Climate Change and Its Impact on Cities
Climate change refers to the significant shift in the global and/or regional climate patterns, in which there occurs changes in the mean and variability of climate’s properties such as regional temperature, precipitation, and even the occurrence of extreme weather events, over an extended period, often for decades or longer (Solomon & Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [IPCC], 2007, p. 667). Human factors are responsible for most current trends of climate change and its impacts on earth. Global warming caused by the ever increasing concentration of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere is the leading cause of climate change.
Climate change’s effects are currently being felt in many regions across the world. This change will adversely impact ecological systems and cities. Climate change will greatly interfere with the world’s ecological systems. For instance, climate change could alter the timing of seasonal life-cycle events of many species. The climate of a region where many species live or spend part of the year considerably influences the key stages or phases of their annual life cycle, for example migration, blooming, and even mating (Environmental Protection Agency [EPA], 2014). Therefore, the warming of climates across the world would definitely affect the timing of these events. For example, the changes can cause mismatches in the timing of migration, breeding, and even food availability, thereby causing destabilizing the ecological systems. The growth and survival of many species can reduce significantly when they migrate and arrive at a location long before or shortly after food sources are depleted. Such outcomes can cause food web disruptions, hence threaten the survival of other organisms. Secondly, climate change can make the habitat range of many ecological systems to shift. While it can make the habitat ranges to expand, thus improving their survival, it can simultaneously reduce the habitat range of other species, which can threaten their existence. In some cases, climate change can make an ecological system to change rapidly to an irreversible state because a particular ecological tipping point has been passed, which would adversely affect the survival rates of many species.
Climate change can also have adverse impacts on cities. The reason for this is that the city residents and the urban infrastructure have unique sensitivities to the impacts of climate change. For example, climate change would considerably amplify the heat wave events in cities as cities would absorb more heat during day time than the suburban and rural areas (EPA, 2013). Secondly, the higher temperatures and the occurrence of more extreme weather events would greatly affect the cost of energy as city residents would use a lot of electricity in powering their air conditioners to lower the temperature and improve air quality. Extreme weather events would cause considerable damage on infrastructures in cities. For example, the increased intensity and frequency of flood events can likely damage the drainage and sewer systems of these cities. Excessive flooding can adversely affect the cities’ transportation systems as streets can be filled with water up to several meters high. Wind, storms, and floods can disrupt power supply in cities as they can make electrical poles and power lines to crash down (Rosenzweig, et al., 2011, p. 185). Furthermore, port cities would likely be flooded by sea water because of the raising sea level caused by climate change. City governments would therefore incur high costs in reducing the impacts of climate change on the city residents, and in rebuilding or strengthening their infrastructures that have been damaged by extreme weather events caused by climate change.
Climate change is also posing a serious threat to human health. Climate change would potentially cause shifts in ecological conditions in ways that would encourage the spread of pathogens, parasites, and diseases that can adversely affect human health (EPA, 2014). For example, flooding events, especially those that can affect the sewer systems can lead to the contamination of water supply systems, which can increase the risks of waterborne diseases such as cholera and typhoid (Confalonieri et al., 2007, p. 400-401). Secondly, climate change can also have adverse impacts on agricultural production, thereby resulting in food shortages in the areas affected. For example, increased drought effects can lead to low food production. Flood events can also destroy food crops before they reach their maturity stage. Change in weather conditions can also encourage the prevalence of pests and diseases that affects crops while in the farm, and also while in storage facilities. All these events can lead to food shortage, which can result to illness and even death related to malnutrition and hunger respectively. Thirdly, climate change can also negatively affect fishing activities. Increase in ocean temperatures would negatively affect the aquatic and marine ecosystems, causing many fish species to migrate or reduce in numbers. Since fish is a valuable source of proteins for the human population, the shortage of fish supply for human consumption would cause malnutrition, thereby making the affected people more susceptible to diseases and illnesses as they would have a weak immune system (Grover, 2014, p. 368). In extreme cases, this can cause death.
City governments have a critical role to play in tackling climate change because cities consume most of the world’s energy, and produce most of the world’s green house gas emissions. Secondly, since majority of the world’s population live in cities, cities could be the secret to addressing the problem of climate change. It is for this reason that city governments have taken several steps to fight climate change. Firstly, city governments have designed policies that are meant to reduce carbon-emissions in the urban environments. Several cities are turning away from fossil fuel fuels as a source of energy. For example, several cities are currently meeting their energy needs through generating electricity from waste materials generated by the residents of the cities (Lehmann, 2014, p. 29). This helps offset the need for energy obtained from fossil sources, thereby reducing carbon emissions. City governments have started authorizing the construction of buildings whose architecture minimizes the demand on electricity lighting purposes. Such regulations encourage efficient use of energy, which not only lowers the cost of energy, but also reduces carbon emissions as less fossil fuel will be required to produce energy sufficient for the entire city. In the transport sector, city governments are increasingly replacing fossil-fuel driven vehicles with electric powered vehicles that are rechargeable. Some are encouraging the use of renewable sources of energy in buildings, such as the use of solar panels to reduce their dependence on fossil-fuel generated power. They are also reducing emissions by replacing low-capacity vehicles with the high-capacity ones, a strategy that has helped reduce traffic congestion in cities, which translates to reduced carbon emissions (United Nations Environment Programme [UNEP], 2011, p. 37-38). Apart from financing investment in low-carbon technologies, city governments are also financing investments in climate-resilient infrastructure. Climate-resilient infrastructure is meant to help these cities prevent the damage caused by extreme weather events on their infrastructure, and further avoid the high costs involved in repairing and rebuilding of the affected infrastructure (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development [OECD], 2014, p. 6). Finally, city governments have embarked on integrated land-use, in which they have introduced more vegetation in urban areas to reduce concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide and improve the air quality.
Climate change can be addressed effectively coordinating climate change mitigation efforts at the international, national, and local levels. Countries should be held accountable by the international community for any lack of commitment in helping stop climate change, for instance, their laxity in reducing the emissions of greenhouse gases. At the national level, countries should establish and enforce strict laws and policies that can help stop climate change. Local governments should ensure people under their jurisdiction are using environmentally friendly sources of energy and energy-efficient equipments and devices. They should also authorize construction of climate-resilient infrastructures. At the individual level, people can address the problem of climate change through embracing lifestyles that are environmentally friendly. For example, people should drive less, and increase their preference for locally sourced goods to reduce greenhouse emissions resulting from transportation (Patchen, 2006, p. 14). The adverse impacts of climate change can be effectively addressed through change of public and individual attitudes and behaviors about climate change.
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