Stand Up For Climate Action in Cities

November 19, 2013

“Stand up if you live in a city. Stay standing and I want you to hold this image of the destruction wrought by Typhoon Haiyan in your mind. Now, imagine that the early warning sirens have gone off. When you hear the sirens, what do you do? How do you know what to do, where to go?”

This was the interactive exercise I used to start off my talk at the COP19 side event on “Implementing Article 6” of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Article 6 on Education, Training, and Public Awareness commits countries to “promote and facilitate… public access to information on climate change and its effects” and “public participation in addressing climate change and its effects and developing adequate responses.” These two clauses are particularly important because they reinforce the notion that decisions about the environment are best made with all relevant stakeholders. 

The goal of the exercise was to make audience members think carefully about where their knowledge comes from and how information impacts their ability to act, prepare, and survive in high-risk situations. While some knowledge is shared through informal sources, oftentimes the most vulnerable people, such as the poor, women, youth, and elders, do not have access to these critical information streams due to technological, economic, spatial, political, or cultural barriers.  Article 6 attempts to bring some concrete rights to these groups by empowering them with access to information and participation on climate change.

How do access rights relate to climate cities?

In my research, which focuses on urban climate adaptation in Metro Manila, Philippines, I am particularly concerned with how decisions on climate are being made in a city setting. Metro Manila, for example, is home to over twelve million people who breathe the same air, travel along the same roads, live under the same roofs, and draw power and energy from the same public utilities. In an urban setting, population density and spatial constraints require careful planning to ensure efficient, effective, and equitable sharing of these critical environmental resources.

Major tension hinges on the variable equity and is directly related to the access city inhabitants, and their most vulnerable populations, have to participation in planning processes and decisions. In the case of climate change, in which urban adaptation is a relatively new framework, there is concern that urban climate planning lacks transparency.  Early findings from my own research in Metro Manila suggest a disconnect between the national and subnational government authorities in their ability to plan at a regional and ecosystem scale. Additional findings point to a possible gap between the development of technological information systems and how communities process information to act.

Climate and Cities at COP19?

My talk on the governance dimensions of urban climate planning was only one of many events during the two weeks of COP19 focusing on cities and climate. Thursday, November 21st is “Cities Day” with events hosted by groups such as ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability, the UN Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat), and the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED).

As a Yale Climate and Energy Institute fellow, I will be participating in “Cities Day” and adding to and refining my research on climate and cities. Please follow my coverage of #COP19 and #COP19cities: @azomer.