Urban growth, vulnerability and adaptation: social and ecological dimensions of climate change on the Coast of Sao Paulo

This project addresses impacts of climate change on human and natural systems and asks one central question: (1) What are the vulnerabilities of coastal zones and cities to climate change and what adaptations are required/possible in light of its expected impacts? Considering that more than 80% of Brazilians lived in cities in 2000 (in São Paulo State, 93%), it is there that the impact of global environmental change on the population will be most felt. Considering that urban behavior standards (values, lifestyles, political orientations, for example) are diffused over the entire society, it is there that new values and practices will have to take root. And considering accumulated environmental problems and the delay in creating environmental infrastructure vis-à-vis the growth of cities, they are not today prepared for climate change. Much human dimensions research has focused on agricultural and/or forested areas. Cities have not received the same attention, and perspectives which understand environmental change as both cause and effect of the human (economic, political, social and cultural) and physical (urban infrastructure, land use, etc) processes involved, are still uncommon. Equally uncommon are efforts to study coupled social and ecological systems. In cities, alterations in rainfall patterns may provoke periodic water scarcity; the temporal concentration of rainfall will tax already inadequate drainage systems. More frequent extreme weather events will damage urban infrastructure, cause localized flooding and exceed absorption capacity of soils with consequent landslides. Dry spells and heat waves will aggravate cardio-respiratory problems, especially for the very old and the very young. Disease vectors will change in importance for local populations to the extent that rainfall and temperature changes shift the location for their reproduction. Many of these problems will be felt in differing degrees by the poor. It is they who are more likely to live in floodplains, on steep slopes and in more precarious dwellings, at greater risk from storms and temperature extremes. The physical geography of the São Paulo Coast concentrates socio-demographic vulnerabilities in distinct ways, limits the range of mitigation measures and presents significant constraints on adaptation to climate change. The narrow terrain between mountains and ocean, often divided into small segments in sugar loaf fashion, sustained traditional livelihoods and represented attractive opportunities for tourist development. The combined pressures of tourism, industry, and oil extraction and transport, however, have changed this calculus, and challenges to quality of life and sustainable development are increasingly difficult to resolve. Climate change will intensify these pressures and further limit the margin of maneuver of planners. The immediate future of the region will be marked by impressive infrastructure investments, especially in Caraguatatuba: (1) the construction of the Caraguatatuba/São Sebastião bypass, (2) the Regional Sanitary Landfill (CITRES), (3) the construction of a new prison facility (Centro de Detenção Provisória/CPD), (4) the establishment of a Gas Treatment Plant in Caraguatatuba (UTGCA), (5) the expansion of the Port of São Sebastião, (6) the widening of the São José dos Campos/Caraguatatuba Highway from two to four lanes, (7) the Caraguatatuba-Taubaté natural gas pipeline (GASTAU) and (8) the C5+ and GLP (cooking gas) Transfer Pipeline of the UTGCA to the São Sebastião Aquaviario Terminal (Tebar) are all projects planned for the next five years, some of them already under construction. The first four of these are located less than one kilometer from the limit of the Caraguatatuba Nucleus of the Serra do Mar State Park (PESM). The pipeline which will connect the UTGCA with the pipeline network of the Southeast Region in Taubaté will have an underground tunnel of 5.5 km, crossing the Serra do Mar State Park. When all of the construction of the Mexilhão Natural Gas Field is completed, the expectation is that Caraguatatuba and São Sebastião will be transformed into one large petrochemical pole, provoking urban expansion like that seen in Macaé (RJ). The study region, then, is important in itself, as a significant component of São Paulo’s economic development; it is likely to be impacted significantly by climate change; and it is at this moment the site of significant interventions which, even without climate change, will have dramatic consequences for urban expansion and the integrity of the Atlantic Forest. How will climate change affect these processes? How will the joint effects of climate change and urban expansion impact change in the vulnerability of cities, their populations and regional biodiversity? More in-depth analysis of some questions will be carried out for the North Coast, the most rapidlygrowing of the three sub-regions of São Paulo’s coastal zone (North Coast, Baixada Santista Metropolitan Region and South Coast) and the most likely to suffer large-scale investments which will affect urban expansion and change socio-demographic vulnerabilities. Some issues, furthermore, are best studied in selected cities, or even in intra-urban spaces within cities. The most important of these cities, in the context of this study, is Caraguatatuba. The ecological research aims to evaluate the extent of human impacts, with particular interest in the new vectors of environmental changes brought on by infrastructure investments, on three levels of biodiversity: a) land cover changes from 1975 onwards; b) changes in forest floristic composition, structure and functioning; c) possible changes in species composition, diversity and size of fishes captured, based on traditional fishermen’s knowledge. The mapping of the expansion of built-up urban areas will use satellite images of medium, medium-high and high spatial resolution (e.g., Landsat TM and CBERS 2 and 2B, SPOT, IKONOS and QuickBird), as well as demographic censuses and vital statistics data. For the construction of sociodemographic and environmental indicators, we will adapt methodologies of projection and estimation for small areas, through the use of medium-high and high spatial resolution satellite images (Alves 2007), and we will georeference vital statistics data (births and deaths). For the empirical operationalization of the concept of socio-environmental vulnerability, spatial indicators such as Moran’s Index (global and local), as well as methods and indicators of spatial statistics and geostatistics, such as Kernel’s estimator, kriging interpolation and spatial regression (Druck et al. 2004; Almeida et al. 2007) will be used. The review and analysis of local policy initiatives regarding socio-environmental and climate change issues will rely on the analysis of official documents and printed material of NGOs and local associations accessed through data banks, as well as the collection of material in the cities of the region. Fieldwork will include interviews with government officials (mayors, department heads and technical personnel) and environmental activists of selected NGOs. A general review of socio-environmental conflicts will be carried out on the São Paulo Coast, focusing on North Coast and the irregular settlements on the edges and inside the Serra do Mar State Park, as well as in the buffer zone. This will be followed by an in-depth study in the areas where the Petrobras projects will affect the Park (municipalities of Caraguatatuba, São Sebastião and Ubatuba) and will include actors and arenas in isolated communities on islands and on adjacent beaches.

Emergent Properties
Reciprocal Interactions
São Paulo State, Brazil
Temporal Scope: 
Spatial Scope: 
Coastal Regionl
Natural System: 
Atlantic Forest
Human System: 
population of 5 coastal cities