Urban communities

More people now live in cities than in rural areas

Although migration from rural to urban environments is increasing, cities are not great places to live in a warming world.

Higher urban temperatures are likely to increase the impact of air pollutants from traffic and industry – already a major problem in many cities. Increased sunlight could also lead to more ground-level ozone, which is associated with a wide range of respiratory conditions.

Living in an area suffering from high levels of air pollution could even shorten the life expectancy of the most vulnerable by up to nine years.

In addition, because in cities vegetation has been replaced by buildings, roads and other heat-absorbing infrastructure, urban areas tend to get considerably hotter than surrounding areas – known as the urban heat island effect. As well as increasing the risk of heat-related illnesses, higher temperatures promote the spread of many infectious diseases. The influx of migrants from rural areas can lead to overcrowding and put pressure on health infrastructure and other public services. The spread of shantytowns – makeshift settlements of poor people on the edges of cities in the developing world – creates sanitation problems, increasing the spread of infectious disease.


Further reading

About this resource

This resource was first published in ‘Health and Climate Change’ in January 2009 and reviewed and updated in September 2014.

Ecology and environment, Health, infection and disease
Health and Climate Change, Populations
Education levels:
14–16, 16–19, Continuing professional development