• iCS - Climate and Society

Urban vulnerabilities: planning in order to adapt?

Updated: Aug 14, 2018

Convincing private initiative and public power entities is the greatest challenge when it comes to adapting to climate change

Por Felipe Lobo


Climate change is the most urgent problem faced by the planet as a whole. That is because its potentially devastating effects have a direct impact on the development model of cities, states and countries, with effects on health, education, income generation, economics and transportation. Several studies show the current consequences of climate warming and analyze their impacts on urban mobility in Brazil and abroad, in addition to other potential harmful effects yet to come.


Between 2015 and 2016, Instituto de Políticas de Transporte e Desenvolvimento (the Institute of Transportation and Development Policies - ITDP Brasil), at the request of the Ministry of Cities, attempted to answer the following questions: what is the degree of vulnerability of Brazilian metropolises in relation to extreme events - such as floods, landslides and heat waves? What kind of measures must our cities take to adapt to these changes? What policies and actions can be effectively adopted in order to prevent - or at least reduce - future damage? And what, in fact, are the possible climate scenarios in each of the different regions of Brazil? Last June, the organization launched a paper entitled Adapting to Climate Change”, which contained a summary of a broader survey and its main conclusions.


Photo: Shutterstock

Let’s start with the good news: Brazil does indeed have numerous opportunities to build adaptation strategies. One of them is the possible inclusion of adaptation and resilience measures in Urban Mobility Plans (PMU), which have been mandatory in municipalities with over 20 thousand inhabitants since 2012. The same applies to Integrated Urban Development Plans (PDUI), which are required to be adopted by metropoles – the home of 47% of Brazilians.


Foto: Stefano Aguiar/ITDP Brasil

Among some of the main results of the study, ITDP Brasil calculated the urban mobility vulnerability index of 283 Brazilian municipalities, ranking them according to the following categories: upper, upper intermediate, lower intermediate and lower. While the states of Rio de Janeiro, Pernambuco, Bahia, Pará, Maranhão, Amapá and Amazonas house the majority of municipalities classified as having “upper” and “upper intermediate” vulnerability, the states of São Paulo, Rio Grande do Sul, Mato Grosso do Sul and Paraná have the highest proportions of municipalities in the lower vulnerability classifications.



There are certain criteria that help in the selection of the most suitable types of adaptation strategies, which are necessarily linked to the strategic goals of each municipality and each mobility system. These are: I) effectiveness (when direct and indirect benefits outweigh implementation and maintenance costs); II) equity (adaptation strategies must not have negative effects on other sectors or vulnerable groups); III) flexibility (they must allow for future adjustments); IV) sustainability (they must contribute to the sustainable development of the region); V) practicality (the municipalities must be able to carry out the adaptation strategies within a viable timeframe); VI) legitimacy (they must be politically and socially accepted); VII) social costs (they must consider all social and economic externalities); VIII) robustness (they must be consistent with future climate projections); and IX) synergy (they must potentialize other strategic goals relating to local development).

The role of public mobility policies


Furthermore, the development of strategic adaptation measures must rely on three pillars. First, the beginning of the process requires a broad diagnosis that enables the municipality to understand the behavior of its systems and users, in addition to identifying its vulnerabilities, standstill risks, loss of performance or degradation due to climate events – both current and future. Then, public managers and regulatory authorities, among other entities, must be prepared to plan and actually carry through the adaptation measures. Last, but not least, all such actions must be integrated into public policies and regulations dealing with urban mobility.


Foto: Stefano Aguiar/ITDP Brasil
“The main challenge is to make public authorities understand the scenario, accept it and bring it to the drawing board. However, even when it comes to projections of future impacts made by INPE (the National Institute of Space Research), they are still only estimates. While, on the one hand, governments are reluctant to invest in something that is not 100 percent certain - although it is increasingly clear that climate change is a reality - on the other, to avoid the matter altogether could give rise to even greater problems in the future. Either the projections could end up being proven wrong or the reality could prove to be even worse”, says Clarisse Linke, executive director of ITDP Brasil.

Linke explains that there are three types of necessary investments: investments in current structures, in ongoing structures and in new structures. “Convincing the players, who are public authorities, companies and metropolitan agencies, is the most difficult part. It is necessary, for new infrastructures, to think of other calculations and materials, which entail initial costs that are higher than the business-as-usual parameters. But with existing structures it is important to pay careful attention to maintenance cycles, incorporating certain changes”, she says.


The study is very clear: adapting to climate change is not a choice. “Evidence shows that we will inevitably have to deal with the effects of global warming in the future. Municipalities and institutions need to take action to address them”, the document says. One of the suggestions made in the conclusion of the study is the initial identification of vulnerabilities so that we may be able to face future scenarios and make good choices that lead us to reduce the impacts of future climate events.


Photo: Shutterstock

Finally, adaptation strategies in the development of cities require a revision of the urban extension process. Hence, the eight principles of Sustainable Transportation Development (DOTS) listed below, which promise to bring lasting and sustainable change to all of us:


· Reorganization of regions to shorten commuting times

· Increased density in the areas surrounding high-capacity transportation hubs

· Creation of dense and interconnected networks of paths and ways

· Availability of fast, frequent, reliable, integrated and high-capacity transportation systems

· Encouragement for the mixed use of land, in order to reduce the number of trips and prompt the generation of a more vibrant street culture

· Priority use of bicycles

· Promotion of changes to encourage the use of public transportation, walking and cycling

· Creation of environments that encourage walking as a means of transportation


The summary of the study is available in Portuguese on the ITDP Brasil website and, among other data and elements of interest, it is also possible to look up medium- and long-term climate change projections in Brazil – which have been made through a partnership with the National Institute of Space Research (Inpe), based on international models.

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