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Planning for a Rainy Day: Climate Ready Cities

23 September 2021 (Thursday), 4:00pm - 5:30pm (Singapore time: GMT+8)


  • Dr Cheong Koon Hean (Chairman, Centre for Liveable Cities)
  • Mark Watts (Executive Director, C40)
  • Bernard Charlès (Chief Executive Officer and Vice Chairman, Dassault Systèmes)
  • John Verlinde (Program Director, Urban Climate Adaptation, Rotterdam)


  • Dr Dushko Bogunovich (Scientific Committee Chair, ISOCARP)

Route to resilience is collaboration, nature and technology

Cities need to urgently address climate change and plan how to cope with its effects, both now and in the future. Speakers at the WCS Webinar Planning for a Rainy Day: Climate Ready Cities share solutions and reveal the importance of understanding how cities, stakeholders and urban systems are intertwined: “if you don’t look far enough, you won’t be able to understand the connections.”

Session Takeaways:

A turning point: Either a breakdown in civilisation or a breakthrough in development

Professor Cheong Koon Hean, Centre for Liveable Cities Chairman, began the panel by calling climate change a major global disrupter, noting that cities need to immediately transition to be climate-ready. Mark Watts, C40 Cites Climate Leadership Group Executive Director, agreed, highlighting that the world is at an inflexion point in history, where decisions will “either make a breakdown in civilisation, or breakthrough in development”. Johan Verlinde, Programme Manager for Rotterdam’s WeatherWise, shared how climate change is a reality in Rotterdam, as 85% of Rotterdam is 7m below sea level. While well protected by dykes, levees and an extensive drainage system, action needs to be taken as the city cannot cope with large rainstorms.

Accelerating the sustainability agenda from the top

Mr Watts stressed that cities are “on the frontline of the climate crisis” and need to take concrete measures to cut emissions, noting that this was a condition for cities to join the C40 network. He added that city budgets should include a climate emergency fund, citing how Montreal has committed 10 – 15% of its annual capital spending for adaption resilience projects. Prof Cheong commented that governments need to adopt a sustainability ethos. She noted how Singapore is accelerating the sustainability agenda with the Singapore Green Plan 2030, and its Enhanced 2030 Nationally Determined contribution and Long-term Low Emissions Development Strategy under the Paris Agreement. Mr Verlinde shared how the city initiated WeatherWise to engage stakeholders to fight climate change. They also converted Rotterdam’s busiest roundabout into a large green park, providing 100,000 people with access to a park within walking distance.

Route to resilience is collaboration

Mr Verlinde pointed out that collaborating with stakeholders is key in addressing climate change, sharing that the government only owns 40% of the city’s public space, and needs to engage the other sectors to transform the rest into green spaces. The city uses a local roof policy to incentivise building owners, and has converted 500,000 m2 of green roofs and installed 270,000 solar roofs to date. Rotterdam also conducts engagement sessions with every neighbourhood on the effects of climate change, and held a competition with Amsterdam to encourage people to transform their grey roofs to green. Dr Cheong similarly highlighted that transformation has to take place across all sectors. She shared how Singapore incentivises businesses through initiatives like Public Private Partnerships (PPP) for photo voltaic (PV) panels, or schemes to encourage building owners and developers to build sustainably. Singapore also finances ground-up sustainability projects through its Ecofund. Mr Watts emphasised that the climate crisis can only be solved with global collaboration. He noted how knock-on impacts of climate change extends beyond borders, citing how fires in west of the United States have destroyed the gains made by east coast cities in reducing air pollution. Climate migration, or the movement of people who have been displaced from their homes to neighbouring large cities, are another example.

Nature based solutions

Nature based solutions emerged as a popular way for cites to fight climate change. Integrating green infrastructure into city plans was the top option (43%) voters chose in the poll “What actions should cities prioritise to be ‘climate ready’?” Mr Watts noted the benefits and cost-effectiveness of investing in green spaces, citing how Medellin has reduced its temperatures by 2°C by planting 70 green corridors.

Prof Cheong also revealed how Singapore has looked to nature based solutions, when sharing how Singapore has “used, double used, and triple used” its land. Apart from tree planning to cool the city and vertical greenery, she shared about Ang Mo Kio-Bishan Park, where concrete canals were converted into soft landscaping to collect rainwater and slow its flow into drains. Mr Verlinde similarly mentioned that the solution to flood prevention is not pipes and pumping stations. He added that Rotterdam is transforming its former port areas into tidal parks to reduce flooding and increase the city’s biodiversity. Mr Bernard Charles, CEO and Vice Chairman of Dassault Systemes, noted that there is much to learn about how nature and cities interact, and observed that architects are looking at infrastructure in different ways for new solutions to build without full air conditioning.

A “new” new world with virtual twins

Technology was revealed to be a key enabler in helping cities be climate ready. Mr Charles highlighted how virtual twins, or the digital version of a physical city, can transform city planning, though model simulations which enhance understanding of how ecosystems such as construction, energy, transportation, and people’s behaviour, interact. He further noted that the technology is by cities like Chongqing, Hong Kong and Jaipur. Prof Cheong also shared how Singapore uses modelling for town planning, to ensure that towns have good ventilation and wind flow, and to reveal hot spots in neighbourhoods.

Long term planning with a systems approach to building resilience

Mr Watts noted that resilience and planning are central for cities to be climate ready, as cities can only respond quickly and effectively to an immediate crisis, if planned for in advance. Prof Cheong separately highlighted that “resilience cannot be developed overnight”, citing long term planning as critical to integrating the right kind of infrastructure in a city’s plans. She also emphasised the important connection between long term planning and a systems approach: “if you don’t look far enough, you won’t be able to understand the connections”. Mr Charles agreed, adding that virtual twins technology is a game changer in planning, and its use underscores the importance of taking a holistic, systems approach to planning cities that are resilient, sustainable and inclusive.

Session Recording: