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    The Amazonian city in Peru at crossroads

    By Giovanna Astolfo, on 3 August 2017

    The contemporary urbanisation of Amazonas is a geopolitical creation, and a recent phenomenon. For long time native communities have been living in sparse, often isolated, settlements. Adapting to the mutable conditions of the river, they created a system based on mobility, economic diversification and ‘multi-sited territorial appropriation’ (Peluso and Alexiadis, 2016). Such use and production of space was and still is disarticulated from any single master principle of spatial organization and from usual dichotomies such as rural/urban and public/private. Starting from the 1960s, extractive activities favoured rural-urban migration. Cities such Iquitos, Tarapoto and Puerto Maldonado in Peru, Leticia in Colombia, Belem and Manaus in Brazil grew immensely in few decades. Rural population moved to the cities, settling along the river, often retaining the traditional spatial organisation. Their survival is now threatened by climate change and flooding risk, coupled with recession and growing unemployment following the recent decline of oil extraction. Exploitation of resources prevented the growth of productive activities offering now little alternative sources of income to the urban population.

    Photo credit CASA

    Photo credit CASA

     

    It is in this complex context that the research project Ciudades Auto-Sostenibles Amazónicas (CASA), led by Pablo Vega-Centeno at Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú (PUCP), and coordinated by the BUDD alumna Belén Desmaison (PUCP), with the involvement of DPU’s Camillo Boano and Giovanna Astolfo, is developing a participatory process with local communities, local authorities and the national government to co-produce sustainable spatialities and promote alternative livelihoods systems in the Amazonas, starting from local technologies and knowledges. The project aims to create evidence-based methodology for a more participatory implementation process of preventive relocations. The project looks at the city of Iquitos, in the Peruvian Amazon, where a massive relocation process of around 16,000 people living in the flood-prone low-district of Belén is undergoing amid great difficulties and resistance. The government-led relocation has been implemented following a DRM policy released in 2011 and as part of the national programme “Programa Nuestras Ciudades”; despite many positive pioneering aspects, the decision-making process was centralised and the project poorly articulated, failing to capture the socio-spatial complexity of the context. Particularly, the relocation threatens the traditional spatial organisation of Amazon’s communities, negatively impacting the livelihoods system.

     

    Photo credit CASA

    Photo credit CASA

     

    Approximately 200 families have been relocated to date. However, the decision whether to move or not is creating tensions and conflicts amongst the remaining groups, as highlighted in earlier research conducted by the Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales (FLACSO) as part of the research “Reducing Relocation Risk in Urban Areas” led by Cassidy Johnson at DPU.  If, on one side, relocation can improve health condition and security, on the other side it might result in greater impoverishment consequent to the loss of jobs and traditional ways of living. Currently, most of the population is against relocation. Lack of trust in the process, and the polarisation of political parties are poisoning the debate (Chavez, 2016). Understandably enough, relocation is, above all, a matter of the narrative that is created around it.

    Connected through a newly constructed road, Nuevo Belén is distant from the city of Iquitos, and from the Amazon River and its tributaries which are the main source of income. It is an artificial city that looks like a dorm, as few of the planned facilities have been built so far. Each family has been given a lot of around 120 sq.mt., out of which 40 are occupied by the house. The housing typology is far from reflecting the social organisation and the constructive tradition, let aside being suitable to the climate. Reason why most of the dwellers have already transformed the space. Shelters on stilts are popping up where the ‘gardens’ should be, while the concrete houses serve as shops. Productive spaces (‘huertas’) are mushrooming around the houses as a consequence of informal appropriation of land, although under temporary deals – as the land will be soon occupied by the second round of housing construction.

     

    Photo credit CASA

    Photo credit CASA

     

    Starting from the ‘huertas’, the workshop that took place in July in Nuevo Belén focused on alternative design proposals for the creation of self-sufficient systems to ensure the economic sustainability of resettlement, and to create new livelihoods options. Proposals, developed by an interdisciplinary team of PUCP students and validated by the community, investigate what technologies and construction techniques are better adaptable to the context in social, spatial and climatic terms (particularly related to solar energy and rain collection).

     

    Photo credit CASA

    Photo credit CASA

     

    Clearly, Amazonian cities posit great challenges, particularly to those communities affected by economic recession, settled on flood-prone areas and at risk of relocation. It is necessary to think a different urbanisation, flexible, adaptive and temporal, more similar to the tradition of disperse settlement of the native communities. Relocation should be conceptualised as an urbanism in flux characterised by interconnected mobilities and heterogeneity (Browder and Godfrey, 1997); and its open spaces should not be purely private nor merely public and should be understood as in-between spaces, reproduced through mobility that is constitutive of this urbanity in flux.

     

    Photo credit CASA

    Photo credit CASA


    DPU’s Camillo Boano and Giovanna Astolfo are involved in the research project Ciudades Auto-Sostenibles Amazónicas (CASA) that looks at the Amazonian city of Iquitos. The project is led by Pablo Vega-Centeno of the Centro de Investigación, Arquitectura y Ciudad (CIAC), Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú (PUCP), and coordinated by Belén Desmaison (PUCP and DPU alumna). As part of the project, in July Giovanna Astolfo participated to the workshop ‘Taller Partecipativo’ in Nuevo Belen with CASA team and students from PUCP.

    https://casapucp.com/

    CASA is part of the CRC Initiative funded by CDKN, IRDC and FFLA. https://crclatam.net/

    Climate-induced resettlement risk

    By Charlotte A Barrow, on 29 November 2016

    I attended the Hugo Conference in Liège/Luik, Belgium from the 3rd – 5th Nov. 2016. The conference marked the creation of The Hugo Observatory for Environmental Migration at the University of Liège, named for the Australian migration scholar Graeme Hugo. Designed to feed into the UN Climate Change Conference (COP22) taking place in Marrakech a few days later, the conference focused on two areas that seem to be gaining attention in the global research and policy landscape: migration and climate change. Notwithstanding recent discussion on the interplay of these processes at high-profile events like the Habitat III conference in Quito, the merging of these two fields is relatively new. Thus, the majority of academics and policy-makers attending in Liège were expert in one or other of the fields – but not both; lending the conference a sense of forging new ground.

    Teddy Kisembo from Makerere University, one of our project partners, presenting at the Hugo Conference

    Teddy Kisembo from Makerere University, one of our project partners, presenting at the Hugo Conference

    I was there to present on the project Reducing Resettlement and Relocation Risk in Urban Areas which I’ve worked on for the past year with DPU colleagues Cassidy Johnson, Colin Marx and Giovanna Astolfo, together with our international partners Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales (FLACSO), the Indian Institute for Human Settlements (IIHS), and Makerere University. The focus of the research project is resettlement and relocation (R&R) policy and practice within and between cities, viewed from the lens of disaster risk reduction. We’ve looked at multiple drivers for R&R (e.g. decision-making, valuing processes, cost-benefit analyses etc.), from a variety of perspectives (individuals and households, neighbourhoods, governments) in urban centres in 5 countries across 3 continents. The project culminated in a workshop in Quito during the lead-up to Habitat III, which brought together 60 international academics, policymakers and representatives of NGOs with a special interest in R&R.

