Mainstreaming climate response to urban planning

Tiles by Janet Galore cc2 flikr 4510867687 530af0c120 bThe etymology of words is something that has always intrigued me, as I find it easier to spell something if I know where its roots come from. What also interests me is how words get appropriated from one discipline to another. The climate change field seems rife with these. Mitigation, Adaptation, and more recently Resilience, are obvious examples. (Mitigation, for example, stems from legal Latin of the 14th Century!)

My eye has been drawn to the recent appearance of 'mainstreaming' in climate adaptation parlance of which this article is an example. Indeed, my colleague, Ben Smith, referred to this process in a previous article: http://www.climateadaptation.cc/news-blog/blog/entry/a-little-climate-optimism-1

Of course, what we're referring to is thinking about the climate response implications in relation to other more established areas of policy, but the nature of that 'thinking' has subtly shifted too. For a while, many climate adaptation practitioners didn't even acknowledge the relationship. Then, some realised that they could leverage their own agendas by aligning them to the priorities of government and other agencies. This is still the limit of some people's understanding of building a "use case" or "business case". However, perhaps as more practitioners' careers develop out of the specific into the generic, we are seeing more examples of the core policy makers, demanding that climate change responses are integrated into 'mainstream' areas. The authors' example, of the integration of climate adaptation into urban land planning, is a simple case in point. To most practitioners the relationship will be blindingly obvious; to many urban planners, it will still be an exercise in box filling and ticking.

The word "mainstream" though has particular relevance to the urban planning community. It first appeared in the 1660s, and remained applied to the dominant path of a river for nearly 200 years. As rivers are one of the primary factors in the development of towns and cities, they are intimately linked to urban planning. However, it wasn't until the 1830s that Carlyle first used it to refer to the "prevailing direction in opinion, popular taste, etc."

As we see climate practitioners, mainstreaming their work to urban planning policy, it seems that this particular concept has come full circle, and is now getting back to its roots.


Ogato GS, et al (2017) Towards Mainstreaming Climate Change Adaptation into Urban Land Use Planning and Management: The Case of Ambo Town, Ethiopia. in Climate Change Adaptation in Africa (Filho, WL et al (eds) Pt 1, pp 61-85. (DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-49520-0_5)


Developing and communicating knowledge about what will be sustainable and environmentally friendly solutions and stimulating planning processes that can generate more debate about what values and interests are really wanted to be promoted is vital in sustainable urban development planning. Adaptation to climate change refers to the process through which building adaptive capacity of the most vulnerable people is focused and exposure or sensitivity to climate impacts is reduced. Mainstreaming climate change adaptation refers to the process of integrating considerations of climate change adaptation into policy-making, budgeting, implementation and monitoring processes at national, sector and sub-national/regional levels. The purpose of the study was to assess the needs for mainstreaming climate change adaptation into urban land use planning and management and propose strategic actions for mainstreaming in Ambo town. Urban flooding, water stress/water shortage, urban heat island effect/increased urban heat, wind storms, and dust storms were identified as climate change related disaster risks in Ambo town. While it is commendable to appreciate the good start of urban greening and beautification by Ambo town administration and its municipality, the town administration has to take strategic actions of mainstreaming climate change adaptation into urban land use planning and management to promote sustainable urban development in the town and its surroundings.

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Dr Graham Wilson

Graham is co-director of the Adaptation Academy, where he leads the personal development and leadership strand. With a background in ethology and behavioural science, he is an Executive, Leadership and Political Confidant, Tutor in Psychology and Counselling with the University of Oxford, and Lecturer in Leadership, Business, and HR with TOBES. His research interests include coaching and visual anthropology. [LinkedIn = http://tinyurl.com/drgwli]

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