Founded as a Jesuit colony in 1554, the Brazilian village was named after Paul the Apostle. In the following centuries, it expanded into a town, then a city. During the 17th century, it was the primary base for the Bandeirantes (literally ‘flag followers’), groups of intrepid explores who pushed into the continent to make slaves of natives—who had populated the region for at least 11,000 years—and to seek gold and expand the Crown’s territory while they were at it. With Brazil’s independence from Portugal in 1823, São Paulo became an Imperial City, with an economy based on large plantations that produced sugar and coffee for the global market, with the labour being extracted from slaves. Slavery was banned in 1888, and the Empire of Brazil folded shortly thereafter, with the country being reformulated as a republic. Thereafter, the city received a spike in immigration, with many people moving there to work on the plantations. In the mid-20th century, Brazil came under a right-wing authoritarian military dictatorship, an event that occurred as as part of the Cold War, and the US sponsored ‘Operation Condor’ in Latin America. This period was characterised by large scale oppression and an ‘economic miracle’, before returning to democracy in the 1980s.
In the early 21st century, the city of São Paulo has 11 million people, with a further 10 million inhabiting the greater metropolitan area. This makes it one of the world’s largest cities and metropolitan regions, being the largest in both the Americas and the Southern Hemisphere. São Paulo is also economically powerful, with the largest GPD in the Southern Hemisphere. The city is widely considered Brazil’s most multicultural and ethnically diverse, with a mix of white, black, pardo (multiracial), Asian and Amerindian populations. São Paulo has the largest Italian population outside Italy, with about 60 per cent of the inhabitants of the city proper having some Italian heritage. The city also has large Portuguese, Japanese, Jewish and Arab populations, and it boasts the world’s largest gay pride parade. São Paulo has also received large volume of internal migration, particularly from the drought prone Northeast. Many of these landless peasants were forced into the city, often living in favelas (slums), which now making up about 11 per cent of the population.
Separated from the Atlantic Ocean by only 70km—and a coastal mountain range—São Paulo is located on a highlands plateau, with an average elevation of about 800 metres. Located on Rio Tietê, a river that begins in the coastal mountains, only 22km from the ocean, but flows inland, through the city, before eventually draining into Rio de la Plata. São Paulo is located on the Tropic of Capricorn, yet its elevation give it a more temperate climate. It has a monsoon-influenced humid subtropical climate, with a mild four season cycle. In summer, the city has a mean low/high temperature of about 17°C/28°C, and in winter, temperatures tend to range from 11 to 23°C. Generally, rainfall is abundant, averaging around 1,454mm annually; yet despite this, the city is prone to droughts and water shortages. São Paulo is known for its rapidly changing weather, with the cliché ‘four seasons in one day’ being expressed by locals.
São Paulo has long been concerned with the problems of climate change. Back in 1995 the state government enacted its Climate Change Prevention Program (PROCLIMA). The city is at risk of climate change related increases in the intensity of rainfall events, and hence the possibility of floods and landslides, and also an increased tendency towards periods of drought. São Paulo’s water security problem involves not only water availability but also water quality with less than half of the residents have access to treated water. This touches on the large levels of inequality in the city, with the urban poor being most at risk and having the least resources to deal with rapidly changing circumstances. Of the almost one million households in slum areas, many of these are built in areas vulnerable to floods and landslides. These problems are compounded by a series of other non-climate pressures; including high rates of urbanization, poor sanitation and degradation of water sources. Climate change is expected to intensify all of these risks. According to a World Bank report, São Paulo has responded to the threat of landslides by commissioning IPT (Technological Research Centre) to map the hazard areas of the city in order to identify vulnerable sectors of the precarious urban settlement. They found that about 12 per cent of slums are vulnerable to landslides and are now better equipped to prevent and respond to disasters.
In 2009, the State Parliament of São Paulo approved a Climate Change Bill (Law #12.798), which set a greenhouse gas emissions reduction target of 20% by 2020. In the same year, São Paulo became one of the first cities in the developing world to adopt a citywide climate change policy. The city council unanimously approved a law that ambitiously aimed to reduce the city’s greenhouse gas emissions by 30 per cent by 2012 from a 2005 baseline.
São Paulo has employed a number of high-tech climate change adaptation projects. These include converting the Bandeirantes and Sao Joao landfills into high-tech thermoelectric power plants. These plants, among the world’s largest biogas structures, capture and burn methane gas released as garbage breaks down. This gas is burned to generate electricity and it now generates the equivalent of around seven per cent of the electricity consumed in the city. The city has also introduced a fleet of fully electric buses, as well as extending priority bus lanes by around 300km. They have the goal of converting the entire municipal fleet to renewable fuels by 2018.