    Participants at the Reducing Relocation Risks workshop in Quito, Ecuador, 14th Oct. 2016

    Participants at the Reducing Relocation Risks workshop in Quito, Ecuador, 14th Oct. 2016

    Our research thereby forms part of the picture of environmental migration, by considering for example the role of climate change in increasing disaster risks and the ways this can lead to ‘voluntary’ or ‘involuntary’ movement of populations, as well as a focus on the need for more practical measures and implementation innovations to address the on-going problems plaguing many government interventions. However, while covering a wide geographic spread, our research takes a local, urban perspective and thereby differs from much of the work in the field that operates on a more macro level by interrogating international mobility flows and barriers and potential planning and policy implications globally.

    Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh. Flooding is a major problem in many urban centres. Photo credit – Sunil Kraleti

    Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh. Flooding is a major problem in many urban centres. Photo credit – Sunil Kraleti

    In my presentation in Liège, I spoke about some of the key aspects of R&R within a disaster risk reduction framework, such as urbanisation and the pressure this puts on local governments’ resources and planning capacities. In my view, one of the most important aspects of R&R is the specific politics of decision-making in each initiative; e.g. who decides when a settlement is ‘untenable’ or a risk ‘un-mitigable’? What agendas are these decision-makers fulfilling? What importance is given to the value systems and long-term development needs of the populations at risk? R&R approaches that focus solely on the immediate imperative of getting people ‘out of harm’s way’ and ignore longer-term outcomes are partly enabled by the often theoretical and future-looking nature of risk and of climate science. This interacts with the language and popular understandings of climate change. While many incidences of migration are spurred by disasters resulting from environmental instability experienced by populations, R&R initiatives cloaked in the rhetoric of climate change mitigation and adaptation can at times mask a range of other drivers, and may do more harm than good for vulnerable populations.

    These issues have been considered in varying depth in a range of locations through our and others’ research, but there is still a lot of ground to cover. One of the recent outputs of our project was a series of four policy briefs: one for each region included in the project and one that built on the outcomes of our Quito workshop (available on our website, see link above). This is hopefully a small contribution to addressing the enormous global need for a shift to thinking about climate-induced R&R that takes into account longer-term development planning needs.


    Charlotte Barrow is a research assistant at UCL working on projects relating to climate change and urban resilience. She has lived and studied in Canada, Sweden and the UK and is beginning a PhD on the use of local knowledge in climate change adaptation.

    Playing with goldfish: Engaging people through games in the age of the falling attention span

    By Nausica Castanas, on 11 November 2016

    Research in the age of the falling attention span

    There is undeniably a great amount of social science research produced around the world. In the field of development, much of it aims to inform the public, perhaps even with the expressive aim of changing behaviours. Yet how can one produce engaging content when it is well documented that the general public cannot focus for more than seconds at a time? There has been substantial research on people’s decreasing attention span. In his 1985 book Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business, Neil Postman advanced his thesis that television and the emphasis placed on entertainment has altered the way people consume information, and decreased their ability to concentrate on issues they do not find pleasurable[i]. Nicholas Carr focused his study on the advent of the Internet, arguing that our use of the Internet not only makes absorption harder, it actually impacts our ability to be engrossed in written material both online and offline[ii][iii]. Statistics seem to concur with this thesis. A 2008 study found that Internet users spent 10 seconds or less on any given page over 50% of the time, while the average time for a stay on a page was placed between 2-3 seconds[iv]. A 2015 study by Microsoft found that overstimulation through the Internet and smartphones has decreased our attention span from 12 seconds in 2000 to 8 seconds in 2015, jokingly compared to the attention span of a goldfish[v].

     

    The evidence is all around us: news videos online last on average under 3 minutes. In development, the trend is very much the same. Most organisations – including DFID, WaterAid and ODI to name a few – now produce a mix of short videos and infographics to present their material. Information is distilled in bite size pieces which audiences can easily digest.

     

    Conversely, when people are engaged, they can focus for longer. And this is where things get interesting. Coming up with engaging ways to communicate information can make all the difference. And what better way to engage someone’s attention than turning the subject into a game? Playing games de facto retains the player’s attention, and, for that reason, they have long been used in education. Whether it was through educational board games or through the use of computer games in school for math or physics modules, most of us were exposed to learning in game format.

     

    Games can therefore be a great communicative tool, especially for complex information. Openspace, the organisation I am currently working with in Bangkok, has teamed with Dr Wijitbusaba Ann Marome from the Faculty of Architecture and Planning at Thammasat University, to translate the results of a 5-year international research project of the Coastal Cities at Risk (CCaR) on urban resilience into a game.

    The Urban Resilience Board Game

    The Urban Resilience Board Game

     

    Urban Resilience and the CCaR research

    Coastal Cities at Risk (CCaR): Building Adaptive Capacity for Managing Climate Change in Coastal Megacities is a research project financed by Canada, looking at climate change and urban resilience, with respect to flooding in Vancouver, Lagos, Manila and Bangkok. CCaR uses modelling through the VENSIM program, using data derived from City System Dynamic model, to input known variables and produce future scenarios for these cities. Interestingly, the causes of flooding are different in each city, which allows for a broad field of study.

     

    Urban Resilience refers to the capacity of a city to bounce back after a shock. The most widespread definition, coined by the Community and Regional Research Initiative on Resilient Communities (CARRI), defines resilience as the “capability to prepare for, respond to, and recover from significant multi-hazard threats with minimum damage to public safety and health, the economy, and national security”[vi]. As evidenced by this definition, urban resilience has adaptability and complexity at heart. It views cities as adaptive systems, where the interactions of a wide set of factors need to be taken into consideration. Moreover, preparedness is key to achieving urban resilience, as anticipating potential future threats to urban settings allows for greater adaptability. This becomes ever more significant given the looming threat of climate change, which already brings an increase in the occurrence and severity of extreme weather phenomena around the world. While urban resilience involves more than natural disasters, these are considered a central aspect of the threats that need to be countered.

     

    In Bangkok, it is very intuitive to focus on flooding. Bangkok floods severely every couple of years, and, with climate change, the intensity is worsening. 2011 witnessed the worst flooding in decades; the year remains engraved in people’s minds and imagination, and routinely comes up in conversation as the benchmark for all subsequent flooding. The numbers are staggering: 884 people died, while a further 13.6 million were affected. 65 provinces were classified as disaster zones, and the World Bank estimated the total economic losses at $45.7 billion, making it one of the five most costly natural disasters in history[vii][viii].

     

    To a lesser extent, Bangkok floods semi-regularly. For example, it only takes a heavy night’s worth of rain during the rainy season to flood Lat Prao, the area where I live. The CCaR research concludes that flooding in the Bangkok Metropolitan Region (BMR) will intensify as both the intensity and frequency of heavy rain will increase.

     

    Perhaps surprisingly, the prevalence of flooding has not been linked to climate change or urban resilience, be it at policy level or in people’s minds. It is also telling that there is no government agency responsible for dealing with it. “It ranks low on the scale of political priorities, far behind questions of economic and social development” remarks Dr Marome, the leader of the CCaR team for Bangkok.

     

    Dr Marome stresses the importance of preparing society. “While investing in infrastructure can be very useful, it can only ever represent 70% of dealing with climate change. The remaining 30% needs to be done by people themselves, through preparedness. Japan is a great example of that. The state provides different measures to mitigate earthquakes, from law and regulations to earthquake resistant structures, but society has also adapted. Children are being taught from a very young age how to prepare for earthquakes”.

