Resilient Cities Asia-Pacific 2015 opens; plenary affirms cities’ role at ‘frontline’ of building resilience


Panel discussion at the Opening Plenary of Resilient Cities Asia-Pacific 2015. (From left to right) Mr. Ashvin Dayal; Ms. Mariko Sato; Mr. Luiz de Mello; Mr. Olaf Handtloegten; Mr. Kaveh Zahedi; and Mr. Gino Van Begin.
Panel discussion at the Opening Plenary of Resilient Cities Asia-Pacific 2015. (From left to right) Mr. Ashvin Dayal; Ms. Mariko Sato; Mr. Luiz de Mello; Mr. Olaf Handtloegten; Mr. Kaveh Zahedi; and Mr. Gino Van Begin.

The Resilient Cities Asia-Pacific 2015: 1st Asia-Pacific Forum on Urban Resilience and Adaptation opened in plenary today as speakers and panelists stressed – among a range of valuable insights – the role of cities at the ‘frontline’ of building climate change resilience.

In his opening address, ICLEI Secretary General Gino Van Begin noted that impacts have made it ‘painfully clear’ for cities of the need to be climate-resilient. “Cities have a responsibility to adapt to climate change, and [this forum] is an acknowledgment of that,” he said. He likewise pushed for local government voices to be heard in international discussions, notably in the upcoming COP21 in Paris.

Welcoming the delegates to Bangkok is the Deputy Governor Pusadee Tamthai, who discussed the resilience-building efforts of her city, as did the Deputy Chief Minister of Melaka, Datuk Wira Hj Md Yunos bin Husin, in his keynote address. The Malaysian city is set to host the Resilient Cities Asia-Pacific forum next year.

Mr. Shun-ichi Murata, Deputy Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP), in the other keynote, highlighted the impact of climate change on sustainable development, noting that the urban poor are ‘disproportionately’ affected.

‘A new reality’

In the panel discussion, Mr. Van Begin questioned five development agency experts for their perspectives on resilience-building in the Asia-Pacific, leading to an insightful exchange on climate policy, finance, and the role of local and national governments.

“The climate has changed; we are dealing with a new reality,” said Mr. Kaveh Zahedi, Regional Director of the United Nations Environment Programme Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific (UNEP ROAP) in Bangkok. “Cities are at the forefront of climate change and local authorities have no choice but to be at the forefront of building resilience.”

Mr. Zahedi noted that ‘aggressive investment’ is needed to mitigate the impacts that are already ‘locked in’ – however, finance is not yet flowing into the measures that are already known to be needed. “The choice [for cities] is between spending on resilience, or spending on recovery… in each case, the barriers are plentiful, and time is not on our side.”

Of even greater urgency for Asia-Pacific cities is the fact that 90% of impacted populations reside in the region – ‘bearing the biggest brunt already,’ as Mr. Zahedi put it – a point echoed by Ms. Mariko Sato, Chief of the Bangkok office of UN HABITAT. “Asian cities are changing the world – shaping how cities will be operated,” she said. “Your practices – both good and bad – are driving the region.”

Lessons learned

For their part, Mr. Olaf Handtloegten, Management Unit Head of the Global Initiative on Disaster Risk Management (GIDRM) by GIZ, and Mr.Luiz de Mello, Deputy Director of Public Governance and Territorial Development at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), discussed their respective organization’s resilience-building efforts in the Asia-Pacific and beyond, highlighting good practices and lessons learned. Mr. Handtloegten stressed the need for ‘technological solutions’ for which partnerships are critical.

Mr. de Mello described the OECD’s approach to enhance resilience – first, that location matters; second, that managing critical risks requires investment not only on hard but also on soft and social infrastructure; and third, the importance of a cross-cutting policy approach, based on dialogue between national and subnational governments.

Is resilience-building – as currently pursued by cities – an inherently inclusive process? “[In truth], absolutely not,” said Mr. Ashvin Dayal, Associate Vice President and Managing Director of the Asia office of the Rockefeller Foundation, “but it can be.” He noted a tendency to focus on ‘physical’ resilience – such as the building of elevated roads – without taking into account the ‘incredible cauldron’ of problems that the urban system presents.

“Local authorities have to be more active,” said Mr. Zahedi. “There is a perception that with different layers of government working ‘business as usual’, problems would be solved,” added Mr. de Mello. “In fact, the process involves a diverse geometry of stakeholders, and it should be as fluid and organic as possible.”

Nevertheless, cities are making significant progress – as evidenced by the forum itself. “It is encouraging that so many cities are making efforts – and you [the forum delegates] doubling your expected attendance today is a great sign that a lot of Asia-Pacific cities are taking this responsibility seriously,” said Mr. Dayal. “The national governments are beginning to take notice, and we’re just working on making the connections.”

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