Global Climate action and sustainable development

Book review: Urban Planning for Climate Change by Professor Barbara Norman


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Professor Barbara Norman has provided an important and timely text on the urban planning challenges in a changing climate. Her combined academic and professional expertise comes together well in this readable and helpful book. It ranges from the policies of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) through to specific actions that communities and local governments can take to ensure that the built environment is better prepared for the vicissitudes of an increasingly variable and challenging climate.

The purpose of the book is quite simply ‘to provide a deeper understanding of the challenges and opportunities to be found in better urban planning for climate change.’ As such it should be necessary reading in university urban planning courses and for professional planners, elected local government and community leaders working in the field, such as in local government.

The book builds on several decades of academic leadership in urban planning and as a contributor to various forums related to planning for climate action. Norman is a Life Fellow and past National President of the Planning Institute of Australia, Co-chair of Planners for Climate Action and Director of Urban Climate Change Research Network for Oceania.

The book is structured in such a way as to provide context for the practising planner starting with the broader policy framework set out by the IPCC and the global challenges and opportunities this presents. It focuses on four dimensions of climate change impacts: coastal inundation, wildfire, extreme heat and floods. All of which are addressed in the ten actions for urban planning for climate change in the penultimate chapter.

Norman acknowledges there are limits to adaptation and that there will be climate change refugees, the need to resettle those already impacted by extreme weather events resulting in unprecedented flooding and the continuing risk of bushfire in the Australian environment. This issue is a contemporary planning issue for local governments across Australia impacted by flooding in recent years, such as Brisbane and Lismore in northern NSW. The examples in the book reveal that resettlement has been going on in many countries around the world. There is no one formula for success. Managing the process engaging all those impacted by, and concerned with, local planning is found in the ten actions for urban planning for climate change.

In developing these actions Norman interviewed twenty leading urban planning professionals and academics in 2021-22 in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, NZ, the Netherlands, Malaysia, Singapore, Japan and Australia asking six open questions. In summary these were focussed on their understanding of the relationship between urban planning and climate change, options and tools for planning for climate change (both mitigation and adaptation). Who they thought were the key influences in planning for climate change in their community. When they thought it was the most effective time to intervene in the development and land use decision making process and who is responsible for the outcomes. What do they consider are other key measures of successful implementation of urban planning for climate change? Finally, what did they see as the opportunities in developing climate sensitive cities and towns now, in five years and 10 years plus?

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The analysis of these interviews provides the basis for strategy development for urban planning for climate change at all levels of government in the Australian federation. This includes the importance of urban planning for action on climate change and a low carbon future. In many countries, climate change is included in national urban policy. Sadly, such a policy does not exist in the Australian federation. A recognition of nature-based solutions and the idea of ecosystems services, notwithstanding the urgency conveyed by the climate science and current urban planning tools keeping many options in the two-hard basket, especially as it relates to property rights for development. Also, a recognition that incremental change through strategic and strategy planning will not be sufficient to address the challenges of climate change. The critical importance of cultural considerations especially indigenous knowledge and social justice in preparing climate resilient plans. And finally, recognition of capacity building of both communities at large through education and community leaders and decision makers on planning options is seen as critical, especially in the developing world.

In the penultimate chapter, Norman summarises the key messages from the preceding chapters in the book. These messages are then framed in ten essential actions for urban planning for climate change. This helpful table lists the steps to be taken and the contribution that each makes to addressing urban planning for climate change. It provides a rationale for policy making in urban planning and effective governance addressing the challenges of climate change. These ten actions are then explored in greater detail. It is this detail which is essential reading for decision makers at all levels concerned with urban planning.

In the concluding chapter, Norman provides a comprehensive summary of the information provided in the book covering challenges and opportunities; community and culture; leadership; innovation; enforcement and accountability; long-term planning; Covid-19; and, urban governance.

Importantly the book is highly readable and accessible to a wide readership reflecting particular actions outlined in the book which include education and engagement at all levels of Australian society.

You can find Professor Barbara Norman’s book Urban Planning for Climate Change here

This review has been written by Professor John Martin, Emeritus Professor at La Trobe University – you can find out more about John and his work here


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