are responsible for less than 1% of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, their geographical characteristics make them particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Current and future climate risks are greater for coastal cities in these countries. Rising sea levels, more intense and frequent extreme weather events, and the socioeconomic fragility of rapidly-expanding island urban areas, heighten the risk of floods, landslides, droughts and other natural disasters.

For example, coastlines in the Caribbean are particularly prone to coastal flooding and erosion, yet they are home to the majority of infrastructure, economic activity and 70% of the population. According to the Stockholm Environment Institute, the annual cost of inaction in the Caribbean is predicted to rise to $22 billion per year by 2050 and $46 billion by 2100, or 10% and 22% of the region’s GDP respectively.

For more information: World Urban Forum in Katowice

Designing resilient, inclusive and pro-nature urban territories

As the IPCC has confirmed, poverty and inequality are key determinants of vulnerability to climate change, but ecosystems can offer solutions. Effective urban planning could result in a win-win situation for adaptation, society and nature. Obtaining these co-benefits requires the integrated development of territories, taking into account the different uses of space, their interactions and the associated risks. The first key step is modeling, mapping and detailed analysis of the specific climate risks encountered by each territory. Such assessments are even more essential for cities, as urban environments are characterized by their vulnerability to small-scale meteorological, hydrological and environmental processes. As climate projections are seldom transposed into impact models at the territorial level, they are underused by institutions and local stakeholders.

In Cuba, as part of the AdaptAction program led by Agence Française de Développement (AFD), the local authorities of the Cienfuegos province have been given precise data on the current and future risks of coastal flooding, river flooding and drought. As a result of this work, the three most at-risk neighborhoods have been identified, and nature-based adaptation initiatives have been prioritized. According to some of the more pessimistic projections, this figure will increase to six neighborhoods by 2100.

See also: Nature-Based Solutions: A Global Standard

In Mauritius, AdaptAction has supported the risk mapping of floods, coastal erosion and coastal flooding for six priority sites. The resilience strategies developed on this basis promote land management “from mountain to coral reef” to protect and highlight the services provided by various ecosystems.

Designing and building resilient cities: a participatory construction process

As this integrated form of urban planning requires a shared understanding of the risks, as well as the trade-offs and interactions between different land uses, the involvement of a diverse range of territorial stakeholders is essential (government, local authorities, private sector, communities, etc.).

In the Comoros, AdaptAction contributed to the drafting of a Territory Development Plan (SAT) for the island of Mohéli, which involved a wide-ranging participatory assessment and review of territorial land-use by the community, via a public survey conducted in town halls and through outreach activities. In particular, this exercise has raised stakeholders’ awareness of high-risk zones, and thus facilitated the acceptance of zones where construction is prohibited or areas reserved for nature-based adaptation solutions. The SAT also provides an essential framework to guide future investment.

Supporting stakeholders to adopt a new transformational form of urban planning

In view of the major consequences anticipated, the IPCC recommends profoundly transforming such territories via so-called “transformational” approaches, which go beyond the measures implemented up until now that aim to maintain the integrity of territories facing these risks. Transformational adaptation must therefore be based on innovative solutions, integrated planning and multi-functional responses. This can only be achieved by providing urban planners and professionals with training.

To help kick-start this transition, a bilingual French-English online course has been developed for students and urban planning professionals, with the support of AdaptAction and OECO. Following the study conducted by AdaptAction, the creation of a regional center of excellence for climate resilient cities is also recommended. This center of excellence would put the Caribbean at the international forefront of teaching on this critical issue. It would serve to support a decentralized education model, able to meet knowledge, skills and lifelong learning requirements on a regional scale, and attract investment for research and development.

To address the adaptation issues faced by island urban territories, AdaptAction has joined forces with stakeholders who build and have experience of cities to promote an integrated approach to urban resilience and establish an environment which encourages investment in adaptation.