Risk Inequality and the Food-Energy-Water (FEW) Nexus: A Study of 43 City Adaptation Plans: Article No. 31

Patricia Romero-Lankao, Daniel Gnatz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus Citations


Goals aimed at adapting to climate change in sustainable and just ways are embedded in global agreements such as the Sustainable Development Goals and the New Urban Agenda. However, largely unexamined, are the ways that narrative understandings conveyed in adaptation plans consider and attempt to address inequality in climate risk to urban populations and FEW-systems. In this paper, we examine whether and how adaptation plans from C40 member cities address inequality in risk, by planning actions to reduce hazard exposure or tackling the drivers of social vulnerability. C40 is a network of 94 of the world's cities fostering policies to address climate change. We apply a mixed methods approach, including a discourse analysis and meta-analysis of adaptation plans. The discourse analysis helps to unpack framings of urban equity issues as they relate to policy actions, and the meta-analysis seeks to quantitatively investigate patterns of framing and policy across adaptation plans. Our findings suggest that FEW-nexus thinking is not yet embedded in narrative understandings of risk and planned adaptation actions, within the adaptation plans we studied. In the city adaptation plans we analyzed, we found multiple frames coexisting behind the broader adaptation visions (e.g., risk and resilience). Rather than converging, issues, and principles such as those of equality, coexist with economic issues in an imbalance of incongruent political movements and priorities. Techno-infrastructural and economic investments and concerns tend to take precedence over concerns and interests for inequality in climate risks. We discuss some of the institutional factors explaining this. Knowledge integration, for instance, is constrained by the existence of a plurality of sectors, levels of government, power, values, and ways of understanding and managing climate risk. We also suggest that the relatively low importance of equality considerations in the adaptation plans will likely limit the capacity of cities to support broader goals such as those of the New Urban Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages14
JournalFrontiers in Sociology
StatePublished - 2019

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-5400-79890


  • discourse analysis
  • FEW nexus
  • inequality
  • meta-analysis
  • urban adaptation
  • urban climate governance


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