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Climate Change, City Sustainability and Resilience

Updated August 9, 2022

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Climate Change, City Sustainability and Resilience essay

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No human activity can be performed outside the environment. The environment is seen to go beyond just the physical soil surrounding man but also includes water, air, land, plants, animals, and human beings living therein, and the inter-relationships that exist among them (Federal Environmental Protection Agency Act, 1992). Organisms and their environment constantly interact, and both are changed by this interaction, like all other living creatures, humans have clearly changed their environment, but they have done so generally on a grander scale than have all other species (Zimmerman, 2008), which became more pronounced at the dawn of the industrial revolution age.

This period heralded the unparalleled use of environmental resources, it is characterized by the discovery and increasing utilization of different components of  the environment by man, transformation from agrarian society to industrialized one, neglect of crude implement for use of machineries to perform tasks and since then man has not looked back. These led to distortion in the balance of nature hence a debilitating backwash effect on the environment and on man. This distortion has had a substantial impact on earth’s climate. It is worthy to note that before human induced climate change, changes in climate resulted entirely from natural causes such as changes in Earth’s position in its orbit leading to alteration of energy exchange between the sun and the earth, volcanic eruptions and natural changes in the concentration of greenhouse gases (GHG’s) among others (Micheal & Stephen, 2009).

However, man is often fingered as the driving force for recent changes in climate hence the term anthropogenic global warming (IPCC, 2001), although the effects of natural climate change are devastating yet, the earth was able to recuperate and counterbalance the consequences until lately earth’s ability to recover from such shocks became slowed down, with some of these changes becoming irreversible (Whitmarsh, 2005). It is projected that in few decades, if man doesn’t control these activities, the workings of the natural environment would reach an inflection point, where it may no longer be able to support man (World Bank, 2012).

This has made Climate change a front burner environmental issues requiring urgent action, the complexity of this problems poses both challenges and opportunity for Urban Planners, this is because these impacts, could be addressed and reversed if the activities that engendered them are re-visited and/or re-engineered (Adeboyejo et-al, 2011). Despite the plethora of research and evidence of climate change it seems planners are not giving adequate credence to this issue, no planning theory has evolved on how to adequately tackle this climate change. Urban planner need to take an urgent and proactive role in ameliorating climate change impacts, this becomes more important as the impacts of climate change is felt by people in most part of the world and Africa, knowledge of its workings is somewhat esoteric everywhere, thus poor response pattern which in turn exacerbates the already worsened situation.

Understanding Climate Change

Climate is the atmospheric conditions of a particular location over a long period of time; it is the long-term summation of atmospheric elements (and their variations) which, over short time periods, constitute weather. These elements are solar radiation, temperature, humidity, precipitation (type, frequency, and amount), atmospheric pressure, and wind (speed and direction) (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2018). Climatic conditions for different parts of the earth varies, some parts of the world may have warm, wet winters and dry summers, while some may have milder conditions. Tropical countries usually have longer, hotter dry seasons and short wet seasons, it is generally expected that a uniform pattern of climate is experienced within the same geographic region.

The IPCC Fourth Assessment Report (IPCC, 2007) defines climate change is a change in the state of the climate that can be identified (e.g. by using statistical tests) by changes in the mean and/or the variability of its properties, and that persists for an extended period typically decades or longer”. Human activities like burning of fossil fuel, land use change, urbanization, over population, domestic and industrial effluents are often fingered for causing substantial changes in climate (IPCC, 2007). These has contributed to spontaneous increase in aggregate concentration of atmospheric greenhouse gasses, increase in global temperature, changing precipitation patterns, oceans acidifying and warming, flooding, extinction of some plants and animal, landslides, extreme weather events, drought and famine.

The changes associated with climate change will affect virtually all facets of human community, it will have profound effects on water supply, physical infrastructure, transport, ecosystem goods and services, energy provision and industrial production, local economies will be disrupted and populations will be stripped of their assets and livelihoods, the earth will face difficulties in providing basic services to man (UN-Habitat, 2011). It will redefine all aspects of human life (World Bank, 2012), consequently the need for a proactive methods of planning as extant planning regulations may become obsolete with the effusion of time. On another hand urban planning is fast losing on its ethos of protecting the environment; this includes the inability of urban planning to provide and control facilities such as preservation and creation of neighborhood parks and gardens, preservation of open spaces, land use zoning among others, which are vital to enhancing adaptive capacities of cities to climate change (UNEP, 1991).

