Vast Gap Seen in Climate Adaption Spending Across 10 of the World's Biggest Cities
The amount of money going towards adapting to climate change in 10 of the world’s biggest cities has increased by a quarter in recent years, according to new research.
Against a backdrop of a global recession, this might seem like good news. But representing at most 0.33 percent of a city’s wealth, resilience-building is still a small fraction of total spending.
The new study, published Monday in Nature Climate Change, also highlights the “staggering” difference between adaptation spending in developed and developing countries, with the city of New York spending 35 times more per person to protect its residents than Lagos.
The disparity is “proof of concept” that money is being spent preferentially to protect physical capital over people, say the authors.
More than half of the world’s population are classified as living in cities. That figure is projected to rise to 66 percent by 2050. Cities face a wide range of climate change risks, from heat waves and flooding in densely packed cities to sea level rise in coastal cities.
Exactly how much cities around the world are doing to make themselves more resilient is hard to establish. Even more difficult to pinpoint is how those efforts are changing over time.
The authors of today’s study built a database from more than 1,000 sources of information about how much money is being spent on activities related to climate change adaptation. This covers everything from building coastal defenses to urban drainage to planting trees.
Lead author on the study, Dr. Lucien Georgeson from University College London, explained to Carbon Brief:
“We started with an overall definition including all economic activities related to adaptation across the ten economic sectors in the study. From there, we isolated the activities that could be directly related to climate change.”
Take the example of the Thames Barrier, says Prof. Mark Maslin, professor of climatology at University College London and co-author on the new study. He tells Carbon Brief:
“Building the Thames Barrier was to protect against weather events, particularly storm surges … That cost would not be counted as an adaptation to climate change. However, the Environment Agency has planned to retrofit it to increase the actual gate height by an extra meter. This is a clear adaptation to increased sea level rise in the future.”
Importantly, the researchers looked at spending in both the public and private sectors in order to build up a complete picture from the bottom up. As Georgeson tells Carbon Brief:
“The underlying thing that we wanted to achieve was to create a baseline for measuring whether action to adapt to climate change in different cities around the world is improving or not and whether there are any disparities between cities.”
First, the study takes a global view, estimating that a total of £223bn is being spent on climate change adaptation around the world. This is equivalent to 0.38 percent of global gross domestic product (GDP).
To see how adaptation spending varies in different regions, the authors focused on 10 “megacities,” defined here as cities with populations of more than three million or a GDP within the top 25 of cities or both.
The authors selected New York, London, Paris, Beijing, Mexico City, São Paulo, Mumbai, Jakarta, Lagos and Addis Ababa to represent a range of regions, socioeconomic states and climates.
On first glance, the picture appears encouraging. Total adaptation spending across the 10 cities has risen by around 27 percent in the last seven years, from £4.86bn in 2008/9 to £6.15bn in 2014/15. Almost all cities show growth despite the economic recession, Georgeson tells Carbon Brief:
“In a nutshell, there has been a broadly positive trend in adaptation to climate change … Most cities have fairly stable growth, so that’s a positive sign.”
But within lies a much more complex picture. Adaptation spending varied enormously across the cities, the paper explains. In 2014/15, total spend ranged from £15m in Addis Ababa to £1.6bn in New York, as the chart below on the left shows.
Expressed as a proportion of wealth, a huge disparity exists between cities at different stages of economic development. Megacities in developed countries spend around 0.22 percent of their GDP on building resilience to climate change, compared to 0.15 percent for cities in developing countries.
The one stark outlier to this pattern is Beijing, the paper notes.
Spending 0.33 percent of its GDP on climate change adaptation and resilience, this is far more than any other developing or developed city. The authors attribute this to strong centralized policy frameworks in China, with a national plan in place since 2007 covering adaptation in both urban and rural areas.
The authors break down the total figures further to take into account the relative sizes of each megacity’s population. Again, the differences in adaptation spending across the cities are stark.
In 2014/15, New York spent the equivalent of £193.38 protecting each of its residents, compared to £4.71 in Addis Ababa. Maslin tells Carbon Brief:
“We were expecting there to be disparity between developing, emerging and developed countries. However, what we weren’t expecting was for the difference between, say, Lagos and New York to be a 35-times increase in spend to protect the population against climate change.”
