Live from Habitat III: Four Priorities for Creating Economically, Environmentally and Socially Resilient Cities

Habitat III’s High Level Roundtable “Ecological, Climate Change Resilient, Disaster-Responsive Cities” took place on Tuesday, October 18, 2016. Photo by Alex Rogala/WRI.

WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities is reporting on Habitat III from Quito, Ecuador. Follow our daily coverage on TheCityFix.

Habitat III, the third United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development, officially began on Monday, October 17th in Quito. On the second day of the conference, governmental leaders from around the world gathered for two plenary sessions. Speakers addressed country-specific urban challenges and strove to unite the participants toward implementing a strong, robust and effective New Urban Agenda (NUA).

“Prevention pays,” remarked Henk Ovnik, the Netherland’s Special Envoy for International Water Affairs, noting that investing in resilient urban infrastructure can lead to tremendous savings.

But when it comes to urban resilience, prevention doesn’t just pay financially—it also pays environmentally and socially. At a High Level Roundtable entitled “Ecological, Climate Change Resilient, Disaster-Responsive Cities,” panelists and national delegates shared their ideas and experiences in improving urban resilience for the economy, people and the planet.

Natural disasters and environmental changes don’t respect borders. One major theme of the discussion focused on the need for governance systems that extend beyond individual cities. Denis Coderre, Mayor of Montreal, stressed that metropolitan and regional governance is vital for building resilience across jurisdictions. He cited the work that his city in Canada is doing to build close relationships between not only the national government, regional governments and local governments, but the private sector, civil society and people as well.

The power of data for improving individual and collective decision making was a second focus of the discussion. The delegate from the Philippines shared how the country passed legislation in 2009 to institutionalize resilience planning—creating pathways for the national government to share data with local governments so that all authorities are working with the same information. Quantifying risks and climate impacts also creates opportunities for financing resilience projects, as it gives investors accurate data about the projects they are considering.

Which led presenters to a third major point: the crucial role that finance plays in translating commitment into action. While the quantity of investment in infrastructure is certainly important, what’s more important is how that money is spent—whether it goes to resilient infrastructure. The delegate from Switzerland explained how the country is spearheading projects to facilitate financing for energy efficiency in buildings during the design and planning phase. Over the long run, inefficient buildings are more costly for society than buildings that efficiently use energy from the start. How buildings use energy can play a significant role in a city’s resilience to disruptions or changes in the supply of energy.

Lastly, speakers discussed the importance of innovation and learning from one another across global networks, given that cities often face common problems. For example, managing water—from ensuring a safe drinking supply to addressing rising sea levels—poses deep challenges cities and regions, from Mexico City to Bangalore to Sao Paulo. However, cities are finding common solutions to these vexing problems, and there is plenty of opportunity for scaling good ideas. This, however, will require a combination of citizen engagement, global leadership and partnerships with business and civil society.

Follow our coverage of Habitat III this week on TheCityFix.

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