     

    Dr Wijitbusaba Ann Marome, Faculty of Architecture & Planning, Thammasat University

    Dr Wijitbusaba Ann Marome, Faculty of Architecture & Planning, Thammasat University

     

    In Bangkok, there is clearly a gap between the people who have the relevant information on the one side, and the wider public and government agencies on the other. The Urban Resilience Board Game tries to bridge this gap, by making information easily accessible to a wider public, beyond the scope of academics and people in the field.

     

    The Urban Resilience Board Game

    The game is played by 4 or 6 players, each the mayor of a Bangkok Metropolitan Region (BMR) – Bangkok Metropolis, Nakhon Pathom, Pathum Thani, Nonthaburi, Samut Prakan, and Samut Sakhon – and a facilitator. Each region has distinct characteristics and conditions, all based on the CCaR research findings: some are more developed, some have issues with waste management, some have issues with social cohesion, or environmental protection. Overall, there are six different urban futures, each affected by four different drivers: socio-economic factors, housing and land use, environment and health, and flood management.

     

    All players are allocated an initial budget, to be used for future investments. The players roll the dice to advance on the board and get handed an event that they need to deal with. Events range from anything between a drug problem among the area’s youth to the construction of a fast train linking this area to its neighbours. The player needs to identify the risk, the opportunity, and, where necessary, invest to deal with the event. Points are allocated for correctly identifying each, and all need to be relevant to the specific area’s profile. This urges players to link different issues and eventually identify necessary investments in the short or long term.

     

    In action: Playing the Urban Resilience Board Game, June 2016

    In action: Playing the Urban Resilience Board Game, June 2016

    Rolling a six or completing two rounds triggers a flood round. Flood intensity varies each time, and affects each region differently. An area’s resilience ultimately depends on preparedness stemming from investments in the previous rounds. For example, should an area have a serious garbage problem, investment in clean up prior to the flood round would increase resilience, as refuse not only obstructs drainage, thus worsening the flood, but also spreads diseases. During the flood round, all investment proposals need to be voted on by the mayors of the other regions: players need to argue their case to seek approval. The game ends when any participant reaches the end of the board; the player with the most points wins.

     

    In action: Playing the Urban Resilience Board Game, June 2016

    In action: Playing the Urban Resilience Board Game, June 2016

    The Urban Resilience Board Game thus has a double role: first, it raises awareness about flooding and resilience, allowing people to think about urban resilience and find linkages between different issues. Second, it brings people from different backgrounds together and opens a dialogue that would not otherwise be happening, and certainly not under these conditions. In June 2016, Thammasat University and Openspace organised a workshop with academics, policy makers and representatives from the local government, specifically from the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA). Many participants had no experience with these issues but all played the board game for two hours. The feedback was extremely positive, as they found the game both informative and entertaining. Interestingly, the game seemed to transcend political red tape, allowing people to consider flooding and urban resilience without the backdrop of the sometimes charged political considerations that happen in Thailand.

    In action: The Urban Resilience workshop, June 2016

    In action: The Urban Resilience workshop, June 2016

    The appeal for planners is evident. The game opens a platform for people to discuss complex issues in an informal way. Instead of being confined by the structure and convention of a meeting or conference, participants can let their guard down and engage with the material in a new way. More importantly, the subject matter becomes accessible to people with no prior experience. In the guise of explaining the rules and aim of the game, facilitators are actually presenting the basic information for people to understand the core ideas of urban resilience. Yet all of this remains unthreatening; at the end of the day, it is only a game. The players are then pushed to really think about the issues, and see the connection between investments in infrastructure and cooperation with other regions, and achieving urban resilience. Their output is then fed back to the CCaR team and Openspace, who collect the documented actions that players took during the flood round. This is crucial, as it allows for a feedback loop into the research in a very direct way.

     

    In the next months, more workshops will be organised. Moreover, Dr Marome and Thammasat University plan to train members of the public to be facilitators, allowing for greater exposure, perhaps even spilling to other Thai cities in the North. They are also working on having a workshop with urban policy planners from across Asia to play the game. The possibilities are endless, because who would not like to come play with us?

     

    [i] Postman, N. 2005 [1985]. Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business. London: 2005 Penguin Books

    [ii] Carr, N. 2008. “Is Google Making Us Stupid?: What the Internet is Doing to our Brains”. The Atlantic. July-August 2008

    [iii] Carr, N. 2010. The Shallows: How the Internet Is Changing the Way We Think, Read and Remember. London: W. W. Norton & Company

    [iv] Weinreich, H., Obendorf, H., Herder, E. and Mayer, M. 2008. “Not Quite the Average: An Empirical Study of Web Use”. ACM Transactions on the Web, Vol. 2, No. 1

    [v] Mcspadden, K. 2015. “You Now Have a Shorter Attention Span Than a Goldfish”. The Times, May 2015. Retrieved in September 2016 from http://time.com/3858309/attention-spans-goldfish/

    [vi] Wilbanks, T. 2007. The Research Component of the Community and Regional Resilience Initiative (CARRI). Presentation at the Natural Hazards Center, University of Colorado- Boulder; as quoted in C. E. Colten, R. W. Kates, and S. B. Laska. 2008. Community Resilience: Lessons from New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina. Retrieved in September 2015 from http://www.resilientus.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/FINAL_COLTEN_9-25-08_1223482263.pdf

    [vii] Emergency Operation Center for Flood, Storm and Landslide. 2012. Flood, Storm and Landslide Situation Report. Retrieved in October 2016 from http://disaster.go.th/dpm/flood/flood54/news/news_thai/EOCReport17JAN.pdf [in Thai]

    [viii] Impact Forecasting LLC. 2012. 2011 Thailand Floods: Event Recap Report. Retrieved in September 2016 from http://thoughtleadership.aonbenfield.com/Documents/20120314_impact_forecasting_thailand_flood_event_recap.pdf

     


    Nausica is a DPU MSc Environment and Sustainable Development alumna. She is currently completing the DPU/ACHR/CAN Young Professionals Programme in Bangkok, Thailand. All images taken by Nausica Castanas

    Just Sustainabilities and the New Urban Agenda

    By Vanesa Castan- Broto, on 5 August 2016

    Originally published by Urban Transformations

    Will 2016 be an urban year in international development policy? In September 2015, the United Nations Assembly adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to supersede the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). One notable feature was the introduction of an ‘urban goal’, Goal 11: “Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable”. Planning is at the centre of the new urban goal. It includes an explicit planning target, Target 11.3: “By 2030, enhance inclusive and sustainable urbanization and capacity for participatory, integrated and sustainable human settlement planning and management in all countries.” Target 11.3 synthetizes a long history of international development thinking to make cities sustainable through planning.

