Urban Climate Resilience

Building resilience in cities to absorb,
adapt to, and recover from
Climate Change shocks and

Neighborhood-Level Climate Adaptation

Cities are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, facing extreme weather events like drought, floods, and heatwaves, as well as slow onset events such as rising temperatures or sea level rise. These events result in not only economic losses, such as loss of income or damage to infrastructure and other physical assets, but also cause non-economic losses and damages to the environment, to society, and to individuals, even leading to loss of life. The impacts of the climate crisis hit the most vulnerable groups within society the hardest, as they are disproportionately exposed to these effects and often lack capacities to deal with these impacts and do not have proper access to services and utilities. The urgency of this crisis calls for a speed-up of climate adaptation measures.

However, while major metropolitan areas already receive a lot of support in designing and executing effective measures to increase resilience for their citizens, small and medium-sized cities (SMSCs) often remain overlooked. This poses a significant gap in global response strategies to climate change, as SMSCs constitute a crucial part of urban spaces but lack the necessary resources to confront climate-related challenges. 

This section covers urban climate adaptation with the lens of neighborhood-level measures in secondary cities and SMSCs, along with specific approaches to increase the effectiveness and sustainability of these measures, i.e., by using nature-based solutions or ensuring gender-responsive and participatory approaches. Building upon a concrete example of a pilot project in a public space, the experience of the GIZ project CitiesAdapt provides a basis for small-scale intervention through learning-by-doing on the ground which can be replicated and help to mainstream climate adaptation both on a city-wide and national level. 

General information about CitiesAdapt and its work in progress in the neighborhoods of eSikhaleni (City of uHmlathuze – South Africa) and Plan de Ayala Sur (City of Merida – Mexico) can be found in the Project Flyer (link) and other links in the bottom of the page.

Approaches for Neighborhood-Level Adaptation

Local community engagements and design competitions among local university students are examples of how CitiesAdapt integrates participation into the development of the implemented measures and on shaping neighbourhood strategies and climate action plans, leading to shared decision-making instances, increased trust in local policies, effectiveness, and community ownership of chosen adaptation strategies.

Climate change disproportionately affects women, with consequences ranging from increasing pressures on girls to leave school to help their mothers manage the increased burden on their livelihoods, as women often bear a disproportionate responsibility for securing food, water, and fuel, to increased health risks and vulnerability to violence during disasters due to a combined effect of less representation in policy making, a lack of resources as well as, in many cases, unequal rights. However, it’s crucial to recognize that other vulnerable groups, such as indigenous peoples, persons with disabilities, elderly individuals, and low-income households, also face heightened risks due to intersecting factors like race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status.

To address these challenges effectively, neighborhood-level adaptation measures should take inclusive and intersectional approaches that prioritize the needs of all vulnerable groups, engaging diverse stakeholders in decision-making processes and co-designing adaptation strategies tailored to their unique perspectives and priorities. 

In the case of the cities of uMhlathuze and Merida, an in-depth gender analysis developed by CitiesAdapt to understand the local context, pointed out five main challenges alongside opportunities for action:

  • Feminization of Poverty: Employment opportunities and capacity building, along with a food security approach, are central to addressing the feminization of poverty.
  • Gender-Based Violence: Partnerships with existing GBV programs and initiatives are formed, integrating safety-enhanced design features while raising awareness.
  • Intersectional Lens: An intersectional lens, considering factors such as gender and ethnicity, is adopted to ensure inclusivity and effectiveness.
  • Lack of Local Implementation: Efforts include integrating gender lenses in capacity building, incorporating national gender policies into local instruments, and supporting gender policy development.
  • Customary Law Structures: Dialogue on gender equality involves male members of local communities, particularly traditional leaders, within the context of customary law structures (especially in South Africa).

Nature-based Solutions (NbS) encompass a variety of ecosystem-based and context-specific methods that make use of natural processes to promote human well-being and environmental health. As such, NbS is an umbrella term which also includes Ecosystem-based Adaptation.

Aside of being great integrated approaches for climate change adaptation, Nature-based Solutions (NbS) offer a wide range of co-benefits such as biodiversity conservation and improved health and wellbeing of the population. NbS allow for long-term effectiveness, especially when developed in collaboration with local residents for co-creation, co-implementation, and long-term sustainable use, monitoring, and management.

Adopting this approach in urban climate adaptation allows for a focus on solutions inspired and supported by nature, building upon diverse natural processes, local biodiversity, and less costly designs, in comparison to traditional technical measures.

