Coastal cities, communities and climate change: Charting a resilient course

Coastal cities, communities and climate change: Charting a resilient course

Coastal Cities Dialog (CCD), organised with support from the IFRC, RCRC Climate Centre and ICLEI (a leading network of cities). CCD took place as part of the ICLEI World Congress (WC) 2024 in São Paulo, Brazil 18-21 June 2024.

The 90 minute open session launched by a keynote address from IFRC followed by four presentations on good practices in cities for solutions to coastal hazards that have been co-developed with local communities. Three regional groups presented the pitches that they developed at the side-event organised previous day. A diverse panel responded to the pitches with constructive recommendations.

Keynote speech:

Jonathan Stone, IFRC, Manager for Climate, Environment and Urbanisation

We are facing major challenges from multiple interrelated factors. But there are also great opportunities. First of all, the risks are dynamic and what we deliver should be dynamic and address the systemic nature of the climate crises. We need three shifts in our perspectives: We cannot do it alone, we should collaborate, foster partnerships and deliver results that people can invest in.


Irene Galindo Roman, Deputy Mayor Los Cabos, Mexico; ICLEI Global Executive Committee Member, Resilient Development Portfolio

Risks for the Mexican coastal cities include the rise in sea level, coastal erosion, salinisation of water in aquifers, and increase of weather events. More than 300m people could be affected by sea level rise by 2050 globally. Actions that could be taken at the policy level include, planning and zoning policies recognising climate risks, construction of flood protection infrastructure and restoration and reconstruction of ecosystems.

Alex Hai Zhang, Secretary General, Eco Foundation Global

70% GDP comes from coastal cities. 40% of the population live in coastal areas. Nature based solutions have to be a way to move forward, not only more and bigger infrastructure but for climate smart development. Cross border collaboration between regions and countries for conservation, importance of biodiversity in coastal cities is essential.

Thiago Mesquita, Secretary of Environment and Urbanism of Natal/ RN of Brazil

City of Natal has suffered from climate related hazards, including sea level rise,and  storm surges. The solutions we implemented include creating dunes, removing sand from a deposit distant  from the area to protect the coast,and  improving the drainage system so it can resist storm surge. We are also investing in changing the legislation of the city, developing a management plan for tackling climate change, and  integrating it in the land-use and urban development plan.

Salomar Mafaldo, General Coordinator for Sustainable Cities, Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change, Brazil

Presented two case studies of public policies of adaptation in coastal areas in Brazil which represent 54,8% of the territory. Threats are summarised as unplanned urban development, coastal erosion (Rio de Janeiro), saline intrusion (Amazon region, compromising water supply for the population), organisational challenges at the public administration, and lack of enforcement and monitoring.

Pitches and Feedback from the Panel:

Panel members:

Alex Hai Zhang, Secretary General, Eco Foundation Global

Annemie Denzer-Schulz, Portfolio Manager, Sustainable Urban Development & Water, KfW Development Bank

Niniek Kun Naryatie, Board member on International Relations, Indonesian Red Cross

Anne Heloise Barbosa do Nascimento, Climate Education Coordinator, Climate Justice Centre of Brazil


Pitch 1, presented by by Molofi Takalo, Secretary General of South Africa Red Cross

Climate-resilient Urban Development

Cities are growing at an unprecedented pace, and so are climate risks. Not only are most existing buildings and infrastructure not built for the changing climate, but we also have to build almost as much new construction to meet the growing needs.

How we grow will determine whether cities are equipped for the extreme weather events in the future climate. We will foster locally led adaptation by prioritising the needs of the most at-risk people, including migrants and those living and working in the informal sector.

Together, the Red Cross Red Crescent national societies, ICLEI, and local governments will develop a shared vision of climate-resilient development, advocating for transformative changes to policy, standards, and practice to align with that vision. This transformation is not just about immediate adaptation but also focuses on long-term, sustainable urban growth that anticipates future climate scenarios.

Building on existing platforms and tools, like the City Learning Labs, we will co-develop and implement affordable and scalable adaptation solutions. By connecting the Red Cross network’s ground-level insights with ICLEI’s city-level knowledge and approaches, we will inform and shape these adaptation solutions. Our collaborative efforts will ensure that cities are not only prepared for today’s climate challenges but are also resilient to the evolving risks of the future.

