Shifting towards resilient urban development

The Paris Agreement establishes a clear goal: to keep the global temperature rise well below 2 degrees Celsius, with the intent to pursue a 1.5-degree target. However, the national climate commitments submitted under the Paris Agreement do not yet put us on track to achieve this goal. In fact, with current national commitments, the world is on its way towards a global temperature rise of around 3 degrees Celsius by the end of the century.

This means that climate change is a reality and that cities need to prepare for its effects, working quickly to strengthen their resilience. While the climate conversation often focuses on mitigation, local resilience building is an essential dimension of the broader conversation.

ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability organized a half-day urban resilience event at Habitat III to bring this topic to the fore. The event convened global and local actors to discuss effective examples of resilience, options for multilevel cooperation, financing resilience and other issues that will help ensure tangible progress on resilience is made under the New Urban Agenda.

Here are some of the highlights from the first panel with Esteban Leon, Chief Technical Advisor of the City Resilience Profiling Program at UN-Habitat and David Jácome, Chief Resilience Officer at City of Quito:

  • UN-Habitat engages with cities in measuring their level of resilience. They take a deep look into local systems for resilience and evaluate existing gaps and weaknesses, explained Esteban Leon, Chief Technical Advisor of the City Resilience Program at UN-Habitat.
  • The City of Quito is looking into every dimension of urban life as part of its resilience building process. This uncovers many threats but also plenty of opportunities, explained David Jácome, Chief Resilience Officer of Quito. A resilience assessment is not just exercise of what can happen but also of what resources can help a city become stronger.
  • Leon explained that committing to resilience building is easy. What counts is using indicators to subsequently measure progress. The City of Quito is backing up its commitments with clear indicators and a vulnerability index that is scaled down to a parish level.
  • Jácome made it clear that coordination between national and local governments needs to go beyond meeting at the same table. It is important to identify how national policies can complement local systems and policies to build a coherent resilience system.

Their discussion was followed by a conversation with Josef Leitmann, Team Leader of Urban Resilience at the World Bank.

  • There are $106 trillion currently in the hands of institutional investors, and less than 2 percent of it goes to urban infrastructure. The challenge is leveraging these existing financial resources for investments in cities, explained Josef Leitmann, Team Leader of Urban Resilience at the World Bank.
  • Leitmann explained the gap between investors and cities in need of funding. Investors often want certainty around the return on investment. However, cities often look at social impact rather than financial return. Cities also do not have the history and systems in place to be creditworthy and able to borrow money.
  • Leitmann also suggested that national level reform is often a necessary measure to ensure cities can access capital markets.