The impact of UK overseas aid on environmental protection and climate change adaptation and mitigation

Written evidence submitted by Professor Harriet Bulkeley and Dr Vanesa Castan Broto, Department of Geography, Durham University




· Global cities are important sites within which to address climate change. Emerging policies , especially the World Bank WDR and recent work at UN-Habitat , signal a growing interest in engaging with cities in the Global South and climate change.

· A survey of 628 climate change experiments (or initiatives to provoke social and technological transformations) found that climate change action is being taken in cities around the world. These experiments emerge in different sectors such as water, energy and waste management infrastructure, urban form, transport, housing and urban greening.

· Most of these actions are led by local authorities. However, other actors intervene in the urban sphere, including state or national authorities, private actors, NGOs and community-based organisations.

· Within the database , 254 experiments are found in the Global South. Of these, only a small percentage is funded by international or bilateral donors (10%). Another 6% are funded by private foundations or non-governmental originations operating internationally (such as for example, the Clinton Foundation, the Shell Foundation or WWF).

· The data suggests that there is currently limited involvement by both i nternational o rganisations and b i-lateral donors in transformative action for climate change within global cities. The data, however, should be read with care as it is possible that international aid is not reported at the level of the city. Nonetheless, our evidence suggests that cities are not on the agenda as a critical site for addressing climate change.

· Our recommendation is that DFID examines its policies of investment in urban areas regarding climate change and explores the potential for focus ing on urban areas as s ites within which to address climate change. If DFID is to have greater impact on climate change action in the city, we suggest that there are opportunities for collaboration with local governments and, when these are absent or inoperative, with community-based organisations, NGOs and private actors who intervene in the provision of sustainable housing, infrastructure and mobility.

1. Introduction


1.1. This memorandum presents data from an ESRC project on Urban Transitions: global cities, climate change and the transformation of socio-technical systems and explains the relevance of its findings for the inquiry on The impact of UK overseas aid on environmental protection and climate change adaptation and mitigation . Urban Transitions is a three- year project examining the ways in which cities around the world are responding to climate change. This project analyses how cities are addressing climate change through their energy and housing systems, and the social and technical factors that are shaping the possibilities for urban transitions in the face of a changing climate. The project is based at the Geography Department at the University of Durham.

1.2 The project focuses on global cities as sites where climate change can be addressed. Cities are vulnerable to the impacts of climate change . They are also sites where emissions of greenhouse gases are concentrated. This means that urban responses are critical for successful strategies for adaptation and mitigation.

1.3 Vulnerability is particularly acute in cities, especially those with exposure to core climatic hazards including flooding, drought, water-borne disease, and where levels of informality are high (IPCC 2007). The impacts of climate change within cities will be uneven, and it is important to note that in particular " vulnerability to [climate-related] disaster and to the impacts of gradual GEC [global environmental change] erodes the rights and opportunities of the urban poor" (Parnell et al. 2007: 358).

1.4 As the global population urbanizes, cities are increasingly concentrating activities that lead to the production of greenhouse gases, with some estimates suggesting that cities are responsible for over 70% of the carbon dioxide related emissions from energy use (IEA 2008). The International Energy Agency predicts that by 2030, 80% of the increase in global annual energy demand above 2006 levels will be from cities in non-OECD countries (IEA 2008).

1.5 While cities are a critical dimension of the climate change problem, they also present numerous opportunities to address climate change, in particular (adapted from Bulkeley and Castán Broto, 2011):

· Municipal authorities have responsibility for many processes that effect GHG emissions at the local level and for many process related to risk and disaster management

· Municipalities can act as a ‘laboratory’ for testing innovative approaches

· Municipal authorities can act in partnership with private and civil society sectors

· Cities represent high concentrations of private sector actors with growing commitment to act on climate change

· Cities provide arenas within which civil society is mobilising to address climate change

1. 6 However, until now, it appears that there has not been enough emphasis on the importance of cities and the urban agenda in climate change adaptation and mitigation, especially in terms of overseas aid. This reflects a legacy where the climate change challenge in the Global South has been equated with adaptation and the focus has been on poor rural communities, regarded as particularly vulnerable. As the evidence concerning the vulnerability of urban communities and the imperative of the low carbon transition in these cities gather strength, it is imperative that development organisations tackle the urban climate change agenda .

