The first UrbanA Community Conversation — designing a local climate adaptation plan

Urban Arenas
Apr 9, 2020 · 5 min read
Screenshot of the first UrbanA Community Conversation

UrbanA Community Conversations are a new series of regular online events that bring together people with a passion for urban sustainability and justice to connect, learn, discuss and have fun. On Tuesday, April 7th, more than 30 people joined the very first Community Conversation to discuss local climate adaptation and try out a live exercise on how to create an actual adaptation plan.

João Dinis, from Cascais Municipality in the metropolitan area of Lisbon, Portugal, gave a rich and exciting presentation on Cascais’ local climate adaptation plan, the very first in Portugal. You can watch here and find his slides here. Although participants asked many questions during the webinar, time constraints did not allow us to answer them all. Fortunately, João kindly provided written answers following the webinar, which you can see below.

Reflecting on the event, João commented, “The UrbanA Community Conversation was a great opportunity to connect creative city planners and researchers from all over Europe. As climate change adaptation merges sustainability and resilience initiatives, participants had the chance to consensually merge different perspectives for local strategies. The shared tools and ideas can be easily replicated by all climate-related stakeholders, as they are well established and inclusive methods to engage local communities and experts in working environments.”

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Extra questions asked at the webinar with João’s written answers

How do you integrate NGOs in this work?

NGOs are brought in right from the start of the process. There are many ways to do this, some even with completely opposite approaches. They are brought first to assess how they can contribute: with expertise? With action potential? Communication and engagement of the communities? More people in the process does not mean added complexity, it means a more thorough assessment of the situation: the relevant stakeholders and more are brought to help with this challenge.

How is all that related to what is going on these days? Do you think that we are continuing with ‘business as usual’?

Climate change is an anthropic phenomenon. Meaning that our joint actions (resource consumption) contribute to the emissions that change the atmospheric balance. I will not comment about the economic model based on this. I must focus on the objective of Greenhouse Gases in the atmosphere. Right now, we have seen a significant, abrupt, reduction of these emissions as we are required to stay home, reduce our consumption and, therefore, in a cascade effect, production has nearly halted worldwide. We have seen multiple reports of environmental “progress” in cities, including the reduction of air pollution, car traffic and oil-based products, noise, etc.… This has a positive effect as now we can see how the environment and natural heritage can spawn and renovate their habitats. This is a visible and tangible scenario on which we can study and rely.

However, the social tool is significant. We have already heard about the “Marshall” Plan to renovate the economy… I foresee us going to business as usual, but people are now better informed about how life and our cities can be if we tackle the climate change challenge.

How did you make sure to sustain the actions of the Action Plan over time?

They were mostly organizational. With this I mean that the responsible team and institutions had to change the way they worked together. This does require more resources, sometimes in the form of staff or financial resources for equipment, but, most of all, it’s a change of how people work with other people. More transversal work between departments, more sharing of information, added input from stakeholders, etc. It does not add complexity, it adds effectiveness. For us to ensure this continuation, we must ensure capacity is built and more moments of sharing/information gathering.

Technical staff, citizens and decision makers must embrace the change!

Can you talk more about what to do to make changes sustain over time after implementation (in relation to what you said on the changes in government every four years, because of elections and party politics?)

We have made an action plan and converted it into a political commitment with a strong communication emphasis. The fact it was built with a bottom-up approach strengthened both the scientific and technical expertise and made it nearly ‘bullet-proof’ for post-political assessment. This is a commitment for climate change with the participation of dozens of experts that cannot be easily turned over!

Can you elaborate more on the green taxes (you mentioned that people didn’t like them -but who likes taxes anyway! :) so maybe people pay taxes for other reasons than “like it”… so, shouldn’t we try, even though people don’t like it?!…

In government fiscal management, there is the possibility to create taxes which feed given projects or funds. A Green tax is something that tries to create a financial evaluation of the environmental externalities of a given product or service. For example, gasoline consumption hurts the environment, and for each litre of gasoline, we can assess a contribution to be invested to neutralize that damage (e.g. plant trees, water infrastructure, help vulnerable communities, etc.). This is not a popular solution and the “yellow vests” movement proved that in France…

The most “publicly friendly solutions” is to allocate financial resources to a green fund and promote adaptation actions. These can also be achieved through partnerships with NGOs or the private sector in joint investments.

Would you say that the Adaptation Priority Matrix is a specialized Score Card for Decision making?

In a short reply: yes. However, they are different from a ‘decision making project’ as this is the result of a previous discussion where stakeholders place the suggested actions and their impacts to be included in the adaptation process. For each person, their own project is relevant, but we need to assess all of the stakeholders’ opinions. As this is before the ‘decision making’ process as it is usually done by the technical staff and stakeholders. It is much more of an evaluation than a decision.

Does this scorecard cover enough that prioritization can be done effectively? For example, in addition to co-benefits, some choices could mean lock-ins or crowd-outs in the future and prevent sustainable decisions in the future.

It can cover more criteria than this. But sometimes it merges a few of the criteria already in place here. These are the ones to be considered at the technical, execution level: are these actions going to contribute to resilience and reduction of vulnerabilities? How challenging is their implementation?

Interesting Sources for methodologies:

https://climate-adapt.eea.europa.eu/

https://www.ukcip.org.uk/

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UrbanA Blog on Sustainable Just Cities

Sharing the highlights of UrbanA’s co-creative journey with city-makers and city-thinkers over 3 years for #sustainablejustcities. #Horizon2020