Project Example: CitiesAdapt - Strenghtening Climate Change Adaptation in Cities

Currently being implemented by GIZ, the global project “CitiesAdapt – Strengthening Climate Change Adaptation in Cities” is supporting Mérida in Mexico and uMhlathuze in South Africa in moving towards climate-resistant and pro-poor urban development, with a strong component of neighborhood-level adaptation.

The project is structured around three different outputs

  1. Planning and policy support to integrate climate-resilient urban adaptation into urban development instruments among the two partner cities; 
  2. Implementing a demonstration project in neighborhood-level, which yields a model approach for replication in transfer cities; and facilitating
  3. Exchange and advocacy for pro-poor and climate-resilient urban development on a national and international level.

Below are some highlights of the work being developed by the project in each of these approaches:

Participatory Approach: Community Engagements and Student Competitions

Community Engagement in Esikhaleni, SA

On November 15, 2023, a participatory community mobilization event took place in Esikhaleni, involving the CoU, GIZ, community members, traditional authorities, and ward committee members. The agenda covered topics such as climate change, hazard mapping, gender mainstreaming, and co-designing adaptation measures against flooding. Group exercises and plenary discussions ensured local stakeholder participation in decision-making processes.

Student Competition in Yucatán

In Mexico, a student competition was organized in collaboration with Mérida’s Municipal Planning Institute and the Sustainable Development Unit. The competition sought innovative ideas for urban adaptation in Mérida, involving university students from the Yucatan Peninsula. Over 80 participants formed multidisciplinary teams of 3 to 5 members, developing proposals for: a) Planning of the transition space between the urban area and the Cuxtal reserve; b) Designing public spaces surrounding a health module and a primary school in Colonia Plan de Ayala Sur; c) Assessing the effectiveness of proposals in promoting resilience and adaptation to climate change; d) Integration of ecosystem services and nature-based solutions; e) Evaluating the feasibility of replicability of the proposals; f) Identifying co-benefits generated by the proposals.

Gender-Responsiveness and Inclusion of Youth and Economically Vulnerable groups

Cross-Cutting Issues and Adaptation Measures

During the 2nd Neighborhood Workshop Follow-up in Plan de Ayala Sur - Merida (Q1 2023), a session was held on Gender Sensitization and awareness-raising. Small groups exchanged and reflected on the gender status-quo in relation to resilience and adaptation to climate change.

Awareness-Campaign Among Children

On November 15, 2023, a participatory community mobilization event took place in Esikhaleni, involving the CoU, GIZ, community members, traditional authorities, and ward committee members. The agenda covered topics such as climate change, hazard mapping, gender mainstreaming, and co-designing adaptation measures against flooding. Group exercises and plenary discussions ensured local stakeholder participation in decision-making processes.

Nature-based Solutions: addressing flooding through improved soil permeability

Concrete Activities in Mexico: Lines of Action and Integrated Measures

CitiesAdapt develops practical, innovative, and scalable proposals in the public space surrounding a Medical Clinic in the Plan de Ayala Sur neighborhood, in Mérida, Mexico, to enhance resilience and promote adaptation to the foreseeable effects of climate change in the neighborhood and the transitional space between the urban area and the Cuxtal Reserve. This set of measures include creating accessible and comfortable spaces for all, reducing heat islands through the integration of shade and vegetation, improving soil permeability to mitigate floods, incorporating native flora for environmental sustainability and cost reduction, and promoting sustainable mobility by designing streets with safer access and connectivity to public transportation and cycling routes.

Nature-based Solutions: addressing urban heat islands and flood risks by bringing nature into public spaces

Rain gardens are nature-based solutions that efficiently manage stormwater in urban areas. These shallow depressions, commonly found in parks and gardens, are filled with diverse vegetation, which collects and filters runoff, aiding in ground infiltration during storms. These solutions complement traditional infrastructure, offering aesthetic and ecological benefits, and reduce heat, remove pollutants from water and soil, and stabilize soil against subsidence. They also offer a range of benefits to communities, including carbon storage, job creation, educational opportunities, biodiversity support, and enhanced social interaction. Proper design and maintenance are essential for their effectiveness, considering factors like location, hydrology, soil, dimensions, and urban integration.

More Information

To learn more about the project, more information can be found below:

CitiesAdapt Project Flyer

Factsheet with key information about the project CitiesAdapt. 

Roll-up Banner (English)

Awareness material on Climate Change Adaptation and NbS developed for South Africa.

CitiesAdapt Project Flyer

Factsheet with key information about the project CitiesAdapt. 

Roll-up Banner (Spanish)

Informative material on Climate Change Adaptation and NbS,

Remote Sensing Tool

Web-based tool to assess surface temperature and other information using sattelite imagery.