Book Reviews: Global Report On Human Settlements 2011, Cities and Climate Change


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Keywords: climate change, urban development, spatial planning, sustainable development, international law

Over half of the world's population now live in urban settlements. It is generally recog-nised that the convergence of urbanisation and climate change has the potential for an unprecedented impact on economies, quality of life and social stability. These issues are tackled in the 2011 edition of the United Nations Habitats Global Report on Human Settlement; in particular it highlights the values of an international perspective. The report seeks to improve knowledge amongst governments and all those with a role in urban development policy and climate change alleviation work. It describes and discusses the contribution of cities to climate change; the impacts of climate change on cities and how cities are mitigating and adapting to climate change. More importantly, Dr Joan Clos, Under-Sec ret a ry General and Executive Director of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN Habitat) explains in the Introduction that the report identifies promising mitigation measures that are supportive of more sustainable and resilient urban paths (p. vi).

The report is comprised of seven chapters, supported by a detailed statistical annex. It is also well illustrated with figures, illustration boxes and tables. This text can therefore be read straight through as a narrative, or utilised as a reference point and resource. The former, however, is recommend as the report takes the reader systematically through the reasons and issues surrounding climate change. It states that poverty, which is increasingly developing an urban face, is the most formidable global challenge, but acknowledges that climate change is a complicating factor in tackling this. The report concludes that urban populations and economic sectors are faced with two challenges: the need to adapt to the impact of at least some amount of global wanning and the urgent need to mitigate the causes of climate change. This report does, however, recognise that urban development can also be a source of resilience and it is this measured, but positive, message which is the main focus of the concluding sections of the text.

The first chapter sets out the background and context for the report. Chapter 2 focuses on the international climate change framework and the implications, opportunities and challenges that it offers for urban action. Chapter 3 examines the contribution of urban areas to climate change. It discusses the main protocols and methods of measuring Green House Gas (GHG) emissions and examines transportation, industry, and other sources of GHG emissions in more detail. Chapter 4 considers climate impacts and vulnerabilities. It discusses how climate change may exacerbate the physical, social and economic challenges that cities are currently experiencing. This analysis provides direction for policy development. Mitigation is addressed in the next chapter, including a comparative analysis of emerging trends in mitigation responses. Chapter 6 considers the international context and highlights the failure to reduce GHG. It therefore concludes that adaptation measures over the next decade are crucial. This chapter defines urban adaptation and adaptive capacity followed by a review of some existing coping and adaptation experiences by individuals and households, communities and urban governments. It then examines the relative roles and potential partnerships between stakeholders, including the financing of these initiatives. This is a most interesting and indeed creative chapter. The final chapter summarises the key findings and messages of the report and proposes a set of integrating themes. It provides a series of suggestions for future policy direction in terms of local, national and international principles and policies to support and enhance urban responses to climate change.

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