Rising urban poverty and inequality hindering Asian cities ability to tackle climate change

29 Oct 2012

Bangkok -- Asia’s cities are central to the world’s battle against climate change. With the dual challenges of supporting the urban poor to adapt and reduce emissions, cities hold the keys to a sustainable and inclusive future. This was the message from a meeting of Mayors and Senior Officials from 10 city governments across Asia hosted by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat).

“I can’t ignore the impact of climate change while developing Makassar into an ‘eco-politan city’, a city where all its inhabitants – both the haves and the have nots – live in harmony with the environment,” said the Mayor of Makassar, Indonesia, H. Ilham Arief Sirajuddin at the event.

Cities are change-makers. They can “encourage climate-friendly energy use, more efficient transport options, greener buildings and better waste management. Supported by access to technology, finance and knowledge, integrated solutions can help cities move towards a lower-carbon, climate resilient future,” says the UNDP-sponsored Asia-Pacific Human Development Report, One Planet to Share, presented at the event.

Asian cities are estimated to contribute around 80% of the region’s GDP, yet they face huge challenges from climate change and rising numbers of poor, all of which threaten to derail progress to build more prosperous and sustainable human settlements. Slums and other marginal areas in cities are highly exposed to climate hazards. Urban services such as water and food supplies, sanitation and electricity will come under increasing strain from floods, droughts, heat waves and rising sea-levels.

The Asia-Pacific region has made progress in reducing slum numbers, but it is still home to more than 500 million slum-dwellers or over half the world’s slum population. Urban poor communities, often concentrated in makeshift shelters, in flood-prone areas alongside rivers or even directly on watercourses, are more sensitive to climate change.

“It is no coincidence that climate change has become a leading international development issue precisely at the same time the world has become predominantly urban,” said Mariko Sato, Chief of UN-Habitat’s Bangkok Office at today’s event, “Climate change and urbanization are virtually inseparable. Mayors and local authorities can make a difference in the lives of the urban poor as they are directly accountable to their residence.”

“Poor people in cities are not only poor from an economic perspective, they often lack the legal identity to benefit from city responses to climate change,” said Pauline Tamesis from UNDP’s Asia-Pacific Regional Centre, “Urban governance institutions need to be strengthened to address climate change in a more inclusive manner.”

The one-day workshop brought together decision-makers, regional development partners and city government representatives from: Dhaka and Chittagong, Bangladesh; Sihanoukville, Cambodia; Makassar, Indonesia; Kathmandu and Biratnagar, Nepal; Sorsogon, the Philippines; Negombo and Balangoda, Sri Lanka; and Bangkok, Thailand.

Building on the close partnership between cities in Asia under the path breaking Cities and Climate Change Initiative, Kibe Mugai and Bernhard Barth from UN-Habitat headquarters in Nairobi introduced cutting edge multi-level governance tools to help link cities to national level frameworks.

City governments produced innovative cross-sector vulnerability assessments and inclusive urban action plans to climate change as part of the workshop and brainstormed on strategies to link local level climate change strategies into national plans and policies.

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UNDP partners with people at all levels of society to help build nations that can withstand crisis, and drive and sustain the kind of growth that improves the quality of life for everyone. On the ground in 177 countries and territories, we offer global perspective and local insight to help empower lives and build resilient nations.

UN-Habitat is the United Nations agency for human settlements. It is mandated by the UN General Assembly to promote socially and environmentally sustainable development of human settlements in an urbanizing world with the overall objective of providing adequate shelter for all.

Contact Information

For further information, please contact:

In Bangkok: Mr. Omar Siddique, Mobile (66 87) 337 2801, omar.siddique@undp.org and Mr. Ilija Gubic, Mobile (66 85) 046 3698, gubic@un.org