This blog post was written by Dewi Sari and Kanak Gokarn with contributions from the Resilient Development and Sustainable Energy teams of ICLEI World Secretariat.
The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has brought renewed attention to the close connections between our natural environments, economies, and human well-being. While cities have been contending with the immediate health impacts and the associated economic crisis, the pandemic has also exposed underlying cracks in terms of their climate preparedness and environmental contexts. This begs the question: How can cities use this opportunity to push for a green and resilient recovery?
A number of innovative local approaches have taken advantage of digital technologies, social networks, flexible governance structures, and renewable energy to enable a green recovery while enhancing community resilience against future crises. In this context, the Resilient Cities Action Package (ReCAP), a partnership between ICLEI, GIZ, the Resilient Cities Network, and Cities Alliance, facilitated many such initiatives, helping local governments in their recovery efforts.
Enhancing resilience through local wisdom
One simple but powerful way to enhance community resilience is to build on existing community linkages and traditions. In Bangladesh, for example, community-operated kitchens provide free or low-cost food, while neighborhood-centered initiatives have supported those in financial need. These bottom-up efforts have been key in keeping many members of the urban community in Bangladesh afloat during the crisis.
Decentralizing governance for a better crisis response
A democratic, governance-centered approach to crisis response that includes citizens at the beginning of the planning process can improve a community’s resilience while creating a feeling of ownership and accountability. That has been the case of Sebkha, Mauritania, in which coordination between city officials and citizens was poor. This, in turn, has often caused difficulties in crisis response, whether toward Covid-19 or the regular floods experienced by the city.
Here, the ReCAP initiative worked with the local communities to institute a new system of district chiefs, with each chief representing one neighborhood. Through this system, chiefs can coordinate and respond to any crises in a much faster and more efficient way, while also pivoting communication flows between the city administration and its citizens.
Capitalizing on technology for coordinated action
The presence of digital technology nowadays helps communities access information and connect for different purposes. In Kigali, Rwanda’s capital and largest city, digital technology and social media were used effectively to mobilize aid for vulnerable members of the community. Grassroots local initiatives sprang up to provide food assistance to more than 40,000 vulnerable households, many of which were initiated and coordinated through community WhatsApp groups.
The city also partnered with the private sector to provide digital services, namely free Wi-Fi in public spaces, to allow citizens access to the internet and job market, which may have been particularly helpful for those who lost employment due to the pandemic.
Renewable energy sources for greener resilience
Renewable energy sources are already becoming cheaper than fossil fuel sources in many parts of the world, supplying clean and reliable energy, as well as health and environmental benefits. The renewable energy sector also accounted for 12 million jobs in 2020 — a number projected to increase to 38 million by 2030 under a 1.5°C-compatible pathway.
Renewables can also contribute to a city’s resilience strategy in terms of energy security and access, as well as reaching underserved communities due to their decentralized nature. A number of local governments have begun to incorporate renewable energy into their overall development plans.
Nine local governments across Indonesia (West Nusa Tenggara Province, Sumbawa Regency, Mataram City), Kenya (Kisumu County, Mombasa County, Nakuru County), and Argentina (City of Avellaneda, City of La Plata, City of Rosario) are also formulating their own roadmaps toward achieving 100 percent renewable energy across all energy end-uses by 2050 as part of the 100% Renewables Cities and Regions Roadmap project funded by the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Nuclear Safety and Consumer Protection (BMUV) through the International Climate Initiative (IKI). The shift toward renewable energy aligns with existing local plans for greater energy resilience, improving access to electricity, and supporting local economic development.
Eventually, by combining the guidelines for Resilient Cities Action Package (ReCAP) and taking into account local climate action of moving toward 100% Renewables, cities can learn how to build greater and greener resilience.
Main photo: Two boys in Greenwich look at Greater London, United Kingdom. By Fas Khan @fasbytes via Unsplash.