Cities are starting to build climate change “into the DNA of how they approach urban planning”.

2 June 2014 — More cities are including climate change considerations in urban planning, though few have begun to integrate responses to the challenge with economic development priorities, according to the latest Urban Climate Change Governance Survey.

Based on responses from 350 cities worldwide, including those in Australia, the survey shows that city leaders are recognising climate change as a major challenge, while still working out how responses can create jobs, growth and cost savings.

Alexander Aylett, a postdoctoral fellow at MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning, and lead author of the report, said climate change had large implications for many aspects of urban life, and cities were beginning to respond.

“What we are seeing is cities starting to build it into the DNA of how they approach urban planning,” Dr Aylett said.

According to the results, 75 per cent of cities worldwide were tackling climate change issues as a mainstream part of their planning process, and 73 per cent of cities were attempting both climate mitigation and climate adaptation (the figure was 91 per cent for Australian and New Zealand cities surveyed).

However, only 21 per cent of cities reported tangible connections between the response to climate change and achieving other local development goals.

Dr Aylett said it was a cliché that environmental and economic progress could not coexist, with cities such as Portland, Oregon in the US having developed incentives, training and regulations to help sustainable construction firms grow; and urban planners in Alberta studying the cost savings of limiting metropolitan sprawl and concluding that denser development could save $11 billion in capital costs over the next 60 years, and $130 million in annual maintenance.

Most cities, though, had not yet identified ways to link climate planning and economic development.

“It isn’t so much that it’s hard to reconcile economic and environmental priorities,” Dr Aylett said. “It’s that we’re not trying.”

For Australia and New Zealand, the top five enablers of climate mitigation strategies were:

  • funding from a higher level of government supporting local action on climate change
  • adequate funding for projects or programs
  • leadership from senior management
  • leadership from middle management
  • increase in the price of energy

All other regions of the globe cited leadership from mayors or senior elected officials as one of the most important factors in climate mitigation strategies.

The results also showed that local business was relatively disengaged with urban responses to climate change, with about 25 per cent of cities reporting that local businesses had been crucial to creating and implementing their climate mitigation plans. For Australia, that figure was lower than 20 per cent.

However, 48 per cent of cities reported that local civil-society groups, such as nonprofits or other organisations, had been involved in climate planning.

See the full report.