University of São Paulo: Most São Paulo municipalities are not prepared for climate change

THEmost municipalities in the state of São Paulo are poorly prepared to deal with the impacts of climate change. That is the bad news. The good news is that the best prepared municipalities are located in the metropolitan regions of the state, where most of the population lives in São Paulo.

This is the panorama outlined by a study that has just been published by researchers from USP’s Faculty of Public Health (FSP), in collaboration with authors from other institutions, which measured the capacity of São Paulo municipalities to adapt to the effects – present and future – global climate change. To this end, the authors created an Urban Adaptation Index (UAI, in English), which takes into account 26 public policy indicators, related to five major themes that influence this capacity: housing, urban mobility, sustainable agriculture, environmental management and response to climatic impacts.

All 645 municipalities in the State of São Paulo were assessed for the presence or absence of municipal public policies and services related to these themes. Result: two thirds (66%) of the São Paulo municipalities have a low capacity for adaptation, and only ten municipalities (1.5% of the total) received a score close to 1, which would be the “maximum score” of the index. Fortunately, the best-rated municipalities are precisely the most populous in the state, including São Paulo, Campinas and several of its neighboring cities.

Map showing the Urban Adaptation Index (UAI, in English) of the 645 municipalities in the State of São Paulo, considering 5 dimensions of public policy: housing, urban mobility, sustainable agriculture, environmental management and response to climate impacts. The closer to 1 (dark green), the better the adaptive capacity of the municipality. Source: Neder, E. et al., 2021. “Urban adaptation index: assessing cities readiness to deal with climate change”

“The index seeks to qualify the debate on climate change adaptation at the municipal level a little better,” says researcher Gabriela Di Giulio, professor at the FSP’s Department of Environmental Health, who led the research under the CiAdapta project – to Jornal da USP. Cities, Vulnerability and Climate Change. The first author of the study, published in Climatic Change magazine , is environmental engineer Eduardo Neder, who did his master’s degree at FSP, supervised by Gabriela and professor Arlindo Philippi Junior, who also signs the work.

The data used in the evaluation come from public databases, such as the Profile of Brazilian Municipalities and the Census Agro, produced by the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE), which allows the index to be updated regularly (that is, if IBGE still has budgetary resources to continue making these surveys in the coming years).

Among the indicators considered in the analysis are the presence of municipal housing plans, basic sanitation and pollution control policies, urban mobility policies and incentives for the use of bicycles, environmental protection and biodiversity laws.

“We are talking about very basic things,” says Gabriela. “It is the least that municipalities need to have in order to increase their capacity for adaptation; and even that minimum is not being met. ” Almost half of the municipalities, for example, do not have housing plans or municipal councils to guide, in a participatory way, the occupation of their territories. Most, on the other hand, have solid waste management plans.

It is natural that the most populous municipalities are the ones that aggregate the largest number of indicators, since they are the ones that most need these public policies for their day-to-day management. When it comes to the ability to respond to climate emergencies, however, few municipalities are properly prepared – this was the topic with the worst overall assessment in the state. The indicators in this regard include flood and landslide prevention policies, the existence of a Civil Defense, mapping and prevention of the occupation of risk areas.

“It is no coincidence that when climatic extremes happen, the results in the municipalities are devastating”, evaluates Gabriela. “When you look at this ability to respond to specific climate risks, it is still very weak. This caught our attention. ” Most municipalities have only Civil Defense, and nothing more.

Projections for southeastern Brazil predict an increase in the occurrence of climatic extremes in the coming years and decades, mainly related to precipitation, with a greater occurrence of storms, which significantly increases the risk of floods and landslides – hence the need for policies aimed at planning urban housing and transport, for example.

Climate change in cities: “We need to be prepared for the worst”
An important caveat is that the study did not measure the effectiveness or the degree of implementation of public policies or the public services associated with them, only the existence or not of these policies. Even so, the expectation is that the index can be improved over time and that the results help municipal managers to see weaknesses that need to be improved in the face of worsening climate change. Gabriela hopes that the study will also help to understand the transversal character of the theme, since many managers may not see, at first, the connection that these different themes – housing, mobility, agriculture, environment – have with their ability to adapt to changes climate change.

“The Brazilian reality demands that, given the recurrence of extreme events, municipalities are increasingly structured to promote adaptive actions, which demand not only investments in technology and infrastructure, but also the strengthening of intersectoral and transversal actions that consider the importance of protagonism of citizens in decision-making processes, taking into account social asymmetries and vulnerable populations in our cities ”, says Professor Pedro Jacobi, from USP’s Institute of Energy and Environment (IEE) and coordinator of the thematic project Environmental Governance of Macrometrópole Paulista in view of the Climate Change, from the São Paulo State Research Support Foundation (Fapesp), which did not participate in this specific study, but has just released a bookon the theme, focused on the São Paulo macro-metropolis. “The application of data only becomes viable by associating, on the one hand, its availability and, on the other, the effective implementation of adaptive agendas in cities.”

The CiAdapta project is funded by the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq) and the study is also signed by researchers from the State University of Campinas (Unicamp), the Federal University of Itajubá (Unifei) and the University of Michigan, in the United States. U.S. The project’s next steps include extending the same assessment to all Brazilian municipalities and crossing this adaptive capacity index with data on socio-climatic vulnerability – to demonstrate not only the response capacity, but the size of the risk to which each municipality is exposed.

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