Ten Asian cities leading the way in climate-proofing

Can Tho in Vietnam is one of ten cities preparing for climate change by drawing up resilience indicators Copyright: Flickr/T.Chen

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[LONDON] Ten cities in South and South-East Asia will be the first in the world to use indicators to assess how resilient they are to climate change, a speaker at the Planet Under Pressure conference has told SciDev.Net.

The indicators are the work of the Asian Cities Climate Change Resilience Network (ACCCRN), set up in 2008 as a response to projections that the number of people living in cities will increase from today's 50 per cent of the world population to 70 per cent by 2050.

Asian cities will account for the majority of this increase (60 per cent), and nearly half of future urban growth is expected in smaller cities and towns, mostly those with fewer than half a million people now.

Stephen Tyler, a senior research associate at the Institute for Social and Environmental Transition, Canada, told the conference yesterday (26 March) that rapidly growing Asian cities stand at a crossroads in how they respond to the impacts of climate change.

This article is part of our Planet Under Pressure 2012 coverage — which takes place 26–29 March 2012. To read insights from our conference team please visit our blog.

He said they could either emerge as "refuges of climate resilience", offering prospects for new jobs and economic growth, or could face even higher levels of poverty.

ACCCRN, which runs until 2014, and is funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, is helping three cities each from India and Vietnam, and two each from Indonesia and Thailand, to identify their risks, and the indicators will help assess their strategies to cope with climate change impacts.

Key aspects of resilient urban systems include climate-sensitive land use and urban planning; drainage, flood and solid waste management; resilient housing and transport systems; urban water management; and flexible livelihoods for those affected by climate change.

This is the first time such a set of indicators is being developed for cities anywhere, Tyler told SciDev.Net.

The cities can measure the indicators themselves at a low cost, he added. The indicators currently under development are a broad mix of scientific and socioeconomic factors, both qualitative (for example, existence of a coordinating body for city planning) and quantitative (such as leakage rates in water supplies).

Each city is developing 12 to 15 indicators for a sector, such as health, water security and ecosystems. "We expect a lot of indicators will overlap, but the aim is to develop a common set that could be used among different sectors and cities," Tyler said.

The conference has also heard that sprawling cities put humanity at severe risk due to environmental problems. Cities are also responsible for some 70 per cent of the carbon dioxide emissions, according to Shobhakar Dhakal, executive director of the Tokyo-based Global Carbon Project Global Carbon Project.

"Re-engineering cities is urgently needed for global sustainability," said Dhakal, adding that emerging urban areas "have a latecomer's advantage in terms of knowledge, sustainability thinking, and technology to better manage such fundamentals as trash and transportation."

Mark Stafford Smith, Planet Under Pressure co-chair said the urbanization issue underlines the general theme of the conference that much of the planet's future is tied up in interconnected issues, such as "climate change and city design, city resource demands and impacts on rural areas, rural food and water productivity and the ability of cities to continue functioning".

"The deep intensity of interconnectedness of these issues requires an integrated approach, tackling challenges together rather than each individually, one at a time."

See below for a video about the ACCCRN project in Indonesia:


Link to ACCCRN brochure

Link to live web streaming of the conference

For more news and analysis of the Planet Under Pressure 2012 conference click here, and also see our live blog.