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UCL Home  /  Geography  /  News & Events  /  News  /  News Archive  /  2016  /  February 2016  /  Spending on climate change adaptation protects capital, not people?

Spending on climate change adaptation protects capital, not people?

UCL Geography reports in Nature Climate Change

Spending on climate change adaptation protects capital, not people?

Developed cities are spending significantly more than developing cities on measures to adapt to the impacts of climate change – with spending seemingly linked to wealth rather than to the number of vulnerable people.

 UCL research, published on 1 March in Nature Climate Change, analysed the amount that ten global megacities (i.e. with a populations greater than three million, or GDP ranking among the top 25 global cities, or both) spent on climate adaptation measures, such as better drainage systems, coastal defences and more resilient infrastructure.

Lead author Lucien Georgeson (UCL Geography) explains:

The majority of the world’s population now lives in cities, with major urban centres increasingly at risk from extreme weather, water scarcity and energy shortages as a consequence of climate change. Cities are planning with a view to improving their resilience and we wanted to understand better what is happening - how much is spent in different cities? What areas are different cities prioritising? Are resources being allocated efficiently or fairly?”

The authors found that £223 billion (0.38% of global GDP) was spent on climate adaptation worldwide in 2014/15, with the largest share in developed cities. Cities in more vulnerable developing countries, such as Addis Ababa (Ethiopia), Lagos (Nigeria) and Jakarta (Indonesia), spent much less.

New York (USA) spent the most (a total of around £1.6 billion, about £190 per person in 2014/15), whereas Addis Ababa spent both the least overall (around £15 million) and least per person (under £5). The authors conclude that, taken together, this suggests that current adaptation spending tracks the protection of capital rather than of people.

The research also looked at the sectors where money is allocated, again showing significant differences between cities. For example, Addis Ababa and Lagos have proportionality higher spending on health and agriculture, whereas in London, New York and Paris the highest share goes to energy, water and professional services. Beijing (China) emerges as a notable exception, spending the highest percentage of GDP on adaptation, and by far the highest share on the ‘built environment’. The authors suggest this could be influenced by strong centralised policy frameworks in China.

Professor Mark Maslin (UCL Geography) adds:

“We have developed a unique method with kMatrix Ltd to track individual financial transactions.  This is extremely powerful as we can provide policymakers with new insights into who is spending what on adaptation within their cities. This study is part of a large project to track and monitor the development of the global green economy through real spending, including all aspects of adaptation and sustainability.”

The research shows that spending on adaptation remains a small part of the global economy, but is likely to rise in line with strong overall levels of growth over the last seven years. The disparities between cities are significant, suggesting that those in developing and emerging economies require further resources to deliver adaptation for their current or future populations. This is cause for a concern, given the large projected future populations of those cities. Adequate funding must be made available to those cities most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.




Lucien Georgeson

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Mark Maslin