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Public and Private: Joining Forces for Climate Resilience

A session at the WCS 2021 Preview on 29 January 2021, 9.00pm Singapore time (GMT+8)


Climate resilience cannot be undertaken by one entity alone. Our speakers share the business case for companies to commit to climate resilience and the importance of science and data not only to inform policies, but also report corporates’ performance on their environmental, social and corporate governance goals.


  • Lauren Sorkin, Executive Director, Resilient Cities Network


  • Esther An, Chief Sustainability Officer, City Developments Limited
  • Ellie Tang, Head of Sustainability, New World Development Company Limited
  • Henk Ovink, Special Envoy for International Water Affairs, Kingdom of the Netherlands
  • Elija Hutchinson, Vice President of Waterfronts, New York City Economic Development Corporation

Session Takeaways:

No one-size-fits-all solution

Mr Ovink shared how Africa has been affected as a result of a combination of factors such as food stresses, pandemic and climate change, and it is thus key to “understand these interdependencies” and ensure that solutions are not applied in ways that “actually makes us more vulnerable”. Mr Hutchinson echoed this, cautioning that “there is no-one-size-fits-all solution”. He shared that the New York City’s Panel on Climate Change takes IPCC’s climate projections and localises them to the city, providing the latest climate science at the local level.

Mr Hutchinson also shared how the Brooklyn Bridge Montgomery Coastal Resilience project, a mile-long flip-up barrier system on the lower Manhattan waterfront, serves as an esplanade and park in the community during normal conditions, and protects some 30, 000 residents and over 8 million square feet of buildings and low-income and vulnerable populations when the storm comes, when the gates rise up over 10 feet from the ground. Such a project of this scale is unprecedented in the United States and construction is scheduled to begin next year.

The business case for addressing climate risk

Ms Sorkin highlighted the importance for businesses to have a common vision and definition to align the value and supply chain on climate resilience efforts. Ms Tang shared that while it “makes no business sense” for companies to address climate risk in the short term, the bigger picture of countries and sectors committing to carbon neutrality should encourage businesses to take action early. Doing so will also allow companies to enjoy benefits such as working with like-minded partners, having international leadership and safeguarding people through their buildings.

Both Ms Tang and Ms An highlighted that businesses, especially the real estate industry, have the responsibility to go beyond greening its design stage and remain sustainable throughout its lifecycle and protect their users, occupants and even the neighbourhood’s residents. They also shared how businesses can also empower their partners in their value and supply chains to better their practices and operations. Ms An noted that the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) has been “getting a lot of traction”, and that investor and consumer preferences will push businesses to adopt better practices.

Science and facts matter

Mr Ovink reiterated that “facts can help inform our policies, our actions, our investments, our ways on working together”. Mr Hutchinson shared how the community and the businesses can benefit from city-wide data, as they “have the data to make decisions, to assess their level of risk and understand what the government strategy is”. Access to quality data and sciences helps the city to understand what its greatest vulnerabilities will be.

Ms An shared the importance for businesses to communicate to their investors and stakeholders worldwide through reporting their track record and being transparent and very prompt in disclosing their environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) performance and data. Transparent reporting can also benefit businesses when they are rated well on international or regional standards.

Collective actions and resources are needed

Ms Sorkin shared that the latest studies reveal that less than 10% of climate finance for cities’ climate resilience comes from international sources, with even less of that for city infrastructure. More resources will be needed as governments and businesses turn their attention back to the 1.5oC commitment and the Paris’ Agreement, with more ambitious goals to achieve neutrality and sustainability. As Ms An remarked “… money talks. Without funding you can’t look at how we can tap onto solutions, innovation and technology. And of course, you need people. You can't just do it alone”.

Mr Hutchinson shared how New York City has plans to invest over US$500 million in climate adaptation projects in Lower Manhattan alone, and a US$20 billion in recovery and resilience projects across all five boroughs, making it one of the most ambitious urban infrastructure programmes in the Unites States. New York City also recently divested US$4 billion from fossil fuel companies, while the New World Development has raised nearly HK$12 billion through various sustainable finance instruments to support their goal of going 100% renewable.

Session Recording: