Densely populated urban areas can intensify rising temperatures, or find their foundations crumbling as rising seas creep in. looks at the impact the climate crisis is having on global metropolises.
Paris: Sweltering microclimate
France hit record temperatures this summer, and the urban heat island effect means cities are particularly hot. While vegetation releases water into the atmosphere, cooling things down, concrete and asphalt trap heat. During a heat wave, Paris can be 10 degrees hotter than the surrounding countryside. Pollution also builds up in slow-moving summer air — another reason urban heat waves can kill.
New Orleans: In the eye of the storm
In August 2005, Hurricane Katrina tore apart one of America’s most iconic cultural heartlands. Even though it’s rebuilt, New Orleans has been battered again and again by powerful storms. A government report last year said the US southeast was “exceptionally vulnerable to sea-level rise, extreme heat events, hurricanes and decreased water availability.” Trump’s response? “I don’t believe it.”
Chennai: No more water
This year India’s monsoon was the second driest in 65 years, leaving 44% of the country suffering from drought. In Chennai, things have become desperate: its main reservoir has dried up, residents are queuing for hours at pumps, water is being trucked in and hospitals are under pressure. As the planet heats up, more and more cities could run out of water.
Siberia: Cities on thin ice
Arctic temperatures are rising faster than anywhere else on Earth. This is taking its toll on cities in Russia’s far north, as the permafrost beneath building foundations begins to melt. Cities like Norilsk and Yakutsk are already seeing serious subsidence, and scientists expect their infrastructure to become at least 25% less stable by mid-century.
Jakarta: Sinking into the sea
Rising seas threaten coastal cities the world over, but Jakarta, with 13 rivers, suffers more floods than most. Limited access to water means residents pump it from underground aquifers, causing subsidence. By 2050, 95% of North Jakarta could be submerged. Indonesia is building the world’s biggest seawall to protect its capital, but that could leave thousands of fishermen without homes or income.
Dhaka: Climate refugees
Some 28% of the population of Bangladesh lives on the coast, and high tides are rising 10 times faster than the global average. In 2018, natural disasters displaced 78,000 people, with riverbank erosion — expected to increase as Himalayan ice melts — moving many more. Already one of the world’s most densely populated cities, the capital of Dhaka takes in 1,000 new migrants every day.