Sponge cities, an SDGs rap and insurance in ‘sachet’ form: Reflections from #APAN2018

I spent last week in Manila at the 6th Asia-Pacific Climate Change Adaptation Forum (@APANAdapt) and on a steep learning curve – from sponge cities (where rainwater in urban areas is used, stored, purified, re-used, re-purified and eventually released back into the natural system) to using green spaces to achieve climate change ‘resilience for free’, and a rap to help us remember the SDGs.

My first reflection (because this so often comes last) is about gender. The only sessions that I attended where women outnumbered men on the panel of speakers were, predictably, those on gender and on social protection. There might have been more representation of women’s experiences, knowledge, capacities and voices in other parallel sessions but I was left thinking that there’s a lot of work to be done bringing together gender equity/empowerment with climate change action. Surely we can do better?

Second, there were lots of calls for building resilience to the worst impacts of climate change from the bottom up, and for working at the local level. An example are financial products that can support poor and vulnerable households such as insurance in ‘sachet’ form from Alagang Cebuana in the Philippines that reaches those who can’t otherwise access or afford orthodox insurance products. At the same time, though, there was simultaneous recognition of the challenges that working locally from the bottom up can create for building resilience and adaptive capacities at scale – the challenge of working locally for global effects, so to speak. My key take-away for this was that we need to shift away from thinking about ways of doing infrastructure as an ‘either-or’: either large-scale, machinery-intensive or locally-designed and build through community participation. A more hybrid approach that brings together these two ways of doing things might help us better find ways of making the local operate at scale.

Finally, there was clear agreement on the importance of science and scientists, but this this didn’t seem to extend to political scientists. There was very limited discussion of the politics that underpin decisions that governments make about tackling climate change. Following the withdrawal of the USA from the Paris Accord under the Trump administration, it’s clear that scientists and technical experts in infrastructure, ecosystems and nature are not enough. Finding ways of influencing governments, understanding policy processes and how to navigate political change and realignments requires a different set of skills. I found the discussion focused on science and technology, at the expense of how to get policy and legislative frameworks in place, and how to include the voices of excluded communities. And, although a scientist at the Forum remarked to me that he didn’t think the meeting was very scientific at all, I think we need to make more space for discussions about policy processes and entry points if we want to make faster progress.

Prof Rachel Slater

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