Readers of the lost ark: Are resilient cities ‘the only game in town’ when it comes to climate adaptation?

In the spirit of the theme of the conference I attended in Bonn, I was pleased to overcome the shock and surprise of Icelandic volcanic ash cloud and an e-coli food outbreak to share my latest research insights with 500+ delegates from local government and global finance from around the world.

In the same week of the news that record-breaking CO2 emissions put the world on fast track to irreversible climate change, I and other delegates noted the gathering marked a tipping point in a key debate to tackling climate change.

Convened by ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability with UN-Habitat, the premise to the gathering is, in summary, that cities account for both more than half the world’s population and carbon emissions, a footprint which will increase with urban-rural migration; however international climate negotiations to date have failed to grasp this and have instead focused their deal-making on nations or sectors; yet whilst these deals have stalled, city mayors from Mexico, Tanzania, The Philippines and elsewhere have the vision and appetite to step in where others fear to tread; but to lead to more tangible action on the ground requires re-thinking the way the World Bank and other global financiers select projects and partners to fund.

Given this, it was refreshing and fascinating to hear details of the new report Arc 3: Climate Change and Cities; First Assessment Report of the Urban Climate Change Research Network, focusing on how to manage risks associated with hazards (e.g. heatwaves), vulnerability (e.g. % poor) and adaptive capacity (e.g. resources). Taking India’s megacities such as New Delhi as a case in point, one measure – perhaps unsurprising in light of recent events in Japan – is to harden power plants against severe storms or quakes. Another intervention is the regulation of settlement growth in flood plains.

Whilst all very informative, however, the most inspiring thing was the sheer intellect, charisma and appetite for change from city leaders from the developing and emerging economies who were fired up to challenge the way people think. As Didas Massaburi, Mayor of Dar es Salaam summed it up in Bonn: “poverty and the environment are twins, and their parents are ignorance”. That is good enough for me.


Philip Monaghan

Writer, strategist and change manager in the fields of economic development and environmental sustainability.

Greenleaf Author.

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Phillip is the acclaimed author of the books Sustainability in Austerity (2010) and Hard to Make, Hard to Break (forthcoming 2012).
Philip’s Sustainability in Austerity has recently been named in CPSL’s Top 40 Sustainability Books of 2010.

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