Climate crisis and municipal elections



Brazilian urban development has historically been influenced by pressure from the real estate sector and immediate land use and occupation agendas.

While science warns of the imminent failure to achieve the goals of the Paris agreement and the risks this represents,[I] The impacts of climate change have increased every year. The year 2023 was the hottest ever recorded in history[ii] and numerous catastrophes attributed to the combination of global warming and the El Niño climate phenomenon have been recorded in Brazil and around the world.[iii]

So-called “extreme weather events”, such as recent heat waves with average temperatures well above normal, have been occurring more and more frequently and affecting the quality of life in cities. According to the latest synthesis report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the negative effects of climate change already observed have greatly harmed human health, their livelihoods and systems infrastructure. urban.[iv]

Cities are key actors in understanding the problems and potential solutions to the climate crisis. More than half of the world's population today lives in cities,[v] and recent projections reveal an increasing trend, indicating that by 2050 this proportion could reach 70%.[vi] Urban areas consume most of the world's energy and are responsible for emitting a large portion of global greenhouse gas emissions.[vii] At the same time, they are extremely vulnerable to the impacts and risks associated with climate change.

Cities and their respective development processes therefore have enormous influence on climate governance at different scales of governance (local, regional, national and global), both with regard to reducing emissions (mitigation) and with regard to the elaboration and implementing climate change adaptation strategies that can be replicated or inspire solutions in different socio-environmental contexts.[viii]

In Brazil, there are municipalities that have engaged in climate action networks and developed plans to mitigate and adapt to climate change. However, there are few cities with concrete plans and actions implemented and there is a huge disparity both in coping with climate events that are already occurring with increasing intensity and in the capacity of cities to adapt to climate change and minimize imminent risks and impacts. .[ix] Even cities considered pioneers in climate action in Brazil are still a long way from a sustainable development model that is resilient to climate change.

The city of São Paulo, for example, has a history of national and international leadership in climate action networks and pioneering in the establishment of environmental and climate laws and policies. The 2014 Master Plan originally included promising climate actions, such as the so-called “Urban Transformation Structuring Axis” that intended to encourage the use of public transport, allowing greater density in lanes close to bus lanes and metro stations. Such a measure would help prevent the city from spreading over green reserves and rural areas and, added to the electrification of public transport, could significantly reduce emissions and air pollution.[X]

However, the São Paulo Master Plan was recently revised and the current zoning law distorts these urban planning instruments, encouraging uncontrolled verticalization that is harmful to urban areas. In fact, São Paulo lacks more robust and integrated urban planning and public management that aligns meeting the basic demands of the population with the necessary urban and social transformations so that the city offers quality of life and resilience in a world with temperatures higher averages. Among them we highlight the need for investment in sustainable infrastructure and mobility, energy efficiency, the implementation of policies and laws that guarantee an ambitious reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and with this the improvement in air quality, as well as transparent water management and efficient.[xi]

There is no doubt that Brazilian cities will have to be increasingly prepared for extreme weather events, especially increasing heat waves and volumes of rain that have often been one or two days higher than the average monthly rainfall.[xii] According to data from the National Secretariat for Civil Protection and Defense, in the year 2023, around 14,5 million people were affected by extreme weather events and more than half of Brazilian municipalities declared an emergency situation or state of calamity, generating expenditure of R$1,4 billion.[xiii]

According to the National Center for Monitoring and Alerts of Natural Disasters (CEMADEN), “Brazil broke a record for occurrences of hydrological and geohydrological disasters in 2023”, with 1.161 recorded disaster events, 716 of them associated with hydrological events, such as overflows. of rivers, 445 of a geological nature, such as landslides.[xiv]

In this context, it is worth highlighting that persistent structural problems, such as huge and growing social inequalities, irregular use of land, as well as the waterproofing of river floodplains and the resulting problems in rainwater drainage contribute to the intensification of the effects of events extreme climate events on the population and the environment. It is also worth highlighting that the impacts and adverse effects of climate change on human health and well-being are especially pronounced among urban residents who face economic and social marginalization.[xv]

Among the main causes of the great impact of extreme climate events on the Brazilian population, we highlight the absence of integrated climate action policies and, in this context, the insufficiency or incapacity of public policies in managing land use, as well as the sectorial approach to implementing environmental policies with an impact on urban planning.

The most common and devastating disasters following an extreme climate event expose not only the enormous social and environmental vulnerabilities of the territories, but above all the unpreparedness of the authorities and the insufficiency of climate disaster prevention initiatives, which is reflected in the fragility of the coping capacity the impacts of climate change in urban areas.[xvi] In fact, the vast majority of Brazilian cities are still more concerned with solving short-term problems through limited sectoral actions and approaches than with responding, in an integrated and sustainable way, to the already observed and imminent impacts of climate change.

