Climate Change and Gentrification

Cities account for nearly 70 percent of greenhouse gas emissions (PDF) and many are experiencing more instances of extreme weather, heat, droughts and flooding due to climate change. Climate change negatively affects poor communities, women, people with disabilities, indigenous groups and other marginalized populations the most. That’s why it’s so important for cities tackling climate change to engage with these frontline communities in the designing of actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to climate change.

Climate change is inextricably linked to the challenges of eradicating poverty and creating a more equal world. For example, 10% of the global population generate more than 50% of global emissions, whilst large proportions of the urban population continue to lack access to basic services and are very prone to climate hazards. In this context, it becomes clear that it is impossible to tackle climate change without also tackling inequality, and vice-versa. Climate actions also bring wider social, economic and environmental benefits, such as air quality improvement, low-cost renewable energy and employment opportunities.  

Urban climate action can help to address injustices inherent in climate change, but only if city governments put people at the center of their climate action planning process.

As natural disasters become more destructive and “climate strikes” take hold around the globe, we no longer collectively can turn a blind eye to the climate crisis we’re racing towards. It’s time for governments, businesses and citizens (and especially the real estate and construction industry) to answer the calls of climate action that are being shouted from all corners of the world.

Avoiding green gentrification while tackling climate change and inequality

If designed well with citizens and communities in mind, climate action can avoid green gentrification and can help address some pre-existing social and economic inequalities in cities.

For a city beginning to think about climate action, the first step is to consider local context and priorities. For instance, if a city has a large portion of its residents living in informal housing in low-lying coastal areas, urban practitioners should consider how climate change will affect these groups. Stronger storms could cause increased flooding and damage to already weak structures.

The key is to put people at the heart of planning and ask: Which groups or frontline communities in my city are affected by climate change? When it comes to climate action, who has access and who does not? City planners must understand how access to services and policies differs amongst parts of the urban population in order to design policies to reach the maximum amount of people, and particularly those most in need.

When designed for all, climate actions can contribute many other benefits besides reducing greenhouse gas emissions, such as improving health and well-being, increasing economic prosperity, and strengthening institutions and governance. By diagnosing the broad areas where the city is doing well — and not so well — city decision-makers can prioritize climate policies that target specific needs.

Images: Cover – Milo Hachim illustration; 2 – Shutterstock yuttana Contributor Studio

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