A version of this post originally appeared in the Nikkei Asian Review.
After tense negotiations at the United Nations Climate Change conference in Paris in December, the world finally has a deal that, although not perfect, for the first time allows us to be optimistic that we will decelerate the pace of climate change.
For those of us who have been working towards this for nearly two decades, it has been a moment of quiet celebration and relief. Clearly, however, we cannot become complacent, nor pin all our hopes on the accord. Importantly, the Paris agreement paid relatively scant attention to the need for more investment in resilience building to help communities, cities and countries manage the consequences of climate change that is already underway.
“Even as the world takes some comfort from the Paris agreement, the science and the reality tell us that we simply must deepen our efforts…”
This is an alarming omission. Even if all carbon emissions ceased today, countries across Asia would still have to contend with increasingly frequent storms, more extreme heat stress, and evermore destructive floods and droughts. Last year alone wrought a catastrophic heat wave across the Indian subcontinent that killed more than 2,000 people, extraordinary floods in Chennai which brought a city of more than 8 million people to a standstill, and Typhoon Melor that devastated the Philippines.
Even as the world takes some comfort from the Paris agreement, the science and the reality tell us that we simply must deepen our efforts to build the resilience of poor and vulnerable communities to climate shocks and stresses—especially in Asia’s rapidly growing and densely populated urban centers.
While it is essential to follow through on the opportunity the Paris agreement has created to prevent a cataclysmic planetary collapse over the decades ahead, building climate change resilience can start now. Our experience of working in a diverse range of cities across Asia through the Asian Cities Climate Change Resilience Network (ACCCRN) and the 100 Resilience Cities initiative—both pioneered by The Rockefeller Foundation—demonstrates that cities can take innovative, integrated and practical solutions, without always requiring a great deal of money. Indeed, the main investment has often been that of political will and active engagement by local citizens, businesses and experts.
Early warning systems
Hat Yai, Thailand
Thailand’s flood-prone southern city of Hat Yai, for example, has applied integrated resilience planning across multiple agencies and stakeholders and a large investment in early flood warning systems. This includes a dedicated website which monitors water levels in different parts of the city through live closed circuit television footage and gives people early warning of impending dangers. Moreover, a network of drainage canals that spreads over the catchment area has helped to lessen the severity of floods in recent years.
Quy Nhon, Vietnam
Quy Nhon, a coastal city in central Vietnam, usually faces significant flooding and storm surge risks. Several years ago, poorly planned elevated roads and flood walls further exacerbated and prolonged the flood impacts. In 2010, the city developed a hydrology and land-use model, supported by The Rockefeller Foundation, which enabled city planners to gain a visual understanding of the potential consequences of further development plans. As a result, the government has called for a revised master plan for the city that will permanently halt development in the floodplains.
With heat stress posing a growing threat to life and health, the city of Surat in India has tested more than 15 low-cost passive ventilation and cool roof design innovations that can be easily adopted. These include a simple whitewash that can reduce indoor temperatures by between 2C and 5C. Surat is also the first city in the country to have a comprehensive summer heat action plan in place, and its efficacy in 2015 was notable in contrast to other cities.
These and other Asian cities involved with the climate change resilience network can provide a rich set of lessons on practical actions that city governments, businesses and urban residents can incorporate in order to be more resilient in the face of a still-changing climate. And while local knowledge is critical, cities do not need to reinvent the wheel—nor do they have time to start from scratch.
“By 2025, most of the world’s megacities will be in Asia.”
By 2025, most of the world’s megacities will be in Asia. The Paris climate deal is a magnificent signal that the world is finally ready to do what is needed to slow down the rate of climate change, but Asian cities must remain vigilant about the effects of climate changes that we are already too late to prevent.