Cover: Urban Responses to Climate Change

Urban Responses to Climate Change

Framework for Decisionmaking and Supporting Indicators

Published Dec 7, 2016

by Debra Knopman, Robert J. Lempert


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الاستجابات الحضرية لتغيّر المناخ: إطار عمل لصناعة القرار ومؤشرات داعمة

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Research Questions

  1. How can jurisdictions in urban areas implement participatory, deliberative processes to support decisionmaking on strategies and allocation of resources to reduce the impacts of climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions?
  2. How should urban areas adopt a risk governance framework to respond to climate change? How should it be augmented to address challenges?
  3. What indicators can urban areas use to measure climate risk management plans' progress?
  4. How can urban areas measure outcomes of climate risk management strategies, especially when many important outcomes will occur in the future?
  5. How can urban areas measure the quality of climate risk management plans and planning processes?

Developing indicators for successful urban responses to climate change has proven particularly challenging. Climate change is intertwined with a wide range of activities in urban areas. Today's actions may have important longer-term consequences, and significant uncertainty clouds our understanding of both the scale of future impacts and the effectiveness of many responses. Successful strategies will likely include both "low-hanging fruit" and fundamental, transformative change. This study proposes a decisionmaking framework and supporting indicators for urban responses to climate change based on risk governance — an extension of the established practices of risk assessment and management that include considerations of institutions and their economic and social context. Urban areas commonly contend with multiple and overlapping jurisdictions, conflicting social objectives, and deep uncertainty about the future. For these reasons, risk governance is well-suited for characterizing how urban areas make investment and policy decisions of major consequence. The proposed indicators are divided into two categories: those relating to the current and future state of the urban region and those related to the quality of the plan and the process that produced it. The authors identified existing systems of indicators, organized them in their framework, and developed an example of what these indicators might look like in actual practice. The framework also distinguishes among three categories of actions, called tiers of transformation. These tiers reflect an increasing challenge for implementation but also an increasing benefit of transformational change.

Key Findings

Framework for Decisionmaking

  • Risk governance is an appropriate decision framework for addressing the challenges of urban climate change. It has the capacity to encompass a multiple-actor, decision-centric perspective and is well-suited for accommodating both technical analyses and values-based issues. To implement risk governance for urban climate risk management, the authors add three enhancements to the framework: decision support under conditions of deep uncertainty, iterative risk management and learning, and three "tiers of transformation" to capture the changes in governance needed to reduce risk to acceptable levels. Tier 1 represents actions that can be taken by existing departments in local government, existing groups, and collaborations among them. Tiers 2 and 3 represent actions that involve changes in law or institutional structure at the local, state, or national level, with Tier 3 actions being the most challenging.

Indicators Within the Decision Support Process

  • The authors propose five types of indicators for urban climate risk management in two categories: those relating to the current and future state of the urban region and those related to the quality of the plan and the process that produced it. The former focus on the ultimate outcomes of urban climate risk management, but because such outcomes are often in the future and so cannot be directly measured, the latter are important as well. The former include well-being and risk to well-being, capacity to implement the plan, and capacity to adapt and transform. The latter include quality of the planning process and quality of the resulting plan.

The research described in this report was conducted in the Infrastructure Resilience and Environmental Policy within RAND Justice, Infrastructure, and Environment.

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