Working Group II: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability

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4.5. Human Settlements, Energy, and Industry

Human settlements are integrators of many of the climate impacts initially felt in other sectors and differ from each other in geographic location, size, economic circumstances, and political and institutional capacity. As a consequence, it is difficult to make blanket statements concerning the importance of climate or climate change that will not have numerous exceptions. However, classifying human settlements by considering pathways by which climate may affect them, size or other obvious physical considerations, and adaptive capacities (wealth, education of the populace, technological and institutional capacity) helps to explain some of the differences in expected impacts. [7.2]

Human settlements are affected by climate in one of three major ways:

  1. Economic sectors that support the settlement are affected because of changes in productive capacity (e.g., in agriculture or fisheries) or changes in market demand for goods and services produced there (including demand from people living nearby and from tourism). The importance of this impact depends in part on whether the settlement is rural—which generally means that it is dependent on one or two resource-based industries—or urban, in which case there usually (but not always) is a broader array of alternative resources. It also depends on the adaptive capacity of the settlement. [7.1]
  2. Some aspects of physical infrastructure (including energy transmission and distribution systems), buildings, urban services (including transportation systems), and specific industries (such as agroindustry, tourism, and construction) may be directly affected. For example, buildings and infrastructure in deltaic areas may be affected by coastal and river flooding; urban energy demand may increase or decrease as a result of changed balances in space heating and space cooling; and coastal and mountain tourism may be affected by changed seasonal temperature and precipitation patterns and sea-level rise. Concentration of population and infrastructure in urban areas can mean higher numbers of persons and higher value of physical capital at risk, although there also are many economies of scale and proximity in ensuring well-managed infrastructure and service provision. When these factors are combined with other prevention measures, risks can be reduced considerably. However, some larger urban centers in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean, as well as smaller settlements (including villages and small urban centers), often have less wealth, political power, and institutional capacity to reduce risks in this way. [7.1]
  3. Population may be directly affected through extreme weather, changes in health status, or migration. Extreme weather episodes may lead to changes in deaths, injuries, or illness. For example, health status may improve as a result of reduced cold stress or deteriorate as a result of increased heat stress and disease. Population movements caused by climate changes may affect the size and characteristics of settlement populations, which in turn changes the demand for urban services. The problems are somewhat different in the largest population centers (e.g., those of more than 1 million population) and mid-sized to small-sized regional centers. The former are more likely to be destinations for migrants from rural areas and smaller settlements and cross-border areas, but larger settlements generally have much greater command over national resource. Thus, smaller settlements actually may be more vulnerable. Informal settlements surrounding large and medium-size cities in the developing world remain a cause for concern because they exhibit several current health and environmental hazards that could be exacerbated by global warming and have limited command over resources. [7.1]

Table TS-3 classifies several types of climate-caused environmental changes discussed in the climate and human settlement literatures. The table features three general types of settlements, each based on the one of the three major mechanisms by which climate affects settlements. The impacts correspond to the mechanism of the effect. Thus, a given settlement may be affected positively by effects of climate change on its resource base (e.g., more agricultural production) and negatively by effects on its infrastructure (e.g., more frequent flooding of its water works and overload of its electrical system). Different types of settlements may experience these effects in different relative intensities (e.g., noncoastal settlements do not directly experience impacts through sea-level rise); the impacts are ranked from overall highest to lowest importance. Most settlement effects literature is based on 2xCO2 scenarios or studies describing the impact of current weather events (analogs) but has been placed in context of the IPCC transient scenarios. [7.1]

Table TS-3: Impacts of climate change on human settlements, by impact type and settlement type (impact mechanism).a,b
  Type of Settlement, Importance Rating, and Reference
(Effects on Resources)
(Effects on Buildings and Infrastructure)
Urban 1+ M
(Effects on Populations)
Urban <1 M
(Effects on Populations)
Impact Type Urban, High Capacity Urban, Low Capacity Rural, High Capacity Rural, Low Capacity Urban, High Capacity Urban, Low Capacity Rural, High Capacity Rural, Low Capacity High Capacity Low Capacity High Capacity Low Capacity Confidencec
Flooding, landslides L-M M-H L-M M-H L-M M-H M-H M-H M M-H M M-H ****
Tropical cyclone L-M M-H L-M M-H L-M M-H M M-H L-M M L L-M ***
Water quality L-M M L-M M-H L-M M-H L-M M-H L-M M-H L-M M-H ***
Sea-level rise L-M M-H L-M M-H M M-H M M-H L L-M L L-M **** (** for resource-dependent)
Heat/cold waves
L-M M-H L-M M-H L-M L-M L-M L L-M M-H L-M M-H *** (**** for urban)
Water shortage L L-M M M-H L L-M L-M M-H L M L-M M *** (** for urban)
Fires L-M L-M L-M M-H L-M L-M L-M L-M L-M L-M L-M M * (*** for urban)
Hail, windstorm L-M L-M L-M M-H L-M L-M L-M M L-M L-M L-M L-M **
Agriculture/ forestry/fisheries productivity
L-M L-M L-M M-H L L L L L L-M L-M M ***
Air pollution L-M L-M L L L-M M-H L-M M-H ***
L L L-M L-M L L L L L-M L-M ****
Heat islands L L L L M L-M L-M L-M ***
a Values in cells in the table were assigned by authors on the basis of direct evidence in the literature or inference from impacts shown in other cells. Typeface indicates source of rating: Boldface indicates direct evidence or study; italic indicates direct inference from similar impacts; regular typeface indicates logical conclusion from settlement type, but cannot be directly corroborated from a study or inferred from similar impacts.
b Impacts ratings: Low (L) = impacts are barely discernible or easily overcome; moderate (M) = impacts are clearly noticeable, although not disruptive, and may require significant expense or difficulty in adapting; high (H) = impacts are clearly disruptive and may not be overcome or adaptation is so costly that it is disruptive (impacts generally based on 2xCO2 scenarios or studies describing impact of current weather events, but have been placed in context of the IPCC transient scenarios for mid- to late 21st century). Note that "Urban 1+ M" and "Urban <1 M" refer to populations above and below 1 million, respectively.
c See Section 1.4 of Technical Summary for key to confidence-level rankings.

