The project objective is to enhance the economic and social resiliency of cities in Southeast Asia, recognizing the important connections between urbanization, the effects of climate change, public awareness, and societal well-being. The Urban Climate Resilience in Southeast Asia Partnership, involving Canadian and Southeast Asia-based researchers, supports dialogue to create greater social justice and enhance opportunities for economic growth in the context of climate uncertainties. Due both to geography and limited planning capacity, the countries of Southeast Asia’s Mekong region are highly vulnerable to climate change, whose economic and human implications are severe. The effects of natural disasters are magnified by the weak governance of many cities in terms of basic services provision, management of public funds, and public participation in decision-making processes (Tanner et al. 2009). Urban residents are thus doubly vulnerable to both physical consequences as well as the wider societal decisions that determine who will bear the brunt of the social and economic costs of climate change.
Urbanization and a rapidly changing climate present enormous economic and political challenges to cities everywhere. This is particularly true in countries in the midst of social and political transitions. The nations of Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam, which are the focus of this project, face imminent consequences of climate change (UNDP 2012; World Bank 2010; ADB 2009). Concomitantly, each of these countries has different capacities for representative governance, yet all face significant inequality and have poor records of inclusive growth (World Bank 2010). Implementing climate change planning under these conditions is problematic at best. The regions rapidly growing cities are very likely to experience floods, sea level rise, and even droughts as global environmental change occurs in the next decade (Lian and Bhullar 2011; Marks 2011). Urban residents, in particular, are extremely vulnerable to economic, social and physical risks because they are concentrated in geographic locations subject to disasters, and in municipalities that often lack the capacity to implement effective climate adaptation and mitigation strategies. Climate risks in cities are compounded by environmental changes created by urbanization, notably urban heat and pollution. At the same time, urban areas, their municipal governments, and citizens, increasing in influence vis-à-vis the nation-state, have the greatest potential for addressing such global challenges.
The projects main questions are motivated by the patterns of rapid urban growth, weak governance, and vulnerability to the impacts of climate change in the Mekong region. The questions are not mutually exclusive and build upon each other in a sequential manner:. 1. How will climate change impact the poverty and vulnerability of urban residents in Southeast Asia? 2. What does knowledge, from both academic literature and action research, tell us about creating climate resilient urban governance that is both inclusive and equitable? 3. How can we strengthen the agency of individuals, groups and institutions to improve economic, physical and social well-being in urban areas, particularly in response to climate change?
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