Jump to content


Most global production and investment is concentrated in urban areas. Most low- and middle-income nations are urbanising. Almost all the growth in the world’s population in the next few decades is projected to be in urban centres in low- and middle-income nations. Therefore, as the Satterthwaite and also the Huq et al papers note, how urbanisation is managed and governed has fundamental implications for poverty reduction, as well as for climate change adaptation and mitigation.

Around 900 million people live in informal settlements in urban areas in low- and middle-income nations that are inadequately – or not – served with piped water, sewers, drains, health care and schools. In many cities, getting onto the voters’ register and obtaining state entitlements depends on having legal physical addresses that much of the low-income population lack. As the Douglas et al paper makes clear, a high proportion of informal settlements are on land at risk from flooding or land slides – because these risks make the land less attractive to developers. It is from being in this disenfranchised, poverty-stricken, and precarious situation that vulnerability to climate change impacts also arises. 

However, it has long been difficult to get serious discussion of the different issues urbanisation brings for achieving poverty reduction: partly because economic success in a city is assumed to reduce poverty; partly because income-based measures consistently underestimate the scale of urban poverty. Similarly, climate change adaptation discussions do not significantly engage with urbanisation despite a large proportion of the population most at risk from climate change being urban based. There is more mitigation engagement but almost no discussion on the potential of urbanisation to contribute to low-carbon development. However, there is a great deal which can be done to reduce vulnerability, as the Satterthwaite and Revi papers show. Key issues for reducing vulnerability to poverty and climate change in urban settings are:
  1. increasing political will and capacity to engage in informal settings, and
  2. increasing access to the kinds of services and infrastructures that can reduce vulnerability to climate change impacts and poverty alike.

How urban societies can adapt to resource shortage and climate change
D. Satterthwaite (ed) / Royal Society 2011
The increased pressures on the world’s natural resources and ecological systems in the past century, has been accompanied by rapid urban population growth. Urban centres themselves have ecological reputations since they drive un...
Reducing risks to cities from disasters and climate change
S. Huq; H. Reid; D. Satterthwaite / Russell Sage Foundation 2007
The lives and livelihoods of millions of people will be affected by how climate change is handled in cities in the next few years. While some city governments and civil society groups are acting to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the...
Climate change risk: a mitigation and adaptation agenda for Indian cities
A. Revi (ed) / Russell Sage Foundation 2008
India is one of the more vulnerable and risk-prone countries in the world, but its population have learned to cope with a wide range of natural and human-made hazards. Rapid population growth, high densities, poverty and high differen...
Unjust waters: climate change, flooding and the urban poor in Africa
I. Douglas; K. Alam; M. Maghenda / Russell Sage Foundation 2008
Poor people living in hazardous and unhealthy environments in urban areas may find their difficulties compounded by the consequences of climate change. These include those who construct their shelters on steep, unstable hillsides, or ...
Learning Hub

This key issue guide is produced in collaboration with the Learning Hub project, managed by IDS with support from UKaid.

UKAID logo