C40 Voices: Cristina Mendonca on Rio+C40

Our City Director in Rio de Janeiro reports on the Climate Adaptation and Risk Assessment panel she chaired at the Rio+C40 event last month

Two very distant cities on different continents, Bogotá and Heidelberg, with diverse social, cultural, economic and physical conditions, face common challenges in managing water resources under threat from climate change, as well in financing investments in climate adaptation.

The conversation between Lord Mayor Eckart Würzner from Heidelberg and Dr. Diego Bravo, General Manager, Waterworks company of Bogota (EAAB), at the Rio+C40 panel I chaired last month, demonstrated just how urgent it is for cities to adapt to climate change. “Time is running out and the investment in adaptation is critical, even as we work on mitigation”, said Lord Mayor Würzner, who noted that cities of all sizes and geographies around the world face the same challenges.

Heidelberg has spent millions over the past years, on, for example, the creation of monitoring systems, control centers, decentralized rainwater storage tanks as well as electronic control systems on the river lanes through the German city to minimize the impact of flooding. To incentivize the local population to support these efforts, the municipality successfully imposed water price increases and fees on landowners who do not drain the rainwater on their own ground. As a result, many companies have now converted paved parking lots to open ground.

For its part, Bogota also faces risks from flooding as well as mudslides -- a particular threat to my own city of Rio de Janeiro. Water scarcity is another serious problem for Bogota, Dr. Bravo explained, where two-thirds of the water that residents drink comes from the distant Orinoco watershed.

Both speakers argued that cities must develop strategic plans to map the risks of climate impacts as well as to continue to promote efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by increasing the density and energy efficiency of city infrastructure.

A similar conclusion was reached by a recent IADB study focused on Latin America, which demonstrated that for every dollar invested in climate adaptation, 10 US dollars are saved from avoided damage to or destruction of physical assets.

Climate adaptation is not limited to water issues. Heidelberg’s Lord Mayor also gave examples of current climate change impacts on biodiversity and on the economy.

The value of municipal networks such as C40 was a key message articulated by both speakers. Sharing experiences, policies and best practices between C40 Cities is critical, they said, as is the C40’s role in bringing political pressure to national governments and international bodies to support city-led climate action.

To learn more about the work of C40 Cities on climate adaptation, see the C40 Connecting Delta Cities network, which brings together cities including Rotterdam, Tokyo, Jakarta, Hong Kong, New York, New Orleans, London, Ho Chi Minh City to focus on spatial development and water management in support of their climate adaptation strategies.