    The target also emphasises the relationship between inclusive development and sustainability. In doing so, the target expresses explicitly the interconnection between social and environmental issues in planning. By emphasising capacity, the target also points to a fundamental issue in planning for sustainable cities: that institutions with the power to carry on sustainable action, or even to understand what sustainable action is, are frequently absent. The target specifies how planning has to be: it has to be participatory, integrated and sustainable. This last adjective emphasises that sustainability is both a characteristic of the output, i.e., a sustainable city, and of the process whereby that output is achieved: i.e. participatory, integrated.14157883749_8f55b61a29_k

    To a certain extent, Target 11.3 follows on from the guidelines of Chapter 7 in Local Agenda 21 that was later consolidated in the Habitat II agenda in Istanbul, 1996. The assertive formulation of Target 11.3, putting at its core both participation and integrated planning, suggests an association of planning and urban management with social and environmental justice objectives. As part of the preparations for the Habitat III conference in Quito 2016, UN-Habitat has promoted the slogan “the transformative force of urbanisation”. The slogan is designed to harness the energy emerging from positive views of urbanization which do not just see it as an unavoidable global phenomenon, but embrace it as a positive force with the potential to change unsustainable societies. The use of the word ‘transformative’, however, suggests a radical departure from business as usual scenarios, a deep structural change that will not only reconfigure cities but also, will reconfigure contemporary societies and economies towards a fairer world which respects its environment. Overall, the link between inclusive and sustainable cities, the emphasis on the sustainability of both processes and outputs, and the framing of planning as a tool for radical change towards a better society all point to a greater interest on achieving environmental and social justice in urban areas. The central question that should be asked in the road towards implementation of SDG 11 and in the preparations for Habitat III is: what kind of planning can bring about cities that are both sustainable and just?

     

    The protection of the Earth’s life-support system and poverty reduction are twin priorities for development. In relation to the new urban agenda, this is akin to achieving ‘just sustainabilities’ through linking social welfare and environmental protection (Agyeman et al. 2003, Agyeman 2013). Just sustainabilities approaches have the potential to reinvigorate notions of sustainability in the new urban agenda, helping link environmental concerns with the needs and perceptions of citizens, and their articulation in social movements.

    23090523285_5b350f70ae_kThe notion of just sustainabilities emerged as a response to the 1990s debates on sustainable development, and how sustainability goals in an urban context reproduced, rather than prevented, the conditions of inequality and environmental degradation. In urban planning, there has long been a concern about the limitations of using sustainability-oriented urban policies to address social justice issues (Marcuse 1998). Political theorists have questioned broadly where social justice and environmental sustainability are actually compatible (Dobson 1998, Dobson 2003). However, for proponents of just sustainabilities, social justice and environmental sustainability are interdependent problems that challenge existing power structures (McLaren 2003).

    The linkages between environmental change and social justice are apparent in empirical evidence of how environmental degradation and resource scarcity is experienced by the urban poor. Unsafe and inadequate water supplies, inadequate provision of sanitation and waste management, overcrowding, lack of safety, and different forms of air and water pollution continue to shape the lives of many citizens around the world (e.g. Hardoy and Satterthwaite 1991, Forsyth et al. 1998, Brennan 1999, HEI 2004, WHO 2009, UNDP 2014). For example, almost 10% of deaths in low-income regions are directly attributed to environmental risks such as unsafe water, outdoor and indoor air pollution, lead exposure and impacts from climate change (WHO 2009). Poverty and inequalities in access to resources and livelihood opportunities increase the vulnerability of the urban poor to climate change impacts and natural disasters (Revi et al. 2014). By 2030, the global demand for energy and water will likely grow by 40%, while for food it may increase by as much as 50% (ODI/ECDPM/GDI/DIE 2012). This is likely to further hinder poor people’s access to even basic resources. For example, the number of people without energy access is raising, regardless of infrastructure developments or urbanisation rates (IEA 2014).

     

    Incorporating notions of justice in environmental policy and planning emphasises both the distributional impacts of environmental degradation and resource scarcity and the need to adopt decisions that emerge from a fair and open process of policy-making. This also requires broadening the notion of justice beyond a narrow distributive conceptualisation with a recognition of how environmental problems are experienced by diverse groups of actors – especially those which are disadvantaged and struggle to make their views known – the extent to which they are represented and participate in environmental decision-making, and how environmental policy influences people’s opportunities for fulfilment (Schlosberg 2007).

    9546363076_aeab5c353d_o

    Civil society organisations and local community organisations have already made substantial contributions to demonstrating and acting upon the nexus between social justice and environmental sustainability, which have in turn inspired the ideals of just sustainabilities (Agyeman et al. 2002). These are initiatives that recognise the need for people to participate in environmental decisions; the imperative to meet people’s basic needs’ and the normative requirement to preserve the integrity of nature for future generations (Faber and McCarthy 2003). Justice-oriented discourses are already inspiring environmental action for climate change in urban areas (Bulkeley et al. 2014, Bulkeley et al. 2013). Yet, addressing the environmental crisis will require a concerted action between public, private and civil society actors for a sustainability transition.

    Demonstrating that just sustainabilities have purchase to deliver an urban future that is both just and sustainable will require operationalising this notion within current governance possibilities. In particular, following Rydin’s (2013) pioneering work on the future of planning, there is a need to think how just sustainabilities can help challenge and redefine environmental planning. Just sustainabilities emphasises the “nexus of theoretical compatibility between sustainability and environmental justice, including an emphasis on community-based decision making; on economic policies that account fiscally for social and environmental externalities; on reductions in all forms of pollution; on building clean, livable communities for all people; and on an overall regard for the ecological integrity of the planet” (Agyeman and Evans 2003; p. 36-37). It adopts an expansive notion of environmental justice which also recognises the just practices of everyday life (Schlosberg 2013). In doing so, it calls for a to move away from current dominant paradigms of growth, using planning as a means to address social and ecological concerns within an unsustainable and unjust economic system (Rydin 2013).

    14157894859_dab1f1acdb_k

    In this vein, just sustainabilities may be thought as the attainment of four conditions simultaneously:

    1. Improving people’s quality of life and wellbeing;
    2. Meeting the needs of both present and future generations, that is, considering simultaneously intra- and intergenerational equity;
    3. Ensuring justice and equity in terms of recognition, process, procedure and outcome; and
    4. Recognising ecosystem limits and the need to live within the possibilities of this planet (Agyeman et al. 2003).

    There is already a body of empirical evidence about the practice of just sustainabilities (Agyeman 2005, Agyeman 2013). However, does it represent a viable perspective for sustainable planning agendas? Does it have relevance beyond the environmental justice movements from which it has emerged? Can it be integrated into current practices of environmental planning? These are open questions which will unfold as the New Urban Agenda begins to be implemented on the ground. The concept of just sustainabilities emerges as a positive discourse that can support action to deliver urban transformations. Clearly, there are tools available to deliver just sustainability action in urban environmental planning and management, but their applicability, effectiveness and impacts depend on the context in which they are implemented. More ambitious efforts are needed in the New Urban Agenda to redefine urban development possibilities and the way environmental limits are experienced in different cities. Local governments will play a key role in developing strategies to challenge growth-dependence paradigms and to enable collaborative forms of environmental governance.

