CASCADES Climate Resilience

Climate Resilience in Cities of the EU’s Southern Neighbourhood. Opportunities for the EU Green Deal

Fecha de publicación:
11/2021
Autor:
Hannah Abdullah, Karim Elgendy and Hanne Knaepen
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CASCADES Publication 2021

Cities in the Middle East and North Africa are already suffering the effects of climate change. Weak urban regulation, ineffective climate policies, limited decentralization and insufficient empowerment of local authorities and civil society further decrease urban resilience. Future climate scenarios and projected urban growth threaten the stability of the region; with potential negative knock-on effects on Europe. This CASCADES Spotlight Study examines climate vulnerabilities in urban areas in countries to the south of the EU and the wider Middle East and North Africa region and advocates for systemic approaches to addressing urban climate resilience by strengthening the water-energy-food nexus, as well as other enabling factors such as decentralization. It concludes with recommendations on how the European Green Deal can help cities in the region adapt to climate impacts, based on a water-energy-food nexus approach.

Over the past two decades, the European Commission has stepped up its support for urban climate action and resilience. An increasing number of programmes financed under the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) South have addressed urban climate resilience in response to the region’s rapid urbanization and the high climate vulnerability of cities.

The number of urban dwellers in the wider Middle East and North Africa region is estimated to reach 527 million in 2050, an increase of 72% compared to 2020. At the same time, climate impacts – including both slow onset changes and sudden disasters – are putting additional stress on urban infrastructure. This stress is aggravated by weak urban regulations that have created unsustainable development trends which undermine the potential benefits of urbanization and adversely affect urban climate resilience. The prevalence of highly centralized administrative systems and incomplete decentralization reforms hamper local capacity building and decision-making, which are prerequisites for effective adaptation and resilience.

At the same time, climate impacts – including both slow onset changes and sudden disasters – are putting additional stress on urban infrastructure. This stress is aggravated by weak urban regulations that have created unsustainable development trends which undermine the potential benefits of urbanization and adversely affect urban climate resilience. The prevalence of highly centralized administrative systems and incomplete decentralization reforms hamper local capacity building and decision-making, which are prerequisites for effective adaptation and resilience.

The convergence of the region’s harsh climatic conditions with rapid, unsustainable urbanization and the associated socio-economic burdens can exacerbate existing political instability, conflict-induced migration and poverty. These developments could cascade into the EU, altering security, trade and diplomatic relations with the Southern Neighbourhood. The EU’s evolving approach to working with local authorities on urban infrastructure and climate governance is a first step towards addressing the region’s intertwined urban and climate crises. However, this approach is still in the early stages and there is a need to reflect on lessons learned and how urban spaces, climates and governance are evolving in the region.

This study suggests that the EU’s overwhelming focus on supporting cities in the region with energy efficiency and the transition to sustainable energy systems is not enough to strengthen urban climate resilience. In cities of the Southern Neighbourhood, which typically struggle with resource management and scarcity, climate resilience will increasingly depend on local capacities to formulate and implement nexus approaches, especially in the water, energy and food sectors. Based on case studies of three small and intermediary urban areas, the study advocates for a systemic approach to addressing urban climate resilience in Southern Neighbourhood cities. Considering the established effectiveness of applying a water-energy-food nexus approach to improving climate resilience, the paper stresses the need for local governments to explore nexus opportunities between the water, energy and food sectors in order to achieve resilient and sustainable urbanism, while also highlighting other enabling factors such as decentralization. It concludes by exploring how future external action around the European Green Deal and its ambitions for systemic transformation could benefit from stepping up cooperation with cities in the Southern Neighbourhood around the water-energy-food nexus.