Cities face huge future costs from climate change risks

People have long moved to cities for a multitude of reasons, mostly economic. However, the struggle that many cities have faced is that they have not been able to build infrastructure fast enough to keep up with population growth. Now add the long-term risks of climate change, and many of the world’s biggest cities will find it even harder to stay afloat by mid-century – literally.

A C40 Cities report released earlier this week presents a bleak outlook for many of the world’s biggest cities – visually and financially. At a higher level, climate change risks are broken down into four pillars: floods, drought, health care and energy.

Big numbers? C40 researchers suggest that more than 7 million people in the largest cities will be prone to annual flooding, costing cities a total of $64 billion per year. Add the other costs to climate change risks, and that figure could approach nearly $200 billion a year. To describe the costs another way, this money that will be used to repair and strengthen infrastructure after future events related to climate change will not be spent on other necessary infrastructure investments, nor for the basic needs of citizens. such as health care and social services.

There is no shortage of 21st-century reporting on urban areas that have suffered from flooding: recent years have revealed the saga through which residents of Houston, Kuala Lumpur, New Orleans, São Paulo and Venice have endured. It’s hard to figure out how much water could flood these cities by mid-century, but C40 is giving it a shot. Cities in the C40 network, according to the organization’s researchers, could experience a combined river flood of 10.5 million cubic meters per year, more than four times the volume of the Great Pyramid of Giza.

But it’s not just the flooding that will force city leaders to face judgment. For every city that has no choice but to plan for excessive flooding, there are other cities that must prepare for extreme drought. California and its cities have been in the drought spotlight in 2022, but major cities in China, India and Latin America also bear the specter of severe water shortages in the decades to come. As groundwater reserves and the capacity of dammed rivers dwindle, major cities could suffer a combined surface water loss of more than 16 billion cubic meters of water by 2050 – and if you need from a visualization, C40 says this is the equivalent of Sydney Harbor draining 30 times more.

Data regarding potential floods and droughts linked to climate change conjure up images of distressed infrastructure like roads, waterways and residential areas. But these climate change risks also threaten many cities’ essential services for their citizens, such as healthcare. Looking at C40 cities, the researchers concluded that about 2,400 hospitals in these urban areas were at high risk of flooding. Nearly half of these hospitals are in India alone, a sign that the country’s future economic growth (and literally, health) may face huge challenges. To be clear, it’s not just floods that can shut down hospitals and other health services: a severe drought can also affect hospitals’ ability to deliver services, as they need large amounts of water to stay clean. and disinfected.

The fourth pillar, energy, at this point should be easy to explain. Ultimately, if there is too much water, and especially if there is not enough, we are now talking about the constant disruption of electricity services in the world’s largest cities – especially if they depend on hydroelectricity, which is the case of the capital of Zambia, Lusaka, as well as many large Brazilian cities.

As for the solutions recommended by C40, they are, depending on the point of view, obvious or basic. The short answers come in all sizes, such as massive investments in infrastructure, or small solutions such as instituting behavioral changes that can encourage people to use even less water every day. But in these monotonous suggestions lies a massive clue to the world’s biggest corporations, which rely on cities for the talent of its people as well as their local infrastructure. These same companies also benefit from the investments that cities have already made, while sharing only a small share of the costs when a major climate change-induced event, such as a hurricane or prolonged drought, hits. Companies will have to face the reality that they will have to open their wallets to share this collective pain of climate change; and the leaders of these cities should expect no less.

Image credit: Jonathan Ford via Unsplash

Teresa H. Sadler