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Resilient Cities Asia-Pacific Congress: An Avenue for Climate Diplomacy by Cities

City networks as global actors

Efforts on the international level to bring together cities, metropolitan areas and local governments have been ongoing for a while. One of the notable initiatives has been led by the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI) – Local Governments for Sustainability. Founded by 200 local governments in 1990, today ICLEI is the largest association of local and metropolitan governments from around the world, with more than 1000 members in 84 countries. After 25 years, ICLEI still serves as one of the successful examples of city networks – steering the establishment of the World Mayors Council on Climate Change and forging partnerships with the Rockefeller Foundation’s Asian Cities Climate Change Resilience Network (ACCCRN).

For over two decades, the organization has worked with cities and local governments on an array of sustainable development issues, pioneering processes and programmes such as the Local Agenda 21 and Cities for Climate Protection. ICLEI also organises the Resilient Cities Series, an annual forum on urban resilience and climate change adaptation which started in 2010. At the Resilient Cities Congress, cities and local governments have been collectively voicing their concerns, sharing and developing their very own local adaptation and mitigation programs and outcomes as well as experts and practitioners offering ideas and opportunities on climate finance, multi-stakeholder collaboration, adaptation planning and policy making and ecosystem based adaptation.

Focusing on the Asia Pacific

The Asia Pacific region has been identified as possibly the most vulnerable region to impacts of climate change in the future.  It is also home to a number of mega cities, both coastal and landlocked, which house hundreds of millions of people. Cities and sub-national governments from the region thus have a much greater sense of urgency in implementing adaptation measures and addressing mitigation commitments at the soonest.

It was within this context that the first Resilient Cities Asia Pacific Congress was organized from 11-13 Feb 2015, in Bangkok, Thailand. Hosted by ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability, the World Mayors Council on Climate Change and the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration, the forum convened city leaders pioneering new initiatives towards urban climate resilience. The event served as a regional networking and sharing platform not only for showcasing local climate action but also for opening up opportunities for cities to jump start or expand local sustainable initiatives through existing but untapped climate financing mechanisms. The Congress also provided the opportunity for the region’s cities to discuss their collective strategy and roadmap towards UNFCCC COP 21 in Paris in December 2015.

Other than being a milestone event for Asia Pacific cities, the Congress also formulated and released the 'Bangkok Call for Action towards Urban Resilience in the Asia Pacific.’ Agreed upon and endorsed unanimously by the mayors and local government officials, the declaration made a call to:

  • Focus on innovative systems-based approaches to enable transformation towards new and resilient trajectories of growth;
  • Promote concerted and coordinated urban resilience action in Asia-Pacific through active community involvement and stakeholder engagement;
  • Explore opportunities for increasing partnerships between local governments, other levels of governments, donor communities and private sector;
  • Ensure that urban risk status is regularly monitored and assessed to provide quantifiable evidence that is mainstreamed into urban planning, including land-use policy development and implementation, ecosystem and infrastructure projects;
  • Develop and benefit from new, additional and innovative financial and fiscal instruments in order to support risk-sensitive public and private investments;
  • Build capacities of local government officials to assess existing and anticipated risks and to be prepared to respond to them appropriately;
  • Ensure that measures for reducing risk and building resilience are equitable, adequately address interests of the urban poor, and are gender sensitive;
  • Connect urban risk reduction planning and implementation with existing initiatives, mechanisms, and processes, in particular focusing on climate adaptation such as Durban Adaptation Charter, Compact of Mayors, Resilient Cities Accelerator Initiative, Medellin Collaboration and Resilient Cities Congress Series.

The aim and hope is for this declaration to add to the efforts of advocacy for greater recognition of cities and subnational governments as important stakeholders in sustainable development, international climate negotiations and diplomacy. Modelled on the annual Bonn Declaration of Mayors drafted during the Resilient Cities Congress, the Bangkok Call for Action was an important political demonstration of the common views and interests of regional cities and local governments in the Asia Pacific. The Bangkok Call for Action will be delivered at the Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction 14-18 March 2015 in Sendai, Japan. It is also expected to feed into the finalization of the post-2015 development agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals. Through such platforms, cities are pushing forward an integrative agenda for cities at the UNFCCC COP21 in Paris.

Find more information about the relationship between local sustainable development and global climate change here.