1.7 There is evidence globally that this picture is now changing. The importance of cities in climate change mitigation is being recognised by international development organisations. For example, according to the World Bank’s World Development Report 2010 (WDR) on Development and Climate Change cities open up opportunities to build a low carbon future . Dealing now with urbanisation, the WDR argues, may contribute to both managing climate change associated risks and reducing carbon emissions (World Bank 20 09 ) .

1. 8 In the next sections we outline the evidence for how cities in the Global South are responding to climate change and the role that development aid has so far played in this critical transformation. We present a survey of climate change ex periments in 100 global cities, focusing on the donors behind some of these initiatives in the global South. We conclude that there is a need for an analysis of the impact of overseas aid in terms of its role in encourag ing city-based actions for climate change , and suggest that DFID should consider an explicit urban focus in their future work on climate change adaptation and mitigation.

2. Climate Change Experiments in 100 Global Cities


2.1 The Urban Transitions project has developed a database of climate change experiments in 100 global cities. By experiments we mean initiatives that attempt to create a significant or systemic change towards low carbon and resilient societies. The scoping study focused on a sample of 100 global cities around the world . The cities were selected according to six indicators: population, density, role in the world economy, total GDP, recognised vulnerability to climate change and active participation in climate change city networks.

2.2 The database was designed to record the aims and governance of projects or experiments that are explicitly seeking to address climate change, to catalogue the technologies being deployed, the institutional arrangements and policy instruments being developed, and the impacts of projects to date. Data was collected from the Internet, relying on self-reported information about each project and additional published sources where this was available . The search explored initiatives taken by local authorities and regional and national governments as well as by private and civil society organisations. However, the initiatives selected were limited to those having an explicit urban rationale and specifically designed to address climate change.

2.3. In total the database contains records for 628 experiments. From this sample, 254 experiments are in cities in either developing or middle-income countries. Contrary to expectation, experiments were not concentrated in developed countries but emerged in many parts of the World. Most experiments were found in urban infrastructure (especially energy), the built environment (including housing, public and commercial buildings) and transport (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: Percentage of initiatives in each urban sectors considered in the database

2.4 Most of these climate change experiments were led by local governments, highlighting the important role of local governments in leading climate change action (Figure 2) . However, a number of other actors can also influence climate change action in the city. For example, adaptation actions are often led by the national government, probably under the influence of National Adaptation Plans. NGOs, community-based organisations and the private sector are also increasing influence in leading climate change action. In particular, the private sector has an important role in developing sustainable urban infrastructure in global cities in East Asia in countries such as China or India. The presence of international organisations in leading climate change experiments within global cities appears to be marginal.

Figure 2 : leading actors in each sector of climate change experimentation

2.5 This data suggests that there is a lot of climate change experimentation in global cities around the world, North and South and led by a variety of actors. The presence of aid agencies in urban climate change experiments, however, is limited.

3. Urban Climate Change Experiments and Donors’ Agendas


3.1. In compiling the information for the database we attempted to compile data about the donors for the initiatives in each case, although this information was not always readily available. In the cases in which the information about who funded the initiative was not clearly stated, we have inferred the source of funding from the data available.

3.2. Municipalities continue to be the main source of funding for climate change experiments (they appear to be funding 47% of the urban climate change experiments in cities in the global South) (Figure 3). We tracked three types of actors linked to the international aid development establishment: international organisations (such as the World Bank, International Banks and the UN); bilateral organisations; and international NGOs and Private Foundations (Table 1). Together they fund a mere 16% of all initiatives. International organisations contribute 6% of the projects, and 4% can be attributed to bi-lateral cooperation (of the type that DFID contributes). Private foundations such as the Clinton Foundation, have had a big influence in promoting climate change action in global cities; also, some international NGOs such as WWF and Friends of the Earth are also working with cities. Together they have contributed to fund about 6% of urban climate change experiments in our database.

Figure 3 : Main donors for urban climate change experiments in the Global South

3.3 Overall, this data suggests the intervention of international aid donors in climate change experiments in cities in the global South is marginal, compared with the intervention of other actors whether this is leading initiatives or providing resources to complete them. It is important to consider, however, that there may be important aid projects which influence urban infrastructure development and housing projects in relation to climate change but which are not reported as being city-based projects.