The disparity is particularly concerning given that the the majority of population growth out to 2050 is likely to occur in China, India, Nigeria and Indonesia, say the authors.
While developing cities have greater competition for their expenditure, the huge scale of the disparity suggests protecting infrastructure not vulnerable populations is the biggest priority for adaptation spending, Georgeson tells Carbon Brief:
“You might expect that cities like New York are spending a lot more on climate change adaptation. But the fact that they’re spending more as a percentage of their GDP and much more per capita shows you that adaptation spend now is not necessarily always to protect people that are at risk. It might be to protect the infrastructure and the insurance risks.”
While adaptation spending may be on the rise globally, this should serve as an early warning sign that some countries are getting left behind, explains Georgeson in the video below.
As well as how much each of the 10 megacities spends on adaptation activities, the new study looks at what exactly the money is being spent on. Again, strong differences emerge.
Developed countries spend proportionately more than developing countries on water infrastructure (~16 percent compared to ~13 percent), energy infrastructure (~9 percent compared to ~6 percent) and professional services, such as banking and insurance (~15 percent compared to ~12 percent).
On the other hand, the priority in megacities in developing and emerging countries is building resilience in the agriculture and forestry sectors (~4 percent compared to ~1 percent).
All cities allocate a similar proportion of resources to the built environment (~32 percent). This includes construction and retrofitting as well as energy efficiency, water supply and water use in buildings. The exception is Beijing, where the built environment accounts for nearly 50 percent of the total adaptation spend. The paper explains:
“The greater spend on agriculture and forestry, the natural environment and in some cases health demonstrates the very different profile of needs in developing country cities compared with established global financial centers, where professional services, built environment, energy and water dominate.”
While each city spends a similar proportion of its adaptation resources on “disaster preparedness,” the difference in absolute terms is “staggering,” say the authors in the paper.
In 2014/5, Addis Ababa spent £0.2m on disaster preparedness compared to £21.36m in New York. This includes activities such as building coastal defenses, developing early warning systems, relocating vulnerable residents and advanced risk modeling.
The finding that adaptation spending reflects capital interests rather than human lives is perhaps not unsurprising, says Maslin. But the scale of the difference probably is, he says:
“I think that policymakers are going to be quite surprised by the disparity in the spend between cities … This will help them adapt their policies to enhance that spend and leverage greater spend from the private sector.”
A major strength of the study is the sheer wealth of data and level of scrutiny in the method, say the authors. They confirmed each adaptation activity in at least seven different sources before being counted in a city’s total spend.
This means you get a feel for what is really happening in each city as opposed to what people want you to think is happening, says Maslin. He is optimistic that having this level of data available to city mayors and decision makers will spur change, adding:
“One of the lessons that we learned from the Millennium Development Goals is if you start measuring things and you give policymakers the data, things do improve.”
While it may be a small part of the global economy now, we should expect the level of commitment to climate change adaptation visible within the public and private sector in the world’s most heavily populated regions to rise in line with the risks, say the authors.
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By Heather Houser
Compost. Fly less. Reduce your meat consumption. Say no to plastic. These imperatives are familiar ones in the repertoire of individual actions to reduce a person's environmental impact. Don't have kids, or maybe just one. This climate action appears less frequently in that repertoire, but it's gaining currency as climate catastrophes mount. One study has shown that the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from having one fewer child in the United States is 20 times higher—yes 2000% greater—than the impact of lifestyle changes like those listed above.
