Exploring the Possibilities of Building Climate-Resilient Cities[1]


27 October 2023

Compiled by Hazel Tariro Chimbiro-Bertha Justice Fellow

The world is falling short of promises made under the UNFCCC climate deal to mitigate and adapt to the increasingly devastating impacts of climate change. Meanwhile, challenges such as rising sea levels, urban heat, freshwater shortages, floods, droughts, and more extreme weather events are becoming more severe and frequent as cities grow in number and size. As a result, there is an increasing need to develop resilience skills to endure climate-related shocks and stresses, as well as to create resilience for net zero, for faster adaptation in a carbon-constrained society.

With the world urbanizing at a fast pace, it is estimated that by 2050, over 6 billion people will live in cities [1], and climate change will increasingly affect people living in cities as floods, droughts, and heat waves become harsher and more frequent. To mitigate against these impending challenges, promising approaches such as green roofs, green facades, green spaces, and urban forests have been suggested to boost climate resilience while also making cities more pleasant and healthier places to live.

Climate resilience is a city’s ability to survive, adapt, and thrive in the face of climate-related shocks and stresses. As a city builds its climate resilience, it can withstand these challenges while breaking silos, unlocking co-benefits that address the intersectionality of its risks, and maximizing the value of every dollar spent in reducing and helping to prevent the impact of future shocks and stresses. Building climate resilience is thus key to improving the overall resilience of a city’s systems, businesses, institutions, communities, and individuals.

However, it is becoming increasingly difficult for cities to achieve climate resilience in the context of outdated urban development plans and policies that have limited alignment with climate adaptation and mitigation approaches. While conversations around urban resilience have increased, there is still a need to mainstream climate action in urban governance, planning, and development in Zimbabwe.

As a result of this situation, the following challenges impede strides by cities towards climate resilience:

  • Limited knowledge and awareness of the specific climate change impacts and challenges in urban communities.
  • Limited consideration for climate adaptation and mitigation and disaster risk reduction in development planning in urban spaces
  • There are limited capacities at the national and local government levels to incorporate climate action into the urban development process.
  • Limited access to low-carbon tools and technologies to support low-carbon development pathways in urban communities
  • Inadequate financing directed towards climate change mitigation and adaptation in urban sector projects.
  • Lack of urban local authorities’ capacity to provide infrastructure and services for land use management, enforcing building by-laws and approved standards, and land subdivision Consequently, services such as sanitation and drainage systems, appropriate clean and safe water, and solid waste collection suffer.
  • Failure by urban local authorities to manage solid waste is due to population growth, urbanization, industrialization, and the increased use of non-biodegradable plastics and bottles. As a result, the Environmental Management Agency was mandated to supervise local authorities on solid waste management in the Harare metropolitan province through SI 140 of 2023, after authorities noted that GHG emissions from the waste sector had gradually increased since 1990, reaching 1.76 MtCO2 eq in 2017.

Although these challenges are derailing Zimbabwe’s efforts to achieve urban climate resilience, all hope is not lost as the following solutions can be explored:

  • Local authorities can allocate space for the storage of rainwater. For example, space in one of the city parks could be reserved for water storage, and when it rains within normal measures, the rainwater from the nearby roofs will be channeled to a retention basin in the park. Here, the rainwater can be stored and used to water a diverse range of plants and trees during dry spells. The water can even be used to clean the streets.
  • Local authorities can learn from other countries on ways to create climate-resilient cities. Denmark, for example, has a road runoff treatment plant. The plant uses an innovative water filtering technique. It is an efficient, cost-effective, and green solution to road water runoff. The contaminated water flows through a filter that sieves out coarse particles, such as leaves, waste, etc. Powered only by gravity, the water then flows into double-porous sandwich filters. The filters capture very small particles and other pollutants in the water. Finally, the clean water is channeled out into Naturpark Amager (Natura 2000), where it benefits flora and fauna, including large flocks of wading birds.
  • Identifying weak spots that will be affected by climate extremes and coming up with adaptation measures
  • Climate action planning should reflect the urgency and scale of the climate challenge. Local authorities must be financially capacitated to urgently deal with climate change.
  • Visualisation of climate information to facilitate planning processes
  • One of the priority adaptation measures is to ensure climate-resilient infrastructure and design. [2] Zimbabwe is yet to implement actions that provide the means and incentives for new infrastructure to be planned, designed, built, and operated while accounting for future climate change, including extreme-weather events. This includes retrofitting previously built infrastructure to ensure it is resilient to future climate events. These measures would reduce the climate sensitivities of all sectors that are reliant on infrastructure. Urban populations would also benefit from a reduction in potential damage to infrastructure and related risks to people.

The pursuit of climate-resilient cities, therefore, presents opportunities as follows:

  • Collaboration and coordination between local authorities and CSOs to assist in responding to climate change issues at the national level
  • CSOs can offer expertise in the mainstreaming of climate change governance and institutional frameworks.
  • Organizations and research institutions can conduct research and assess how the different cities in Zimbabwe are reacting to climate change in their local laws and policies, spatial and management plans, organizational structure, projects, programs, and initiatives. This information can be used for capacity strengthening and setting up local climate actions.

[1] Institute of European democrats, How Smart Cities can help to fight climate crisis research paper, 2019

[2] Government of Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe Revised Nationally Determined Contribution, 2021

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