View across the Spree to the Reichstagbuilding in Berlin

Bridging gaps at the IMCB22: the interconnectedness of climate crisis, migration and resilience

Prof. Dr Wiwandari Handayani is the head of the Department of Urban and Regional Planning and a professor at Diponegoro University in Indonesia. In her interview, she talked about the interconnectedness of climate resilience and migration. Prof. Dr Handayani has been an active participant in the IMCB22 pre-conference process. As a speaker in the webinar entitled “Infrastructures, climate change and new mobilities”, she talked about the situation in Semarang and explained how the city is equipping itself with the tools needed to become more resilient to climate stress.

Prof. Dr Wiwandari Handayani has a background in urban and regional planning. She has studied in Canberra, Australia, where she focused on population and demography at the Australian National University. She holds a doctoral degree from the University of Stuttgart, where she carried out research in regional development planning.

During the last ten years, she has predominantly focused on resilience and climate change – especially in the context of disaster risk management, climate adaptation, and governance. She was a member of the team for the Asian Cities Climate Change Resilience Network (ACCCRN)-Rockefeller programme in Semarang and has been the city’s Deputy Chief Resilience Officer since 2015.

Prof. Dr Wiwandari Handayani

Prof. Dr Wiwandari Handayani

Head of the Department of Urban and Regional Planning

Diponegoro University

Prof. Dr Wiwandari Handayani

Prof. Dr Wiwandari Handayani, we had the pleasure of meeting you through the pre-conference process as a speaker in a webinar about infrastructures and climate change. Can you tell us more about your field of research?

My work is centred around resilience – meaning city resilience, disaster resilience and climate resilience. Most of my work and research thus far has been related to climate change and resilience, so far not as much on the aspect of migration and how that plays into it, but it’s becoming more and more interesting and relevant, as migration and climate change are of course deeply interwoven and connected. In developing countries, including Indonesia, talking about migration, it is mostly through the lens of economic reasoning behind the motivation to migrate, not necessarily because of environmental reasons. However, it’s going to play a bigger role going forward – that is why I am really interested in the upcoming International Metropolis Conference in Berlin.

More and more, people are being displaced because of environmental reasons and it feels like a lot of the research community centring around migration and/or climate change is trying to get ahead of it.

I got into my field of work because living and planning a future in Indonesia depends on sustainable solutions. Proportionally, we need to shift the public discourse of refocussing migration due to economic reasons and interlink it with environmental issues. The question will be: how should we view the issues of climate change from a multidisciplinary perspective? If we, at the level of operational realisation, only think about climate change or the environment, without combining it with economic issues or bigger questions and answers of migration, then we will keep being blindsided; they don’t each exist in a vacuum.

In terms of research and its implementation in your daily work, is there a gap you’re working towards closing? You just mentioned that being blindsided by regarding issue A and issue B as not interlinked can be problematic; what else comes to mind?

One thing that I feel passionate about is closing the gap between research and its actual implementation. We need to have a road map for how we sustainably bring research into real implementation and into policy development and to bridge policy and research – from the early stages, not one after the other. With its different attendees, from policymakers to stakeholders to researchers and young PhD students – from all around the world – my hope is that the International Metropolis Conference will be an excellent place to do exactly that: bridge the gaps.

Of course, different areas or different regions will always have their own particular challenges that don’t necessarily scale up or can be compared one-to-one with other countries or regions. However, I am a strong believer that if you start small, you will have an automatic spillover. Good projects that work will find a way – of course, this also depends on funding – to scale up. And a starting point for all of this is a platform; it’s about developing dialogue – step by step.

When you mentioned before that everything is interlinked and one issue cannot be looked at without the other, do you have a direct example from your work that you could share?

In my field of climate resilience, what I mean by resilience is a situation in which we can adapt – when we try to adapt to or address climate disturbances. In an ideal case, we will adapt and be better for it. In some ways, migration is a process of adjusting to challenges such as poverty, climate crisis and war – migration means adapting. Migration can mean a transformative process in search of an opportunity for a better life, or a safer life, in a different place.

For example, in Indonesia, where I am based, when we talk about migration, most people cite economic reasons as the most important factor in deciding if they want to migrate and to where if so. Keeping this in mind, if we talk about climate issues, especially in Asia, a lot of the focus is naturally on coastal areas. Most of the big cities are located in coastal areas – historically, this is because of their access to trade activities through the development of harbours along the coast. Big cities attract economic migrants. However, because of the jobs they offer, the more migrants move to the big cities – towards coastal areas – the greater the strain is on the cities’ climate issues. Then imagine that a common policy to adapt to these strains and changes is building dams – which makes the city safer again and in turn means that yet again more people will seek it out as potentially a place with an economic future where they can settle. The population in coastal areas should be controlled precisely because of climate change and rising sea levels.

This is a complex situation; it’s interlinked and it demands long-term solutions that go beyond building dams.

What would possible long-term solutions look like?

To put it bluntly – new economic growth centres have to be created in different places, away from the coastal cities. The goal needs to be to attract people to stay and to balance out population – and economic – density, so that there is room to recover, to grow and to strive. We are imagining decentralised hubs, with the right infrastructure and education and health care – you name it. It’s a lot of work and it is expensive work. But dealing with the consequences of climate catastrophes will ultimately be more expensive that strategising and putting into action adaption plans and solutions to prevent more climate disasters from happening.

The motto of this year’s 25th International Metropolis Conference is “Changing migration, migration in change” – does that resonate with you?

Yes, on a few levels. First, we need to understand the different situations in the southern and the northern countries because that changes the way we talk about challenges and opportunities. We need to make space for everyone affected at the table. That in itself is change, and it is a process. And if you look at the current situation and Russia’s war in Ukraine, that also influences and changes migration – there is a very dynamic and constantly changing situation that the motto encapsulates directly and indirectly.