Distinguished participants, colleagues, on behalf of the World Bank Group, it is my great pleasure to welcome you to this regional conference entitled "Nature-based Solutions for Climate Resilient Urban Development” supported by the World Bank in collaboration with the Australian Water Partnership (AWP) and the Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT).
The emphasis on resilient development is highly relevant as we face an unprecedented health, economic, and social crisis brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic that continues to ravage the world.
In East Asia, even as we look for ways out of a crisis that has produced the sharpest economic contraction in the region since the Asian Financial Crisis, more than 1 million people have lost their lives in the COVID-19 pandemic and sadly, for the first time in two decades, we are seeing a halt in the critical gains we have made in reducing poverty. As a result, we now expect around 29 million people to remain poor or become poor – living on less than $5.50 a day – by the end of 2021.
All of this takes place against the backdrop of ever-increasing changes in the climate and resulting natural disasters; as well as the recent COP26 meeting which showed we are not yet doing enough to keep global temperature rise below a 2-degree threshold.
East Asia alone accounts for 70% of the world’s losses to natural disasters and we know that increasing temperatures and more extreme precipitation will accentuate future uncertainty and risks, increasing the potential for more frequent, intense water-related disasters, including floods and droughts.
So, as countries in the region embark on their journey towards socio-economic recovery, they will need to adopt a Green, Resilient and Inclusive Development approach. Recovery plans must address the dual challenges on meeting climate goals and addressing the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.
Cities are major growth engines, generating more than 80% of global GDP, while supporting the livelihoods of millions of people. Thailand is the world's 21st most populous country, with about 70 million people spread across about 513,000 square kilometers. The capital Bangkok is by far the largest city, with more than 9 million residents and it's the only city in the country with more than 1 million people. However, there are many other very populated cities, including 20 that have populations that exceed 100,000. About half of Thailand's residents live in cities; while the other half live in rural areas.
But cities are also on the frontline of the climate and COVID-19 emergencies. Although cities occupy only 2% of land area, they consume over two-thirds of the world’s energy and account for over 70% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Bangkok's per capita CO2 emissions, at 7.1 tons per capita are higher than those of other major cities, such as London and Tokyo (5.9 and 5.7 tons, respectively). Climate change is widely acknowledged to increase the frequency and intensity of floods and drought. The Mekong River recorded its lowest levels in 2019 and 2021 has seen widespread flooding across the Mekong River Basin and some areas of the Chao Phraya River Basin. In addition to the loss of productive activities, the destruction of critical infrastructure negatively affects the wellbeing and opportunities of the Thai people, especially vulnerable groups.
World Bank Approach
The World Bank has recently completed a new Climate Action Plan which will provide a framework for bolder climate action – in the region and around the globe. The Climate Action Plan also aims to increase the World Bank’s financing for climate adaptation to $50 billion over the next five years.
By making sound low-carbon investments and tackling inequalities – especially in terms of access to land, infrastructure and services – governments can rechart their development trajectories and transform their economies so that they are more inclusive, resilient and sustainable. In the case of Thailand – to revive high growth and transform to a green, resilient, inclusive economy, substantial investments in terms of both human and physical capital will be needed coupled with policies and reforms to continue improving the business and institutional environment. As a low-lying country, Thailand could suffer more frequent flooding and droughts affecting not just its cities but also its rural areas, including the agriculturally important Mekong region. Evidence increasingly suggests that nature-based solutions – that is, natural systems or processes used to help achieve societal goals – could contribute significantly to address some of our most pressing societal challenges, such as threats to water security, rising risk of natural disasters, or climate change. As such, the World Bank Group is working with governments to integrate or enhance the use of nature-based solutions and other low carbon considerations into national planning, policy and investment. Our Country Partnership Framework for Thailand prioritizes addressing climate change and improving water resources management.
Finally, knowledge sharing and technical assistance remain important dimensions of the World Bank Group support so we’re very glad to be co-hosting an event like this one and we trust you will find the conference to be informative and interesting. From the World Bank Group, we remain committed to support countries in the region for their green, resilient and inclusive development.