Climate change has the potential to create local and regional conditions that involve water deficits and surpluses, sometimes seasonally in the same geographic locations. The most widespread serious potential impacts are flooding, landslides, mudslides, and avalanches driven by projected increases in rainfall intensity and sea-level rise. A growing literature suggests that a very wide variety of settlements in nearly every climate zone may be affected (established but incomplete). Riverine and coastal settlements are believed to be particularly at risk, but urban flooding could be a problem anywhere storm drains, water supply, and waste management systems are not designed with enough capacity or sophistication (including conventional hardening and more advanced system design) to avoid being overwhelmed. The next most serious threats are tropical cyclones (hurricanes or typhoons), which may increase in peak intensity in a warmer world. Tropical cyclones combine the effects of heavy rainfall, high winds, and storm surge in coastal areas and can be disruptive far inland, but they are not as universal in location as floods and landslides. Tens of millions of people live in the settlements potentially flooded. For example, estimates of the mean annual number of people who would be flooded by coastal storm surges increase several-fold (by 75 million to 200 million people, depending on adaptive responses) for mid-range scenarios of a 40-cm sea-level rise by the 2080s relative to scenarios with no sea-level rise. Potential damages to infrastructure in coastal areas from sea-level rise have been estimated to be tens of billions of dollars for individual countries such as Egypt, Poland, and Vietnam. In the middle of Table TS-3 are effects such as heat or cold waves, which can be disruptive to the resource base (e.g., agriculture), human health, and demand for heating and cooling energy. Environmental impacts such as reduced air and water quality also are included. Windstorms, water shortages, and fire also are expected to be moderately important in many regions. At the lower end are effects such as permafrost melting and heat island effects—which, although important locally, may not apply to as wide a variety of settlements or hold less importance once adaptation is taken into account. [7.2, 7.3]

Global warming is expected to result in increases in energy demand for spacing cooling and in decreased energy use for space heating. Increases in heat waves add to cooling energy demand, and decreases in cold waves reduce heating energy demand. The projected net effect on annual energy consumption is scenario- and location-specific. Adapting human settlements, energy systems, and industry to climate change provides challenges for the design and operation of settlements (in some cases) during more severe weather and opportunities to take advantage (in other cases) of more benign weather. For instance, transmission systems of electric systems are known to be adversely affected by extreme events such as tropical cyclones, tornadoes, and ice storms. The existence of local capacity to limit environmental hazards or their health consequences in any settlement generally implies local capacity to adapt to climate change, unless adaptation implies particularly expensive infrastructure investment. Adaptation to warmer climate will require local tuning of settlements to a changing environment, not just warmer temperatures. Urban experts are unanimous that successful environmental adaptation cannot occur without locally based, technically and institutionally competent, and politically supported leadership that have good access to national-level resources. [7.2, 7.3, 7.4, 7.5]

Possible adaptation options involve planning of settlements and their infrastructure, placement of industrial facilities, and making similar long-lived decisions to reduce the adverse effects of events that are of low (but increasing) probability and high (and perhaps rising) consequences. Many specific conventional and advanced techniques can contribute to better environmental planning and management, including market-based tools for pollution control, demand management and waste reduction, mixed-use zoning and transport planning (with appropriate provision for pedestrians and cyclists), environmental impact assessments, capacity studies, strategic environmental plans, environmental audit procedures, and state-of-the-environment reports. Many cities have used a combination of these strategies in developing "Local Agenda 21s." Many Local Agenda 21s deal with a list of urban problems that could closely interact with climate change in the future. [7.2, 7.5]

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