The biggest challenge for Brazilian cities to become sustainable and resilient is the implementation of policies that guarantee the articulation between urban development and the need to mitigate and adapt to climate change. As highlighted above, there is still a huge gap in terms of implementation in Brazil, as few cities have municipal climate policies, with a minority of existing municipal policies establishing dialogue between their respective Master Plan and environmental regulations, such as land use and occupation laws.[xvii]

Brazilian urban development has historically been influenced by pressure from the real estate sector and immediate land use and occupation agendas to the detriment of more effective and long-term actions, such as so-called “nature-based solutions” (SbN), which use natural processes to protect cities and reduce the impacts of climate change.[xviii] Such solutions may include the conservation and implementation of green areas and the recovery of ecosystems, such as mangroves and forests, which help control floods, absorb carbon and reduce atmospheric pollution.[xx]

It is necessary to recognize that transformation processes such as those necessary to promote climate resilience usually involve many conflicts and take time to achieve. Faced with the increasingly smaller window of time to avoid even more extreme climate scenarios, the mobilization of various actors in society and social control are fundamental to facing the climate crisis, which is not only an environmental crisis, but is also and will lead to multiple social and economic crises. It is equally important that government plans and public managers include social participation and climate justice as central points of municipal climate action.

After the 2022 national election, the 2024 municipal elections will be very important for the direction of cities and the country in relation to climate governance and the prospects for transformations necessary for sustainable urban development. After all, it is in cities that the main challenges and main actions to combat climate change are present.

Therefore, for sustainable and resilient urban development to be possible, it is necessary to promote the strengthening of democracy and municipal political agendas that prioritize climate action as an emergency need and even as an opportunity to promote sustainable development. Furthermore, mobilization and social control are needed to combat climate denialism, as well as dismantle the narratives and political agendas based on the so-called “climate delayalism”, which accept the existence of climate change, but justify the inaction or convenient efforts and approaches to status quo and therefore inadequate for tackling the climate crisis.[xx]

Such actions are necessary not only in election years, but also throughout municipal administrations. Therefore, in addition to voting, it is extremely important that the population puts pressure on government officials throughout their respective terms of office to ensure that climate policies are not ex-post, that is, a mere reaction to catastrophes that have already occurred, but ex-ante: measures that guarantee the prevention of risks and impacts and promote transformations towards a development model that guarantees social justice, economic prosperity and environmental sustainability in cities and across the country.

*Eduardo Gonçalves Gresse, political scientist and sociologist, he is a senior researcher at the Center of Excellence “Climate, Climatic Change, and Society” (CLICCS) at the University of Hamburg and a visiting researcher at the Institute of Energy and Environment at the University of São Paulo (IEE-USP).

Pedro Roberto Jacobi, sociologist and specialist in urban planning, he is a senior professor and researcher at the Institute of Energy and Environment at the University of São Paulo (IEE-USP). Since 2011 he has chaired the Council of Local Governments for Sustainability ICLEI-South America.


ANELLI, Renato LS (2020). Cities and global warming: challenges for urban planning, engineering and social and basic sciences. Journal of Urban Technology and Sustainability, v. 3, p. 4-17.

ANELLI, R., & LIMA, RP (2023). Municipal Urban Drainage Plan (PDD) and Strategic Master Plan (PDE): resistance to integration and its effects on the impacts of climate change in São Paulo. In Summary Booklet – access to full articles, Forum SP23. São Paulo, FAUUSP/FAUMACKENZIE.

Chamber of Deputies (2023). Civil Defense points to 14,5 million people affected and expenditure of R$1,4 billion on climate disasters in 2023. Source: Agência Câmara de Notícias:

CEMADEN (2024). In 2023, Cemaden recorded the highest number of disaster occurrences in Brazil.

Copernicus. (2023). Record warm November consolidates 2023 as the warmest year. Monthly Climate Bulletin.

Di Giulio, GM (2024). Brazilian cities in the face of climate change. GV-EXECUTIVO, 23(1), e90751-e90751.

Di Giulio, GM, D., Torres, RR, Vasconcellos, MDP, Braga, DR, Mancini, RM, & Lemos, MC (2019). Extreme events, climate change and adaptation in the state of São Paulo. Environment & Society, 22

Engels, Anita; Jochem Marotzke; Eduardo Gonçalves Gresse; Andrés López-Rivera; Anna Pagnone; Jan Wilkens (eds.) (2023). Hamburg Climate Futures Outlook 2023. The plausibility of a 1.5°C limit to global warming—Social drivers and physical processes. Cluster of Excellence Climate, Climatic Change, and Society (CLICCS). Hamburg, Germany. DOI: 10.25592/uhhfdm.11230.

