The United Nation’s 27th climate meeting, the Conference of the Parties (COP27), takes place next week in Egypt and climate finance and reparations are top of the agenda. Both topics are about transferring funds from affluent to less affluent nations. The poorest countries of the world, many of them in the Global South, are facing some of the most urgent and significant climate impacts. Increasingly, Africa experiences flooding and drought simultaneously and its populations struggle in the face of power blackouts, crop failures, and migration driven at least in part by climate change. Egypt is hosting this year’s conference, and it has a great opportunity to bring the African agenda to the fore.

My hope is that this ‘African COP’ will also bring a renewed focus on the importance of climate adaptation and resilience. We need an approach to adaptation and resilience that is driven by solidarity with the most vulnerable societies and climate justice. These are two pivotal factors for which the continent’s many different nations need solutions and funding.

The scale of flooding in Pakistan this summer, together with the impact of Hurricane Andy in the United States, have highlighted how climate change effects are intensifying and becoming national emergencies – often in the space of just hours. Resilience is an unassuming word that describes a massive to-do list of infrastructure upgrades, economic choices, ad significant changes to the future development of the human world we design and build.

Solving… means adaptation

We know that calls for more funding for climate adaptative measures to build nations’ resilience will grow during and after COP27. Arup has been active in the field of urban resilience for many years. We focus on establishing the specific climate risks individual cities face and on creating plans to reduce the scale of these risks, or to overcome them.

Like climate change, resilience is a great leveller – every place and community face intensifying impacts of climate change. We all need to build greater resilience wherever we live, and however well we know the places we call home. Taking a programmatic approach to place-based resilience allows us to reveal pragmatic (and affordable) opportunities to rethink the development of our cities, towns and rural areas in ways that will allow us to adapt well to this age of climate change.

Thinking about resilience in Africa there are many common needs:

  • the challenge to address air pollution
  • accelerating the shift from diesel power to dependable electrification
  • demand for affordable and sustainable public transport
  • growing flood protection requirements
  • developing more sustainable agriculture practices
  • the protection of natural habitats, particularly forests.

Proposed solutions need to be good for climate stability, for people, and for nature. They also need to make sense within the context of local circumstances, by responding to local needs and building endogenous capabilities. Climate solutions that leave the poorest behind will simply stoke existing instabilities and undermine the very people who are at most risk of the climate threat. We need to deliver fairness through ‘a just transition’ – a phrase we can and should use more often.

Resilience for the most vulnerable

Our recent work with Resilient Cities Network (R-Cities) in Lagos, Nigeria and Cape Town, South Africa has set out what part of the path to resilience might look like. The two cities are participating in R-Cities’ Urban Power programme, which provides design expertise to prepare projects that will deliver critical green energy solutions to vulnerable and poor urban populations. These projects focus on enhancing energy service quality and accelerating the transition to clean energy supply, while creating jobs and expanding energy access, particularly to low income communities and residents of informal settlements.

“There are almost 100 million people in urban centres in sub-Saharan Africa who live under or near the grid, but who lack an electricity connection,” says R-Cities’ Global Director for Strategy and Regional Director for Africa, Dana Omran. “Increasing and improving energy access can help link these communities with critical socio-economic resources, while improving reliability of energy supply. By co-designing solutions with government, local communities, partners, and funders, we hope to accelerate an energy transition that is green, equitable and resilient.”

There are almost 100 million people in urban centres in sub-Saharan Africa who live under or near the grid, but who lack an electricity connection. Increasing and improving energy access can help link these communities with critical socio-economic resources, while improving reliability of energy supply. ”Dana Omran, R-Cities’ Global Director for Strategy and Regional Director for Africa

Focus on the fundamentals

Resilience requires critical systems to be in place and robust. “Resilience starts with fundamental access to services,” explains my colleague Tessa Brunette, Arup’s sustainability leader for Africa. “Do people have access to water? To reliable energy? Basic provision means providing the foundational elements of a dignified life.”

In Africa, resilience is deeply connected to climate change adaptation. Where the Global North is focusing on priorities like decarbonizing existing infrastructure and cities, in Africa there’s less to retrofit. The continent is still shaping its cities and infrastructure, as populations grow and urbanise. “The focus we’re seeing in Africa is on designing-in resilience and adaptive qualities for new buildings, assets and cities,” says Brunette. “Geography and relative poverty mean climate change will hit many of these nations the hardest, so a focus on resilience is imperative.”

Resilience starts with fundamental access to services. Do people have access to water? To reliable energy? Basic provision means providing the foundational elements of a dignified life. ”Tessa Brunette Tessa BrunetteArup Sustainability Leader for Africa

Always more to do

COP27 will be important because it will allow the world to hear more African voices and insights about our shared global challenge to prevent catastrophic climate change. I hope it will also offer us a chance to intensify the global focus on the design and implementation of resilience and adaptive measures for the buildings and critical infrastructure we all depend on – wherever we live.

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