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Saving our cities

Urban communities are at risk as the climate crisis intensifies its impacts on cities. As part of our ‘Do you have a minute?’ series, we shared a coffee and a chat with Julie Arrighi from the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre. We wanted to talk about the particular impacts of climate change in urban settings.

As the world’s population continues to grow and cities get bigger, understanding the impacts of climate change on urban communities becomes more crucial by the minute. By 2050, two-thirds of the world’s population is projected to live in cities. Already, a billion people live in informal settlements in cities today.

Julie Arrighi, interim director of the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre, has been studying the impacts of climate change in cities for several years now. Climate change affects urban areas much like anywhere else, she says, by making extreme weather events more intense, frequent and volatile. However, in cities, the impacts are more concentrated due to the high population density. “When we have a mandate as a Movement to reach the most vulnerable people, we have to include cities as well,” Julie says.

The urgency to address this issue is particularly pronounced in Asia and Africa, where cities are growing rapidly, and in Latin America and the Carribean, where approximately 80 per cent of the population now lives in cities.

For these reasons, there is an urgent need to act as well as many opportunities to have a positive impact on the lives of millions of people. “There are so many resources in cities,” she explains, “but we must find ways to adapt and partner with key actors in interesting ways to really have an impact.”

Rising temperatures and extreme weather events in urban areas serve as warning signs of the urgent need to address the impacts of climate change.

Adapting to reduce hazards

For Julie, it’s critical to understand the changing risks and work closely with local governments to help prevent future impacts over the long term. “We need to help cities grow in a way that reduces hazards,” she adds.

Many Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies are already working to address this issue. For instance, the Vietnam Red Cross has developed anticipatory actions to reduce heat risks in cities. And in Nairobi, the Kenya Red Cross has worked for a long time on adaptation to flood risks and other climate related issues. These are just a few examples of Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies working on climate adaptation to help affected communities in urban settings.

But to really make an impact, we cannot do it alone.  “We have our strengths on the disaster side, but there are so many other partners that we can work with in a city context,” she says. “And together it can help to break down some of that complexity that exists and have an even greater impact.”

“Communities can play a huge role in adaptation, and we need to tap into that,” Julie says, adding that community experience, knowledge, culture, and local systems for getting things done, all provide an added value to the equation.

From anticipatory actions to reduce heat risks and adaptation to flood risks, Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies around the world are working to mitigate the impactws of climate change in urban settings.

The Movement involved

But there is still a long way to go. At the global advocacy level, there is a great need to connect the worlds of climate action, humanitarian response and the development sector to raise awareness about the importance of climate adaptation in urban contexts. Fundraising is also critical in ensuring that donors understand the risks and needs associated with climate change adaptation in urban areas.

If there is one way that we can increase our work in cities, it’s by sharing our experiences and best practices widely – including the challenges we’ve faced along the way. “If you’re not working in cities yet, don’t be intimidated,” Julie stresses. “There is a lot of really great resources in the Movement and a huge amount of need where we can be contributing to reduce the impacts. And if your Red Cross or Red Crescent are already adapting in cities, please share those experiences as widely as you can because I’m sure others would really love to hear them as well.”


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