     

    REFERENCES

    Agyeman, J., 2005. Sustainable communities and the challenge of environmental justice. New York University Press: New York.
    Agyeman, J., 2013. Introducing just sustainabilities: Policy, planning, and practice. London: Zed books.
    Agyeman, J., Bullard, R. D. and Evans, B. 2002. Exploring the Nexus: Bringing Together Sustainability, Environmental Justice and Equity. Space and Polity, 6(1), 77-90.
    Agyeman, J., Bullard, R. D. and Evans, B., 2003. Just sustainabilities: development in an unequal world. Cambridge: MIT Press.
    Agyeman, J. and Evans, T. 2003. Toward Just Sustainability in Urban Communities: Building Equity Rights with Sustainable Solutions. The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 590(1), 35-53.
    Brennan, E., 1999. Population, Urbanization , Environment, and Security : A summary of the issues. Comparative Urban Studies Occasional Paper Series. Washington.
    Bulkeley, H., et al. 2013. Climate justice and global cities: mapping the emerging discourses. Global Environmental Change, 23(5), 914-925.
    Bulkeley, H., Edwards, G. A. and Fuller, S. 2014. Contesting climate justice in the city: Examining politics and practice in urban climate change experiments. Global Environmental Change, 25, 31-40.
    Dobson, A., 1998. Justice and the Environment: Conceptions of Environmental Sustainability and Dimensions of Social Justice. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
    Dobson, A. 2003. Social justice and environmental sustainability: ne’er the twain shall meet. Just sustainabilities: Development in an unequal world, 83-95.
    Faber, D. and McCarthy, D. 2003. Neo-liberalism, globalization and the struggle for ecological democracy: linking sustainability and environmental justice. Just sustainabilities: Development in an unequal world, 38-63.
    Forsyth, T., Leach, M. and Scoones, I., 1998. Poverty and environment: priorities for research and policy – an overview study. Sussex, 49.
    Hardoy, J. E. and Satterthwaite, D. 1991. Environmental problems of third world cities: A global issue ignored. Public Administration and Development, 11, 341-361.
    HEI, Health Effects of Outdoor Air Pollution in Developing Countries of Asia. ed., 2004 Boston.
    IEA, Africa Energy Outlook. ed., 2014 Paris.
    Marcuse, P. 1998. Sustainability is not enough. Environment and Urbanization, 10(2), 103-112.
    McLaren, D. 2003. Environmental space, equity and the ecological debt. Just sustainabilities: Development in an unequal world, 19-37.
    ODI/ECDPM/GDI/DIE, 2012. Confronting scarcity: Managing water, energy and land for inclusive and sustainable growth. Brussels: European Union Report on Development, 9789279231612.
    Revi, A., et al. 2014. Towards transformative adaptation in cities: the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment. Environment and Urbanization, 26(1), 11-28.
    Rydin, Y., 2013. The future of planning. Policy Press.
    Schlosberg, D. 2007. Defining Environmental Justice: Theories, Movements, and Nature.
    Schlosberg, D. 2013. Theorising environmental justice: the expanding sphere of a discourse. Environmental politics, 22(1), 37-55.
    UNDP, Human Development Report 2014. ed., 2014 New York, 239.
    WHO, Global Health Risks: Mortality and Burden of Disease Attributable to selected major risks. ed., 2009 Geneva.


    Vanesa Castán Broto is a senior lecturer and co-director of MSc Environment and Sustainable Development at the DPU. Her work spans a range of issues in developing cities, including disaster preparedness, climate change adaptation and energy supply. Vanesa is also Principal Investigator of the Mapping Urban Energy Landscapes (MUEL) in the Global South project at Urban Transformations.

     

    Academic debate on urban challenges and development – collaborative consumption

    By Daljeet Kaur, on 16 October 2015

    Recently I presented a paper on degrowth as a solution towards sustainability by stressing the need to shift from being owners to just consumers at the Regional International Geographic Union (IGU) event in Moscow last August’15[1]. IGU is one of the world’s oldest international researchers’ associations which organised its first International Geographical Congress in 1871 and in 1922 established the union. Today its members hail from over 90 countries, united in support of geographical research and education. The programme is rooted in principles of diversity and interdisciplinary exchange. At this year’s event, around 1700 participants from around the world gathered in the Soviet capital for lectures, discussions, workshops and excursions. This year, IGU Moscow 2015, focused mainly on the following five main themes: urban environment, polar studies, climate change, global conflicts, and regional sustainability.

    Moscow State University, 17th August 2015 – First day of the conference at Moscow

    Moscow State University, 17th August 2015 – First day of the conference at Moscow

    The five day conference hosted many parallel sessions which were interesting to me mainly because I myself come from an emerging but developing economy, which is India. Such discourses on urban challenges provides you with an opportunity to see different perspective in addressing common problems and helps you to assimilate learnings and apply them in your own context. I was selected for a poster presented under the theme – creating sustainability and I impressed on the need to change our consumption patterns in light of the stress the current growth has put on Earth and its finite resources. It is estimated that we are using up to 50% more natural resources that the earth can provide for, inferring that – at our current population, we need 1.5 Earths to meet our current demand.

    I drew the above painting titled - Romanticising Urbanism to question the idea of Growth itself which is primarily determined by the rate at which we consume.

    I drew the above painting titled – Romanticising Urbanism to question the idea of Growth itself which is primarily determined by the rate at which we consume.

    Degrowth as a Solution?

    During the club of Rome[2] meeting in 1970’s, many visionaries, environmentalists and governments across the world acknowledged that the business as usual approach has failed and we need a course correction. The idea of degrowth which came about the same time, is the intentional redirection of economies away from the perpetual pursuit of growth. To me it sounds, a little far fetched, is it even possible to ask the developed world to forcibly reduce its growth? Even though the critics of degrowth argue that slowing of economic growth would result in increased unemployment and increase poverty especially in the Global South, degrowth proponents advocate for a complete abandonment of the current (growth) economic system, suggesting that delocalising and abandoning the global economy in the developing countries would allow people of the South to become more self-sufficient and would end the over consumption and exploitation of Southern resources by the North.

    Whichever way the argument goes, if we look at some of the solutions it promoted, degrowth should not be confused with economic decline, rather the concept can be compared to a healthy diet. Irrespective of the income of a person the person’s diet should be such that it does not adversely harm him/her, I can only eat as much as I can digest and stay fit. But with respect to consumption of materialistic things in the world, we all are using more than we require to lead a happy satisfied life.

    The problem we face today may not have a simple solution but a combination of many solutions, which can help the world to move towards a sustainable being. Thus, today, the decisions makers and communities themselves have a vital role to play when adopting a particular approach to tackle developmental issues. One such approach is collaborative consumption, which works on an economic model of swapping and sharing. Collaborative consumption can also be defined as using the same resource repeatedly and collectively by closing the loop of the liner material economy.

    The illustration which I drew for the conference intends to promote collaborative consumption - a way of life based on sharing and renting.

    The illustration which I drew for the conference intends to promote collaborative consumption – a way of life based on sharing and renting.

    I briefly pondered the idea of Choice Editing which could be another means to achieve degrowth — editing peoples’ choices toward a certain lifestyle. One way to ascertain choice editing is through policies like taxes and provision of subsidies, the other could be led by the community, where a group of people form a nexus to not only consume together but restore resources together through water harvesting, through sharing (both knowledge and material), etc. The illustration below shows that all basic needs of each incomes groups are the same, the more we earn the more we add to our consumption of the lesser needed materials. If we club the common components of different income groups and follow the principle of equity where the higher earner pays more we could help ensure better security for the poorer section of the society.

    diagram

    *The above diagram illustrates a situation where different service charges are taken from different income groups (mainly determined by their individual buying capacities) to bridge disparity and to meet basic needs. Promoting social inclusion by being co-consumers in using services like transportation, education, housing.

    What good are Global Debates?

