Urban resilience and climate change adaptation strategies in South East Asia

Sonia Roitman

Climate change is threatening development in relation to four main areas (UNDP, 2007):

  • Livelihoods (affecting agriculture and fisheries and impacting harder on poor groups)
  • Health issues (flooding and heavy rain impact on sanitation, and may expose people to diseases such as cholera, diarrhoea, malaria and dengue)
  • Food security (some regions will suffer from lack of primary resources)
  • Water (a reduction of water available for irrigation and consumption).

South East Asia is one of the most vulnerable regions to the impacts of climate change. For the most part, current interventions deal with mitigation and adaptation policies at the national level (Lassa and Nugraha, 2014). However, some of the most vulnerable environments are cities. The vulnerability of cities to the effects of climate change emphasises their importance as complex agents that can design and implement measures to become more resilient. One of the main questions is then how cities can build their resilience in order to adapt to climate change. The panel will explore governance structures and the need to establish adaptive institutional arrangements as essential aspects of urban resilience. In addition to examining strategies carried out at the city level, the panel also seeks to explore new, innovative and ‘transgressive’ strategies that can help cities to become more resilient to climate change. By focusing on a particular region, the panel aims at a deeper understanding of the current situation in that region, and also how diverse urban experiences in the region can be compared and applicable to other scenarios.

Vulnerability and poverty are intertwined. In some countries, like Indonesia, climate change threatens to undermine recent progress to reduce poverty and improve poor people’s quality of life (UNDP, 2007). Poor people are more vulnerable to climate change events and their livelihoods are likely to suffer since agriculture, fisheries, coastal and urban areas are strongly transformed by climate change.

This panel seeks to discuss the following questions:

  • What are the current social, economic, political and environmental challenges of climate change on cities in South East Asia?
  • What are the impacts of climate change on urban livelihoods and the opportunities of poor communities to improve their living conditions?
  • What adaptation strategies can be developed in urban areas to mitigate the effects of climate change? How can local knowledge contribute in the elaboration of new adaptation strategies?
  • What types of governance structures are required to create resilient cities? What are the relationships among stakeholders? What agency is possible on the part of civil society?
  • What methods, instruments and strategies can be put in place by governments (or other stakeholders) to address climate change adaptation needs?
  • What lessons can be learned and be replicated to other cities in the region in building resilient cities? What are the challenges when comparing the cities in South East Asia in relation to urban resilience strategies?


Lassa, J. and Nugraha, E. (2014) From shared learning to shared action in building resilience in the city of Bandar Lampung, Indonesia, Environment and Urbanization, Vol. 27 (1), 161-180.

UNDP (2007), ‘The other half of climate change. Why Indonesia must adapt to protect its poorest people’, UNDP Indonesia, Jakarta