The first AIWW Resilient City Leaders Forum four years ago set a high bar for subsequent editions to follow, according to Henk Ovink, Dutch Special Envoy for International Water Affairs, who leads the forum.

“At that time, resiliency was the buzzword. The connection between cities and resilience was acknowledged. But we in the AIWW really made a clear link with water – so critical to resiliency and climate impact,” he says.

It set the tone for the second forum, held two years ago. “Then we were able to go into more depth with city leaders present, drawing in also organisations and networks around the world that help cities act on climate and resiliency,” recalls Ovink. 

Action is lacking

The world of resilience has changed in those four years. “Resiliency has now become a mainstream perspective, and with that there is almost a bigger competition on the number of conferences and meetings around the world than there are resiliency actions in cities,” says Ovink. 

“Action is lacking at the scale the world needs,” he adds. This is why the UN Climate Action Summit is taking place in late September, to be followed by the UN Conference of the Parties – COP 25 in December in Santiago de Chile, he explains. This is also why the Netherlands initiated the Global Center on Adaptation and champions the Global Commission on Adaptation, with co-chairs Ban Ki-moon, Kristalina Georgieva and Bill Gates, to move the world to proactively prepare for the disruptive effects of climate change.  

“The real question on the table is why the much-needed bold and transformative action is lacking. I think the AIWW Resilient City Leaders Forum comes at a crucial time, but in a challenging context of too much talk and too little action,” says Ovink, adding: Our Forum cannot be the next talking shop.” 

Mainstreaming resilience should imply there are no more barriers to action. “The whole advocacy part is over – there are no hurdles in that sense,” says Henk. There is more evidence – for example, from cost-benefit assessments – and more willingness than ever from the financial world to support measures such as nature-based solutions. “From a political perspective, there is no reason not to take bold action fast,” he adds. 


The AIWW forum will provide a timely showcase for how cities are preparing. “It is time to show the world that it must be done, it can be done, and this is how to do it. I expect reports back from the cities with transformative actions, clear agendas, investment strategies, and approaches that really make a difference and are being implemented,” says Henk. 

“The world has got to learn fast. City leaders are at the forefront of this, but they have to understand that they can’t easily copy-paste solutions or policy practices from their neighbours – the resiliency agenda for each city is different,” he says. 

The forum will acknowledge this, focusing on aspects that are transferrable. 

“Approaches should tick four boxes. They should be holistic and comprehensive in the long term while being innovative in the short term. They should also be inclusive and collaborative, leaving no one behind, and be transparent to aid learning and implementation,” says Henk. “This is our framework, and with that we can build the capacity of individuals as well as of institutions across all silos and practices. We want to make sure that all examples report back in this bigger framework, so that we can draft a learning agenda, strengthen this urban coalition, and fast track implementation.”   

Global Adaptation Summit

“Next year the first Global Adaptation Summit will take place in the Netherlands, coming from the Global Commission on Adaptation,” he continues. “Now is the time to bring these actions to the global stage and to help the world learn for fast and bold action.” 

This leaves one further task for Henk and the forum team and participants: “Last but not least, we will want to pick out the really inspiring examples that cities around the world can identify with, learn from, and connect with across continents to ensure cities are more inspired and can really move forward with transformative actions after the forum.” 

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