    During the five day conference I kept asking myself, but why discuss these issues in a larger forum? What possible gain could it bring us? Can India, which has a situation unlike others with an entirely different cultural setting, adopt or mirror what the developed world is doing to address its urban challenges. One of the lecturers at IGU, Professor Benno Werlen (Germany), spoke about knowledge sharing to find feasible local solutions through global discourses. I liked the idea which he introduced by saying that global thinking and global action demand global understanding. Not 100% positive but I did leave with the impression that initiatives like International Geographical Union (IGU) aim to bridge the gap in awareness between local acts and global effects through research, education, and information.

    [1] http://www.igu2015.ru/

    [2] http://www.clubofrome.org/

     


    Daljeet Kaur has a double Master’s degree in Environment and Sustainable Development from the DPU and Environmental Planning from School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi. She has worked as a qualified planner and an architect for more than eight years at IPE Global Limited. Her interest lies in urban planning; urban reforms, environmental management; climate change and its mitigation & adaptation; knowledge management.

     

    India’s tea capital can recover from devastating floods – if the government gets its act together

    By Sneha Krishnan, on 22 September 2015

    Heavy flooding has affected more than a million people in the north-eastern Indian state of Assam, with 45 dead and more than 200,000 in relief camps. However, there is still very little coverage of the disaster in the international media – perhaps not surprising when you consider even most Indians aren’t paying attention.

    But they should – and so should you. The fact a region that is flooded regularly should be so unprepared for the latest downpour is scandalous, as is the short-sighted or uncaring government response.

    The floods have also affected local wildlife, with the Kaziranga National Park – home to two thirds of the world’s Indian rhinos – reporting the electrocution of elephants fleeing from the water, as well as the death of at least three rhinos.

    The floods come amid reports of increasing illegal immigration from Bangladesh and poor working conditions on local tea plantations, while armed conflicts between separatist groups and state security forces make the situation in the region even more unstable.

    Image 2

    Floods in Solmari in 2012 after the floods caused by embankment breach

     

    Perfect conditions for tea – and flooding

    Assam is best known for its black tea, which grows well in the hot, steamy Brahmaputra valley. While the monsoon may create perfect conditions for tea, it also means the region is highly susceptible to flooding.

    More than 40% of the region is at risk and severe floods occur every few years, eroding riverbanks and dumping large amounts of sand on farmland, often rendering lands infertile.

    For local communities, these floods have been disastrous and many are not receiving sufficient aid. For example my own research on recovery after major floods in 2012 found affected families who hadn’t received the promised compensation from the government, even two years on.

    Government initiatives to build new embankments have led to further distress. For example, new barriers constructed in 2012 displaced hundreds of families who found their resettled homes were now on the wrong side of the embankments. Compensation was poor, lower than market rates, while others received no support for resettlement due to identity and land ownership issues for illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

    Some embankments built along the Brahmaputra in central Assam as an ad hoc response to the 2012 floods were so poorly constructed over natural drainage they actually failed to keep the river movements in check and increased erosion. The embankments simply breached in the following year’s monsoon. The subsequent relocations and distress were entirely preventable.

    The Brahmaputra has caused serious erosion for decades now, and yet the government response has been inefficient. Plans to tackle the problem remain confined only to paper.

    image 1

    The fixing of new embankment to prevent breach in 2013, in Morigaon. (which breached within a week after this image was shot

     

    The real cost for Assam’s communities

    The floods in Assam have taken a heavy toll on water, sanitation, health and education systems. Affected people flee their homes and create makeshift camps, where access to essential facilities is inadequate for the hundreds of thousands displaced.

    The quality and accessibility of drinking water in particular is severely affected, and people are depending on contaminated sources – even when they know it isn’t clean. Defecation in the open becomes dangerous, especially for women and adolescent girls, all the more so during floods and regular displacement.

    During floods the government turned some public schools into relief camps for a week or two. This of course affects the school term. Once the water recedes people start leaving the camps and are forced to fend for themselves. When they return to their villages they’ll be faced with destroyed homes, lost food grains and fields ruined by silt or sometimes even entirely lost to erosion.

    The road to recovery is hard to see, particularly as no long-term support is guaranteed by government, civil groups or NGOs.

    The floods also have an adverse affect on marginalised people, such as women, who bear the responsibilities of running households, childcare and rebuilding homes after floods. A 2013 study involving 900 households around Assam found that soil erosion, as a consequence of flooding, heavily affected the standard of living for farmers. This in turn forced women to leave the home and earn an income which resulted in girls dropping out of school to look after younger siblings and do the chores.

    India’s 2005 Disaster Management Act doesn’t recognise the chronic challenges of erosion as a natural disaster. The present development plans are short-sighted. They do not feature a long-term recovery, or take into consideration environmental factors.

    In the case of Assam, disaster resilience will only be possible through education and the participation of local communities and institutions. Something that needs to be done if the area is prone to flooding.

    Image 5

    Flood-affected families living in school complex during the floods, Solmari

    How can local innovation respond to climate change in cities?

    By Nick Anim, on 31 March 2015

    In the final DPU Breakfast Talk of the term Vanesa Castán Broto was in conversation with Étienne von Bertrab about the role of local responses to Climate Change in urban areas.

    ‘Channeling’ two recent articles by George Monbiot, Étienne opened the discussion by suggesting that: (a) dealing with Climate Change requires the same legislative courage as was necessary to save the ozone layer, and (b), in the absent presence of the required legislation to address Climate Change, the only real spaces of hope and innovation are at the local level.

    Nick post header

    In Dar es Salaam water is distributed by private vendors using 10 litre jerry-cans in the absence of formal infrastructure. Local entrepreneurial responses may increasing be required to respond to water scarcity.

    He posed four opening questions to Vanesa:

    1. What have you been doing recently in relation to climate change?
    2. What do you think is the significance of this work?
    3. As an expert, is there a risk of being too close to the formal governance institutions, such as the Conference of Parties, when they have proven time and time again to be achieving very little and when counter summits, such as the People’s Summit, are emerging?
    4. What is the role of theory building in times of urgency?

    Socio-technical innovation is taking place in cites

    Drawing from her vast experience in the field, as well as some key lessons and conclusions from her recent book An Urban Politics of Climate Change, Vanesa began by pointing out that most socio-technical experiments and innovations take place in cities. Technical experiments such as capturing energy from the water mains, and social innovations such as Transition Towns were used to highlight this point in the context of urban transitions for climate change.

    In reference to the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, Vanesa highlighted the fact that there were technical alternatives available at the time, which facilitated the relative expediency of its implementation.

    VCD DPU breakfast copy

    Vanesa responds to Etienne’s questions at the DPU Breakfast event

    Participatory planning for climate change?

    A key topic in the discussion was the subject of participatory planning, and perhaps more specifically, participation for Climate Change planning. Climate change is framed almost universally as a global problem; therefore the challenges of addressing its governance have conventionally been approached from the top-down.

    The oft-held presumption that national states/governments are best placed to represent the interests of cities in addressing Climate Change is, it was argued, misguided. Vested interests, as highlighted by a recent Oxfam report, have a disproportionate influence in the corridors of power.

    What is the role of social movements?

    Within the political milieu, what then, it must be asked, is the role of social movements? Can they lobby effectively to counter the prevalence of the vested interests’ lobby groups? How can citizens’ and communities’ voices be amplified, heard and understood in the ‘attention marketspace’ of planning strategies for Climate Change?

    Reflecting on her recent work with informal settlements in Maputo, Mozambique, as part of the Public Private People Partnerships for Climate Compatible Development (4PCCD) project, Vanesa argued that the key to participatory Climate Change planning is developing a network of partnerships between civil society groups, municipalities, and businesses.

