UCRSEA seeks to provide vulnerable peoples in transitional states with the space to learn about and share in decisions about protecting themselves from the economic, social, and physical impacts of climate change. It involves international collaboration between academics in Canada and partners in Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam, which are experiencing both rapid urbanization and the severe effects of climate change. The initiating partners include the Thailand Environmental Institute Foundation (TEI), a non-government think tank focusing on scientific and policy issues in Southeast Asia, the University of Toronto and York University in Canada.

The UCRSEA is undertaking a range of research and programme activities, such as:

  • conducting original, independent, academic research that views urbanization as a transformative process in terms of poverty, vulnerability, growth, and climate change impacts;
  • promoting and sharing our research through publications, as well as through workshops, conferences, webcasts, and presentations;
  • convening roundtables and public events to engage discussion among scholars, policy makers, and community leaders in cities of Southeast Asia and Canada;
  • supporting graduate and post-graduate students to thereby build Canada and Southeast Asia’s expertise in the field of urban climate change impacts and responses.
Lead Institutions

The University of Toronto’s Asian Institute at the Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy is the Canadian home of the network. The Munk School is home to acclaimed scholars and internationally focused graduate programs, such as the Masters in Asia Pacific Studies. The School has expanded its scope and influence dramatically in the last decade to incorporating dozens of research centres and policy labs, including the Environmental Governance Lab and the Centre for Southeast Asian Studies. The Asian Institute is comprised of UofT faculty committed to engaging and supporting multidisciplinary research in Asia and hosts scores of visiting professors, seminars, and conferences each year devoted to compelling and
important issues facing the region.

The Thailand Environment Institute (TEI) is the other primary site for project funding and activities and oversees IDRC funding. TEI is a non-profit, non-government, environmental organization, established in May 1993, with a working philosophy of serving as a reliable information and knowledge resource. Founded on the belief that partnerships are the most effective approach to achieving sustainable development and a better quality of life, TEI helps to formulate environmental directives and link policy with action to encourage meaningful environmental progress in Thailand.

UCRSEA Project Cities

Eight cities in Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam chosen by UCRSEA partner organizations form the core of the project:
Cambodia – Koh Kong and Battambang
Myanmar – Dawei and Bago
Thailand – Khon Kaen and Phuket
Vietnam – Lao Cai and Ninh Binh

Learn more about the Project Cities here.

UCRSEA Core Research Questions

The patterns of rapid urban growth, weak governance, and vulnerability to the impacts of climate change in the Mekong region lead us to pose the following questions, none of which are mutually exclusive and which build upon each other in a sequential manner:

How will climate change impact the poverty and vulnerability of urban residents in Southeast Asia?

Much of the climate change literature argues that the poor are most vulnerable to climate change (World Bank 2010). Current definitions and measurements of poverty in urban areas are widely critiqued as being inaccurate and incomplete (Mitlin and Satterthwaite 2013). Cities are also associated with increasing levels of inequality. At the same time, climate change creates new sources of vulnerability that put those who are not currently poor at risk. The nature of urbanization creates a new set of dependencies on complex systems of water, food, energy, and transport, and these systems are often beyond the capacity of individuals and administrations to manage (Friend and Moench 2013). The disruptions caused by climate change create vulnerabilities, thus threatening ambitions for equitable sustainable development. Moreover, all social organizations become more complex in multi-ethnic, multi-class urban spaces. To ensure effective public policy for poverty reduction, economic growth, social inclusion, and disaster risk reduction, we need to develop practical methodological frameworks for assessing current urban poverty and well-being as well as future vulnerability.

What does knowledge, from both academic literature and action research, tell us about creating climate resilient urban governance that is both inclusive and equitable?

Both urbanization and the challenges of climate change require new forms of governance that highlight the importance of citizen rights and accountable institutions (UN-Habitat 2011; Giddens 2009; Harvey 2008). Resilience theorists argue that the risks and uncertainties of climate change require a shift from policy and planning processes of ‘prediction and action’, towards more learning oriented, flexible and adaptive processes (Tyler and Moench 2012; Lebel et al. 2006). As such, there is a need for more informed, deliberative governance processes that bring together diverse disciplines and experience to create flexible, adaptive, and learning-oriented institutions (Folke et al. 2005; Munton 2003). This approach has been applied elsewhere to create a template for sharing complex scientific information with lay people in terms that are relevant to their situations: Shared Learning Dialogues (SLDs) (Reed et al. 2013; Tyler and Moench 2011), an approach that has been central to TEI-ISET’s engagement under ACCCRN/Mekong-BRACE. SLDs represent a process whereby different stakeholders and different knowledges (including scientific disciplines and ‘local knowledge’) are brought together in a facilitated, informed public dialogue that assesses trends and trajectories, emerging vulnerabilities, and future climate change risks. In this way, SLDs put urbanization and climate change in the public domain, while promoting social learning and innovation. However, the continuing research challenge is how to create public spaces where informed and inclusive discussion can take place in different political contexts.

How can we strengthen the agency of individuals, groups and institutions to improve economic, physical and social well-being in urban areas, particularly in response to climate change?

Scholars identify a number of reasons why governments in Southeast Asia have been unsuccessful at aiding natural disaster victims. These include poor coordination, lack of monitoring and evaluation, rigidity, lack of transparency, corruption, and processes through which well-connected individuals (elites) can dominate and corrupt community-level planning and governance (Lebel et al. 2011; Manuta et al. 2006: Dasgupta and Beard 2007). At the same time it is clear that governments cannot be expected to independently solve the challenges of adaptation for the region’s urban poor. The challenge lies in how governance actors and institutions can improve adaptive capacities to climate change (Lebel et al. 2011). In urban areas, which are characterized by a diversity of ethnicity, class, and interest, supporting social justice through collective adaptation means that actions must be framed in terms of rights and governance. The ways in which urban actors can create new mechanisms of collective decision-making, engagement, and linkages to formal state institutions, remains a pressing research concern.

UCRSEA Partnership Brochure
  • Pakamas Thinphanga and Amrita Daniere talk about the importance of the project in an Ideas @ IDRC video.
  • Learn more about the Partnership – visit our video page.