The Stickiness of Population<p>Only five years ago, there was minimal coverage of the child-free for climate movement. AOC is just one of many reasons it's lighting up now. New scientific analyses, scholarly debates, and social media conversations have shined a light on reproduction and climate. The influential <a href="https://www.drawdown.org/" target="_blank">Project Drawdown</a> framework for climate mitigation includes a list of solutions ranked by their potential impact, two of which—educating girls and providing access to family planning—they project will have <a href="https://www.drawdown.org/solutions/table-of-solutions" target="_blank">a greater combined impact</a> on reducing greenhouse gas emissions than almost all other climate solutions because of their effect on fertility rates.</p><p>In January 2020, <a href="https://academic.oup.com/bioscience/article/70/1/8/5610806" target="_blank">11,000 scientists signed onto a study that warned</a> about the unfolding climate emergency. The authors prescribe steps in six sectors that can prevent irreversible planetary collapse, including that "the world population must be stabilized—and, ideally, gradually reduced—within a framework that ensures social integrity." The framework they propose includes universal access to family planning as well as education and equity for young women. (Other <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1410465111" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">scientific takes</a> on population-based climate actions are more skeptical about their immediate impact given the scale of fertility reductions needed to balance out longer lifespans.)</p><p>Even before 2020, a new movement was afoot to address climate by forgoing reproduction. Blythe Pepino, a British musician in her 30s, formed BirthStrike in 2018 to build a community of people—typically women-identified—who have opted not to reproduce in response to the ecological and social crises that climate change is creating. In the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests this summer, the group recognized the need to acknowledge the oppression that colors conversations about reproduction as it relates to climate and so reformed itself into a support group for those grieving parenthood. Their new stated goal is to channel that loss into action on climate justice.</p><p>Organizations such as <a href="https://conceivablefuture.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Conceivable Future</a>, however, continue to keep reproduction at the fore. Led by climate activists Meghan Kallman and Josephine Ferorelli, Conceivable Future is raising awareness about how the climate crisis affects "<a href="https://conceivablefuture.org/about" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">intimate choices</a>" like reproduction. The Conceivable Future and now-defunct BirthStrike campaigns share ideological terrain with "<a href="https://www.npr.org/2016/08/18/479349760/should-we-be-having-kids-in-the-age-of-climate-change" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">population engineers</a>," a group of bioethicists who <a href="https://doi.org/10.5840/soctheorpract201642430" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">forward policies for</a> limiting the size of the global population through positive incentives like family planning classes and negative ones such as taxes on wealthy procreators. </p><p>In proposing specific policies rather than individual action, population engineers acknowledge the structures within which reproductive choices occur, everything from media influence to the tax code. Even with this shift to the structural, however, the racist, sexist, colonialist, and nativist legacies of the population question within environmentalism still plague child-free for climate. As do the historical and social injustices that constrain so-called choices.</p>
Racism and Xenophobia in Environmentalism<p>This summer and fall, the climate crisis and its correlated catastrophes—<a href="https://www.cbsnews.com/news/heat-wave-western-united-states/" target="_blank">extreme heat</a>, <a href="https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/07/14/a-third-of-bangladesh-underwater-after-heavy-rains-floods/" target="_blank">flooding</a>, <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/wildfires" target="_blank">wildfires</a>—are intensifying alongside Black Lives Matter uprisings and the <a href="http://www.yesmagazine.org/health-happiness/2020/06/09/coronavirus-public-health-social-justice/" target="_blank">coronavirus health disparities</a> among Black, Indigenous, and Latinx populations. This confluence has brought overdue attention to racism in environmentalism, as evidenced by the Audubon Society's recent <a href="http://audubon.org/magazine/fall-2020/revealing-past-create-future" target="_blank">reckoning</a> with racial injustices in its past and present, including <a href="https://www.audubon.org/news/the-myth-john-james-audubon" target="_blank">publicizing</a> that its famed founder was a White supremacist and a slaveholder. The intersections of <a href="https://www.yesmagazine.org/opinion/2020/09/23/election-black-voters-climate/" target="_blank">climate justice and racial justice</a> have also come to the fore through <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/05/climate/heat-minority-school-performance.html" target="_blank">studies of how Black communities are greatly harmed by hotter temperatures</a> and through the popular <a href="https://www.intersectionalenvironmentalist.com/" target="_blank">intersectional environmentalist</a> platform created by Leah Thomas, a young Black activist and "<a href="https://www.greengirlleah.com/about-1" target="_blank">eco-communicator</a>." To these reckonings we need to add the racism and xenophobia that have long characterized environmentally motivated population controls.