    Nick post - Lima

    Residents living in peripheral areas in water-scarce cities, such as Lima in Peru [pictured] are already facing serious challenges due to climate change

    Community-based solutions rely on open channels of communication

    Within this context, local facilitators are key to building good partnerships that can recognise and access the diversity of voices that constitute any given community. The success of the project in Maputo highlighted the fact that community-based practical actions can work best if the necessary channels of communication are developed and maintained with the different stakeholders from government, business and civil society.

    The participatory planning approach had a clear impact in terms of facilitating community organisation, and strengthening their representation through the establishment of a Climate Planning Committee (CPC) – whose expertise and legitimacy has been acknowledged in joint learning events with stakeholders and policy-makers in Maputo.

    Are academics too close to formal governance institutions?

    In terms of ‘being too close to the formal governance institutions’, it is important as a practitioner, to recognise the institutional milieu within which a project is situated, and in that context, it is equally important to work with, and not against politics

    Academia and its inherent practices of theory-building play an important role in planning and development. Although in many instances theories may take time to filter through to the grassroots, iterative processes between academic theories and field practice can ensure that new knowledge can be brought to illiterate communities for example.

    Whilst this DPU Breakfast Talk facilitated the discussion about local responses to Climate Change, we should see it as just the beginning of an open and continuous dialogue to which we can all contribute, and through which we can all learn.


    Nick Anim is a PhD candidate at the DPU. He completed an MSc in Environment and Sustainable Development at the DPU in 2013. His PhD research looks at Transition Cities as a mean of  exploring the viability and potential of community-based initiatives in a transition to a low-carbon sustainable economy.

    Will 2015 be the year of urban opportunity?

    By Matthew A Wood-Hill, on 16 January 2015

    Here at the DPU we’re bouncing out of what has been a very exciting year, celebrating our 60th anniversary, and into a particularly important one in our collective thinking about urban futures.

    We’re going to see international discussions taking place on cities and human settlements, disaster risk reduction, development finance, the post-2015 development agenda and climate change.

    Image: Matt Wood-Hill, 2014

    Habitat III

    Something I have seen dominating a lot of our conversations in the last year has been the road to the Habitat III conference. Although this won’t be held until October 2016 (in Quito, Ecuador if you already want to start planning your trip), the lobbying and agenda-building has already begun. We saw this at the 7th World Urban Forum in Medellin, and from numerous speakers at our DPU60 conference in July, including Joan Clos, the Director of UN Habitat.

    Habitat III will have a profound impact on the way cities are planned, designed and governed. Given the title of this post, however, perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself.

     

    The Launch of the Sustainable Development Goals and the post-2015 development agenda; September 2015

    2015 will be notable for the launch of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), announcing a post-2015 development agenda that will supersede the Millennium Development Goals.

    There are currently 17 Goals in total, which have Ban Ki-Moon’s support, but the numerous targets are yet to be finalised. Indeed nothing is set in stone, and much could yet change in the months ahead.

    An Urban SDG

    Several staff at the DPU have been busy working as part of the lobby for ‘Goal 11: Make Cities and Human Settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.’

    Goal 11 is the essence of the ‘urban opportunity’ – the title of the position paper produced by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network.

    As urbanisation continues globally so does urban poverty. Urban economic output will grow, meanwhile new ways of providing infrastructure and services are required to cater for demand. These concentrated populations represent a vital opportunity that cannot be put off for another 15 years, and this must not become one of those Goals that ‘should have been there all along’. It is in cities that many solutions can, and will need to be found, and therefore this is the optimum moment of ‘urban opportunity’.

    I’m looking forward to sharing two blog posts in the next couple of weeks that give greater insights into formulation of Goal 11 and what it sets out to achieve.

     

    The Post-2015 framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR); March 2015

    The Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA) was the first international framework for the creation of DRR policies and plans when it was conceived to cover a 10-year period in 2005. There won’t be a stand-alone DRR goal in the SDGs, but of particular note to us is the proposed Target 4 within Goal 11 for cities to “incorporate climate and disaster risk considerations in their zoning, building codes, and infrastructure investment decisions”.

    DPU staff have been very active in UN-ISDR discussions on updating the HFA, look out for more on this soon. I’m sure that many of us will be following the World Conference on DRR in Sendai closely to see how it relates to discussions on urban resilience.

     

    The Third International Conference on Financing for Development; July 2015

    While this isn’t a topic I can claim much familiarity with, it is pretty clear that the post-2015 development agenda is going to require a renegotiation of financing commitments. When we look at the unconfirmed SDGs as they stand, the 17 Goals and 169 targets are necessarily ambitious if they truly hope to “end poverty, transform all lives, and protect the planet.” But how these will be implemented is far less easy to understand, and I’ll be looking for a few clues in July.

     

    COP21 in Paris; December 2015

    COP20 in Lima might be quite fresh in many of your minds. Personally I couldn’t help but feel a sense of déjà vu – it seems we’re always told that we’re on the cusp of an epoch-defining agreement, but it slips away.

    So could this year really be the year where a global climate deal is finally agreed? And if it is, then so what? We’ve been seeing climate responses increasingly happening at the local level. Let us not forget that the Kyoto Protocol expired in 2012, and if global agreements are the way to go, then the international community has been stalling for too long.

     

    Communications in 2015

    This year I’m looking forward to seeing DPU communications give you greater insights into the key moments above. Staff here have been shaping the debates and will be responding to the outcomes. Ultimately we will continue to work with governments, community groups and other organisations on the ground to support them in implementing these agendas.

    We also have an exciting schedule planned for the DPU blog over the next few months where staff, alumni and other contributors from around the world will share their experiences in development practice.

    Stay tuned in 2015!

     

    Matthew Wood-Hill is the Media and Communications Officer at The Bartlett Development Planning Unit.

    The road to Rio 2012

    By Barbara Lipietz, on 21 June 2012

    The trials and tribulations of climate change regulation: an interview with Alain Lipietz.

    Photo by ©Fora do Eixo

    No other issue has entered international negotiations with as much urgency as climate change and yet, effective and concerted international action remains painfully elusive. As a new negotiation round opens in Rio, are we anywhere closer to unpacking the deadlocks? In a recent interview, renowned economist and environmental activist Alain Lipietz offers an incisive account of two decades of fortunes and misfortunes in global negotiations against climate change.

    Lipietz explains why and how climate change brought about the realisation that “humanity is not only threatened by the exhaustion of its resources […] but by an excess of production itself […] which produces so much waste we no longer know what to do with it.” He traces the trajectory through which the conceptualisation of the atmosphere as a ‘non-rival’ and free access global common started to be reframed as a global ‘pit’ in urgent need of regulation.

    While agreeing with Ostrom’s claim that “there are no common goods which have not been regulated, whose excludability has not been regulated … [through]… socio-political compromises”, Lipietz explains the struggles involved in fostering collective action to protect the global commons – at a planetary scale but with specific reference to the role of the European Union. The interview exposes the spectrum of claims and counterclaims around the development of socio-environmental regulation, the socio-political dilemma of whose access should be regulated and whose should be excluded, as well as the mechanisms capable of breaking the deadlocks of conflicting interests. Ultimately, Lipietz argues that developing effective climate change regulation – and its actual enforcement – will require the backing of a sizeable and assertive ecological political movement.

