ACT Newsletter - Adapting to Climate change in Time

Adaptation: let's learn from Crematogaster

Mr. Cardinaletti and the Mayor of Suwon (Corea) during the Conference in Bonn

In recent decades, the attention of the scientific community has increasingly been directed to study the solutions adopted by the flora and fauna to survive in modern urban settings. The main aim is to understand how they have changed over the time their habits and their DNA to survive changes induced by climate and human impacts. There are many examples of what scientists have called urban evolution, the "natural selection that occurs in the most unnatural environment of the world: the cities that never sleep" (1).

It seems that the team of Dr. James Danoff-Burg, a biologist at Columbia University, is up on a mission to Broadway, like in the Savanna, to go hunting for ants by distinguishing from native species, to those who were imported by Europeans, until the last sighted, the Crematogaster lineola , which had never been detected in an urban habitat (2). After studying for three years the white mice in New York, Dr Munshi-South, biologist and environmentalist, has been able to prove the evolution in their DNA.
Toward several experiments and observations in the High-Bridge Park (northern Manhattan), he discovered that this population of twelve thousand years old, arrived from Canada and Mexico after the ice age glaciers retreated and stranded on isolated urban islands, is evolving to adapt to urban stress.

This is a clear sign of an ongoing evolution as well as of a capacity to change their nature, adapting to changes in the contexts in which they live. A concept that in biology could be identify with "resilience", which is “the ability of an ecosystem, humans or cities included, or of a body to repair itself after damage.”

But it's no need to go so far to concretely see how climate changes and “human pollutions", are producing strong impacts on the living systems in urban environments. For example, Italy had been largely free of mosquitoes until it was recently invaded by large numbers of them: a consequence of a warming climate since winters in the region are no longer cold enough to kill the over-wintering eggs. In some parts of Italy they produced negative effects on the health of citizens, bringing with them tropical viruses as well (3).

This concept of “resilience” has long been used by several modern city planners to identify precisely the ability of modern urban systems to adapt themselves to the climate change impacts by developing a strong flexibility in responding and containing them. The main objective is to reduce the risk exposure and the vulnerability of local communities, definitively ensuring the functioning of the so called "Minimum Urban System" which refers to all functions "which make the city active, without which the city would collapse" (4). The original definition of MUS implicitly encloses "all those elements which act as pillars for the economy and urban society and which basically assure the minimum functionality of the urban system for the security and survival of local communities” (5).

To work on preventing and reducing risk exposure is essentially the macro objective which can not be ignored by who is called to draw a strategy of sustainable urban development. This implies an instrumental, cultural and substantial mutation in the city governance and management, absolutely comparable to the "genetic mutation" mentioned before.

In other words, new urban management models, able to contain and minimize the impacts of climate phenomena, should be redesigned. New and more complex strategies of risk preventing should be locally implemented. Not easy, considering that many of the extreme weather phenomena which affect the cities are not controllable and are often unexpected. For this reason, the possibility of completely eliminating the risk is almost an utopia, but it's very important to choose which fundamental elements should be protected, how to protect them as well as how to monitor the evolution of some climatic variables which locally may have significant impacts, sometimes amplified by the conformation of the territory or by other human factors. An integrated and mainstreamed risk prevention strategy should be adopted by monitoring scientifically the evolution of the climatic variables, making reasoned scenarios and evaluating the different hypotheses of intervention without improvising.

For this reason, “Adaptation” needs a management model which is proactive and not reactive. Act not re-act, this is the main strategy. Adaptation also requires the strengthening and enrichment of new and more appropriate management tools that should support the traditional tools used for the government of the territory, such as the Urban Plan.

The effects of climate change on urban systems in some cases are straightforward and easily detectable and measurable (coastal erosion, water scarcity, etc..). In other cases the connections act sub-track and mature long-term effects (eg change impacts climate on the health of citizens). Precisely for this reason we must act wisely already now, since the implementation of adaptation strategies requires a fairly long time, important financial investments in human resources, in ITC, in new knowledge and skills, not always easy to find. Floods, landslides, coastal erosion, rising temperatures, extreme weather events generally, are all phenomena that are gradually but substantially changing the way of life of our communities. Not only animals and plants are adapting to climate change!.

All phenomena mentioned above may have potential impacts on urban systems in terms of environmental, social and economic point of view. These impacts are often strictly connected. Let's think of how coastal erosion, due to rising sea, can produce negative impacts on tourism and therefore on the economy of the affected area. Or how the rising temperatures may affect the biodiversity and ultimately the health of populations. Once, during a debate on climate change, a German climatologist, joking on the positive effects of climate change, assumed as the new tourist destinations for the summers of the next 100 years will be the coastal Cities of Northern Europe. Probably he didn't go so far from the true!

While I'm writing, a strong storm is affecting many Japanese Cities. It has caused torrential rain across the country, bringing landslides and floods and leaving at least 13 people dead and many more missing. The authorities in Ibaraki Prefecture, north east of Tokyo, urged more than 40,000 residents to evacuate their homes on Friday following flooding of a river triggered by torrential rains. In Urakawa in the north of the country 54mm of rain fell in just 12 hours. Up to 1,000 troops have been supporting police searching for survivors from the mudslides and to strengthen flood defenses. At least 557 landslides had been reported, the National Police Agency said. Roads were swept away at more than 200 places and some 19 bridges were lost across the country. Another strong sign of climate change!

Taking into account this context, the ACT project was conceived in order to rethink the strategy and planning with a view to adapt that aims at developing an integrated strategy for Mediterranean cities that allow to cope with the multiple effects of climate change. Three pilot cities Ancona (IT), Patrass (GR), Bullas (ES) along with ISPRA, as scientific mentor, have started a process of impact analysis which in the coming months will lead them to implement their local adaptation plans. Three Local Adaptation Boards have been established in order to start a shared and concerted planning process with the most important stakeholders of each territory. This is one of the first project experience in Europe, which has obtained a lot of interest during the 2nd World Congress on Cities and Adaptation to Climate Change (Bonn, 2011)(6), where it was presented.

As following, papers will be presented in order to show how the three project pilot cities are making their adaptation strategy. We are still at the beginning. Many difficulties have been met, but the challenge is so important that gives strong motivation to keep going on.... Learning from the ants!

Marco Cardinaletti - ACT Project Manager


1. Cfr A. Aquaro , “Darwin a Manhattan l´evoluzione di città che ridisegna la natura”, La Repubblica
3. Cfr.
4. Cfr. V. Fabietti “Pianificazione urbanistica e prevenzione del rischio” in Urbanistica periodico dell'INU
5. Cfr. V.Fabietti, “Vulnerabilità sismica e trasformazione dello spazio urbano”, Alinea, Firenza, 1999
6. The ACT project was presented within the session “Cities in focus: Engaging Stakeholders in resilience building”

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With the contribution of the LIFE financial instrument of the European Community