Webinar on “ASEAN Cities’ Leadership in Climate Activism and Urbanisation Challenges”

In this webinar, Mr Amit Prothi and Ms Milag San Jose-Ballesteros highlighted climate change issues in an urban context and the importance of local government in implementing the transition to sustainable and equitable cities.


Tuesday, 8 September 2020 – The ASEAN Studies Centre (ASC) and the Climate Change in Southeast Asia Programme at the ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute jointly organised a webinar on “ASEAN Cities’ Leadership in Climate Activism and Urbanisation Challenges”. The webinar was delivered by Mr Amit Prothi, Managing Director of the Asia Pacific region at Global Resilient Cities Network (GRCN), and Ms Milag San Jose-Ballesteros, Regional Director for East, Southeast Asia and Oceania at the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group (C40). Ms Melinda Martinus (Lead Researcher in Socio-Cultural Affairs, ASC) moderated the session.

Mr Amit Prothi, Ms Milag San Jose-Ballesteros and  Ms Melinda Martinus
Mr Amit Prothi and Ms Milag San Jose-Ballesteros discussed development approaches and case studies of ASEAN cities’ leadership in climate activism and urbanisation challenges. Ms Melinda Martinus moderated the webinar. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Mr Prothi began his presentation by discussing three major trends of urbanisation, globalisation, and climate change, explaining their convergence in transforming and putting pressure on cities. With 75% of the global population likely to be living in cities and the urban population in Southeast Asia expected to double by 2050, greater concentrations of people and property will face increasing vulnerabilities due to climate change such as flooding and urban heat. While globalisation can create economic and development potential for cities, it has also increased risks such as the large-scale spread of COVID-19. However, Mr Prothi highlighted that half of the cities’ infrastructure by 2070 has yet to be constructed, highlighting the opportunities in rethinking how cities can be built.

Mr Amit Prothi
Mr Prothi highlighted the opportunities in rethinking how cities can be built. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Mr Prothi introduced the GRCN and its network of cities, noting that its Southeast Asian members consist of Bangkok, Can Tho, Da Nang, Jakarta, Mandalay, Melaka, Semarang, and Singapore. GRCN’s core offering – its member cities programme – helps cities to better identify and articulate challenges as well as develop projects that increase climate resilience by providing funding to hire a Chief Resilience Officer, access to a platform of services to support strategy development and implementation, and membership in the GRCN network. GRCN’s approach combines development priorities with disaster reduction and urban resilience, where urban resilience is defined as the capacity of individuals, communities, institutions, businesses and systems within a city to survive, adapt and grow no matter what kind of chronic stresses and acute shocks they experience.

Mr Prothi discussed the two main challenges faced by cities in addressing climate change. First, the understanding and translation of risks to the city-level is often inadequate. Second, climate change is perceived as a long-term threat, not an immediate one. GRCN helps cities to address these challenges by (i) building a better understanding of the risks they face and enabling them to make better investment decisions; (ii) breaking silos to integrate understanding of risks and creating opportunities for co-benefits; and (iii) facilitating shared learning with other global cities. He then presented examples of pilot projects undertaken with GRCN’s assistance in a range of global cities, including an ongoing project aimed at supporting cities in their post-COVID-19 recovery plans by providing a platform for sharing knowledge and experiences as well as tools for stakeholder engagement, collaboration methods, and partnerships to tackle challenges and improve decision-making.

Ms Milag San Jose-Ballesteros
Ms San Jose-Ballesteros stressed the urgent need to keep global temperature rise to below 1.5°C and highlighted the new climate reality confronting cities. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Next, Ms San Jose-Ballesteros introduced C40 as a network of 96 major global cities led by mayors focusing on the Paris Agreement targets. C40 member cities in Southeast Asia comprise Bangkok, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Quezon City, and Singapore. C40’s coverage includes high-priority mitigation, adaptation and sustainability topics.

Citing the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2018 Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C, she stressed the urgent need to keep global temperature rise to below 1.5°C and highlighted the new climate reality confronting cities. She described the dual relationship between cities and climate change, in which cities are engines of growth and innovation for climate adaptation and mitigation, but also major carbon emitters and likely to experience increased impacts of climate change.

Ms San Jose-Ballesteros highlighted C40’s Deadline 2020 initiative, which identifies C40 cities’ share of the remaining global carbon budgets to 2100 for 1.5°C and 2°C scenarios, and presents a pathway of what C40 cities need to do to meet Paris Agreement goals, for example in developing the respective Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) of their countries. Deadline 2020 recommends that cities focus their efforts on 12 strategic actions across the 4 action areas of (i) decarbonising the electricity grid; (ii) optimising energy efficiency in buildings; (iii) enabling next-generation mobility; and (iv) improving waste management. Ms San Jose-Ballesteros noted that these global action areas are also especially applicable to Southeast Asia. Additionally, she highlighted mayoral commitments to curb emissions in sectors that are large urban contributors to the climate crisis, such as the Net Zero Carbon Buildings Declaration, the Green and Healthy Streets Declaration, and the Advancing Towards Zero Waste Declaration, noting existing efforts in Southeast Asian cities that are in line with such commitments.

With C40’s support, member cities develop and implement Climate Action Plans that demonstrate how a city will deliver on its commitment to address climate change. Ms San Jose-Ballesteros outlined the key components of climate action planning: (i) emissions neutrality; (ii) resilience to climate hazards; (iii) inclusivity and benefits; and (iv) governance and collaboration. Further examples of climate action undertaken by C40 cities in terms of adaptation, mitigation, and integration were shared. She explained that ambitious urban climate policies can reduce carbon emissions globally and deliver wider economic and public health benefits for cities.

Finally, Ms San Jose-Ballesteros shared C40’s ongoing work against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, including hosting a virtual meeting of mayors and senior city leaders to share knowledge and advice on responding to the crisis as well as launching the C40 Mayors’ Agenda for a Green and Just Recovery, which outlines bold steps to deliver an equitable and sustainable recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The webinar concluded with participants from the policy, business, and research communities engaging the speakers on issues relating to GRCN and C40’s membership and partnerships, examples of mechanisms used by GRCN to translate resilience-building strategies into action and progress, types of nature-based solutions used in urban settings, as well as both organisations’ experiences in working with developed and developing cities.