Scientific evidence for climate Change

Although scientists have been studying the effects of ‘greenhouse’ gases in the atmosphere since the 19th Century, it was not until 1957 that scientists at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography in California suggested that carbon emissions from human activities might be dangerously changing the climate. ‘Greenhouse’ gases are those which absorb thermal radiation emitted from the Earth’s surface, thereby acting as a ‘blanket’ to keep the planet warm (Houghton, 2004). The main ‘greenhouse’ gases are water vapour and carbon dioxide, which exist naturally in the atmosphere. However, while the ‘natural greenhouse effect’ is necessary for supporting life on Earth, the ‘enhanced greenhouse effect’ (also referred to as ‘human-induced climate change’ or ‘global warming’ has been identified as a potentially damaging outcome of the increased amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution. Since 1959, regular measurements of carbon dioxide have been made from an observatory at Mauna Loa in Hawaii.

These show an average increase of about 1.5 ppm (parts per million) carbon dioxide concentration (0.4%) in the atmosphere each year (Houghton, 2004). Other direct and indirect measurements have been used to track changes in global temperatures, climate, and atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases for around the past million years. These data sources are diverse, ranging from direct thermometer, weather and tidal records since the 1800s; to proxy sources such as ice cores from Greenland and Antarctica for the past 400,000 years, and ocean sediments for the past million years. In addition, highly complex computer modelling has been used to validate observations and predict changes in climate systems (Houghton, 2004). In 1988, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was established by the World Meteorological Organisation and the United Nations Environmental Programme to assess and clearly present current scientific knowledge about climate change, its predicted impacts, and policy responses.

The IPCC’s main reports, published in 1990, 1995, 2001 and 2007, represent the views of the majority of the world’s climate scientists and have also involved governmental representatives in ensuring the scientific information is presented clearly for policy-makers. The IPCC reports conclude, with near certainty, that there is a “discernible human influence on global climate” (IPCCa, 2001), while uncertainty remains in the magnitude of climatic change and its specific regional distribution. The report argues that humans are affecting climate principally through burning fossil fuels (coal, oil, gas), which release carbon dioxide, coupled with deforestation and other land use changes. Data from the sources described above show that present levels of carbon dioxide have not been exceeded for at least the past 420,000 years, and that the rate of temperature increase over the past century is unprecedented. Furthermore, during the 20th Century sea levels have risen globally between 0.1m and 0.2m; ice and snow cover have decreased; and patterns of precipitation have changed (IPCC, 2001a). Crucially, most scientists argue that these changes cannot be explained by natural climatic processes alone.

Evidence of Climate change among local people in Nigeria

In the face of the increasing impacts of climate change on citizens, response patterns have differed which is largely not environment friendly. For instance, in response to scorching heat from the sun which hovers around 35oC and 40oC during the day, which is also felt at night, robbing many people of their physiological comfort during the day and their desired sleep at night; especially when the services of Power Holding Company of Nigeria cannot be relied upon. This has made people resorted to use of power generating sets, which not only constitute noise nuisance but also releases carbon, a greenhouse gas as by product into the atmosphere (Olamiju, 2008). Similarly, challenges posed by shortages of supply of water which has resulted in excessive dryness in some parts of Nigeria, this, have allowed for excessive drilling of boreholes in neighborhoods where they can afford it, with serious geologic impacts, and where it cannot be afforded, people trek long distances in search of potable water source for consumption and use of perceived unclean water for other use, this implies that, hygiene cannot be guaranteed and water supply cannot be sufficient. In addition to the problem of water shortages which is a direct consequence of distorted hydrological cycle, sanitation problems are persistently linked.

