FEATURE: Climate resilience in Asian cities: latest news from the frontlines
Franziska Schwarz, CDKN Research Assistant, reports on the ‘Asian Cities Climate Change Resilience Network’ (ACCCRN) session on ‘Building Climate Resilience in an Urban World’ chaired by Stephen Tyler (Adaptive Resource Management ltd.) and Marcus Moench (Institute for Social and Environmental Transition) at the 2012 Planet under Pressure Conference.
Building climate resilience at the urban level is of great importance and can potentially have large impacts on cities’ capacities to respond and adapt to a changing climate. It is important because cities are major economic, political and social centres, and urban populations are growing rapidly in many developing countries. In the 2010/2011 State of the World’s Cities report UN-Habitat highlights that half the World’s population already lives in urban areas; less urbanised regions (Africa and Asia) are set to reach their tipping points (when more people are urban than rural) in 2023 and 2030, respectively.
Urban areas are often particularly at risk from potential climate impacts, as many are based at coasts or river basins. Cities provide a good entry point for building climate resilience, because municipalities or local level governments generally enjoy sufficient decision making powers to achieve change, whilst being close enough to the local population to understand and address local needs.
This session focused on insights from Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, and India as part of the ‘ACCCRN’ programme. The focus of the ACCCRN is on developing and implementing practical actions to build resilience in a number of Asian cities, including Ghorakpur in India, Da Nang in Vietnam, Semarang in Indonesia and Hat Yai in Thailand. The case studies have shown that different cities encountered different challenges and enjoyed successes at different levels. For example, while in Vietnam a local champion in government was crucial for support of the projects, in Indonesia it proved difficult to find government officials to lead the processes, and in Thailand the lack of effective mechanisms to coordinate work at the local administrative level remains a challenge.
Local government support
The case studies highlighted the importance of commitment of the local authority, and the crucial role of a ‘local champion’ (in the case of Vietnam), or a ‘City Team’ within the municipality (in the case of Indonesia). City Teams or Local Champions involved in a proposed resilience project from the beginning can strengthen officials’ support and promote lasting commitment amongst decision-makers, allowing for opportunities to create long-term resilience at the urban level.
Whilst government support is crucial, participatory approaches involving multiple stakeholders and building strong partnerships within the projects are invaluable for local acceptance and also to promote greater understanding on what the projects are trying to achieve and what benefits resilience planning will bring to urban populations. Combining top-down and bottom-up approaches, through a ‘local champion’ in government whilst promoting participation of multiple stakeholders allows for local ownership alongside government support, and thus increases support for projects undertaken.
Local ownership of the process is not sufficient in steering a successful resilience strategy, as the case study from Vietnam showed. Building the capacity of all stakeholders involved in the process is another key point. The case study highlighted that this needs to go beyond a focus on technical knowledge, to also include facilitation skills, the ability to foster team work, good social networks, and providing greater understanding on systems approaches.
All of the presenters stressed the importance of a ‘Shared Learning Dialogue’ encouraging communication amongst different stakeholders, but more importantly, providing opportunities to learn from the different experiences, and apply the knowledge to changing local contexts. Learning from current initiatives could not only contribute to the development of ACCCRN activities, but also provide greater understanding for similar initiatives.
Sustaining support for projects addressing possible future climate change impacts can prove difficult. The focus of many municipalities remains on short or medium term benefits, as opposed to long-term resilience, with a focus on the immediate needs of the local population, such as job creation, housing and the provision of health services. Moreover, changes in city-level government can mean support is temporary. Similarly, too often city level officials’ efforts go into an end-product, as opposed to a learning process with lasting benefits, which is required for building resilience.
Urban resilience in practice
Despite the different experience highlighted by the presenters, common outcomes emerged throughout all the case studies; key to urban resilience strategies are the commitment of city-level officials, cooperating with various stakeholders in a multi-actor environment, promoting learning and sharing of knowledge and experiences between different cities and projects.
Image of Da Nang, Vietnam, courtesy of Luther Bailey.