World's cities across the wealth divide, critically unprepared as climate events become more extreme, new study shows

Source(s): Economist Impact
Pedestrians traverse the inundated streets of Venice, Italy
  • The Resilient Cities Index 2023 is a new global benchmark from Economist Impact and Tokio Marine Group that measures 25 major cities' ability to cope with a spectrum of shocks.
  • New York, Los Angeles and London rank top three for overall resilience.
  • Cities in emerging markets urgently need to become more resilient to the effects of climate change with densely populated urban centres prone to flooding and extreme heat.
  • Developed cities like Dubai, Hong Kong and New York are exposed to climate shocks, and some lack comprehensive plans to integrate the vulnerable.
  • Building resilient cities requires stakeholder engagement from government, businesses and communities, as well as individual city-dwellers. Investment and innovation is needed to solve the most persistent challenges to a city's resilience.

Cities across the world lack the infrastructure, societal safety nets and robust environmental policies needed to combat the worsening impacts of climate change, according to a major new report released today.

Examining critical facets of urban life, the Resilient Cities Index 2023, which was devised by Economist Impact and sponsored by Tokio Marine Group, delves into 25 global cities' ability to evade, withstand, and recover from a spectrum of shocks and long-term stresses through four pivotal themes – Critical infrastructure, Environment, Socio-institutional, and Economic Resilience. See data story with full results here.

While cities in emerging economies are especially poorly equipped to recover from droughts, flooding, extreme heat and rising sea levels, those in wealthy countries are also unprepared for the future shocks associated with a warming planet, according to research.

With global leaders meeting to discuss climate action at COP28 in Dubai this month, the index is a timely reminder of the vulnerability of urban centres and the urgent need to bolster their defences against the impacts of natural disasters and extreme weather to mass migration and deepening inequality.

The study shows that emerging cities, in particular, urgently need to become more resilient to the effects of climate change. Unbearable, deadly heat will increasingly impact vulnerable groups in cities that do not have a detailed heat plan – including Bangkok, Cairo, Dubai, Jakarta and New Delhi, according to the index.  Several cities in Asia – including Bangkok, Hong Kong, Jakarta and Dhaka – are extremely vulnerable to flooding.

Dhaka and New Delhi also prove to be the least resilient to air pollution, which kills 7 million people globally each year. With air pollutants and greenhouse gases often coming from the same sources, the two issues should be tackled jointly. Both cities rank poorly for congestion management in the index and neither have a city-level net zero target or plan.

Melbourne, New York City and Los Angeles – representing some of the wealthiest cities in the index–sit in the top three spots for their environmental resilience. The cities that are the least able to fend off the most extreme effects of climate change are also those with the least amount of capital to do so.

While cities around the world are recognising the need to build resilience in the face of growing environmental, social and economic uncertainties; translating intentions into action remains a formidable hurdle, according to the research.

The report concludes that the key to building resilient cities lies in empowering communities as active participants through the democratisation of information. Social cohesion efforts are essential, focusing on integration programmes for vulnerable populations. Supporting innovation is pivotal, allowing cities to develop scalable solutions, predict risks and monitor progress effectively.

The Resilient Cities Index 2023 will launch at an event in London, UK, hosted by Tokio Marine Group. The index key findings will be presented by Jonathan Birdwell, global head, policy & insights, Economist Impact.

Quote 1: "It is often assumed that wealthier cities are relatively safer from shocks or crises, but our index proves otherwise. Our research definitively shows that some of the world's most developed cities are still vulnerable to a vast array of socio-economic and environmental risks. Our index is one of the most up-to-date assessments of where cities must rapidly close the gaps in the market today." Jonathan Birdwell, global head, policy & insights, Economist Impact.

Quote 2: "A resilience strategy is not something developed at a desk by a city official. Cities need to bring a variety of stakeholders together around the table, including community representation and the poor and vulnerable. Depending on the kind of shock and stress, listening to the voices of the people most affected is important."  Katrin Bruebach, global director of programmes and delivery, Resilient Cities Network.

Quote 3: "Cities are the hotspots of climate and other risks in present as well as future. Cities also have the largest concentration of different types of resources.  Therefore, it is important to make cities resilient, which will enhance the safety of its citizens and sustainability of city services, including businesses. The Resilient Cities Index has developed a unique methodology, which assesses a city's resilience and will help to take decisive actions at local governments and citizen levels."

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