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WCS 2021 Session: Cities Adapting to a Disrupted World

22 June 2021 (Tuesday), 3.00pm – 4.10pm (Singapore time: GMT+8)

Keynote Speaker:

  • Dilhan Pillay Sandrasegara, Executive Director & Chief Executive Officer, Temasek International


  • Maimunah Mohd Sharif, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN-Habitat
  • Manoj Sharma, Chief of Urban Sector Group, Asian Development Bank
  • Yoshiyuki Hanasawa, Executive Vice President, Chief Regional Officer, Asia Pacific and India, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI)
  • Cheng Wen-Tsan, Mayor of Taoyuan City
  • Lim Eng Hwee, Chief Executive Officer, Urban Redevelopment Authority, Singapore


  • Simon Tay, Chairman, Singapore Institute of International Affairs

A systems approach in adapting to disruption

From the COVID-19 pandemic to the climate crisis, digital revolution and demographic shifts, our way of life is being transformed. In this WCS session Cities Adapting to a Disrupted World, government and industry leaders discuss how to emerge stronger through taking risks and tapping opportunities, and highlight the need for innovative global and cross-sector collaboration to develop well-integrated solutions.

Session Takeaways:

Leveraging digital solutions to tackle climate change

All speakers concurred that climate change is the urgent, yet long-term negative disruption. Mr Dilhan Pillay reminded the audience that this is the “hottest decade on record”, and Mr Manish Prakash urged cities to take action, seeing how cities use 75% of natural resources. The COVID-19 pandemic adds further uncertainty to the climate crisis, but nonetheless Mr Pillay sees the need and opportunity for innovative solutions through crisis, stating that “[w]e cannot just bounce back to a pre-COVID world, we have to move forward.”

However, innovation brings another source of uncertainty to the forefront: the digital revolution. Digital solutions are helpful in facing disruptions like COVID-19 and climate change, but the ways in which they are adopted may be detrimental. Mr Prakash admits that the digital shift means that many employees need to learn new skills and that the danger of cyberattacks is heightened. Nonetheless Mr Prakash, Mr Lim Eng Hwee, and Mr Yoshiyuki Hanasawa all posit that a careful approach to integrating new technology into existing practices can significantly improve a city’s resilience against disruptions.

Cities as the basis for global collaboration

Madam Maimunah from the UN-Habitat expressed how crucial it is to “harness the power of city networks” to foster integrated collaboration for climate change across government, industry, higher institution, and international organisations. She highlighted the Race to Zero Campaign, a movement encompassing 708 cities and 2,360 businesses with a goal to achieve zero carbon emissions by 2050 and urge even more cities to join the cause, as integrated collaboration will help cities in the developing world to balance development and sustainability. Mr Manoj Sharma from the Asian Development Bank advised that investing upfront in resilient systems makes more economic sense even for developing countries with limited financing, as the cost of deferring action is high.

Mr Pillay shared the increasing role that companies play in climate action, noting that society now has expectations that companies not only work beyond financial gain, "especially in times of crisis and disruption", but also ensure that their “capital is catalytic in nature”. These could be in the forms of enhancing human potential, social resilience, or sustainable living, often in collaboration with governments, communities and employees. Mr Pillay gave Temasek’s own internal carbon pricing of USD$42 per tonne of carbon dioxide as an example, highlighting the company’s policy “to always consider the environment when making decisions”.

Mr Hanasawa echoed this, highlighting that Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) is exploring new and more efficient forms of green energy and working to build smart city infrastructure. He shared how MHI has developed technology to support alternative cooling such as district cooling at Singapore’s Marina Bay District. Mr Hanasawa also heralded the strengths in cross-sector cooperation, noting how MHI is partnering with the University of New South Wales to develop QoEn, a Key Index Approach for quantifying and visualising the impacts of high-quality energy infrastructure.

Systems thinking in adaptation

Digital solutions need to be well-integrated with a city’s systems in order to work optimally. With QoEn, Mr Hanasawa hopes to use MHI’s technological advances not only to combat climate change, but to better understand the social, economic, and environmental impacts of adopting these digital solutions.

From an urban planning perspective, Mr Lim Eng Hwee shared that long-term planning is needed, and in a dynamic environment, cities need to be thought of as an ecosystem, where economic, social, and environmental considerations are balanced. He noted that while digital transformations are key in building resilience, cities must regularly engage with community stakeholders to ensure smooth adoption of such strategies. Community-oriented approach is also evident in Taoyuan, as Mayor Cheng Wen-tsan shared how the city has encouraged wider community adoption of green technologies like e-scooters, through the provision of incentives such as subsidies for e-scooter purchase and the installation of charging stations city-wide.

Mr Lim also pointed the need to plan for “optionality” or multiple options. It enables cities to systematically examine the possible futures and re-evaluate approaches, becoming more agile and flexible in adapting to changing needs and seizing opportunities.

Mr Prakash shared four key global shifts that are driven by digital disruption, which are crucial to keep in mind in adopting new technologies. These shifts are seeing citizen-first principles as the cornerstone of any smart city, the rise of the data economy, sustainability, and trust. He further highlights that as all of these digital interactions occur, trust will “become the currency of data exchange”, meaning that cities and institutions will need to build deep trust with citizens on data sharing grounded on a fundamental right to privacy. Thus, trust and an integrated understanding of city systems bring more strength to the power of digital innovation in building resilience in cities.

Moderator Professor Simon Tay aptly summarised, “I’ve often heard the word ‘risk’ coming out from the panel, but I’ve also heard the word ‘opportunities’. There is a need to innovate, find market solutions, collaborate with companies and with citizens.”

Session Recording: