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Managing uncertainty in urban adaptation planning

This policy brief, published by the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), examines how city officials are managing the uncertainty of scientific evidence about climate change adaptation, and outlines steps to improve the effectiveness of response measures.

The growing urban population, expected to reach 5 billion over the next 20 years, is already exerting large pressure on infrastructures and services such as water and sanitation. Further disruption is expected as a result of climate change through rising temperatures, changing rainfall patterns, higher sea levels, as well as droughts and floods. Unplanned settlements are often at high risk from these impacts.

Adapting to the predicted changes requires local planning, and this should be based on scientific information.

But the details of how climate change will impact cities, or how officials can best respond, are still not fully understood. City planners will need to take this uncertainty into consideration when designing and implementing adaptation projects.

The brief draws on experiences from 14 cities that are leading the way in adaptation planning through the use of scientific information, and implementing innovative ways to deal with uncertainty.

Some cities, for example, have worked directly with local scientists to develop specific response plans. A similar strategy has also been used to manage uncertainty, by developing strong and positive relationships with academic researchers who can tailor their work to the requirements of adaptation planners.

Another way of dealing with uncertainty is to work closely with technical staff, such as engineers, who can build flexibility into management systems. And many adaptation officials are encouraging their associates to look at adaptation as a process that can offer opportunities for innovation.

The brief concludes by emphasising that planning for adaptation must involve partners from a range of sectors, and needs greater awareness of how existing evidence on climate change adaptation can be used effectively.

Link to full policy brief from IIED

This policy brief was written by David Dodman, leader of the Cities and Climate Change Team in IIED's Human Settlements Group, United Kingdom, and JoAnn Carmin, associate professor of Environmental Policy and Planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, United States.