Designing plans to withstand climate change in Uruguay

August 20, 2019


Uruguay is vulnerable to climate change. Its coastline is more than 680 kilometres long and around 70 percent of the population lives near it. And most of the country—93 percent—lives in urban areas.

The country has faced many more frequent and intense floods and droughts over the past decade than in previous years. In 2015 20,000 people were displaced from the Salto, Paysandú and Artigas regions in storms that caused widespread damage and economic loss. Also that year, a prolonged dry spell caused significant losses in the agricultural sector, which, along with tourism, forms a significant part of the Uruguayan economy.

When you consider these dynamics and that temperatures could increase by two to three degrees Celsius by 2100, it is clear Uruguay has some challenges ahead as it attempts to construct a climate-resilient future.

But it also has many things in its favour.

It’s a country of high economic, social and political stability, and is ranked 55 out of 189 in the Human Development Index. It is a consolidated democracy at the forefront of the rights agenda, and is one of the most egalitarian societies in Latin America.

The stable nature of its economic and political systems has allowed the government to construct public policies to tackle climate change and move towards carbon-neutral development.

Climate change adaptation was recognized in the National Climate Change Response Plan and has been established as a strategic priority in the National Climate Change Policy (PNCC) as well as in the Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) which is part of Uruguay’s Paris Agreement commitments.

The PNCC provides the general framework for a National Adaptation Plan (NAP) and the NDC. Since then National Adaptation Plans for coasts, agriculture and cities and infrastructures, have all been designed and are underway.

To advance the NAP process for urban areas, the Uruguayan government carries out the project known as NAP-Cities, led by the Ministry of Housing, Land Management and Environment, funded by the Green Climate Fund and implemented by UNDP Uruguay.

Its objective is to develop the adaptive capacity and resilience of urban centres and those who live there, protect infrastructure and urban environments, and integrate adaptation into national and local planning.

NAP-Cities acts as a learning mechanism to test the collaboration of the central and local governments in urban policies. It is also works with the ministry to incorporate climate change considerations into environmental, territorial development, water, and housing policies.

To measure the progress of urban adaptation, NAP-Cities has designed a system of indicators for monitoring adaptation to climate change and variability.

It has defined 25 indicators in five dimensions; public spaces and green soil; infrastructure and buildings; social systems; governance and responsiveness; and education, knowledge, and information. These will identify the cities with the most exposure to climate risks. These indicators link the NAP-Cities with the PNCC, the NDC, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction and the 2030 Agenda, and are there for other cities to use.

The project is an opportunity to involve the private sector, both in the integration of climate risks into their risk management plans and in developing new ways to build resilience.

Some instruments have been identified to improve climate finance in this sector: the inclusion of adaptation in the indicators of the investment promotion law of Uruguay; the development of green credit lines by local banks; and the promotion of a research fund on adaptation and mitigation of climate change to relieve the technological and innovation challenges of the urban industry, among others.

These adaptation plans for cities, agriculture, and coastal areas contribute to the long-term vision for a resilient Uruguay, and will help the country to fulfill its commitments to the 2015 Paris Agreement.