How to build urban climate resilience: A simple methodology for local governments

By Rahul Singh, Senior Project Officer – Sustainability at ICLEI South Asia and Bedoshruti Sadhukhan, Programme Coordinator – Sustainability at ICLEI South Asia 

Introduction

It is projected that two-thirds of the global population will live in cities by 2050. According to the Global Commission on Economy and Climate, urban centers in India will house over 600 million people. Due to high concentrations of inhabitants, infrastructure and resources, according to the World Bank, the most adverse impacts of climate change will likely be in these areas. If such impacts are to be avoided, cities need to build their resilience to climate change.

ICLEI South Asia and ICLEI Oceania, with support of Rockefeller Foundation under the Asian Cities Climate Change Resilience Network (ACCCRN) program, developed a toolkit to assist local governments in developing a City Resilience Strategy.

This toolkit – ICLEI ACCCRN Process (IAP) – builds on information and learning acquired from models, approaches and best practices of building climate resilience used in the first phase of ACCCRN program in 10 pilot cities from India, Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia. It was tested in three Indian cities, and modified to its final form of a streamlined and replicable process that cities can implement with the minimum possible external support.

The toolkit has already been used in 40 cities across India, Bangladesh, Indonesia and the Philippines. ICLEI South Asia worked with 13 Indian cities – Mandi, Dharamshala, Keylong, Nainital, Dehradun, Gangtok, Kurseong, Shillong, Patna, Panaji, Nashik, Kochi and Siliguri – and seven Bangladeshi cities – Sirajganj, Kushtia, Rajshahi, Dinajpur, Barisal, Mongla and Singra.

The methodology

The toolkit consists of a set of 16 tools divided in four phases. Through the process, local governments are able to assess the fragility of their various urban systems in context of urbanization poverty and climate change, assess the climate risks to these systems and their climate vulnerability.

 

The methodology guides local governments to:

  • Engage local stakeholders by forming a climate core team and stakeholder group for conducting the exercises outlined in the tool.
  • Assess climate trends and climate projections for the city.
  • Assess climate vulnerability of urban systems in the city, and identify at risk areas and actors.
  • Develop a City Resilience Strategy identifying measures that will help to build resilience in the city, particularly for the areas and actors who are at risk.
  • Integrate the resilience strategy into urban planning and implementation processes.
  • Implement the resilience strategy, monitor the outcomes and adjust the strategy at regular intervals.

Highlights of IAP methodology

There are several benefits of local governments using the IAP process:

Iterative, consultative process

The toolkit is designed to establish an iterative process, recognizing that building resilience takes time, and requires constant re-evaluation of the situation on the ground, and learning from past experience.

The IAP toolkit is executed through a series of stakeholder consultations, where local stakeholders are engaged in resilience planning and implementation. The process is iterative, and as the tools bring new information to light, more detailed assessments can be undertaken by the city. Each step of the toolkit also has a checklist that helps to assess the progress and make choices regarding detailed assessments. Information collected through stakeholder consultations is verified through secondary data collection and assessment and on-ground assessments as well as focus group discussions with local communities.

Flexible and dynamic process

The different phases of the IAP can be redesigned and readjusted based on the situation of the city. For instance, because Keylong, India has a limited working season, and is located in a remote area accessible only between March to November, the city was able to use a rapid assessment process that could be completed within this period.

IAP phases can also be merged or shifted based on data available with the city and its requirements. In case the city has already collected the necessary information under other initiatives, some phases can be merged or skipped. For instance, Kochi and Panaji in India and Barisal in Bangladesh used pre-existing climatic analyses and vulnerability assessments of urban systems to inform their City Resilience Strategy. The IAP can be also implemented in different levels such as city level or watershed level as is being done in the Nainital watershed of India with support from Garhwal University.

City-driven participatory process

IAP is a city-driven process, largely dependent on the participation and involvement of the local stakeholder group and climate core team of the local government. This ensures a participatory, consultative process that is owned by the city and its residents.

The climate core team, which consists of mid-level officials, plays an important role in informing new officials about IAP and its implementation, so as to ensure continuity in the process within the municipal government, mitigating any potential negative effects of high turnover to the IAP process.

A committed climate core team has been critical in continuing smooth execution across political and administrative changes in Mandi, Dharamsala in India and Singra, Bangladesh.

Building capacity at the city level

ICLEI helps build capacity within cities to address the challenges of sustainable and resilient development. Implementing IAP helps develop the capacities of local actors to plan, coordinate, implement and finance climate resilience strategies.

The built-in dialogues among different stakeholders contributes to capacity building among actors who may otherwise lack the time, opportunity, information and capacity to think through and contribute to resilient urban development. When ICLEI was implementing the IAP in India and Bangladesh, several local governments expressed their appreciation of conducting repeated meetings to bring stakeholders in a single platform. Mandi in India, for instance, intends to organize such meetings once a month to discuss existing and future urban climate risks.

Availability and quality of data

Data collection for sectoral studies and climate projections is a challenging process. Data is often not available at the scales and the formats required. This was one reason multi-stakeholder dialogues and focus group discussions were relied upon to confirm existing information and incorporate qualitative information where quantitative data was lacking. Because the IAP process does not depend on climate modelling, one can make use of available and existing information to arrive at plausible conclusions for the city.

Opportunity to utilize traditional knowledge in resilience building

Local populations regularly develop strategies to cope with unusual weather events and accompanying impacts. IAP provides an opportunity to use local knowledge for resilience building by documenting what residents already do to cope with weather anomalies, and by analyzing their resilience building potential. For instance, in Mongla, Bangladesh, rainwater harvesting was identified as a major means of supplying drinking water in the city where saline water intrusion from sea is a major issue and is an important part of their Resilience Strategy.

Conclusion

The IAP toolkit has compiled different models of resilience building and their key strengths, so that local governments can use it without having to rely on external agencies. Cities that do not have in house capacity to analyse climate impacts and design climate based solutions can draw upon the strengths of their local university or non-governmental organizations as part of their stakeholder group to bring in such capacity. The flexibility and iterative nature of the toolkit assists in making it as detailed as is needed and suitable for the user city, and stakeholder participation ensures the acceptability and accountability of the resilience strategy that is developed. ICLEI is now working to develop an online version of the toolkit that can be shared with a much larger number of cities virtually and assist them to come up with their own resilience strategies through the ICLEI and the ACCCRN networks.