Over 150 presenters and participants gathered on December 16 and 17, 2011 to discuss the connections between disaster recovery and resilience building in the context of climate change.
From Post Disaster Reconstruction to the Creation of Resilient Societies
The second Environmental Innovators Symposium in Tokyo, hosted at Keio University’s Mita Campus on December 16 and 17, brought together more than 150 speakers and participants to discuss the creation of resilient society and the ways that communities and nations work to recover from disaster.
The annual Environmental Innovator’s PACC symposium was originally created to bring together practitioners and theorists who are focused on climate change mitigation and adaptation. However, after the multiple disasters that hit the North-East coast of Japan in March, 2011 (an earthquake followed by a series of powerful tsunamis and a subsequent nuclear disaster) it became clear that many of the challenges faced in the recovery process were also found in projects designed to support climate change adaptation. The possibility of learning from both practices therefore seemed highly appropriate. Working from that insight we invited a diverse group of speakers and other participants to share their knowledge and to set the stage for building a network of like-minded practitioners and experts.
Though the symposium was relatively small we were able to bring together environmental leaders, representatives from governments, policy makers, climate scientists, architects and urban planners, environmental entrepreneurs, and students. We were also very fortunate to have the keynote speech delivered by Dr. Young-Woo Park, Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific (ROAP).
The two-day event was divided into six sessions. The first session was used to announce the appointment of Keio University as the North-East Regional Node for the Asia Pacific Adaptation Network (APAN). The APAN program is organized by the United Nations in order to create a resource network and database that can be used to share knowledge and experiences around the globe amongst frontline workers and researchers who are taking on climate change adaptation. For the session we were lucky to have the participation of several other regional and thematic nodes nodes (the Global Water Partnership South Asia, the Southeast Asia Regional Centre for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture, the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development, and the Regional Environmental Center for Central Asia) who explained their own efforts as well as presentations from research partners of Keio University whose members will form the backbone of the North-East regional Node.
The presentations of all the sessions in many ways reflected the ambition of Keio University to gather like-minded practitioners and to build the network that APAN is calling for. Taken as a whole, the symposium offered evidence that the network will have many willing partners.
Session Two was devoted to discussion about top-down and bottom up approaches to managing the devastation that earthquakes and other natural disasters inevitably bring, and ways to build a certain degree of resiliency into the system that is developed in response. Lessons were shared from recent disasters from all over the world, including the United States, China, Indonesia, and Japan.
Session three focused on the possible introduction of massive changes in energy production and consumption patterns in Japan. In the wake of the nuclear disaster Japan still faces the challenge of imposing rolling blackouts to meet demand, while large institutions are asked to significantly curtail energy consumption. The question remains unanswered for Japan as to which way the energy production system will be taken. Presenters in the session offered renewable alternatives but the possibility that status quo solutions will prevail remains large.
The fourth session considered the challenges and opportunities in the creation of resilient societies in the face of massive disasters in Asian regions, and looked at examples from Myanmar to Indonesia, Taiwan and Mongolia. Presenters offered us a look at how communities are dealing with disaster at the local level, and the impact those activities are having on the larger scale. We were also introduced to the discrepancies attached to gender and other social issues in the ways that disaster response is carried out and supported. Perhaps of all the session this one truly underlined the need for local knowledge and the effect that society has on building capacity or hindering its creation in the face of climate change and disaster.
The fifth session was devoted to exposition of recent projects undertaken by students at Keio University and introduced several theoretical structures to be used in the education of future environmental leaders. It was followed by the results of a 24 hour workshop that asked a group of students to map out and integrate the various factors that contribute to and limit the process of creating a resilient society in the wake of disaster.
Their presentation was remarkably complete for a mere 24 hour effort and indicated how hard they worked while the symposium went on around them. Their efforts underlined quite powerfully the speed with which we are able to integrate ideas and issues in order to reach a goal, and also underlined the need to bring students into the process of finding solutions. This is a role that Keio University is quite capable of fulfilling and is in fact devoted to carrying out in the form of the Environmental Innovators Program. The student presentation was concluded by a short session that brought together all of the participants to discuss future directions for the symposium and for the network that the presenters and guests represented.
Conclusions and Questions
The content of the symposium was designed to be broad in order to bring together as varied a group of practitioners as possible. In light of this breadth it is perhaps not a surprise that the participants confirmed the need for synergy across broad areas of expertise and abilities in the face of climate change or natural disasters. During the course of the two-day event we learned about disaster reconstruction in very different contexts, discussed the role of green energy in building resiliency, and heard a variety of presentations about risks and adaptation practices in Asia-Pacific countries, from nomadic cultures in arid Mongolian plateaus to Coastal issues in the Southern ocean archipelago. The specific needs in each area were naturally unique, and yet we learned of a shared need to build capacity and good practices and to create an infrastructure for sharing knowledge. In order to take on that practice a certain amount of synergy is urgently required. That need can perhaps only be met through the development of leaders and capacity builders in all of the regions affected in our discussions. We imagine that some leaders will emerge naturally but also that education could and should play a role in fostering their development.
It was similarly pointed out in the final group discussion that we may be more effective if our efforts are conducted in partnership with entrepreneurs and business people as well as with government and community groups.
In the end the symposium demonstrated the potential and capacity of the invited guests and particpants, and pointed towards a future in which all of these members would work together in a larger network of practitioners and specialists to take on disaster issues as well as climate change. For our part we were inspired by the collaboration of our faculty members in the projects they showed and also by the capacity the students showed in the 24 hour workshop and other projects, and hope to take that energy further in the creation of a broad collaborative network with international organizations and expertise. We look forward to exploring the development of that potential capacity as we look to new ways to take on the challenges presented to us and to the world as climate change and natural disasters test the ability of both communities and nations to create a resilient foundation to build a future.