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When local governments are bidding for recognition as smart cities in accordance with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), they should no longer only chase the smart “brand” but, more importantly, the trademark of sustainable regions.

The different branding of smart cities and sustainable cities has prompted each municipal government to create a different set of priorities. This happens although the environment is already known as one of the smart city indicators.

The achievement indicators for sustainable cities, however, exceed those needed to achieve the title of a smart city. In transportation issues, for example, to be sustainable a city must not only operate an integrated transportation concept, but also promote the use of renewable energy in the transportation sector.

Developing a sustainable city is inseparable from the issue of climate change. Out of the 17 SDG, 12 of them are related, either directly or indirectly, to climate change. They include poverty reduction, fighting against famine, access to healthcare for all, renewable energy and the role of the community.

Cities are the success benchmark of a country when facing climate change. A high urban population increases greenhouse gases (GHG) and the risks caused by climate change. Research conducted by ICLEI — Local Governance for Sustainability — in 24 cities in Indonesia, India, Brazil and South Africa, shows that urban areas are largely responsible for 40 to 70 percent of GHG emissions, which trigger global warming and climate change.

Climate change also causes significant losses to city economies. Examples include damaged infrastructure caused by flooding, disruption of worker productivity, depleting clean water supplies and others. The World Bank has found that 53 percent of the Indonesian population lives in urban areas, a figure that will increase to 68 percent by 2025.

World Bank data in 2010 stated cities contributed 44 percent to Indonesian GDP from the non-oil and gas sector and created 18 out of 21 jobs. City economies and high populations cannot afford to be disrupted by the impacts of climate change. In addition to their contribution to the national economy, city economies generate significant multiplier effects for the surrounding areas.

Unfortunately, city governments tend to make policies that contradict the spirit of climate change mitigation and adaptation. One of these glaring examples is the use of green open space (RTH) to develop residential and business areas.

Data from early 2016 shows that major cities like Jakarta, Semarang and Surabaya allocate less than 30 percent of their territories for green open space, which is required by Law No. 26/2007 on spatial management. Poor urbanization and city governance also exacerbates the residents’ risks of suffering the impacts of climate change.

The Climate Change Adaptation National Action Plan (RAN API) identifies 50 regencies/cities in the country that are vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Major coastal cities such as Jakarta, Semarang and Surabaya are on the list. Worse still, the impacts of climate change will be felt mostly by the poor, who usually live in coastal areas and dense slums.

City governments, therefore, need high adaptability to climate change. This means that the negative impacts of climate change can be avoided and many people can be protected. Climate change strategy must, therefore, be enshrined in local and national development plans and tailored to each city’s vulnerability assessment.

With regard to climate change adaptation and mitigation, a smart city, a term that has been buzzing since the beginning of the 21st century, must undergo a slight change in priorities. Communication and information technology, officials, community and stakeholders must shift their orientation to sustainable development.

Some sustainability development indicators must refer to the fact that, first, urban development should not be hindered by the large cost of climate change impacts. The Asian Development Bank (ADB) stated that each country suffers a 6-7 percent GDP loss as a result of climate change. When converted to a city GDP, the loss is even higher.

Second, good environmental management must contribute to poverty reduction and increase the quality of life for all. Third, it must reduce the use of non-renewable natural resources and promote the use of renewable resources in a sustainable way. Fourth, it must involve the public and the private sector to formulate holistic and systematic sustainable city initiatives.

To meet these indicators, several solutions come into mind. First, increasing the capacity of local governments and the public to address climate change impacts through assistance from relevant ministries and institutions, such as the Environment and Forestry Ministry, National Development Planning Board (Bappenas) and the Climate Change National Board (DNPI).

Second, the inclusion of a climate change adaptation action strategy into the local development plan, integrated into the RAN API.

Third, strengthening the private sector’s involvement in climate change mitigation and adaptation programs, both responsive and anticipative, such as reducing the use of non-renewable energy in sustainable consumption-production schemes, the application of green building concepts and the construction of infrastructure, such as dikes. The role of the private sector in providing input for sustainable long-term development plans is critical, especially related to policies to stimulate sustainable investment and business expansion.

The writer is an urban observer from the Center for Public Policy Transformation (Transformasi). The views expressed are his own.