3.4 This suggests that although the theme of cities and climate change has risen in the international development policy agenda, its impact on the city itself is still limited. Germany’s GTZ has launched research program called Future Mega-Cities ( ) to research the sustainable mega-cities of tomorrow. However, the impact of these projects is limited. Firstly, they concentrate on developing new knowledge and processes rather than in implemented specific actions that can bring about a palpable reduction of GHGs emissions and adaptation. Secondly, there is a time lag between the development of research and the implementation of sustainable practices.

Donor type and name

Number of experiments in the database

Bilateral Cooperation


British Embassy in Jakarta


Denmark and Norway Cooperation


Future megacities programme of the German government


Govt of Japan, loan repayable in 40 yrs


Shell Foundation and Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the first phase (later Municipality and EMBARQ to pay each 50%, looking now for resources from WB, GEF and UNEP)


Spanish' cooperation agency


Swiss Agency for Cooperation and Development


US Army




USAID and German cooperation




Climate Bridge


Clinton Foundation


Friends of Nature


Prince Salman Charity Housing Trust




Sustainable Energy Africa




International Organisation


Asian Development Bank


European Union


Global Environmental Fund and WB


Institute IHE-Unesco


Interamerican Development Bank


International Bank for Reconstruction and Development


Nethe rlands-Interamerican Development Bank ( Partnership for the Environment )


Table 1 : Donors that can be linked to overseas development aid for urban climate change experiments

3.5. In contrast, cities such as Mexico City (Mexico) or Cape Town (South Africa) are moving forward with climate change action plans that contain adaptation and mitigation actions aligned with municipal priorities and feasible, so that they can already show some of the results of these measures. In some cases, however, it has to be noted that many of the actions taken by local government for climate change constitute a mere repackaging of existing sustainable development practices or easy attainable actions often referred to as "low hanging fruit".

4. Recommendations


4.1. We believe that cities are key sites to address climate change mitigation and adaptation and thus, we think that overseas aid should reflect this as one of its priorities. In this case, we have reviewed the emergence of climate change experiments in global cities. However, this contributes to an established literature on climate change action in medium-sized cities which also needs to be taken into consideration (e.g. Bulkeley 2010).

4.2. In order to maximise impact, means of cooperation should be developed with the organisations able to lead a systemic change towards low carbon and resilient cities. Often, municipal authorities are best placed to deliver climate change action in transport and urban infrastructure. However, opportunities for collaboration may emerge with other actors who may deliver climate change action in specific sectors. For example, there is an established record of community-based organisations led housing projects (see examples in Also, non-government actors may be better placed to act in places where the local government is under-resourced or not institutionally developed.

4.3. We conclude that cities are an increasingly important site in which the possibilities for adapting to and mitigating climate change needs to be addressed. Further evidence is needed concerning the role of international development aid and policy on shaping urban capacity to respond to this ‘urgent agenda’ (The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development/The World Bank2010). Nonetheless, our initial findings suggest that there is significant potential for development agencies, including DFID, to work with other partners in addressing climate change in cities in the Global South.

4.4 For further information, please see:



Bulkeley, H. (2010) Cities and the Governing of Climate Change, Annual Review of Environment and Resources, Vol. 35: 229–253.

Bulkeley, H. and Castán Broto, V. (2011) Chapter 5: Cities and Climate Change Mitigation, in UN-Habitat, Cities and Climate Change - Global Report on Human Settlements 2011, London: Earthscan.

IEA (2008) World Energy Outlook 2008 Paris, International Energy Agency.

IPCC (2007) IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007 (AR4)- Synthesis Report, Geneva: IPCC

Parnell, S., Simon, D., and Vogel, C. (2007) Global environmental change: conceptualising the growing challenge for cities in poor countries, Area, 39(3): 357–369.

World Bank (2009) World Development Report 2010: Development and Climate Change, Washington DC: World Bank.

The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development/The World Bank (2010) Cities and Climate Change: An Urgent Agenda, Washington DC: World Bank.

16 December 2010