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Ten experts in the field of human settlements and adaptation gathered in Bonn before COP 23 to refine the key findings of submissions and prepare for the 11th Focal Point Forum.
Participants at the pre-COP technical dialogue on human settlements and adaptation, held on 5th November 2017

On 5 November 2017, 10 international scientists and experts working on human settlements and adaptation gathered to participate in a technical dialogue. The dialogue was co-organized by ICLEI and UN-Habitat, under the auspices of the NWP, and held at the ICLEI headquarters in Bonn (Germany). The purpose of the dialogue was to:

  • Refine the key findings of the 24 submissions received by the secretariat,
  • Prepare for the Focal Point Forum (including allocating facilitator and rapporteur roles for the forum), and 
  • Discuss future opportunities for collaboration and follow-up activities.

Discussions centered on the four mandated focus areas of the submissions, as detailed below:

1) Discussions on assessing sensitivity and vulnerability to climate change first focused on conceptual differences between the two terms, before experts agreed on referring to the IPCC definition that views sensitivity as a component of vulnerability. Following this, the main discussion points in discussion group one were:

  • The challenges related to stereotyping women either as victims, or as agents of change were highlighted;
    • Gender differentiated vulnerability to climate change should be assessed and analysed on a fine-scale, acknowledging that vulnerability varies greatly within cities and across the globe;
  • Understanding the structural factors of vulnerability to climate change in cities is also essential. Such factors can include informality as well as reliance on network infrastructure and on cash for food and services. Informal settlements also raise the issue of land use control and of addressing the challenges inherent to building on risky lands, such as floodplains;
  • Experts also underscored the importance of translating vulnerability assessments into climate action, including through long-term programmatic approaches.


2) During discussions on integrating short- and long-term considerations (including extreme weather and slow onset events) into planning, experts first highlighted the importance of planned growth of cities over the short, medium and long terms:

  • They emphasized that urban planning should be conducted with ecosystem boundaries in mind rather than focusing purely on cities' administrative boundaries;
    • The importance of avoiding maladaptation (or “false adaptation”) was emphasised;
    • Experts further underscored that attempting to limit urban growth has been proven to exacerbate vulnerability by driving the expansion of informal settlements. Previous efforts to evict and/or relocate informal settlements and slum dwellers has been shown to carry heavy social and economic costs and thus relocation should only be considered as an option of last resort;
  • As concrete measures to limit development in floodplains, urban and peri-urban agriculture was presented as a solution that can enhance food security, and contribute to women's empowerment by generating revenue.
  • Adopting a metabolic approach to the city development, which entails consideration related to the circular economy, social cohesion and food systems, was suggested as a way to trigger long-term thinking as well as to break down barriers between urban and rural development;
    • Analysing the behaviours of individuals or groups was also seen as particularly important when planning for adaptation;
  • Transformational approaches to adaptation are widely discussed among scientists at the IPCC, but there is little consensus on the approach yet. It is currently referred to by policy-makers to catalyse or justify a wide range of actions.

3) In discussions on the role of national governments in supporting adaptation locally, experts underlined that capacity and resourcing at the sub-national level are a prerequisite for local governments to effectively address climate impacts:

  • Devolving responsibility to subnational governments should not be done without providing the means to take action. For example, effective decentralization should grant local governments the powers to raise taxes and/or develop financial mechanisms like climate or green bonds in order to finance their adaptation activities;
  • Local adaptation plans should not merely replicate national adaptation plans, but rather give the opportunity to build on the numerous actions that are already implemented locally, including by communities;
  • Such local adaptation plans, particularly if they are mandated by the national government, should meet minimum standards, and form part of a multi-level governance of adaptation in which actions implemented by the communities, sub-national governments and national government would be coordinated and feed into one another;
  • This also raised the question of the consideration of human settlements, including cities, in NAPs, on which little guidance is currently available.
  • The role of national governments was seen as building an enabling environment for local governments to take action. This entails strengthening national technical capacities on adaptation, including through: 
    • Training of local staff, policy makers and practitioners;
    • Development of climate change curricula for schools and universities;
    • Support for research on climate and resilience.

4) It was observed that partnerships between cities on adaptation can be:

    1. Government-to-government;
    2. Research institution-to-research institution, or
    3. Civil society-to-civil society. 
  • North-South partnerships between local governments are sometimes challenging because of differences in governance arrangements, physical circumstances and socio-economic situation;
    • Despite this, there are examples of successful North-South technical partnerships on adaptation, including between fire agencies and water utilities;
  • Online systems for facilitating networking among cities have had demonstrated success in developed countries, but less success in developing country settings;
  • A major challenge for city networks is to continue collaboration once the original funding has been disbursed. Networks that have strong coordinating entities that provide information as well as develop tools and methodologies have proven to last longer than others;
    • Association of local governments within national boundaries can also play an active role in sharing information and tools among cities, as well as in organizing training. 

Possible follow-up activities from the pre-COP technical dialogue and the Focal Point Forum include:

  • UN-Habitat also expressed interest in working with partners to develop supplementary guidelines on the consideration of human settlements in NAPs.

Click here to view interviews with experts.