</p><p>The New York Times recently exposed these sins in <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/14/us/anti-immigration-cordelia-scaife-may.html/" target="_blank">a profile of Cordelia Scaife May</a>, showing how this heir to the Mellon fortune converted a love of birding into a network of anti-immigration, pro-population-control organizations that still influence politics today. In the 1960s May linked threatened birdlife to the rapidly expanding human population. May wasn't wrong to see and worry over this link: A host of human activities—from <a href="https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/popular-pesticides-linked-drops-bird-population-180951971/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">toxic agriculture and industry</a> to <a href="https://journals.plos.org/plosbiology/article?id=10.1371/journal.pbio.0050157" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">sprawling settlements</a> and <a href="https://www.npr.org/2017/10/05/555949789/light-pollution-can-impact-noctural-bird-migration" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">light</a> and <a href="https://www.mnn.com/earth-matters/animals/blogs/birds-live-near-human-noise-sing-louder-shorter-songs" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">noise pollution</a>—decimate avian habitats and habits. May's anti-immigration approach, however, indicates how readily environmentalism can mutate into racist and xenophobic actions.</p><p>The Times investigators show that "protecting natural habitats and helping women prevent unplanned pregnancies merged over time into a single goal of preserving the environment by discouraging offspring altogether." Taken on its own, this goal resonates with Conceivable Future's and population engineers' aims. To be clear, this does not mean that today's child-free climate advocates are racist nativists. However, it does indicate how readily the affiliation arises because of the ugly history of forced population control.</p>
Contemporary Examples<p>And this history is hardly past. For example, race and class conflicts erupted around a population platform within the Sierra Club only 15 years ago. In 2004, a faction of club members took a page from May and argued that more people living in the U.S. meant more encroachment on less developed land and water. As with May's effort, this anti-immigration push amounted to "the greening of hate," according to the Southern Poverty Law Center and Anti-Defamation League, who entered the dispute when they found White supremacists lobbying for anti-immigration Sierra Club board candidates. A 2010 <a href="https://www.splcenter.org/20100630/greenwash-nativists-environmentalism-and-hypocrisy-hate" target="_blank">SPLC report</a> firms up the connection between environmentalist intentions and racist agendas by explaining why White nationalist John Tanton infiltrated the club: "Using an organization perceived by the public as part of the liberal left would insulate nativists from charges of racism—charges that … would likely otherwise stick."</p><p>Charges of racism ultimately did stick to Tanton and his anti-immigration, pro-population-control allies. And they continue to stick in analyses of the child-free for climate movement today. Earlier this year, climate journalist Meehan Crist <a href="https://www.lrb.co.uk/the-paper/v42/n05/meehan-crist/is-it-ok-to-have-a-child" target="_blank">took up</a> AOC's question of whether it's OK to have a child. In arriving at an answer (for her, yes), she affiliates child-free positions with "anti-feminist, racist and anti-human" values and with bad science. "Darker visions" proceed from this analysis, she writes, visions of those who believe "racial purity will save the planet. Closed borders. . . . Ecofascist death squads." The dark visions Crist spins from the child-free for climate question underscore how readily calls for reproductive limits touch the third rails of modern environmentalism: racism, eugenics, xenophobia, even death-dealing.</p><p>We get even closer to these third rails when we consider that the question of whether to reproduce is, for some people, no choice at all. Modern efforts to limit fertility, which ramped up after World War II, have targeted poor women in the Global South, and Black, Indigenous, and people of color in the U.S. using coercion and force. BIPOC reproductive justice advocates such as Loretta Ross have condemned dichotomous pro-abortion-rights versus anti-abortion politics for producing "<a href="https://www.google.com/books/edition/Radical_Reproductive_Justice/hN-4DgAAQBAJ?hl=en&gbpv=1&dq=loretta%20ross%20radical%20reproductive&pg=PT8&printsec=frontcover&bsq=anemic" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">anemic political analyses</a>" that ignore the reality of forced sterilizations in prisons and the appallingly high maternal mortality rate for Black women in the U.S. These are all forms of what medical historian and ethicist Harriet Washington calls "<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J8WCS1Rs8K8" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">medical apartheid</a>."</p>
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By Sharon Guynup
At this time of year, in Russia's far north Laptev Sea, the sun hovers near the horizon during the day, generating little warmth, as the region heads towards months of polar night. By late September or early October, the sea's shallow waters should be a vast, frozen expanse.
