Journal Article

Frameworks to envision equitable urban futures in a changing climate: A multi-level, multidisciplinary case study of New York City

Cities are at the forefront of climate change action and planning for futures that are concomitantly more resilient and equitable, making local goals imperative for global sustainability. Under the multiple challenges of changing climatic, ecological and socio-economic conditions, cities need the means to meet these goals. We know cities are and will continue to be points of concentrated and diverse populations, socioeconomic vulnerability, amplified exposure, transformed ecosystems and are responsible for the bulk of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Yet, much is also unknown and intrinsically uncertain about urban futures: there is a range of potential plausible futures which have differing implications for both potential mitigation and adaptation actions. To better assess these plausible futures, the “global change” research community developed a framework including scenarios that are applicable for global and regional policy, entitled the Shared Socio-economic Pathways (SSPs) and scenarios exploring future emissions that will drive climate change, entitled Representative Concentration Pathways (RCPs). Importantly, this global scale framework does not include specific city-level perspectives or data at the spatial scales necessary to address questions of local relevance. While the SSPs address many of the key population and socioeconomic drivers of climate change, they do not address important concerns that are particularly relevant to cities, such as racial justice, ecosystem change or migration. Nevertheless, city-level impacts will evolve, in part, as a function of the global scale change characterized by the SSPs, and in part based on demographic and social processes already underway. As such, applying a modification of this framework to cities has the potential to help limit local climate impacts, and create a more resilient, equitable city. To address these needs and respond to city and regional stakeholders, we propose a framework for science-based narratives and quantitative projections for cities and metropolitan areas, such as Greater New York City. In this paper, we review a wide-range of existing approaches to generate estimates of future populations and identify their vulnerabilities to climate-change hazards, ranging from subnational population projections or the spatially-explicit allocation of populations linked to SSPs for the US and selected cities, city-specific population forecasting without climate considerations, and participatory approaches to future scenario development and fine-scale, within-city land use change models. By showcasing the strengths and limitations of various approaches and modeling efforts, their spatial and temporal scales, and thematic breadth, we propose a novel framework that leverages state-of-the art quantitative approaches and couples it with stakeholder engagement that can help cities plan equitably under uncertainty.