3rd Green Cities Forum – Sustainable Urban Development of Coastal Cities

Speech by YAB Chow Kon Yeow

Chief Minister of Penang

3rd Green Cities Forum – Sustainable Urban Development of Coastal Cities

11 January 2020



Ladies and gentlemen, a very warm welcome to all delegates attending today, welcome to Penang Island, the Pearl of the Orient. We are all gathered here today for the 3rd Green Cities Forum with a thematic theme: Sustainable Urban Development of Coastal Cities. This topic is indeed very close to my heart because the state of Penang consisting of Penang Island and Seberang Perai, both are coastal city which faces similar yet different challenges. The topic is also in line with my vision for the state of Penang -- Penang2030: A Family-focused Green and Smart State that Inspires the Nation. I am a strong believer that a sustainable city relies very much on its citizen. Therefore, it is important that all policy that was planned for must take into consideration the social wellbeing of its citizen, a family-focused plan with green initiatives for its sustainability and smart innovations for its resilience.

Taking a serious view on climate change, Think City, in collaboration with the Penang State Government, has launched the Penang Climate Action Week (PCAW) in the state.  Penang has taken the lead by developing this programme which is marked not only a first for Penang but also for the country. The programme is aimed at creating public awareness on climate change, to promote sustainable production and consumption, and to encourage discourse on climate actions and solutions. This is amongst several other initiatives that the State Government has initiated to address climate change and will certainly strengthen our efforts to address this issue for the betterment all.

We are all very much aware that extreme weather – prolong draught or rain, extreme heat, thunderstorms and windstorms – has affects all walks of life. I remember reading an article that stated that year 2019 was said to be the year the whole world burned. California, The Amazon, Russia, Indonesia, Lebanon, and, of course, Australia. Some are wildfires while some others are not. Therefore, as public administrators, we must all take up the challenge to act against climate change; we must find ways to adapt for the extreme weather is no longer extreme, it is norm. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) too have warned that the global temperature will rise by 1.5-2.0 degrees Celsius by 2050 and Southeast Asia will not be exempted from this. In fact, Southeast Asia may be worse impacted by the rise in temperature due to high humidity in the region. Thus, in order to remain status quo, normal practise and “the usual way” must be changed for the fear of it getting worse.

The urban population of the world has grown to 4.2 billion in 2018 and 54% of the world’s urban population resides in the Asia, despite its relatively lower level of urbanisation but it is where the world’s most densely populated cities are located, and one of the city is located in Southeast Asia – Manila with a population density of 41,515 persons per km2. Therefore, combined with the impacts from extreme weather and global climate change, sustainable urban development must be the way forward. As I have mentioned earlier, the two local governments in Penang, the Penang Island City Council and the Seberang Perai City Council, faced similar urban challenges but they are essentially different.

Therefore, development strategy and urban governance challenges vary between the two city councils. If I may, I would like to categorize urban development simply into three categories: - coastal, inland, and highland where all three have different development challenges and characteristics. Some city may have elements of all three categories, but coastal cities seemed to be more challenging than the rest, especially when it is an island city like Penang Island where land is scarce.

Naturally, water is essential to life and being alive. Although coastal cities are surrounded by abundance of water, the low-lying coastal cities are highly vulnerable to rising sea levels, floods, and other impacts of climate change. Apart from being at the front line of natural disasters, it also suffers from many waters related problems such as limited potable drinking water sources as well as the extreme opposite of having too much water – flood. Coastal cities also face common challenges regarding the management of their natural assets such as shorelines, beaches, and the myriad marine resources that are transboundary and cross administrative by nature. Worse, the large water body surface surrounding the coastal city also affected the microclimate of the city.

Moving inward from the coasts, an inland city will be facing challenges in achieving effective distribution of urban services. Due to its bigger land mass in the inland city where its terrain is typically flat, urban sprawl became the preferred development style. Hence sprawling the city further outward from its centre, creating more miles of roads and wider spread of homes affecting the level of service such as water supply, electricity supply as well as urban services at these areas. Moving further inward to hills and highlands, an immediate challenge to the city will be its accessibility, eventually impacting the city’s economic model. There is in fact no ideal utopia where a city can be based on to be developed for, they all face different challenges and have different terrain characteristics. It is therefore important that cities are being planned based on its very unique characteristics, as well as relying on the city dwellers residing in the city.

I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the Asian Development Bank and Penang Institute for putting this forum together with such careful thoughts to discuss the challenges and innovations for coastal cities. After all, the recent announcement of Indonesia to move her capital to the Borneo island will definitely pose interesting discussion on the near future for coastal or inland city development especially where the impact on natural biodiversity is concerned. Not only that physical characteristics need to be taken into considerations, it is also important to consider the social norms which makes one city a uniquely different city compared to others. I hope that all of you may have a great discussion ahead of you.

Thank you.

Pejabat Ketua Menteri Pulau Pinang Tingkat 28, KOMTAR, 10502, George Town, Pulau Pinang