“Transformative optimism” towards a resilient world

“Transformative optimism” underlies the actions that local and subnational governments are taking to build a low-carbon and resilient world. It also describes the dedication among national governments that has led to significant advancements in global sustainability policy in recent years.

This morning, at the opening plenary of Resilient Cities 2016, Ashok Sridharan, Lord Mayor of Bonn and member of the ICLEI Global Executive Committee, reminded local governments, representatives of international bodies and members of the private sector that this “transformative optimism” – a term originally coined by Christiana Figueres, outgoing Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – will continue to deliver us towards global and local resilience goals.

The Resilient Cities congress, hosted by ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability and the City of Bonn, is the premier reporting platform for local progress on the resilience targets of SDG 11. The event links key global frameworks adopted in 2015 with local action on resilience.

2015 was a pivotal year for global resilience policy, marked by the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction and the Paris Agreement – each of which recognize local and subnational governments as key stakeholders.

Resilience has been directly taken up in the SDG targets and indicators, while the Paris Agreement, in addition to striving to keep the world under a two-degree Celsius rise in temperature, also establishes a global goal on adaptation. The Sendai Framework, the first major agreement of the post-2015 development agenda, focuses on substantially reducing disaster risk and loss across the world.

Now how will the world bring these frameworks together and apply them at the local scale? How do we translate “transformative optimism” into practice?

Coordinated action: Global targets cannot be met in isolation; multilevel and multisectoral partnership are critical. “We must engage nations to define mechanisms for multilevel governance that enable us to deliver on the promises of 2015,” stated Gino Van Begin, Secretary General of ICLEI. “That is what this conference is about – how local governments, scientists, civil society, knowledge managers and the private sector can advance local sustainable strategies in the context of these global agreements.”

Prevention over cures: The SDGs, Sendai Framework and Paris Agreement have instigated a shift toward mitigating disaster risk and away from recovering from losses already incurred. “Prevention is better than a cure, but in disasters, we have never thought about this before. It is logical but new,” explained Jerry Velasquez, Chief of Advocacy and Outreach at UNISDR, the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction.

Data, data, data: Global frameworks call for reliable and rigorous data collection to facilitate coordinated measurement of global progress and ensure local governments can effectively identify and mitigate risks. Reliable data is not only an accountability mechanism for local governments toward their citizens, but also a way in which cities can inform responsible decision-making and infrastructure development.

Mayor Manuel Araujo of Quelimane Municipality in Mozambique has used data to shift development decision-making. Working with USAID to collect data and develop a robust vulnerability map, the municipality can now provide concrete and well-informed guidance as to where and how new infrastructure can and should be built.

Unlocking finance: Strong datasets and cooperative efforts toward mitigating disaster risk are undoubtedly key ingredients in achieving global resilience targets. However, rapid scaling up and restructuring of global finance systems must match these efforts. There is a substantial amount of untapped financial resources, which must soon be unlocked, especially considering the world needs trillions of dollars for infrastructure development each year. “We need to step up financial flows,” emphasized Nick Nuttall, Head of Communications and Outreach at UNFCCC.

It is clear that finance for resilient urban development needs to be delivered at scale – and quickly. There are programs in place that aim to achieve this very goal, including the Transformative Actions Program (TAP), which aims to catalyze and improve capital flows to cities, towns and regions. The TAP, supported by Global Infrastructure Basel Foundation (GIB) and its CEO Hans-Peter Egler, works to address barriers in accessing finance through capacity building, technical support, relationship buiding and visibility for cities.

Raising awareness and participation: Striving toward a resilient future also requires sufficient awareness raising among both civil society and local governments.

Pusadee Tamthai, Deputy Governor of Bangkok, Thailand, recognizes that cites must ensure that voters understand local risks and participate in resilience building. That way, they can hold elected officials accountable for taking proactive steps. “The key is participation from all sectors, which will last much longer than forcing people to do what local and national governments would like,” she explained.

Yet awareness-raising is not only necessary for civil society. Across Europe, 300 cities have committed to urban adaptation strategies through Mayors Adapt, as compared to 7,000 cities that are committed to action on mitigation explained Hans Bruyninckx, Executive Director of the European Environmental Agenda. The gap is significant and can be attributed to a lack of awareness across the region.

Inclusive policy: Lastly, but by no means the least important, resilient development requires an inclusive approach, particularly one that includes the poor and residents of informal settlements. Thirty percent of urban dwellers live in informal settlements, and a city cannot be resilient without taking them into account. Misereor and Almuth Schauber of their Urban Pro-Poor Programs, has advocated transparent climate politics to reduce poverty and enforce human rights as a central pillars of resilient development.

What is next at Resilient Cities?

As the Resillient Cities congress continues throughout the week, these key points, among many others will be debated and dissected among participants. As a central meeting point for the resilience community representing many sectors, the congress will highlight ecological and technical approaches to building resilience, focusing on inclusive policy and scaling up of finance.

This blog posts is based on discussions from the opening plenary of Resilient Cities 2016: “Post-2015: Taking stock and moving forward to make cities, inclusive, safe resilient and sustainable”.


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