PRCUD Palembang Forum on Climate Change

Report by Eric J. Heikkila

The Pacific Rim Council on Urban Development (PRCUD) held its most recent Roundtable Forum in Palembang, Indonesia, July 24th – 27th, 2011.  This is the eleventh such Forum organized by PRCUD since the series was initiated in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, in 1998.  PRCUD itself was founded in 1989 in Los Angeles and has evolved over time into a global network of professionals who bring their expertise to bear on  range of urban development challenges throughout the Asia Pacific region. 

This 11th PRCUD Roundtable Forum was tasked with advising Deputy Minister Max Pohan and others at the National Development Planning Agency (Bappenas) of the Republic of Indonesia on how best to integrate local perspectives into a national strategy to respond to the challenges in urban areas in Indonesia posed by global climate change, where the host city Palembang, under the proactive leadership of Walikota (Mayor) Eddy Santana, offered itself as a live case study and common reference point. 

Crucial support for the event was provided by the EUforAsia program under the auspices of the International Institute for Asian Studies (IIAS) in Leiden, the Netherlands.

As is standard practice for all PRCUD Roundtable Forums, the event began with an all-day field excursion and professional tour arranged by the host city to sites that brought the forum topics into full relief.  This included visits to informal settlements along the banks of the majestic Musi River to review efforts by Palembang to provide improved services and basic infrastructure for those who live there.  It also included visits to a middle-class neighborhood that has won many awards for its innovative approaches to creating a pro-green environment at a neighborhood scale.  In  both cases ample opportunities were provided for extensive and direct interaction between local residents and forum participants from abroad.

After a formal opening ceremony the next two days were devoted to the roundtable sessions themselves, which comprise at the heart of the event.  The overall theme of a national strategy on urban climate change was brought into focus through five consecutive sessions on (i) community engagement, (ii) vulnerable populations, (iii) effective local institutions, (iv) the national-local nexus and (v) next steps.  In each case, PRCUD appointed a session chair to help guide the discussions while ensuring the inclusive participation of all those around the table.  Simultaneous translation throughout helped foster direct communication between local and international participants.  Session chairs also provided preliminary summaries of key discussion points and recommendations for the summary session, chaired by PRCUD President Thomas L. Zearley, on the final morning of the event. 

Several key points emerged.  Regarding community engagement, participants noted that Indonesia has a fairly well established practice of neighborhood level organizations and that this practice should be built upon.  It is essential to engage the community both to help identify the nature of the challenges of urban climate change, but also enlist them as part of the solution.  The forum recommended greater efforts be placed on eliciting a broader awareness of climate change issues at these local levels, with more systematic connectivity between neighborhood and municipal level organizations.

Vulnerable populations such as the poor, the elderly and other marginalized groups face greater exposure to the adverse impacts of climate change.  Forum participants observed that the most effective mechanisms for addressing these concerns might not always be “climate change” policies per se.  For example, broader programs to reduce income inequality, to improve land use regulations, or to provide essential infrastructure improvements may be the key in some cases to effective climate adaptation and/or mitigation.  This underlines the importance having more effective local institutions, and of the need for targeted training and other capacity building efforts.

The forum also highlighted the potential benefits to be derived from having more finely tuned interaction between national and local level government institutions.  Leadership at the national level is essential for promoting best practices and for coordinating across jurisdictional boundaries.  In the end, however, policies to address urban climate change in Indonesia and elsewhere must be translated to on-the-ground programs in specific localities.  This forum provided a unique example of how such multi-layered dialogues can be structured.

The final PRCUD report on Urban Planning and Climate Change in Indonesia, together with photos, background materials, and additional details about the Palembang Forum are available from the PRCUD website at http://sites.google.com/site/prcudweb/ .

Dr. Eric J. Heikkila is founding Executive Secretary of PRCUD and he is Professor and Director of International Initiatives for the School of Policy, Planning, and Development at the University of Southern California.