Urban and Rural Areas Under a Common Threat: Climate Change

This year’s Climate and Society class is out in the field (or lab or office) completing a summer internship or thesis. They’ll be documenting their experiences one blog post at a time. Read on to see what they’re up to.

By Andrea Calderon Irazoque, Climate and Society 2014

More than half the world’s 7 billion people live in cities. By 2050, population is expected to grow to 9 billion and 70 percent of humanity will live in cities. Yet even in an urbanizing world, the fate of rural areas is vitally important. More people living in cities mean more mouths to feed but less people living in rural areas to grow the food needed. Climate change is an overarching issue that everyone in the world will have to deal with no matter where they live.

At the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, two groups are examining both ends of this conundrum: the Agricultural Model Intercomparison and Improvement Project (AgMIP) and the Urban Climate Change Research Network (UCCRN). I’m fortunate to be working on both these projects this summer.

On the rural and agricultural front, AgMIP is developing the next generation of climate impact projections for the agricultural sector. They provide a link between the climate, crop and economic modeling communities. In collaboration with regional experts around the world, they develop frameworks to pinpoint promising adaptation strategies. For this project I was involved in finalizing assessment results of climate change impacts and adaptation in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

During my internship, I was extremely interested in research that gave evidence that higher levels of CO2 negatively affect the nutritional value of important food crops, reducing concentrations of essential minerals and proteins. This threat to the nutritional value of crops has important implications for health and nutrition and should definitely be considered in future food security assessments, which usually only worry about yields and calories. A more detailed discussion can be found in a blog post I wrote for AgMIP.

Source: Shari Lifson

Source: Shari Lifson

With these new issues being added to the impacts of climate change and the increasing amount of resources that cities require it is clear that a huge push for a sustainable urbanization is needed. The experts at UCCRN have taken up the challenge of finding ways to reshape our cities and of bridging the science-policy divide in the urban context. In their Assessment Report on Climate Change and Cities (ARC3) they address major dimensions of adaptation and mitigation that cities will confront like food, energy and water management, urban climate hazards, amongst many others. For this project I have helped making statistics of needs and opinions of city leaders that will be included in the second assessment report. 


Dr. Cynthia Rosenzweig presenting ARC3 (Source: Somayya Ali)

Dr. Cynthia Rosenzweig presenting ARC3 (Source: Somayya Ali)

Urban and rural areas depend heavily on each other. The challenges posed by a changing climate are very different for these areas, yet the well-being of people living in both depends on our ability to find integrated solutions. Awareness of projects such as AgMIP and UCCRN are of vital importance because policymakers’ decisions in response to climate change will affect how well we adjust to the changing world of the coming decades. The best way forward necessarily involves a science driven global view of the problem.


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