"Global risk and adaptation futures – What role is played by urbanisation?"
2018 Summer Academy report
24 to 28 September 2018, Rheinhotel Schulz, Unkel (Bonn)
Since 2009, there have been more people living in cities than in rural areas. This equals approximately 4.2 billion in 2018. The trend towards urbanisation is set to continue and harbours risks as well as bringing opportunities. On one hand, it creates risk hotspots, for example for natural hazards. On the other hand, thanks to redundant infrastructure such as multiple hospitals, cities enhance resilience to external shocks.
Climate and environmental changes could exert a huge influence on the interaction between opportunities and risks. What does the future hold? At the 2018 Summer Academy, 25 scientists, UN delegates, government advisors and NGO representatives explored this question. The components of risk are exposure, vulnerability and the degree of hazard. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the United Nations, and many political committees at local, regional and national level use a propeller diagram to represent this interplay (see Picture 1).
In his speech, Paul Desanker from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and responsible for the national adaptation programme, emphasised how important the three components are for good risk management. It is only possible to develop reliable future scenarios if there is adequate understanding of all three variables, and if they have been scientifically analysed. Such scenarios then form the basis for political planning, in particular adaptation planning for climate change at national level (NAPs – National Adaptation Plans).
But Professor Mark Pelling of King's College, London, one of the world's leading scientists for urban resilience research, stressed that having more data does not necessarily mean greater clarity. "One trend is not the same as another," he pointed out. Research findings show that important variables, for example on social vulnerability, are often missing in risk scenarios, or are not given sufficient consideration. These need to be incorporated into the models. But this also means that the models are becoming increasingly complex and open to criticism. In many cases, such new complexity can leave political decision-makers with more uncertainty than clarity.
This is why events like the Summer Academy are so important. They bring together social scientists, urban planners, trend researchers and strategists, allowing them to give better advice to political decision-makers and bodies at the United Nations. It is important to develop a common language. The findings are often complex and must be transferred into instructions that are understood by those who carry them out on the ground. If this succeeds, it will then be possible to realise key UN goals, such as the agreements on climate change, disaster strategies and sustainability goals (SDGs).
01 October 2018