Connecting people to build inclusive urban climate change resilience

Residents of Jakarta, Indonesia ride a bicycle through a flooded street. More than half the world’s population is urban-based and people living in the flood plains of Asia’s urban areas may rise to 175 million by 2060. Mercy Corps is leading the regional expansion of the Asian Cities Climate Change Resilience Network, a Rockefeller Foundation initiative committed to helping urban areas prepare for, withstand and recover from the projected impacts of climate change. Photo by: Jim Jarvie / Mercy Corps

Asia is experiencing unprecedented urbanization — more than 750 million people live in urban areas, exceeding the combined population of the U.S. and EU. More than 50 percent of Asia’s population is expected to be urban by 2026.

The growth of secondary and tertiary cities causes rapid change in land use, cost and social structures. Climate change further complicates this transformation, making many of these fast-growing cities more vulnerable to both sudden shocks such as coastal storms, and to slow onset stresses like rising sea level or shifting disease patterns.

At the same time, there is momentum for shifting development toward a mindset of building resilience, and innovating to anticipate these challenges and their force multiplier: climate change. A key question is how to do this and ensure resilience-building measures are inclusive. How do we ensure that people who are economically poor, socially and politically marginalized or otherwise vulnerable, often living on the tracts of land most exposed to flooding or landslides, are taken into account in the planning and budgeting by city governments? To be resilient, these perspectives are fundamentally important.

Mercy Corps has been at the forefront working in the urban, poverty and climate nexus. Starting in Indonesia during its political turmoil in the late 1990s, programs were focused on health, nutrition and access to essential services. This background of experience resulted in Mercy Corps Indonesia serving as the lead partner to help secondary cities undertake climate change resilience building as part of the Asian Cities Climate Change Resilience Network, a project supported by the Rockefeller Foundation.

ACCCRN is a multiyear initiative to strengthen the capacity of more than 50 rapidly urbanizing cities in Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam to survive, adapt and transform in the face of climate-related stress and shocks. ACCCRN has been dedicated to providing opportunities for exchange and shared learning across cities, demonstrating the value of peer learning, particularly in such a new field. While many networks provide a forum for urban issues and connecting local governments, cities and academic programs, practitioners focused on building urban climate change resilience have unique approaches and perspectives, and we’ve seen how deeply they benefit from their own network.

This is about to grow: With Rockefeller Foundation support, Mercy Corps is developing a new membership platform for urban climate change resilience practitioners that will launch this week in Bangkok at ICLEI’s first Asia-Pacific Forum on Urban Resilience and Adaptation.

The new ACCCRN platform will support practitioners to create and share knowledge, access resources and influence agendas to build inclusive urban climate change resilience.

A key aspect of the network’s mission focuses on inclusivity. Among practitioners in Asia there is widespread understanding that in building urban resilience, technical challenges are relatively easy; it is issues of governance that are hard to change. Indeed, urban resilience projects designed on principles of inclusivity can bring significant and tangible benefits to all people in cities.

In one of the initial ACCCRN member cities, rapidly growing Surat in Western India, this was made abundantly clear through the establishment of an end-to-end early warning system for flooding that enabled coordination across national, state, municipal and community boundaries. This coordinated system meant that in 2013 the city avoided a major flood. In 2006, the hydro-meteorological conditions equaled those of 2013, but without such a system, 75 percent of the city had been flooded for at least a week, including the homes of tens of thousands of poor households living along the riverbanks. These floods are estimated to have cost the city $4.5 billion in damages.

Although projects have yielded tangible benefits in terms of improved resilience outcomes, equally important, they provide a means to facilitate important changes in processes: deeper knowledge of systems behind cities that must be better understood if sustainable change for the better is to be achieved, establishment of new stakeholder networks, new information accessible to government and citizens, new strategies for managing urban systems and services, better links between civil society and government, and decision-making that considers the long-term impacts of climate change.

Projects cannot necessarily translate from one context to another. The successful expansion of urban climate change resilience building will depend on the ability to share the evolving understanding and experiences emerging from this relatively young field. Through ACCCRN, exchange visits enable peers grappling with similar challenges in different contexts to learn from one another and deepen discourse. This was certainly the case in one such exchange facilitated by the Institute for Social and Environmental Transition and the Thailand Environment Institute, which convened city practitioners from two Vietnamese cities (Danang and Can Tho) and three Thai cities (Hat Yai, Ayutthaya and Thung Song), all of which face the challenge of managing major floods.

There is growing demand for these types of peer-learning opportunities, as is clear from the launch of the Urban Climate Resilience-Community of Practice, housed under the Vietnam Urban Forum, which will be part of the new ACCCRN network.

Any initiative aimed at building resilience must include learning and networking among stakeholders, which is why the launch of the ACCCRN platform offers a critical next phase in the journey to equip hundreds of individuals, institutions and cities to face an increasingly uncertain future.

Have you taken part in the Asian Cities Climate Change Resilience Network? What improvements do you hope to see in this new, expanded platform? Let us know by leaving a comment below.

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About the authors

  • Jimjarvie

    Jim Jarvie

    Jim Jarvie is Mercy Corps’ network director transitioning the Asian Cities Climate Change Resilience Network to a practitioner-based membership platform. He previously led development of Mercy Corps’ global programs in climate change and environment, focusing on Southeast Asia. He is a biologist with 20 years of experience, previously working on natural resource management, conservation and conflict.
  • Anna profile 2014

    Anna Brown

    Anna Brown is a senior associate director at The Rockefeller Foundation, where she manages the Asian Cities Climate Change Resilience Network from her base in Bangkok. She previously worked with the MIT-USGS Science Impact Collaborative. At the Quaker United Nations Office, she led the organization's engagement with the U.N. Commission on Sustainable Development and guided work on water and conflict. Brown earned her bachelor's degree in environmental studies from Brown University and her master's in city planning from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.