Feedback from the panel: 

It would be great if you can bring stakeholders together, create ownership of the citizens, for the purpose of addressing risks that derive from poor waste management.

Local adaptation for the most at risk, is the key element. It needs collaborative action most importantly by city governments, also we advise bringing in the private sector.

Coastal communities are connected as the oceans are connected through their ecosystems, so a global holistic approach is needed. There is potential for this initiative to tackle this challenge at a big scale. Bring together preexisting social movement, climate education plans to the most affected groups and then have intersectoral discussions with them, involve the community at every step of the process.


Pitch 2 presented by  Eva Yeung, Sr. Manager Community Resilience, Hong Kong Red Cross

Tech-enabled Early Warning & Early Action

In many fast-growing coastal cities, citizens  don’t usually have access to an inclusive, understandable and timely early warning system, and information about what action to take. While we’ve seen a reduction in deaths from tropical cyclones in recent years, tens of millions of people’s lives and properties are destroyed, businesses and communities are disrupted, and health, water and transport systems are eroded every year.

We want to see at least 100 cities in 5 years having tech-enabled EWS and Early Action Plans, in support of the UN Secretary General’s Early Warnings for All initiative, co-led by the IFRC.

Many weather-related disasters are predictable, we know days or weeks in advance that a cyclone is coming. And we have the technology and knowledge to translate that information into actionable messages that can go directly to people’s phones and trusted communication channels.

Red Cross National Societies can work together with city govts and ICLEI, by bringing their unique strengths to implement tech-enabled Early Warning and Early Action.

The role of local government is critical, because they are responsible for issuing warnings of upcoming hazards. There is a need to strengthen the capacity of local governments to use technology to analyse and develop relevant early warning messages for the communities. This includes disaster risk planning processes that provide detailed information on action to be taken before, during and after disasters. The Red Cross is trusted in the community as a neutral voice, and has a long history of community engagement. We can strengthen the capacity of the community to understand, and disseminate early warning messaging to ensure its reach to all sections of society.

With ICLEI’s network of partnerships, we are confident we can reach the scale necessary to enact real change, reaching 100 cities in 5 years.

Feedback from the panel: 

Implementing technology as an enabler of early warning systems and early action plans, strengthening capacities of governments in early warning, disaster risk planning is good.

Recognising that there is no need to start from zero, acknowledging previous experiences and lessons learned, action oriented cooperation and existing partnerships is essential. It is not only about adaptation measures but also being prepared for disasters.

The use of technology is challenging because we know it is not always easy to implement, KfW has experience of early warning systems. Technology is expensive and it needs many interventions to implement. Bringing in academia is important. Selecting 100 cities should be based on scientific evidence. Consider how to approach communities that don’t have access to mobile phones, or internet in the use of technology.


Pitch 3 by  Rodrigo Corradi, Deputy Executive Secretary, ICLEI South America Secretariat

Translating Knowledge into Heat Action in Coastal Cities 

Heatwaves are deadly around the world, and climate change is making them hotter, longer, and more frequent. Yet, many cities around the world lack any concrete plans to drive life-saving action. Across the at risk populations and decision makers, there is very low awareness, creating large barriers to take action.

What constitutes deadly temperatures varies around the world, closer to 30C in the UK, while over 45C in India. Together ICLEI, local governments and the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement will close the knowledge gap on when heat becomes deadly and develop Heat Action Plans to ensure action is taken to prevent the worst impacts.

We will translate knowledge into innovative and relevant action by bringing together expertise in climate science, with local academic institutions, community members and city governments to:

Conduct heat risk perception studies, develop heat-health thresholds, and co-organize heat communication campaigns, among other identified actions and building on existing platforms. All of these components will come together in a Heat Action Plan that is led by the local government, the municipality and the local Red Cross or Red Crescent NS.

Feedback from the panel

Documenting local experiences to heat in daily lives, addressing inequalities and the differences of how people are affected are very important. KfW has insurance for female workers on extreme heat days, which can be a good example.

Integrate innovative financing solutions, for which data is always the basis to develop insurance products. Prioritise awareness campaigns that are relevant to each city..

Any solution should be scientific and evidence-based. Combination of better communication, and taking advantage of the capabilities of local governments is advised.

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