Water, have to be used and re-used because of its scarcity, water borne diseases infestation are common phenomenon in the areas (Olamiju, 2008). The influence of this water shortage has also resulted into loss of land and soils the loss of land and soil in this regard does not necessarily mean the reduction in the quantity of land rather; it means reduction in the quality (fertility) and quantity of land and soil considered viable for agricultural purposes. This could be synonymous to the loss of soil nutrients owing to bush burning, overgrazing, and exposure of soil to excessive heating of the sun which makes such land gets baked. Eventually, such lands are prone to erosion (sheet and gulley) and the rich topsoil have their nutrients washed away or leached down the profile where it will not be useful to the plants and tree crops, in response to these, people have employed the use and over-use of fertilizers to the detriment of the environment and climate. In most part of Nigeria, people are involved in crude farming practices such as bush burning, bush fallowing and crop rotation among others. Similarly, drought conditions in the Sudano-Sahelian zone of Sokoto, Kebbi, Zamfara, Kano, Borno, has forced people to migrate.

The drought has also created desert-like conditions in other adjoining states closer to these afore-mentioned states. Hence people flee in search of refuge to other areas mainly the coastal areas like Lagos thus creating more pressures for existing problems in the city. Furthermore, explosive population growth has impacts on climate, this has been largely responsible for increasing human activities such as industrialization, clearing of vegetative areas to enhance human settlements, transportation and communication networks. The negativities that followed the rapid urbanization in the cities range from simple to complex. Among these are encroachments on agricultural land, shortages of farm produce and food insecurity, increasing environmental pollution from industries. Some other agro-based activities such as rearing of animals (goats, sheep, cattle and livestock) whose wastes generates greenhouse gases (GHGs), overgrazing of available pasture and rice plantation which altogether encourage the release of carbon-dioxide and other GHGs (Olamiju, 2008).

Current and Projected impacts of Climate Change

Future scenarios, based on different economic, social and technological development paths, suggest that annual emissions of carbon dioxide could be as much as five times their current level by 2100, resulting in a global temperature rise of 1.4°C to 5.8°C (IPCC, 2001a). Recently, more comprehensive analysis of a range of climate change scenarios has indicated this figure may be as high as 11°C globally. The effects of this global warming encompass social and economic as well as environmental impacts, including more extreme weather events, rising sea levels, droughts, flooding, extinction of species, and impacts on agriculture and human health.

Whilst there will be some region may experience some beneficial impacts from climate change, such as increased crop yield and reduced mortality especially during the cold seasons, there will be considerable variation regionally in terms of the nature and severity of projected impacts, and of the vulnerability of species and human communities to these impacts, human health and life in this country will be threatened principally by flooding, storms and excessive temperatures (Whitmarsh, 2005). More disastrous scenarios have also been suggested, where the planet soon becomes uninhabitable. Yet increase in temperature, and sea level rise, will occur even if emissions were to be drastically cut now, due to a time lag between causes and impacts of atmospheric change (Whitmarsh, 2005).

International Responses to Climate Change: Kyoto Protocol

The international response to this issue is substantiated in the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention Climate Change (UNFCCC) and its 1997 Kyoto Protocol. The convention sets principles and an agenda for action with the ultimate objective of stabilizing greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere at safe levels. It provides for cooperation and exchange of information, leadership by industrialized countries in modifying long-term emission trends. The UNCCC has been in force since 1994 and in over 180 countries have ratified it, is accepted nearly universally. On the other hand, while 80 countries having signed Kyoto Protocol, which sets legally-binding emissions reduction targets for developed countries (Wikipedia, 2018).

The concepts of Resilience and Vulnerability

Vulnerability is “the degree to which a system is susceptible to or unable to cope with, adverse effects of climate change, including climate variability and extremes”. It is a function of the character, magnitude, and rate of climate change and variation to which a system is exposed, the sensitivity and adaptive capacity of that system (IPCC,2007). A system in the context of this paper is the environment where human activity occurs, which could be a community, region, rural or urban area. Watson et al. 1996, in a presentation made at the Sixth Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC (COP-6), defines vulnerability as the extent to which a natural or social system is susceptible to sustaining damage from climate change, and is a function of the magnitude of climate change, the sensitivity of the system to changes in climate and the ability to adapt the system to changes in climate.

