Population growth and infrastructure development will undoubtedly affect the course of global environmental change. Concentrated industrial and transportation activities contribute to conventional air pollution and other threats to public health, but with the increasing scale of human activity and transport of pollutants through air and water, both urban and rural areas are affected.
Where and how people locate and design the built environment will affect their exposure and vulnerability to these kinds of global changes. For example, coastal cities and infrastructure are vulnerable to sea-level rise and changing intensity of tropical storms. In some regions, changes in extra-tropical precipitation patterns may increase flooding, or water shortages, both necessitating investment in flood control, water resources, and roads and drainage.
With an ever-greater share of the population residing in urban areas, cities are becoming more of a focus in global change discussions. Urbanization is a major force in developing regions—where megacities have emerged and will continue to rise—and city development paths may be the key to reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, conventional air pollutants and vulnerability to environmental change. Thus, cities find themselves on the front line of developing strategies that jointly mitigate GHG and pollutant emissions while adapting to unavoidable climate change.
Our Integrated Global System Monitoring (IGSM) framework allows us to simulate the affect of population growth on the demand for natural resources, energy and GHG emissions. It includes models of urban and regional air pollutants and their impacts on human health. Methods developed within the Joint Program also allow investigation of urban development patterns, transportation alternatives and the impact of environmental change and extreme events, such as tropical storms or extreme heat on infrastructure. A key focus is to characterize risks and formulate adaptation as a problem of decision-making under uncertainty.