With high confidence scientists predict more frequent and more intense heat waves on the French territory as a consequence of climate change. The number of heat waves of 2003 type (with the same intensity and duration) projected by IPCC is estimated to reach, in the worst case scenario, up to 11 heat waves during the two decades after 2030 and up to one heat wave per year after 2050 (GIEC 2009).
The present master thesis aimed at finding out if the territory of Plaine Commune is and will be in future vulnerable to heat waves. It also seeks to take a closer look into the reasons of vulnerability, the factors which contribute to the territory’s susceptibility and exposure to one of the manifestations of climate change. This vulnerability diagnostics is thought of as the first step towards effective climate change adaptation action.
The agglomeration community of Plaine Commune is a densely populated urbanized territory, combining the intrinsic vulnerability of its population (because of its socio-economic status) with the increased indoor and outdoor exposure to heat waves, because of low thermal quality of older housing and heat island effect.
Vulnerability is place and context specific, yet the results of diagnostics and assessments of vulnerability of local territories with its specificities might bring useful insights for those enquiring the vulnerabilities on other territories. With this regard, Plaine Commune is a relevant territory to study: it’s vulnerable, yet proactive in challenging its vulnerability; its experience can serve as a reference for other territories on their way to vulnerability assessment and adaptation to climate change.
In the present thesis, we sought the connections between everyday life and a disaster, between development and climate change, between the risks and the roots of societal vulnerability to hazards, factors that are usually not seen as connected to disaster management. The present work makes an attempt to show how impacts of a disaster can be reduced and risks managed in the context of everyday day life, not in emergency, but through analyzing the underlying causes of vulnerability and then inscribing climate change adaptation measures into policies which are aimed at improving living standards.
Further steps to enrich the study would be the benchmarking against other territories adapting to climate change. Moreover, the approach taken in the present thesis is anthropocentric, meaning that all the vulnerabilities are approached so long as they are related to humans: broader assessment of risks for ecosystem could bring interesting results and perspectives. In addition, to discriminate between the actions to be taken immediately and those that can be postponed with no significant losses, as well as to underpin with concrete numbers the necessity of adaptation, an economic analysis of avoided damages and / or gained benefits would be of help for decision-makers on the territory. Furthermore, a more profound research of heat waves could be done by studying them as systemic risk, with the evaluation of importance of the interlinkages and interdependencies inherent to the socio-environmental system on the territory. As this systemic approach is in fact intrinsic for resilience assessments, it might be useful to move from the conceptual framework of vulnerability to resilience. Moreover, we believe that vulnerability assessments as compared to resilience analysis are rather one-sided, searching for the weaknesses not studying the mechanisms of resistance, not searching for alternative decisions. This approach may induce the short-term result and easy to implement decisions to ”hold-the-line”, to sustain and repair the existing, which in fact undermine the adaptive capacity and diminish capital resources for more long-term oriented adaptation policies.
Due to its specific socio-economic condition, Plaine Commune faces a challenge to fully engage with adaptation strategies as they are mostly expensive to implement. So how to adapt in this situation and who pays for adaptation? As the impacts of climate change influence disproportionately the poor and otherwise marginalized, what is the legacy of putting the responsibility of adaptation on them? Is it possible for a locality with precarious population to adapt without external help?
There’s perhaps a need of better articulations between local and regional and global actions, redistribution of resources on national and international level, as well as decentralized international cooperation between territories to help localities adapt to climate change. Plaine Commune has agreements with Paris in what concerns the experience exchange and cooperation in common projects, yet these relations are rather weak and informal. There’s a need to establish formal and systematic agreements with other localities in order to together adapt to changes, important to note that these relations should be reciprocal and complementary, but not paternalistic or charitable.
Cancun Agreements in 2010 stipulates the necessity of participation of subnational entities in the adaptation efforts. From the point of view of local government it again raises the incertitude in the “threshold” of adaptation. Human action definitely alters climate, yet how much effort (if at all) will be put by other localities to reduce the risks? The future of climate is uncertain (the multitude of climate projections demonstrates it), the complex results of collective and personal decisions and behavior is unknown and unpredictable. But are only local efforts enough to adapt to future changes? If the future of the climate is uncertain, it means that the worst-case scenario is still possible and what is worst – climate manifestations are “unfair” – and a worst case scenario can happen on the territory which put the most effort into adaptation to climate change. Of course the local activities are important and fundamental for global climate change adaption, yet shouldn’t there be an overarching international action? Where is the limit of local adaptation possibilities? How to engage in long-term adaptation actions with so many uncertainties?
All the uncertainties and questions are however not a justification for inaction. As mentioned before, a good strategy would be to improve living conditions of the population, which in turn will alter its adaptive and coping capacity. So there’s a further need to explore the synergies of adaptation strategies and social, economic and environmental policies.