"Global risk and adaptation futures – What role is played by urbanisation?"

2018 Summer Academy, 24 to 28 September 2018, Rheinhotel Schulz, Unkel (Bonn)

Since 2009, there have been more people living in cities than in rural areas. This equals approximately 4.2 billion in 2018. The trend towards urbanisation is set to continue and harbours risks as well as bringing opportunities. On one hand, it creates risk hotspots, for example for natural hazards. On the other hand, thanks to redundant infrastructure such as multiple hospitals, cities enhance resilience to external shocks.

Climate and environmental changes could exert a huge influence on the interaction between opportunities and risks. What does the future hold? At the 2018 Summer Academy, 25 scientists, UN delegates, government advisors and NGO representatives explored this question. The components of risk are exposure, vulnerability and the degree of hazard. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the United Nations, and many political committees at local, regional and national level use a propeller diagram to represent this interplay (see Picture 1).

In his speech, Paul Desanker from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and responsible for the national adaptation programme, emphasised how important the three components are for good risk management. It is only possible to develop reliable future scenarios if there is adequate understanding of all three variables, and if they have been scientifically analysed. Such scenarios then form the basis for political planning, in particular adaptation planning for climate change at national level (NAPs – National Adaptation Plans).

Matthias Garschagen, the Dean of the Academy, explained the connections between vulnerability, exposure and hazard.

Matthias Garschagen and his research team have identified the areas where research funds and papers are available. A lot of work is involved in analysing hazard, while there is often inadequate research available on the subjects of vulnerability and exposure – particularly on socio-economic aspects. The Academy brought together a number of experts to try to bridge this gap. The participants worked out how to measure vulnerability using examples from Asia (India, The Philippines, Indonesia) and Africa (Ghana, South Africa, Kenya). They also examined the roles played by informal settlements, slums, and slow infrastructure planning. These are also central factors for the development of vulnerability and resilience. Alongside the well-studied environmental changes, they are playing a prominent role, and need to be better integrated into risk management planning and adaptation plans (NAPs). Internationally recognised guidelines need to be defined in this context. This was also underlined by Academy partner UNFCCC.

In the opening panel, Jakob Rhyner (UNU-EHS), Paul Desanker (UNFCCC), Yuka Terada (UN-Habitat), Mark Pelling (King's College, London) and Matthias Garschagen (UNU-EHS) discussed how sustainable urban planning needs to be designed and what solutions are already available today.

But Professor Mark Pelling of King's College, London, one of the world's leading scientists for urban resilience research, stressed that having more data does not necessarily mean greater clarity. "One trend is not the same as another," he pointed out. Research findings show that important variables, for example on social vulnerability, are often missing in risk scenarios, or are not given sufficient consideration. These need to be incorporated into the models. But this also means that the models are becoming increasingly complex and open to criticism. In many cases, such new complexity can leave political decision-makers with more uncertainty than clarity.

This is why events like the Summer Academy are so important. They bring together social scientists, urban planners, trend researchers and strategists, allowing them to give better advice to political decision-makers and bodies at the United Nations. It is important to develop a common language. The findings are often complex and must be transferred into instructions that are understood by those who carry them out on the ground. If this succeeds, it will then be possible to realise key UN goals, such as the agreements on climate change, disaster strategies and sustainability goals (SDGs).

01 October 2018

Climate change and education

> Climate change and education

> Overview Summer Academy



> Christian Barthelt

> Renate Kramer

> Thomas Loster


Project partners





Share on social media


Information leaflet

> Download PDF