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Loss and Damage - Adverse Impact of Climate Change

Sustainable urban environmental management is an urgent issue in Asia, where urbanisation is rapidly progressing. At the Inaugural East Asia Summit Environment Ministers Meeting in 2008, "Environmentally Sustainable Cities" was selected as an immediate priority area for environmental cooperation in the region. Promotion activities are being carried out with the participation of diverse stakeholders, including governments, international organisations, NGOs, companies and research institutes.

We talked with Allen Kearns, Theme Leader for Sustainable Cities and Coasts of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) of Australia, who has actively supported these cooperative activities along with IGES, about progress and issues facing Asian cities.

Allen Kearns
Allen Kearns is an environmental scientist with research interests in the social and ecological consequences of urban and industrial development. Allen now leads the Sustainable Cities and Coasts Theme in the CSIRO Climate Adaptation Flagship. He was formerly Deputy Chief of CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems for ten years.

Related links:
- The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO)
- High Level Seminar on Environmentally Sustainable Cities (HLS-ESC)


June 2011

Sustainable Cities in the
Asia-Pacific Region:
Progress Made and Challenges Remaining


Allen Kearns
(Theme Leader - Sustainable Cities and Coasts, Climate Adaptation Flagship, The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO))


Benefits Achieved through Partnerships

--- Headway has been made in partnerships aimed at "Environmentally Sustainable Cities" and focused on the member countries of the East Asia Summit. In particular, what progress has been achieved to date?

Kearns:
In March 2011 I was invited to attend the 2nd East Asia Summit High Level Seminar on Environmentally Sustainable Cities in Kitakyushu, Japan. There were high level national government representatives from 16 member countries as well as many city leaders, NGOs and research organisations presenting case study updates on progress towards sustainable city development in many cities across East Asia. What impressed me most in terms of progress since the 1st High Level Seminar in Jakarta in March 2010 was the commitment to forming partnerships and the value of taking action towards improved urban planning, design, construction and management of cities in many East Asian countries.

I would particularly like to point out the role of partnerships in enhancing the sharing of knowledge and experience between East Asian cities. I think these partnerships are being developed for a number of reasons: firstly, in response to the complexity of the urban planning and adaptive management challenges faced by city leaders who are starting out on the journey towards sustainable city development; secondly, as a vehicle for enhancing rapid cross-city learning in East Asia and thirdly, because partnerships are an effective way of addressing national and international drivers at the scale of the city.

Priorities and Focal Points for Sustainable Cities

--- The topic of "Environmentally Sustainable Cities" is a very broad one. What specific issues are being given attention?

Kearns:
This is an important point. Your question raises the problem of how cities best address the complexity of multiple urban, national and global challenges at the same time as providing basic urban services such as safe and secure housing, energy, water, food and transport. It would be easy to feel over-whelmed by the scale of the challenges unless there are good examples available of progress under a wide range of city conditions and a way of accessing this information and experience.

Fortunately, this experience is starting to build up in East Asia. For example, in Kitakyushu we heard government and city leaders talking specifically about their progress towards meeting global drivers such as rapid urbanisation by planning and designing green cities; meeting climate change commitments through building low-carbon cities; and developing new eco-technologies that will open up markets for green growth and improved environmental quality. Some examples of progress and cross-city learning from new approaches include improved techniques for solid waste management such as composting in Surabaya, Indonesia; better air quality and less congestion by regulating the numbers of Jeepneys entering Iloilo, Philippines and the eco-industrial transformation of Kitakyushu, Japan to a low carbon and very attractive city over the last decade.


Recognising Differences and Similarities through Shared Learning

--- The circumstances of cities and desired form of development differ among developed, emerging and developing nations. What are the most important factors in devising partnerships considering these differences?

Kearns:
Firstly, I would like to emphasise the role of networking organisations in the partnership building and knowledge brokering process. I am broadly using ‘networking’ here to mean non-government organisations like CAI-Asia, CITYNET and ICLEI; international development agencies like JICA, USAID and AusAID; donor agencies like World Bank and ADB; facilitative organisations like UN Habitat and research organisations like IGES and CSIRO. The strength of an effective partnership is in bringing all these knowledge holders together to help generate and communicate different experiences in the development of environmentally sustainable cities to other city leaders.

Secondly, the IGES Kitakyushu Urban Centre, supported by the Ministry of Environment, Japan, the City of Kitakyushu and JICA, also provides the essential co-ordinating and organisational leadership role as the High Level Seminar Secretariat. This overall process was referred to as a “network of networks” at the Kitakyushu meeting. This cross-city East Asia network has facilitated learning because there is such a rich range of examples and shared learning from across the urban development spectrum.

Thirdly, focused city case studies are important for shared learning and partnership building across East Asia. USAID has initiated a program called Twinning Cities that links cities with similar water management issues but different locations on the urban development spectrum and JICA supports IGES projects that share experience and learning on solid waste management and transport.


Balancing Broad Civic Issues with Present and Future Climate Change

--- The cities of Asia are vulnerable to climate change. Serious effects are evident, such as rising sea levels for coastal cities. What perspective is required to create sustainable cities in the future?

Kearns:
There are many here-and-now issues facing urban managers and city leaders such as solid waste management, water and energy security, health services, housing affordability, air quality, job creation and crime prevention. How will they find the time and energy to deal with climate change? I think the answer to that question, and the challenge for creating sustainable cities is to develop more integrated planning and design approaches for multiple purposes and over the long term.

We know that we can not plan, design and adapt cities to climate change alone. We have to develop adaptation options that are geographically specific and that are relevant and acceptable to communities; we have to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through demand-side behaviour changes in how we live and in supply-side provision of lower carbon emitting energy systems. And we need development options that reduce impacts on natural systems that sequester carbon such as forests and reefs.

We also need good practice examples. For example, Kitakyushu represents the transformation of an existing ‘brown field’ industrial city to a new identity as a leading low carbon city; a small city, Puerto Princessa, Philippines is planning and designing how to keep their biodiversity in nearby forests as part of their climate change commitment to a greener urban future; and Can Tho, Vietnam and Makassar, Indonesia with support from AusAID and CSIRO are addressing climate change impacts on the planning, design and management of vulnerable urban water systems in low-lying cities.

--- Thank you very much.




About "Monthly Asian Focus: Observations on Sustainability"

Until 2010, IGES has released “Top News on the Environment in Asia” on a yearly basis. For over 12 years since its establishment of IGES in 1998, “Top News” has collected and organised information about environmental issues and policy trends in the region.

In January 2011, IGES launched the new web-based series "Monthly Asian Focus: Observations on Sustainability" in which leading environmental experts deliver their take on latest trends of sustainable Asia.

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