Climate change, resilience, data, co-creation and sustainable development: insights from the Resilient Cities conference

A few weeks ago, IHS UMD student Danilo Cançado attended the Resilient Cities 2019 Conference, organized by ICLEI and co-hosted by the city of Bonn.

With more than 560 participants from over 60 countries, the event touched upon how to deliver resilience at a local level and other topics like: 

  • indicators for urban resilience
  • mainstreaming local actions into global policies
  • use of data for planning
  • nature-based solutions
  • multi-stakeholder and multi-cultural approaches
  • preparedness to climate change impacts
  • urban nexus
  • financing and insuring adaptation measures
  • resilience frameworks
  • risk management
  • circular economy
  • gender equality on climate resilience

Workshops with the municipalities of Milan (Italy), Malmö (Sweden), and Copenhagen (Denmark), and site visits in Bonn and Essen complemented the program.

This conference has been an enriching experience for Danilo, who summarized some key insights that are worth sharing.

Danilo: "Besides deepening my understanding on urban resilience and broadening my perspectives on what it is being done by municipalities and academia, it was an amazing opportunity to meet so many people dedicated to promoting more resilient cities and tackling climate change-related issues."

Read further to find out more about the main points discussed in the conference:

  • For those who still don’t believe it, climate change is really a ‘thing’. During the conference, an unprecedented heatwave stroke in Europe and was a clear example of how climate-related impacts will get more intense and frequent, maybe reaching unforeseeable consequences. In the international policy-making context, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development determined goals like to “take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts” (SDG 13)[1], the Paris Agreement[2] gathered nations worldwide in an ambitious first-time-ever commitment to tackle climate change and promote adaptation measures, and, also, the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) developed a special report[3] to explain what does it actually mean to have an increase of 1.5oC on the earth’s temperature (compared to pre-industrial levels). Despite these policies and reports being of imperative importance to create a common basis of action, the current scenario the world faces is grim and a lot of effort needs to be done in practical terms, to achieve the proposed goals.

  • Cities are at the forefront of the sustainable agenda and in a unique position as both the cause and opportunity to address climate change impacts. Urban resilience needs to be seen as a mindset of transformation to ensure a better future, given that it allows us to integrate multiple dimensions, to tackle cross-cutting issues, to bridge the dichotomy between urban and rural areas, and to plan and build cities in a more sustainable way. Local governments should promote actions that work in practice, prioritize the most demanding needs, see the investments not as expenses, but as future losses being avoided, and ensure an infrastructure that provides services even under shocks and stresses. Many frameworks were already developed for that, however, there is still no standardized process through which governments can co-create solutions and promote resilience based on the same methodology.

  • Data is an important tool to help urban planners make decisions based on accurate and precise information. Its availability is a challenge faced by many municipalities both because of the need for investment and (horizontal or vertical) integration among agencies. To solve those problems, better and integrated datasets should be provided to decision makers, not only by the different governmental agencies, but also integrating with academia, research centres and private companies that despite showing data results on their studies, usually keep the raw information “secured” with themselves. Existing data should follow the F.A.I.R. (findable, accessible, interoperable, and reusable) principles[4], and show the documentation behind the calculations, allowing those who use the information to understand the reasoning and apply for their own case, what ensures the reliability and validity of the study. Technology can guarantee data provision and result in operational savings, but needs to be thoroughly considered to translate into a better life quality and equitable distribution of its benefits, besides not being be too embedded into an infrastructure, what can condemn it to obsolescence.

  • The collaboration between different levels and agencies within government, private organizations and citizens, depends on a strong leadership and commitment from all parts involved, and is sometimes even more important than technical innovations itself. Due to pressing needs and budgetary or technical constraints, the municipality might find it hard to think in the long term and develop broader scale projects that require more complex solutions. Therefore, not only provincial and state level could help municipalities access national investments, but external organizations can provide technical assistance and consultancy, as well as access to international funding, so that the city can implement actions that promote resilience. Also, it is necessary that the national level realize the importance of cities and help them ensure funding for sustainable projects, promote better policies, cooperation and ownership over development. Only with a collective action existing and not wanted institutional systems will be broke down, a holistic perspective adopted, synergies among solutions considered, and transformative change that outreaches government changes promoted.

  • A lot was mentioned about the need for tackling climate change impacts by building resilience, using decision-making processes based on data and the collaboration between the various actors, but it is still necessary to better understand how to move from theory to practice and improve planning and implementation processes. To progressively build resilience, initially it is necessary to understand the current conditions (baseline scenario), identify the vulnerabilities that need to be strengthen, prioritize the investments, and mix technical and non-technical solutions. Promoting carbon neutral development, nature-based solutions, equitable and people-centered planning, as well as a circular economy are some of the pathways that lead to sustainability. However, considering the nexus of resources (food, land, water, and energy), a starting point is to address the basic needs of citizens and focus on the prevention, crisis management and recovery to secure a continued and quality provision of public services. Lastly, a paradox important to be understood is that, depending on the context, using existing approaches and institutional procedures can help mainstream adaptation and mitigation concepts into practice, but only a disruptive cross-sectoral and social shift can promote the fundamental changes necessary to rethink urban systems and our (consumption) behaviors.

Danilo's vision for the future is summed up by one powerful quote from Dan Millman: “The secret of change it to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the newAs he says it, "If everyone collaborates and does their part, we can luckily bring some hope for the future and achieve sustainable development".

About the author

Danilo Cançado is an Environmental Engineer and MSc student of Urban Management and Development at the Institute for Housing and Urban Development Studies of the Erasmus University Rotterdam. He is currently researching the key determinants of urban resilience, specifically by using existing datasets to measure it.

More information

Footnotes

[1]United Nations (UN). Sustainable Development Goals Knowledge Platform. Available at: https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/sdgs.

[2]United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The Paris Agreement. Available at: https://unfccc.int/process-and-meetings/the-paris-agreement/the-paris-agreement.

[3] International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Special Report – Global warming of 1.5oC. Available at: https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/.

[4] GO FAIR. FAIR Principles. Available at: https://www.go-fair.org/fair-principles/