Exploring urban planning in the context of climate change

At Resilient Cities 2014 Congress held in Bonn in May 2014, an Urban-LEDS project workshop was organized by ICLEI on integrated climate action from a spatial planning perspective. The large turnout revealed a great deal of interest in thinking holistically about local climate change mitigation and adaptation, and learning how urban planning can help achieve this.

Resilient Cities 2014:  G2_Workshop Resilient Cities 2014:  G2_Workshop


As climate change mitigation and adaptation are becoming increasingly important in the urban context, tensions between these two areas of action are increasingly occuring. Urban spatial planning could be (is) an important means for local communities to capture synergies between emissions reduction  and adaptation, as well as sectorial and broader sustainability co-benefits. This requires more in-depth exploration.

The workshop, led by Robert Kehew of UN-Habitat, explored a holistic approach to local climate action from an urban planning perspective, focusing specifically on intermediate cities of the Global South faced with acute challenges of rapid urbanization. Astrid Westerlind-Wigstroem, Senior Resilience Expert,  presented spatial planning as a way to optimize the relationship between energy use and urban development and mainstream local climate action. She explored ways to overcome conflicts between mitigation and adaptation and policies enabling synergies, including green spaces and surfaces, mixed zoning and smart densification, energy harvesting adaptation design and infrastructure, improved integration of urban and rural areas, etc. Innovative solutions range from flood management systems enhanced with micro hydropower generation in Freiburg, Germany, to floating neighborhoods combining adaptation thinking with low-carbon design in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

Nuno Lopez, Head of Environmental Studies and Management Division, of Almada, Portugal – an Urban-LEDS project citiy –  presented an integrated, eco-system based approach to mitigation and adaptation. On the one hand, the city’s green infrastructure helps reduce GHG emissions by serving as a carbon sink, enhancing the pedestrian and cycling environment, regulating energy consumption,  enabling environmentally sustainable nutrient recycling and local food production. On the other, it improves resilience through flood mitigation, erosion control, and maintaining water availability.

Participants discussed analytical and mapping tools to inform decision making on climate action planning, ways to address climate governance issues, such as silo-thinking, the lack of stakeholder participation, and the disconnect between scientific knowledge and policymaking. Future uncertainty was underlined as one of the key factors hindering effective and timely planning action. At the same time, a lack of appreciation of the uncertainty involved climate action planning can lead to short-sighted spatial development decisions. “In spatial planning, we build complex traffic models, but often expect certainty with climate change down to the neighborhood level”, said Kaj Fischer from Adelphi highlighting the paradox.


Ksenia Mokrushina

Junior Officer, Low Carbon Cities, ICLEI