No city is 100% climate-proof.
Extreme weather events have become the new norm, the World Meteorological Organisation says. Melting glaciers, flooding cities, relentless wildfires, and unbearable heat waves are always in the news. The threats of climate change are impacting every country in the world, but places will be disproportionately affected—cities in coastal areas will face more flooding, while some regions will have to deal with terrible air quality, forest fires, and water crises. Cities will become inhabitable and people will lose their homes and livelihoods. Lesser developed nations and low-income groups in every country will be most vulnerable.
On the contrary, there are places that will fare better (relatively). There are also many places in the world that are already taking action against climate change and making policies to mitigate the risks. In this article, we’ll focus on the world’s most climate-resilient cities and what they’re doing to prepare for the worst.
If you’re living in a city that’s going to look very different in the next couple of decades, then perhaps it makes sense to follow climate news more obsessively and vote for leaders who will work to prevent catastrophes. A report by the World Bank predicts that 140 million people could be displaced due to climate change and they would have to migrate within their countries’ borders by 2050.
Located on Lake Superior in Minnesota, Duluth was called “climate-proof” by a Harvard lecturer, thanks to its access to freshwater, clean-energy initiatives, available housing, and cold weather. It’s a beautiful city with frigid winters and a diverse, friendly community, and it might become a refuge for future climate migrants.
People are already moving to the city to escape extreme weather events, but Duluth, too, has its own problems. It witnessed floods in 2012 and Lake Superior is one of the fastest-warming lakes in the world. In fact, the Great Lakes Region is being touted as “climate haven” but it’s also facing the harsh realities of global warming (floods, agricultural pollution, toxic algae bloom, and the high cost of safe water). No city is 100% climate-safe.
WHERE: New York
In the face of climate change, upstate New York cities may fare better than metros. Buffalo has access to fresh water, a colder climate that will become moderate, and room to grow and accommodate people. It isn’t getting impacted by rising sea levels, droughts, or wildfires, and it’s also affordable. It seems it will be a desirable city to climate migrants in the coming years for these reasons. Mayor Byron Brown declared in 2019 that Buffalo will be a climate refuge city, but it will need urban planning to make it happen.
Another city that’s promoting itself as a climate haven, Cincinnati launched a Green Plan in 2018 that highlights how it will prepare for migration due to climate change. The city has fewer threats compared to other U.S. cities and it has space to accommodate people. To plan for future migration, it’s looking into affordable housing and job creation.
Madison was featured as one of the cities in the U.S. that will be relatively safer from climate impacts. In a blog post, Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway wrote, “With no hurricanes, no wildfires, no sea-level rise, no extreme heat waves, and plenty of fresh water–Madison is an ideal location to avoid the greatest impacts from climate change.”
Madison is also weathering the impacts of climate change: it’s getting warmer and experiencing heat waves, but it is better prepared to withstand the effects and has climate policies to reduce emissions and adapt to climate change.
WHERE: New Zealand
According to The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Safe Cities Index 2021, Wellington is best prepared for climate change. It ranks the highest on its Environmental Security list. The capital of New Zealand plans to become a zero carbon capital by 2050 and it aims to reduce 57% of its emissions by 2030. In addition to carefully drafted climate strategies, Wellington has great air quality and urban green cover and it is investing in sustainability initiatives including clean energy and efficient buildings. Their climate plan also details adaptation.
In the same Safe Cities Index 2021, Copenhagen outdid 59 other destinations to earn the title of the world’s safest city. It ranked third on digital security as well as infrastructure security, sixth on the environmental security index, and topped personal security. It aims to be the world’s first carbon neutral city by 2025—a goal it has been working on even before the Paris Agreement of 2015. It also has good air quality and generates renewable energy from wind turbines. As per a Deloitte report, about 66% of trips in Copenhagen in 2019 were made on foot, by bike, or on public transport.
Copenhagen Lord Mayor Lars Weiss explained, “We are putting extensive effort into reducing energy consumption, investing in green energy, and encouraging green mobility, thereby developing our city in a sustainable way. Furthermore, Copenhagen is taking climate adaptation measures that both improve environmental security and contribute to liveability in the capital. We have created new parks and green urban spaces to collect water. The once industrial and polluted harbor has now become a unique urban space and a popular place for swimming, partly because we modernized the sewage system diverting local rainwater.”
The Swedish capital is also among the top cities when it comes to environmental security. The city aims to be fossil-free by 2040. It also wants to be a climate-positive city by 2040 and it’s already the world’s smartest city because it’s making great strides in innovations for the environment, digital tech, and wellbeing of its residents.