Webinar on “Cities and Climate Challenges in Southeast Asia”

While most cities in Southeast Asia face the overlapping challenges of climate action and sustainable urban development, their unique and diverse circumstances call for greater study into climate impacts and solutions from a local perspective. “Cities and Climate Challenges in Southeast Asia”, a newly published compendium from the Climate Change in Southeast Asia Programme at ISEAS, brings together case studies from a wide variety of disciplines to reflect this complexity while providing practical recommendations to regional policymakers. In this webinar, new research findings on the urban-climate change nexus were presented by some of the contributors to this comprehensive volume: Dr Alejandro N. Ciencia from the University of the Philippines Baguio; Ms Nila Kamil from the Indonesian Ministry of Environment and Forestry and Wageningen University & Research; and Dr Michiyo Kakegawa from Soka University.


Monday, 6 March 2023 – The webinar began with welcome remarks from Ms Sharon Seah, Senior Fellow and Coordinator of the Climate Change in Southeast Asia Programme, ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute and expert remarks from Dr Peter Gotsch, Professor for Sustainable Urban Development in the Global South in the Urban Ecological Planning Program at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.

Cities and Climate Challenges in Southeast Asia
Clockwise from top left: Ms Sharon Seah (Opening remarks), Dr Alejandro Ciencia, Ms Melinda Martinus (moderator), Dr Peter Gotsch, Dr Michiyo Kakegawa, and Ms Nila Kamil. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Ms Sharon Seah set the context for the webinar by describing how interactions between climate impacts and concentrated economic activities lead to complex governance challenges in Southeast Asian cities, which are also harbouring a growing share of the region’s population. In addition to the combination of intensifying rainfall, flooding and droughts with pollution, unsustainable resource extraction and congestion, cities also bear the burden of contributing to global emissions reduction due to their role as economic hubs. Referring to the newly published research compendium “Cities and Climate Challenges in Southeast Asia”, she expressed the importance of contextualising climate risks and solutions to local conditions while sharing experiences and transferable lessons with other cities in the region.

Dr Peter Gotsch congratulated ISEAS and the speakers on the published compendium, which he saw as a valuable contribution not only to the research community but also to national and local governments and civil society. He noted that the research findings reverberated with urban planning approaches studied at his Urban Ecological Planning Program; and were especially valuable in highlighting the complexities of urban governance and politics as well as the diversity of experiences at different scales and locations. Drawing from these reflections, he advocated for decision-makers to move beyond traditional urban planning and operationalise multi-scalar approaches which consider a wide range of elements, from local communities and marginalised groups, to large infrastructure and geological features.

Dr Alejandro Ciencia’s presentation centered on a case study of water insecurity in Baguio City, the Philippines, which faces great uncertainty in projected rainfall in the coming decades due to climate change. His research assessed the level of water security provided by the Baguio Water District (BWD)’s piped water distribution through three dimensions: quantity, quality and accessibility; and found that it was lacking in all three. He then identified initiatives taken by both residents and the BWD to address water insecurity. While residents resorted to alternative natural sources, private refilling systems and private deep wells, the BWD is exploring new water sources and proposed a bulk water supply system with private water concessions. He urged for deeper consideration of the sustainability of such approaches in their ability to provide water security without depleting or destroying the city’s water sources.

Ms Nila Kamil’s presentation focused on the impact of Jakarta’s involvement in city networks such as the C40 Climate Leadership Group (C40), the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI), and CityNet on its climate adaptation and mitigation activities. Through qualitative study and semi-structured interviews, she found that the relationship was mutually beneficial. While city networks provided Jakarta with technical support, advice, and helped identify low-hanging fruit for climate action, they also grew in relevance and prestige through their engagement with Jakarta; helping them attract new members and opportunities for projects. However, one remaining consideration is to what extent cities can advance their ambition beyond individual projects and awareness-raising through such networks, given their dependence on national leaders to set the climate agenda.

Dr Michiyo Kakegawa discussed the evolution of Japanese Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) and its potential for integrating Ecosystem-based Adaptation (EbA) approaches in partner countries. She noted that Japan’s Infrastructure System Export Strategy involves using ODA as a tool to promote Japanese infrastructure and technology overseas, which may result in lower prioritisation of EbA. The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA)’s approach on climate change focuses narrowly on natural resources, biodiversity conservation and forest management, which may leave out holistic sustainable development issues that EbA could address. Accordingly, JICA projects in Vietnamese cities have been focused on technical assistance and infrastructure building where ecosystem-based approaches could have been considered. She recommended that both partner countries and Japan explore opportunities for integrating EbA into ODA projects.      

During the Q&A session, the panelists addressed questions relating to city-level monitoring and transparency of climate mitigation activities, the role of academic institutions in international cooperation, the protection of climate-vulnerable groups like refugees and migrants; and women’s participation and leadership in climate mitigation. The webinar drew an audience of over 100 participants.

A recording of the webinar is available here.