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The missed opportunity in climate change adaption

Cities around the world are investing billions of dollars in climate change adaptation to combat the effects of sea-level rise, temperature extremes, increasingly intense storm events, flooding and water scarcity.

There are about 1.7 million adaptation actions underway in cities, with many harnessing ecosystem services both within city limits and in the surrounding landscape to buffer the impacts of climate change.

New York City alone spent $2.8 billion in 2014-15 on climate adaptation.

Nature-based methods, such as planting more urban greenery or designing and building natural watersheds, are a popular city improvement to increase climate resilience.

While increasing urban greenery plays a key part in most city adaptation plans (72%), along with other areas with enormous potential to promote biodiversity, only 18% of plans specifically addressed biodiversity.

This is a missed opportunity for human adaptation responses that could have biodiversity conservation outcomes in cities.

Fig 1: 80 cities with adaptation plans assessed (all circles). While there is some inevitable spatial bias (due to the selection criteria), all urbanised continents are represented in the analysis. Increasing depth of colour (pale yellow–dark orange) represents the increasing number of threatened species per city (from 1–5 to 36–40: see key). Grey circles indicate no threatened species data available.

As part of our study we found 151 cities across 51 countries and six continents with climate change adaptation plans. Of these, 80 were readily available online and primarily in English and were analysed in detail.

These plans included almost 13,000 square kilometres of proposed reforestation, that could help sequester carbon from the atmosphere, and 5,872 kilometres of waterway actions, that can help take rainfall from increased storm activity.

Applied to all urban areas across the world, that adds up to an area 50% larger than Yellowstone National Park: nearly half the total area of national parks in the world.

City action plans largely focus on increasing city resilience, often with the cost of decreasing biodiversity, such as with physical infrastructure actions like sea walls. However, the same city benefits can be achieved by designing natural infrastructure like watersheds, which also have added biodiversity benefits. This also promotes resilience to extreme events and increases connectivity and migration, just one example of how climate adaptation and biodiversity protection can align and complement each other.

Biodiversity is front and centre in Amsterdam's climate adaptation plans.

Climate change adaptation undertaken by cities represents a great opportunity for nature conservation if planners and city governments incorporate biodiversity into their plans- Amsterdam is one such example, with a climate change adaptation plan that puts biodiversity front and centre.

Lead author Dr Nathalie Butt - n.butt@uq.edu.au

Media: CEED Communicaitons, Casey Fung, c.fung@uq.edu.au.

Credits:

Created with images by Hon Kim - "untitled image" • Mohit Singh - "Concrete Jungle - NYC Central Park Sunset Views" • Steppinstars - "hayden valley yellowstone valley landscape green sky" • Hung Tran - "Bikepath Vondelpark Amsterdam"

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