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Green prospects for Asia-Pacific cities under threat

Large slums and rising emissions pose double threat to green prospects for Asia-Pacific cities

3 July 2012, Singapore – Decisive action in Asia-Pacific cities to help the urban poor adapt to climate change while reducing greenhouse gas emissions will shape the future of cities in the region, according to experts at the World Cities Summit in Singapore.

Held on the heels of the Rio+20 Conference, the World Cities Summit is the global platform for government leaders and industry experts to address liveable and sustainable city challenges, share innovative urban projects and forge partnerships. The Summit is held in conjunction with the 5th Singapore International Water Week and the inaugural CleanEnviro Summit in Singapore. Urban experts there also discussed new findings from the recent UNDP Asia-Pacific Human Development Report, One Planet to Share: Sustaining Human Progress in a Changing Climate.

The Asia-Pacific region has made progress in reducing slum numbers, but “it is still home to more than 505 million slum-dwellers or over half the world’s slum population,” according to the UNDP report that was discussed at the CleanEnviro Summit during an interactive dialogue on issues concerning cities, climate change and the urban poor. Poor urban communities are often concentrated in makeshift shelters, in flood-prone areas alongside rivers or even directly on watercourses, and are more sensitive to climate change, says the report.

“Decision makers in cities must come together to address climate challenges in a way which also improves the overall quality of urban living", said UNDP Administrator Helen Clark at the Cities Summit. “We need stronger urban governance for sustainability which also takes into account the needs of the urban poor", she added.

The future of Asia-Pacific and the world is becoming increasingly urban as people move to cities seeking a better life. Asia and the Pacific countries are home to some of the world’s largest urban areas. Half of the world’s top 20 megacities, those with populations of 10 million or more, are located in Asia. “By 2026, Asia’s population is likely to reach a tipping point: by then, over half its population will be urban, and by 2050 the proportion could reach two-thirds,” says the UNDP report.

In his keynote address at the Summit, Ambassador-at-large of Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Tommy Koh, spotlighted some of the greener strategies cities can take. He said, “Asia-Pacific’s cities cannot afford to grow now and clean up later - they need to encourage climate-friendly energy use, more efficient transport options, greener buildings and better waste management.” Ambassador Koh added, “Supported by access to technology, finance and knowledge, integrated solutions can help cities move towards lower-carbon more climate resilient development pathways.”

According to the UNDP report, “Around 40 per cent of Asia-Pacific’s population resides in urban settlements. Asian cities also tend to be densely populated, with 6,500 people per square kilometre, compared to 4,500 in Latin America and 4,000 in Europe.” Cities with higher concentrations of people are likely to be worst affected by climate change as was evident during the devastating floods in Mumbai (2005), Jakarta (2007), Brisbane (2010–11) and Bangkok (2011).

Cities are highly vulnerable to climate change as a whole and home to significant numbers of the poor, often located in informal settlements or ‘slums.’ These and other marginal areas in cities are extremely 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.

Beyond suffering from the effects of climate change, cities are themselves adding to global warming as major emitters of greenhouse gases, emanating largely from transport, energy use and high consuming classes. The report found that, “Cities globally occupy only 2 per cent of land, yet contribute more than two-thirds of greenhouse gases, primarily through transportation and the use of electricity.” As incomes rise and bring ownership of private vehicles within the reach of more people, the problem is likely to get worse. Cities are responsible “for approximately 67 per cent of the global energy demand, mainly from coal, oil and natural gas, the main contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. By 2030 that proportion should rise to more than 73 per cent”, adds the report.

The report goes on to say, “Waste contributes around 3 per cent of global emissions. In Asia-Pacific cities, with rising affluence, the middle and upper classes are generating increasing volumes of solid waste”.

Yet despite their vulnerability to the effects of increasing temperatures, some Asia-Pacific cities have learned to navigate lower carbon-efficient pathways and adapt to a warmer world. Select cities highlighted in the report are already taking action: in Hanoi, municipal administrators are strengthening dykes for better flood control; a climate-linked insurance scheme in Bangladeshi cities is covering residents living in over 2,000 slums against disasters; Tokyo has Asia-Pacific’s first city-level cap-and-trade scheme which aims at lowering the majority of urban emissions; and New Delhi’s municipal environment department has been engaging urban youth on climate change by establishing educational ‘eco-clubs’.

To access the 2012 Asia-Pacific Human Development Report, please visit: http://asiapacific-hdr.aprc.undp.org/

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.

ENDS

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