Book summary: Cities on a Finite Planet

Article, 05 July 2017

A book edited by David Satterthwaite and Sheridan Bartlett reports on how cities are responding to climate change.

Cities on a Finite Planet reports on how cities around the world are working to increase their resilience to climate change, while at the same time working towards sustainable low carbon development. The book includes detailed case studies of nine cities, and highlights the importance of local government and local civil society in achieving climate change resilience and disaster risk reduction. 

Cities on a Finite Planet has been written by the same authors that wrote the chapter on urban areas for the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) of the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). As such, this volume is one of the first bridges between AR5 and the IPCC's sixth assessment cycle (AR6), which is due to be finalised in in 2021/22.

The volume is edited by Sheridan Bartlett from the Center for Human Environments at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, and David Satterthwaite of IIED's Human Settlements research group

...this book questions what we have learned about the relationship between cities and climate change and offers the opportunity to reflect (and perhaps unlearn and relearn) how local level urban action might change the world – from the introduction

In their opening chapter, Bartlett and Satterthwaite emphasise the growing importance of cities and local governments in tackling climate change. Chapter two sets the scene for analysing urban risk associated with disasters and climate change.

The central part of the book (chapters 3-11) consists of case studies reporting on Bangalore, Bangkok, Dar es Salaam, Durban, London, Manizales, Mexico City, New York and Rosario. These case studies have been led by authors who contributed to the IPCC's Fifth Assessment, and they are acknowledged as among the world's top specialists in this field. The city studies highlight innovation and increased resilience and look at how this has been achieved. They also reveal where there has been little action or progress, or where there is no capacity to act. 

Chapter 12 pulls together a cross-city analysis of the preceding reports. The final chapter offers some conclusions on ways forward. (The last two chapters also feature contributions by IIED's David Dodman.)

Satterthwaite discussed Cities on a Finite Planet and the potential for cities to achieve 'transformative adaptation' in a recent Urban Matters blog post.


Vanesa Castán Broto, Bartlett Development Planning Unit, University College London, UK said: "The contributors to this volume have already inspired generations of scholars and practitioners in development planning. With this book they demonstrate that urban governance is key to deliver a sustainable urban future for all. They do so by engaging with rich empirical evidence of actual cases of cities that have worked actively to deliver sustainability outcomes. A must-read for anyone seeking to make transformative change from within cities and urban areas." 

Diana Reckien, assistant professor for climate change, University of Twente, Netherlands, and coordinating chapter lead author of the Assessment Report of Climate Change and Cities said: "Never before has a book assembled such evidence of the successes and struggles of cities in their quest for preparing for a world with climate change. It promotes the importance of learning from the experience of cities, unifying a deep drill of nine case studies that distil the essence of what works, what does not work, and why. This book represents a powerhouse of knowledge from distinguished scholars in the field. Every local policymaker should have this information and can do no better than to begin with this book."

Cities on a Finite Planet. Towards transformative responses to climate change

Edited by Sheridan Bartlett, David Satterthwaite (2016), available to purchase from Routledge, 274 pages, hardback (ISBN-10: 1138184098, ISBN-13: 978-1138184091)


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