Supporting urban adaptation to climate change: what role can resilience measurement tools play?

Produced as part of the Climate information for adaptation CCCEP research programme theme

Cities are emerging as leading forces for climate change adaptation and resilience, due to their financial, technological and human capacities. Many approaches and tools have been developed and used over the last few decades to measure climate resilience in cities and identify areas that need further intervention. In this study, the authors explore how and to what extent such tools can be or have been utilised by city-level actors to support their decision-making processes for building climate change resilience.

The authors found that only 10 of the 27 tools they analysed are designed to support the implementation of resilience actions. The remainder focus mainly on sharing knowledge and raising awareness. They also observed that the tools have a prevailing focus on evaluating the coping capacities of cities against climate risks, which tends to trigger short-term solutions rather than long-term, transformational adaptation strategies.

The authors argue, therefore, that urban climate resilience measurement tools need firstly to support processes of implementing action as much as assessing outcomes, and secondly to consider the enabling environment for enhancing the adaptive and transformative capacities as much as the coping capacities of cities.

Key points for decision-makers

  • While urban areas are crucial in supporting the broader response to climate risk, they are often also exposed to a wide array of such risks. These risks are increasing due to climate change but also because of the massive rates of urbanisation that our current economic system is perpetuating.
  • The authors define ‘climate resilience’ as the capacity of people and systems to sustain and improve their livelihood and development opportunities and wellbeing despite environmental, economic, social, and political disturbances caused by climate change.
  • Over the last decade a range of frameworks, tools and concepts have been developed under the umbrella of ‘measuring urban climate resilience’. Some of these tools are location- and hazard-specific while others have an all-hazards, multi-community and multi-cultural approach for measuring resilience.
  • The authors analysed 27 tools developed for measuring urban climate resilience, supplementing this with 12 semi-structured interviews with local experts involved in implementing these tools across the world.
  • They found that only approximately one-third of existing urban resilience measurement tools support implementation at any of the stages (i.e. option appraisal, implementation planning, and monitoring and evaluation).
  • Of the 27 tools analysed, 20 tools have a primary focus on measuring response and recovery activities (i.e. reactive strategies) and 16 tools do not include any climate change impacts in their analysis, and therefore measure resilience only based on current climate risks.
  • The authors conclude that this lack of recognition of proactive risk reduction measures and the disregard of future climate change impacts are likely to lead to prioritisation of quick-fix solutions instead of pointing towards longer-term resilience interventions.
  • Positively, the analysis shows that most of the urban resilience measurement tools incorporate participatory approaches for assessing resilience and/or evaluating the decision-making process of cities.