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FEATURE: When pressure on cities leads to innovation

Also posted in Spanish

The challenge for cities: moving beyond vulnerability to adaptation, and beyond adaptation to resilience

by Pati Leon and Caroline Spencer, CDKN

CDKN is proud to be an endorsing partner of the second Resilient Cities Congress on cities and adaptation to climate change. Resilient Cities is the global forum for climate change adaptation and resilience building in cities and other forms of local government.

One of the hot debates at the Resilient Cities Congress is: how to move beyond vulnerability to adaptation and beyond adaptation to resilience? This is a significant political challenge when, as Jeb Brugmann, founder of the ICLEI advisory board and managing partner of the Next Practice, put it  many people are probably thinking, “who the hell wants to adapt?”

Resilient Cities has convened a vibrant mix of policy makers, international institutions,  NGOs, academics and business, within the tranquil confines of the GSI Institute in Bonn,  to discuss  these challenging issues. Whilst there is no “one size fits all” approach and cities in the global South have very different needs to those in the North, Resilient Cities is helping cities to learn from each other and from a wide range of experts about what can, and what can’t, work effectively.  The accompanying Mayors Adaptation Forum, a closed event which is reporting regularly back to Resilient Cities, is facilitating direct and effective regional inter governmental dialogues on these issues.

Two of the most memorable facts that we have learned at Resilient Cities are: first, 75% of global emissions originate in cities. Secondly, the mega cities of the 21st century have populations which dwarf some small countries, the Sao Paulo, Brazil metropolitan area has almost 20 million inhabitants; almost twice as many as some small developing countries.

Regardless of what happens at the inter-governmental level, cities are being forced to lead on identifying resilient solutions for mitigation, adaptation and development. This is particularly true in the global South, where 95% of city growth is taking place.  It has also really hit home for us that cities, as a negotiating group, are playing an ever more powerful role in influencing international climate negotiations.

Cities have to play a vital role in furthering climate compatible development. As Joey Sarte, the Governor of the Albay Province in the Phillipines, pointed out, local governments are closer to the people, and thus are being confronted by the pressing needs of a population that needs policies and solutions to improve resilience to changing climate conditions.

A selection of the simple yet effective solutions being showcased at Resilient Cities  include:  building resilience into what is happening in cities’ development and directing the funding available for city growth specifically towards resilience. Jeb Brugmann stated that a few hundred billion dollars may be allocated to special climate adaptation funds over the next decade – but these will not be efficiently or effectively spent if they are not linked to the few hundred trillion dollars of private investment expected in cities over the next two decades (See his report for more.).  Thus, a key challenge is to marry public adaptation funds available with private sector power, to create funding streams that provide much needed municipal city services, while truly building resilience.

Notably, a key directive from the Mayors Adaptation Forum  to this year’s Resilient Cities has been cities can’t wait for international funding before they adapt, cities need to take a bottom up approach and “walk the talk”;  setting good examples for their national governments to follow.

Resilient Cities provides a great opportunity for cities to showcase their actions by using case studies, demonstrating what is working and what needs improvement. Case studies on vulnerability assessments from Johannesburg, Toronto, Sao Paolo, Chennai and Quito (the last presented by Pati Leon from CDKN’s Latin America and Caribbean team) demonstrated that the process needs to be holistic and responsive to the cities’ resilience needs.  A workshop on Lagos state demonstrated the significant challenges and achievements on the ground in this state in Nigeria.

So what next for cities?  Many of the policy makers and expert delegates will now attend the Bonn UNFCCC Intersessionals and COP 17 in Durban and of course, the Resilient Cities Congress in 2012. Cities will continue to adapt and move towards resilience, working with their communities, private sectors and national Governments. It’s really encouraging to see how innovative solutions and partnerships emerge when such a range of talented and committed stakeholders come together at events like the Resilient Cities Congress.

Image of Quito courtesy Marcio Ramalho

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