Hence, a highly vulnerable system is one that is highly sensitive to modest changes in climate and one for which the ability to adapt is severely constrained (IPCC, 2000), It adds that vulnerability “depends not only on a system’s sensitivity, but also on its ability to adapt to new climatic conditions”. Moreover, vulnerability to climate change can be exacerbated by other stresses, which may arise from current climate hazards, poverty and unequal access to resources, food insecurity, trends in economic globalization, conflict and incidence of diseases such as HIV/AIDS (IPCC, 2007). Key vulnerabilities are associated with many climate-sensitive systems, includes food supply, infrastructure, health, water resources, coastal systems, ecosystems, global biogeochemical cycles, ice sheets, and modes of oceanic and atmospheric circulation (IPCC, 2007).

The three components of vulnerability, according to the IPCC definition are:

  • exposure,
  • sensitivity,
  • adaptive capacity.


Resilience on the other hand is often defined as the opposite of vulnerability, it is ‘the capacity of a system to undergo disturbance and maintain its function and controls’ (Carpenter et-al, 2001), it is the capacity of human systems to cope with the impacts of climate change, such as economic capacity, institutional capacity, and extent of public infrastructure (World Bank, 2011). Resilience refers to the capacity of a social-ecological system both to withstand perturbations from, for instance, climate or economic shocks and to rebuild and renew itself afterwards (Stockholm Resilience Centre, 2011). With the rising awareness of climate change impacts by both national and international bodies, building climate resilience has become a major goal for these institutions. The key focus of climate resilience efforts is to address the vulnerability that communities, states, and countries currently have with regards to the environmental consequences of climate change. Currently, climate resilience efforts encompass social, economic, technological, and political strategies that are being implemented at all scales of society (Wikipedia, 2018). From local community action to global treaties, addressing climate resilience is becoming a priority, although it could be argued that a significant amount of the theory has yet to be translated into practice.

Climate change Adaptation and Mitigation United

Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) identifies two responses to climate change, namely, mitigation of climate change by reducing greenhouse-gas emissions and enhancing sinks, and adaptation to the impacts of climate change. Climate mitigation is any action taken to permanently eliminate or reduce the long-term risk and hazards of climate change to human life, property, IPCC (2007) defines it as: “An anthropogenic intervention to reduce the sources or enhance the sinks of greenhouse gases.” On the other hand, climate change adaptation refers to the ability of a system to adjust to climate change (including climate variability and extremes) to moderate potential damage, to take advantage of opportunities, or to cope with the consequences. “Adaptation is the adjustment in natural or human systems in response to actual or expected climatic stimuli or their effects, which moderates harm or exploits beneficial opportunities”, and as a process by which strategies to moderate, cope with and take advantage of the consequences of climatic events are enhanced, developed, and implemented (Ellina & Dennis, 2006).

Adaptation to climate change refers to adjustment in natural or human systems in response to actual or expected climatic stimuli or their effects, which moderates harm or exploits beneficial opportunities. The risks that have to be reduced by adaptation can be direct, as in larger and/or more frequent floods, or more intense and/or frequent storms or heat waves; or less direct, as climate change negatively affects livelihoods or food supplies (and prices), or access to water needed for domestic consumption or livelihoods. Certain groups may face increased risks or costs from measures taken in response to climate change – including adaptation measures (e.g. measures to protect particular areas of a city from flooding that increase flood risks ‘downstream’) and mitigation measures (e.g. a greater emphasis on new hydropower schemes that displace large numbers of people from their homes and livelihoods). Low-income populations in a city will tend to have lower adaptive capacity than high-income populations because of their lower capacity to afford good-quality housing on safe sites.

UN-Habitat aptly summarizes the relationship between the two concepts thus “adaptation is managing the unavoidable whilst mitigation is avoiding the unmanageable”. Various types of adaptation can be distinguished, including anticipatory and reactive adaptation, private and public adaptation, and autonomous and planned adaptation (IPCC, 2001)” Successful adaptation can reduce vulnerability by building on and strengthening existing coping mechanisms and assets, targeting climate change vulnerability with specific measures, and integrating vulnerability reduction into wider policies. While there may be uncertainty surrounding the scale, scope and pace of climate change, one thing is clear – cities and towns everywhere will be exposed to significant climate change-driven impacts and all of us will need to play a role in helping to adapt to these changes. Adapting to new conditions brought by climate change will be challenging and demands strategic thinking and creative thinking from planners.

