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Environment

Cities gird themselves for climate change

Experts are warning us that floods, droughts and heat waves will increase, while cities around the world attempt to prepare themselves for future climate catastrophes - and population explosions.

Eine Mitarbeiterin des Potsdamer Instituts für Klimaforschung (PIK) erläutert am Dienstag (25.01.2004) an einer Computersimulation das Szenario der globalen Erwärmung zwischen den Jahren 1900 und 3000. Im Bild zu sehen ist eine Simulation für das Jahr 2470 mit einem Temperaturrückgang über dem nördlichen Atlantik, bei der die Forscher annehmen, dass die Zirkulation des Golfstroms zusammenbricht. Im 1992 gegründeten PIK arbeiten Natur- und Sozialwissenschaftler zusammen, um den globalen Klimawandel und seine ökologischen, ökonomischen und sozialen Folgen zu untersuchen. Sie erforschen die Belastbarkeit des Erdsystems und entwerfen Strategien für eine zukunftsfähige Entwicklung von Mensch und Natur. Foto: Michael Hanschke/lbn +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++

Computersimulation Klimaforschung

It sounds like a movie scene: Wall Street evacuated because of a hurricane warning, 370,000 people forced to flee Manhattan. The New York Stock Exchange is forced to shut down, and the international world of finance is sucked, literally, into the eye of the storm.

It's a scenario that almost became reality in August 2011, when Hurricane Irene rolled across the Atlantic Ocean towards New York. The US metropolis had already made preparations to shut down the Subway system and turn off the power grid, while the inhabitants of Manhattan were to be evacuated. But luckily it didn't come to that, and at the last minute Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg was able to give the all-clear.

More extreme weather

Even if New York had a narrow escape that time, most cities will have to make serious preparations for disaster situations in the future. According to the results of the so-called SREX (Special Report on Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation), extreme weather phenomena like hurricanes, floods, and heat waves will become more and more common.

The SREX report was presented at the current "Resilient Cities" congress in Bonn, organized by the ICLEI - Local Governments for Sustainability association. How should cities prepare for the effects of climate change? What will a city of the future even look like? These are the central questions of the congress, where delegates are currently exchanging ideas and solutions.

Experts in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) believe that if governments don't start curbing the use of fossil fuels now, the world will be between four and six degrees Celsius hotter by the end of the century. This will not only cause more frequent and stronger hurricanes and typhoons, but will also see a rise in sea levels.

"The polar ice-caps will melt, as will the ice on Greenland," said ICLEI President David Cadman. Since two-thirds of the human race lives near water, rising sea-levels represent a direct threat to densely populated towns.

epa03018712 (FILE) A handout picture dated 23 August 2011 and provided by the Alfred Wegener Institute of Polar and Marine Research shows an aerial view of the research ship 'Polarstern' (North Star) sailing on the Arctic Ocean at the North Pole. The period between 2002 and 2011 was the hottest decade on record, the United Nations weather agency said 29 November 2011, on the second day of a global climate summit being held in South Africa. In 2011, Arctic sea ice shrunk to its second-lowest area on record, and its volume was the lowest, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said. The report was the third scientific report issued by a UN agency in recent weeks, all pointing to the growing impact of increasing carbon emissions on global warming and severe weather events. EPA/MARIO HOPPMANN - ALFRED WEGENER INSTITUTE HANDOUT HANDOUT EDITORIAL USE ONLY/NO SALES +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++

Global sea levels are set to rise by two meters when polar ice melts

The effects of rising sea levels

By how much the seas will rise remains in dispute, but it seems clear that it will be by more than previously assumed. "It is relatively certain that it won't be just one meter or so – more like two meters by the year 2100," says one of the IPCC's leading experts Joern Birkmann of the United Nations University in Bonn.

Birkmann believes that such a rise will affect enormous urban areas worldwide, raising the question: "Where will millions of people be evacuated to if the sea-levels rise? Because it won't go down a couple of days later!"

Birkmann is certain that cities need to start investing in disaster protection right now – and that includes building dykes and flood-walls. But they also need to be prepared for the opposite extremes: droughts and heat waves, which will also become more frequent. London, for instance, used to be concerned by climate change flooding, but he says new research shows that the British capital should be more worried by droughts.

Blick am Mittwoch (22.02.2012) auf die provisorische Wetterstation am Alexanderplatz in Berlin-Mitte. Bis Mitte März will der Deutsche Wetterdienst (DWD) auf einem Grundstück an der Karl-Liebknecht-Straße/Ecke Spandauer Straße zunächst eine mobile Station aufbauen. Voraussichtlich im Spätsommer könne dort dann die geplante feste Station errichtet werden. Foto: Sebastian Kahnert dpa/lbn (zu lbn 0014 vom 22.02.2012) +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++

Cities need to prepare for climate change now, say experts

No money

But disaster protection is expensive, and many cities already have heavy debt burdens. Even though more than half the world's population currently lives in cities, most major cities operate on limited incomes.

"The truth is that for each tax-dollar, cities earn barely eight cents," says Cadman, which is why he is calling for cities to get a larger share of regional and national tax incomes.

Bonn's Mayor Jürgen Nimptsch is also well aware of the financing problems faced by cities. The small town on the Rhine has received money from the state government to fund flood protection measures, but he believes there need to be long-term financing programs on an international level.

"We financed German reunification through the extra solidarity tax," says Nimptsch. "And we need a similar solution on an international level. But that time hasn't come yet."

International Conference on Climate change effects and Energy development of Bangladesh (ICCEB) will take place in Bonn from May 18 - May 19. Afroja Sultana interviewed the seceretry, IICEB, Dr.Mazharul M. Islam (Rana) about the conference. Afroja Sultana hat die angehängten Bilder am 11.05.12 aufgenommen und stellt sie der DW zur Verfügung.

An international conference on climate change is taking place in Bonn in May

Slow talks

As the members of the ICLEI swap ideas at the congress, delegations of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change are also meeting in parallel. It is their job to prepare for the next UN climate summit at the end of the year in Qatar. But as the Copenhagen summit of 2009 showed, major UN summits are not exactly slick and speedy at implementing their conclusions.

"If the nations can't reach the necessary agreements, then the cities have to see how they can make changes on the ground themselves," says Nimptsch.

Cadman also thinks that cities cannot afford to wait for the wheels of international politics to grind on. He believes that the first effects of climate change will be felt by 2020. "Then we won't be able to control events anymore – nature will," he says. "And nature will take its revenge."

Author: Helle Jeppesen / bk
Editor: Andreas Illmer

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