Member Interview Author: Farraz Theda, Jenty Kirsch-Wood Comments

“The problem is that, whereas most cities have mentioned the terms climate change adaptation and mitigation somewhere, the challenge is to translate it into action.”

This was how Jenty Kirsch-Wood, a Senior Technical Advisor Climate Change Adaptation and Resilience of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Vietnam opened the conversation when ACCCRN met with her to discuss why it is important to integrate climate change and disaster risk reduction into city planning.

Prior to her taking her current job, Jenty was a Disaster and Climate Change Policy Focal Point at the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA) in Nepal. She has more than ten years practical humanitarian experience working in several UN bodies and NGOs after earning her Master’s Degree in International Relations from the London School of Economics, and a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Anthropology from Harvard University.

Resilience cut across each sector in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), where climate change plays as one of the supportive pillars to ensure we’re achieving sustainable city. From your perspective, how significant is the adaptation policy and planning in the city?

I think it’s absolutely critical that sustainable development includes a strong adaptation component. It is sure that climate change is happening and a city’s ability to manage risk is critical. So, then the city can maintain their current development and its goals to actually have sustainable development.

It is very important to get the right balance between ensuring smart development of a city that has low-emissions and making sure that the city is investing in new technology that can be sustainable over the long-term, not only to achieve the Paris Agreement mitigation targets but also to build resilience in every aspect of the city’s planning.

Why? The reason is because, recently, disasters like floods, typhoons and long-term threads such as sea level rise, ocean acidification are becoming challenges for most cities in Asia. A city needs to view these issues as being the very center of their city planning and day-to-day work.

While it’s a growing understanding that cities should integrate climate change into their planning, some are still facing challenges in translating it into action. How do you view this?

That’s a great question! In the last couple of years, we have been in the situation where there’s no mention of climate adaptation in many urban plans at various levels, while what is common is that it is recognized and mainstreamed only on paper.

There are some basic steps that a city can take to manage disaster risks. The first one is to look at the existing plan and understand that the risks can be different in the future. Then it should create a low-medium-high scenario.

Second, look at the opportunity to fast track the progress of building urban resilience. For example, green building which can increase energy efficiency in buildings and at the same time create less expensive structures, and also create a livable environment. The goal is to speed up resilience while also creating opportunity for investment from the private sector or other funding available to support the practices.

Third, understand how to manage your climate risks and find the right way to make all of the city’s systems work together to create a livable environment. The city should able to look forward in its planning trajectories. The type of silos of ministerial planning that used to happen aren’t very effective in handling these interconnected challenges.

It is very clear that no city in the world finds it easy. What is important is that cities have an understanding of what would be best tailored to their local risk profiles.

“It is about finding the right mix for your urban environment, learning from your neighbor, and then finding ways to really apply it into the system.”

From your experience, what are the common challenges that are faced by cities carrying out planning and translating it into action?

The common challenges that I found are an enabling environment, finding the right financing mix, and creating a livable city while also ensuring that there is continuing prosperity for people − in terms of income. Many cities around the world are struggling with these challenges.

Climate change is essentially changing the types of decision or cost investment curves that used to be there for energy, which contribute to lives in urban areas. So the city is really taking a risk if it invests in outdated technology and follows old development pathways. It really has to conduct a real and very rapid assessment of some of the big investments that it has been thinking about

You also see that, with urbanization, there are new challenges that are not directly related to climate change but which are having a big impact on cities. For example, urban pollution is a serious issue in many Asian cities. In general, we have to take these challenges more seriously as part of the climate change mix.

Talking about future urban resilience practice, is there anything that you want to highlight?

It is very important that cities take resilience seriously, and the communities are engaged. There is a huge potential for action within all sections of society. A lot of civil society groups are very active in various urban initiatives that can help in building urban resilience. There is also strong interest from the private sector and insurance companies in building and housing.

I have seen a lot of governments starting to recognize the challenge of building resilience and eager to work together but often what they need is the right enabling environment: the right policy environment. I’m quite optimistic that we can move forward. It’s a positive time because we can see how urban environment can be a sustainable driver for development.

Vietnam has just started a program with the Green Climate Fund to look for an integrated approach for building resilience in coastal areas. Read more: here

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