Comparison of autumn sea ice formation for the first half of October 2012 (the record year for Arctic sea ice extent loss) and in 2020 (second place for sea ice extent loss). The satellite record goes back to 1979. @Icy_Samuel, data provided by NSIDC
Arctic sea ice extent on Oct. 25, 2020 was at a record low 5.613 million square kilometers for this date, surpassing the record set in 2019 of 6.174 million square kilometers. ChArctic NSIDC
The Arctic appears to be changing into an entirely new climate state due to rapid warming. The extent of sea ice in the late summer, when it reaches its minimum each year, has already entered a statistically different climate, with surface air temperatures and the number of days with rain instead of snow also beginning to transition. Simmi Sinha, ©UCAR
A polar bear prowls the Arctic shoreline. VisualHunt.com
A fire burning through northern forest in Krasnoyarsk, Siberia, in July 2020. Greenpeace International
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By Peter A. Kloess
Picture Antarctica today and what comes to mind? Large ice floes bobbing in the Southern Ocean? Maybe a remote outpost populated with scientists from around the world? Or perhaps colonies of penguins puttering amid vast open tracts of snow?
Giants of the Sky<p>As their name suggests, these ancient birds had sharp, bony spikes protruding from sawlike jaws. Resembling teeth, these spikes would have helped them catch squid or fish. We also studied another remarkable feature of the pelagornithids – their imposing size.</p><p>The largest flying bird alive today is the <a href="https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/birds/group/albatrosses/" target="_blank">wandering albatross</a>, which has a wingspan that reaches 11 ½ feet. The Antarctic pelagornithids fossils we studied have a wingspan nearly double that – about 21 feet across. If you tipped a two-story building on its side, that's about 20 feet.</p><p>Across Earth's history, very few groups of vertebrates have achieved powered flight – and only two reached truly giant sizes: birds and a group of <a href="https://www.amnh.org/exhibitions/pterosaurs-flight-in-the-age-of-dinosaurs/what-is-a-pterosaur" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reptiles called pterosaurs</a>.</p>
Full-size model of a Quetzalcoatlus on display at JuraPark in Baltow, Poland. Aneta Leszkiewicz / Wikimedia<p>Pterosaurs ruled the skies during the Mesozoic Era (252 million to 66 million years ago), the same period that dinosaurs roamed the planet, and they reached hard-to-believe dimensions. <a href="https://www.wired.com/2013/11/absurd-creature-of-the-week-quetz/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Quetzalcoatlus</a> stood 16 feet tall and had a colossal 33-foot wingspan.</p>
Birds Get Their Opportunity<p>Birds originated while dinosaurs and pterosaurs were still roaming the planet. But when an <a href="https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/dinosaur-killing-asteroid-impact-chicxulub-crater-timeline-destruction-180973075/" target="_blank">asteroid struck the Yucatan Peninsula 66 million years ago</a>, dinosaurs and pterosaurs both perished. Some <a href="https://www.audubon.org/news/how-birds-survived-asteroid-impact-wiped-out-dinosaurs" target="_blank">select birds survived</a>, though. These survivors diversified into the thousands of bird species alive today. Pelagornithids evolved in the period right after dinosaur and pterosaur extinction, when competition for food was lessened.</p><p><a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/spp2.1284" target="_blank">The earliest pelagornithid remains</a>, recovered from 62-million-year-old sediments in New Zealand, were about the size of modern gulls. The first giant pelagornithids, the ones in our study, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-75248-6" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">took flight over Antarctica about 10 million years later</a>, in a period called the Eocene Epoch (56 million to 33.9 million years ago). In addition to these specimens, fossilized remains from other pelagornithids have been found on every continent.</p><p>Pelagornithids lasted for about 60 million years before going extinct just before the Pleistocene Epoch (2.5 million to 11,700 years ago). No one knows exactly why, though, because few fossil records have been recovered from the period at the end of their reign. Some paleontologists cite <a href="https://doi.org/10.1080/02724634.2011.562268" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">climate change as a possible factor</a>.</p>
Piecing it Together<p>The fossils we studied are fragments of whole bones collected by paleontologists from the University of California at Riverside in the 1980s. In 2003, the specimens were transferred to Berkeley, where they now reside in the <a href="https://ucmp.berkeley.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">University of California Museum of Paleontology</a>.</p><p>There isn't enough material from Antarctica to rebuild an entire skeleton, but by comparing the fossil fragments with similar elements from more complete individuals, we were able to assess their size.</p>
In life, the pelagornithid would have had numerous 'teeth,' making it a formidable predator. Peter Kloess, CC BY-NC-SA
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