    Click here to download the full interview.

    Representation in climate change negotiations

    By Vanesa Castan- Broto, on 7 December 2011

    Climate change negotiations in Durban

    Since the 28th of November the COP17[1] meets in Durban, South Africa. This is the main annual climate change event in the world and it is characterized by a frenzy of activity both in international diplomatic negotiations and side events. The history of the COP can be told as a story of diplomatic achievement. Its most significant result, the Kyoto Protocol, is an international agreement adopted in 1997 and ratified in 2005, which “sets binding targets for 37 industrialized countries and the European community for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions” and establishes market-based mechanisms to facilitate low carbon development strategies in less developed countries. In parallel to negotiations, diverse fringe activities animate the COP meeting, both raising the profile of climate change issues among heterogeneous public and inspiring different forms of collective action to tackle the challenge.

    ↑ Photo by: Oxfam international

    However, every year, as the COP approaches, one acquires a sense of dread and frustration. Every year the challenges of climate change seem more pressing than ever. Scientific analysts continue to mount evidence of dangerous climate change impacts, which will ensue the seemingly unstoppable growth of carbon emissions. Moreover, international development organizations warn that climate change has already affected the lives of many vulnerable people, especially in poor nations that lack that institutions or resources to prevent or ameliorate its impacts. And yet, every year, the expectations of the international negotiations seem smaller. There is still no agreement about what will follow the Kyoto Protocol when it expires in 2012. The conference in Copenhagen in 2009 made it clear that, for the main players, the goal of reaching a “legally binding” agreement such as Kyoto was off the agenda. The Copenhagen Accord, drafted by five countries (US, China, Brasil, India and South Africa) only committed to voluntary pledges. After the relatively low key event last year in Cancun, characterized by a lack of leadership, this years’ conference started amidst claims that bullying and bribing where common tactics used by industrialized countries to force developing countries to adopt the Copenhagen accord (arguably in an attempt to neutralize developing countries associating in a powerful multi-country group which could hinder their interests).[2] This year the contributions of the COP to collective efforts to prevent and/or mitigate the climate change crisis are more uncertain than ever. Is this poor state of affairs due exclusively to the obscure maneuvers of certain nations, or rather, is this the only possible result given the nature of these negotiations?

    Climate change and nation states

    At the COP, negotiations take place between nation states. Climate change is now part of a broad spectrum of international environmental issues, which are dealt with in a multilateral fashion, albeit one that has gained prominence beyond the political sphere. However, the realities of climate change do not respect administrative and political barriers. Climate change is by definition a global phenomenon. Its consequences are not confined to geographical regions, let alone to nation states. The long drought this summer in east Africa, which has resulted in a severe food crisis affecting millions of people in Kenya, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Somalia, is a compelling example of the boundless nature of climate change, not only in terms of its impacts but also regarding its consequences. Millions of people have moved across the regions raising political tensions across borders.

    On the other hand, the biggest challenge to nation-states pertains to the political economy of a nation-state based political system. Tensions emerge not only between countries, but also, within countries. Do nation-states actually represent the people they say they represent? In Europe and America, new social movements such as the Occupy movement dispute the unquestionable nature of representative democracy. Without challenging the political system itself, questions of nationhood also emerge when social identities and livelihoods of social groups are not easily confined to the territories delimited by national boundaries or conflict with what is perceived as the national interest. Last week the Observer reported that nomadic pastoralists in Uganda were threatened not only by the increased frequency of droughts in east Africa but also by the pressure of Ugandan policies to make the nomads settle.[3] In this case, the nation state is not only ineffective or even harmful to address their climate-related vulnerabilities, but also, it does not represent them in international negotiations. As extreme weather events intensify, climate change related migration and political conflicts will also increase. This can only step up the pressure over policy mechanisms grounded on the nation state ideals challenging the appropriateness of this political arrangement to deal with global environmental challenges.

    Can we move beyond nation states in taking climate change action?

    Finding solutions at the local level has been a strategy for many actors who feel dissatisfied with the slow progress of national climate change action (or lack of thereof). For example, a popular climate change event which preceded the 2010 COP in Cancun was the World Mayors Council for Climate Change, where mayors not only boasted about what their cities do for climate change but also they tried to coordinate their action through the Mexico City Pact which created a Carbon City Climate Registry at the Bonn Centre for Local Climate Action and Reporting.[4] The increase saliency of city networks that promote and enable climate change action in cities around the world, such as the C40 supported by the Clinton Foundation or ICLEI Local Governments for Sustainability just to name a few, shows not only potential for coordination but also the germen of new forms of global environmental governance. Moreover, there is evidence of action taken at the local level including community groups and civil society organizations who get their hands dirty in energy efficiency strategies and microgeneration projects or private companies whose operations are now shaped by attempts to future proofing their businesses. However, while localized initiatives may change societal visions and expectations, they are not specifically intended to mediate a global agreement with obligations for emissions reductions and mechanisms to guarantee the safety of the poorest and most vulnerable populations.

    But how can global environmental governance move beyond the constraints of nation states negotiations? International organizations such as those embedded in the United Nations system depend on the wishes of their members, nation states, and thus reproduce multilateral negotiations systems such as those in the COP. International NGOs, who have made great efforts to raise awareness and resources across countries, are not meant to represent society as a whole, but rather, they represent specific values or interests in society, and cannot negotiate on behalf of broader publics. International grassroots movements, such as Shack/Slum Dwellers International,[5] represent their members directly and have had a great impact in evictions and slum upgrading. They can also have a definitive impact on implementing action to build in resilience and protect vulnerable people, but emissions reduction is down the bottom of their priority list (even though there is an important argument to relate climate change responsibilities with urban inequalities which co-evolve within the same economic system).

     ↑ Photo by: Oxfam international

    In this landscape, I wonder how the excluded and the disempowered could be effectively represented in climate change negotiations. For some anxious commentators it seems that climate change can only be addressed by displacing political struggles and pass on the power to the experts (so that experts become the sole depositors of the world’s hopes). For others, the urgency of this challenge may require solutions overlooking the diversity of cultures, values and opinions, which characterize human life across regions. These are, of course, unacceptable routes. Instead, one would seek to find solace in the maxim that unprecedented challenges require matching unprecedented action. Action will no doubt build upon the bottomless enthusiasm and commitment that organizations and communities show in relentless action for climate change; in persuasive fantasies about finding the ultimate win-win design or technology solution; and in the creative redefinition of social movements and their impact through the rise of social media. In conclusion, it seems that the most vulnerable people lack a voice in Durban. In my view, a just sustainable future will not be achieved in a forum like Durban but in multiple actions for climate change which take place regardless of the success of international negotiations.


    [1] The 17th Conference of the Parties (COP17) to the United Nations
    Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the 7th Session of the
    Conference of the Parties serving as the Meeting of the Parties (CMP7) to
    the Kyoto Protocol.
    [2] A report for the charity the World Development Movement by Ronnie Hall
    analysed wikileaks cables and other documents (Hall, R. (2011) The end game
    in Durban? How developed countries bullied and bribed to try to kill Kyoto)
    [3] Vidal, J. (2010) Uganda: nomads face an attack on their way of life,
    The Observer, Sunday 27 November 2011 http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment
    [4] The city register is hosted at http://carbonn.org/
    [5] See http://www.sdinet.org/