Gresse, Eduardo Gonçalves (2022). Non-state Actors and Sustainable Development in Brazil: The Diffusion of the 2030 Agenda. Routledge Studies in Latin American Development. Abingdon, Oxfordshire, UK: Routledge. DOI: 10.4324/9781003128816.

Gresse, Eduardo Gonçalves; Corinna Schrum; Franziska S. Hanf; Kerstin Jantke; Johannes Pein; Tom Hawxwell; Peter Hoffmann; Tania Guillén Bolaños; Gaby S. Langendijk; Uwe A. Schneider; Jo-Ting Huang-Lachmann; Martina Neuburger; Cristóbal Reveco Umaña; Rita Seiffert; Martin Wickel; Jana Sillmann; Jürgen Scheffran; Hermann Held (2023). Toward a Sustainable Adaptation Plausibility Framework. In Engels, Anita; Jochem Marotzke; Eduardo Gonçalves Gresse; Andrés López-Rivera; Anna Pagnone; Jan Wilkens (eds.); 2023. Hamburg Climate Futures Outlook 2023. The plausibility of a 1.5°C limit to global warming—Social drivers and physical processes. Cluster of Excellence Climate, Climatic Change, and Society (CLICCS). Hamburg, Germany. DOI: 10.25592/uhhfdm.11230.

IBGE (2023). 2022 Census: From 2010 to 2022, the Brazilian population grows 6,5% and reaches 203,1 million.

INMET (2023a). 2023 is the hottest in 174 years, WMO report confirms

INMET (2023b). Balance: São Paulo (SP) had record rainfall in October/2023

IPCC (2023). Summary for Policymakers. In: Climate Change 2023: Synthesis Report. Contribution of Working Groups I, II and III to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Core Writing Team, H. Lee and J. Romero (eds.)]. IPCC, Geneva, Switzerland, pp. 1-34, doi: 10.59327/IPCC/AR6-9789291691647.001.

Jacobi, Pedro R.; Torres, Pedro H.; Gresse, Eduardo G. (2019): Governing Shallow Waters: SDG 6 and Water Security in São Paulo. GWSI Case Studies: Water Security and the Sustainable Development Goals, UNESCO i-WSSM.

Jacobi, PR; Sulaiman SN (2016). Urban environmental governance in the face of climate change. USP Magazine, n.109, p.133-142, 22 Nov. 2016.

Portela, LC, & Bresciani, LP (2022). Characteristics of the subnational response to climate change: initiatives and public policies in Brazilian metropolises. FGV Scientific Initiation Magazine, 29.

Rosenzweig, C., Solecki, W., Romero-Lankao, P., Mehrotra, S., Dhakal, S., & Ali Ibrahim, S. (2018). Climate Change and Cities: Second Assessment Report of the Urban Climate Change Research Network. In C. f. CS Research (Ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Talbot-Wright, H. & Vogt-Schilb, A., (2023). With heat and water up to your neck: nine paths to climate-resilient development, IADB: Inter-American Development Bank. United States of America. Retrieved from on 20 Apr 2024. CID: 20.500.12592/m905tf6.

UN. (2019). World Urbanization Prospects: The 2018 Revision (ST/ESA/SER.A/420). Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division. United Nations, New York: United Nations:

UN-Habitat, Urban Energy. Overview

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Ximenes, DSS, & Maglio, IC (2022). Nature-Based Solutions and climate adaptation in Brazil: study of vulnerable coastal cities. LABVERDE Magazine, 12


[I] Engels et al., 2023; IPCC, 2023, p. 6.

[ii] Copernicus, 2023; INMET, 2023a

[iii] Talbot-Wright & Vogt-Schilb, 2023.

[iv] IPCC, 2023, p. 6

[v] In Brazil, according to the latest census, urban concentrations in 2022 represented around 124,1 million people, or 61% of the total population. Source: IBGE, 2023.

[vi] Rosenzweig et al., 2018; UN, 2019

[vii] UN-Habitat,

[viii] Gresse et al., 2023

[ix] Portela and Bresciani, 2022; Di Giulio, 2024

[X] Anelli, 2020;

[xi] Anelli & Lima, 2023; Jacobi et al., 2019

[xii] See, for example, INMET, 2023b

[xiii] Chamber of Deputies, 2023

[xiv] CEMADEN, 2024

[xv] See IPCC, 2023, p. 6

[xvi] Jacobi & Sulaiman, 2016

[xvii] Anelli & Lima, 2023

[xviii] UNEP, 2022

[xx] Ximenes & Maglio, 2022

[xx] An example of climate retardation is political action that criminalizes social climate movements while promoting the belief that technological innovations will solve the climate crisis without the need for profound socio-environmental transformations.

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