To understand the adaptation and mitigation mechanism of any locality, the social and economic challenges – be it poverty, population health, water and sanitation, etc. provide the local community objectives that will be used to help evaluate and prioritize the resulting climate change policies, programs, and actions. Adaptation will become an increasingly important part of the development agenda stated Agnes and Futoshi (2009), enhanced protection and management of natural ecosystems and more sustainable management of natural resources will be used to play a critical role in adaptation strategies. Mitigation efforts aim to prevent further climate change, adaptation involves readjusting life to the reality that a certain amount of climate change will inevitably occur. An effective climate change policy for cities however needs to include both, and they need to be approached in an integrated manner. Major difference between mitigation and adaptation is the scale of their effect and the associated costs.

Adaptation will have impacts primarily on a local scale: actions are based on specific needs of the affected regions. Studies on adaptations also makes it clear that perception is a necessary prerequisite for adaptation, the preliminary evidence from a number of African countries reveals that large numbers of agriculturalists already perceive that the climate has become hotter and the rains less predictable and shorter in duration. As experience increases, farmers are more likely to claim that there is less rainfall, more likely to notice changes in the timing of the rains and more likely to notice a change in the frequency of droughts. It also appears that the older inhabitants have more claims that temperatures have increased and the younger likely to claim there has been no change, therefore the age structure of households has an effect on the perception of climate change and the adaptation.

Adaptation has been approached from both top-down and bottom-up perspectives, with considerable overlaps between the two. The former relies on climatic and applied modeling to predict secondary impacts (e.g. on crops or water availability) from a projected change in climate. Although fairly technical, these are applicable to wide areas and can indicate where broader adaptation measures may be necessary, such as drought-resilient crop varieties or expanded irrigation systems. Bottom-up approaches assess vulnerability and adaptive capacity to current climate variations and future climate trends at the local level. Climate variability is a reality that humans have always been exposed to and have developed different ways of dealing with. Existing coping mechanisms are used as a platform for fostering resilience to future changes. While they can incorporate modeling projections, they draw primarily on local knowledge and can more effectively target the poorest and most vulnerable in developing appropriate adaptation responses.

Planning for Resilience

From global to local level, climate change is a front burner environmental issue, whose impacts vary with geographical region its impacts of will be skewed against world poorest region whose adaptation capabilities are low (Schneider et al., 2007). Human activities like land use change, transportation, energy and industrial activities that contributes to climate change is often tied to the conclaves of urban centres (UN-Habitat, 2011). It is important one studies the factors underlying human responses, this is important because in order to ensure for sustainability of life, adaptation and mitigation response have to be on a much higher level than it presently is.

Poor awareness, wrong perception and unwillingness to be environmentally responsible among others, have been responsible for persistent unfriendly environmental practices among people, consequently, there is an increasing devastation, degradation and deterioration of the natural environment in both the developed countries and underdeveloped countries (Olamiju, 2008). As key players in Urban arena, Planners have to formulate a planning theory that could be used to manage the climate change issue. There is the need for integration of climate change across different policy domains, this is critical to developing effective policy and action or gaining the finances and political support necessary for action.

Planners need to move beyond the confines of local authorities/traditional planning ethos to engage with stakeholders and communities to address climate change city wide, co-ordinate between different levels of government, especially for overcoming conflicts between climate change and other social, economic and environmental priorities Consolidating urban places and improving design is seen to be beneficial not only from an environmental perspective, but also as a means of improving the ‘livability’ of urban areas and the provision of services, as well as providing the impetus for economic growth and combat climate change impacts. Energy conservations need to be actively promoted in the urban arena, primarily through the planning and design of the built environment and through measures to reduce the need for, and extent of, car travel (Harriet & Michele, 2005).


Dealing with climate change requires local actions, proactive city planning and management is essential to enhance communal adaptive capabilities, also there should be wide spread environmental education. People need to understand the implications of their actions, equipped with the knowledge to salvage the future environment through environmental friendly actions of the present. Furthermore, adequate machineries should be put in place to ensure for strict compliance with environmental standards especially among industries. Lastly efforts should be made to address issues like poverty, crude technology, over exploitation of natural resources and poor waste management among other, which may tend to hamper adaption and mitigation, also the urgent need to adopt green technology cannot be overemphasized. Then, shall the earth be restored and enhanced to support the continuous existence of man and other creatures.

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