Working Paper
The Challenges of Global Environmental Change for Urban Africa

Cities—especially those with substantial poor populations—will face increasingly severe challenges in tackling the impacts of global environmental change (GEC). As economic dynamos and increasingly important population concentrations, cities both contribute substantially, and often are very vulnerable, to the impacts of GEC. This applies strongly in Africa, one of the world’s poorest regions. The inability of even a relatively wealthy and well protected city such as New Orleans in the USA to withstand Hurricane Katrina has helped focus attention on the vulnerability of cities that are less protected. Coastal cities and towns from Dakar (which is used as a case study) via Lagos, Cape Town, Maputo and Mombasa to Djibouti contain many low-lying areas, often accommodating concentrations of poor residents, strategic infrastructure and economic production. However, different combinations of challenges will affect many inland urban centres. Tackling GEC successfully will require more than enhanced disaster preparedness. Action to address unsustainable aspects of everyday life and current corporate and institutional activity will be necessary. There can be no simple or universal strategy to reduce urban footprints. Local conditions (biophysical, structural, socioeconomic and cultural) produce specific constraints and opportunities in each context.