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How can local innovation respond to climate change in cities?

NickAnim31 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

The Meaning of Solidarity

Étiennevon Bertrab13 March 2015

Protestors outside Downing Street in London, February 2015. Image: Étienne von Bertrab

Protestors outside Downing Street in London, March 2015. Image: Étienne von Bertrab

For me, the most significant definition of solidarity is expressed in the words of Eduardo Galeano’s, the  extraordinary yet humble Uruguayan writer:

“Charity humiliates because it is practiced vertically and from above; solidarity is horizontal and implies mutual respect”

This is what many of us, upset about the state visit of Mexico’s president Enrique Peña Nieto last week to the UK, found not only in the streets, but in lecture theatres in UCL, LSE, SOAS, Queen Mary University, and several other public spaces.

The other pleasant surprise was the discovery, at least for me, of Jeremy Corbyn, MP, who was the most outspoken about this state visit (the Queen has two of these per year) in light of the ongoing human rights crisis in Mexico, which the Mexican state has been contributing towards in a significant manner.

The two videos featured in this post say a lot. The first (in English), about the protest on the first day of Peña Nieto’s visit; the second (mixed English and Spanish), about the extraordinary discussions held in universities in the space of just one week.

Finally, while the bilateral Dual Year Mexico-UK insists on focusing on trade and investment – and yes, also a bit of education, culture, and nice arts and yummy food – a growing number of people, including 44 members of the UK Parliament, insist that without addressing the pressing issues that affect Mexican society, this initiative is at best misguided, and at worst a slap in the face to Mexican society at large.

In Mexico traditional media is highly controlled or pro-government (supporting whoever is in power). In the UK, Mexico has been afforded very little attention in the media, though this is changing.

For this reason, we have created this site with meaningful, trustworthy information of what really goes on in Mexico, all in English, with the hope of educating and increasing awareness: www.ukmx2015.org

I invite you all to visit the pages and simply to watch and read some of the content, in solidarity.


Étienne von Bertrab is a Teaching Fellow at the DPU and a guest lecturer in universities in Mexico. He also works as a consultant in the UK and in Mexico, where he has been a social activist for ten years. Twitter: @etiennista

How can social media help assert citizenship rights?

OlusegunOgunleye5 March 2015

The use of social media by people to assert their citizenship rights and make demands of their government has been enabled through the emergence of a variety of platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, change.org and avaaz.org.

This can be traced back to incidents such as the Arab Spring, and the ‘Occupy’ movements seen in some western countries such as the United States of America (Occupy Wall Street being perhaps the best known). More recently political crises in Spain and Greece, and significant campaigns such as #bringbackourgirls and Je Suis Charlie have found a global audience online. Social media as a mobilising tool continues to gain in currency.

The successes of social media have varied from locality to locality based on different factors and contexts. What cannot be denied is that such practices have increased the ability of citizens to rally around solidarity not only locally but global issues.

Source: Punch Newspaper | Credit: Olatunji Obasa

Source: Punch Newspaper | Credit: Olatunji Obasa

#bringbackourgirls: Global visibility shrouds local action

One recent incident that is especially close to home for me, as a Nigerian, has been the #bringbackourgirls campaign. This originated in Nigeria due to the kidnap of 276 girls by the Boko Haram sect from a school in Chibok located in North-eastern Nigeria on April 14, 2014.

Reflecting on the #bringbackourgirls campaign: its gains were its ability to solicit global support and situate the blight of those impacted by the Boko Haram insurgency into the international consciousness. However, its key pitfall has been the inability to elicit concrete response and action from the Nigerian government.

My conclusion is that the reason for this can be attributed to several factors among which is the fact that the global support garnered was not matched by sustained local pressure. Additionally the politicisation of the issue by both the government and the opposition has meant that in the process the voice of the victims been muted somewhat.

Silencing the victim’s voice

Before delving further into reasons for the limited success of the #bringbackourgirls campaign, I would like to expand on this critical issue; the silencing of the victim’s voice, which came to the fore. This is not particular only to the #bringbackourgirls campaign but its reflective of various mass movements of activism in the developing world.

Vyncent Elvin Eebee highlighted this in an article titledFor Whom Does the Speaking Woman Speak?, where she concluded that rural women’s voices are submerged by the voice of urban female advocates, which result in rural women becoming invisible due to the articulation of their voices by the other.

She further stated that when the rural woman participates in action, it is upon trumpeted and highly advertised invitations, which are not conducive to effective participatory mass movements.

To me this was visible in the #bringbackourgirls campaign, because these trumpeted and highly advertised invitations were tools utilised by the campaigners, government, and the opposition to publicise themselves while the plea of the victims was not concretely tackled.  

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The ‘digital divide’

In my opinion key factors that contributed to the limited success of social media in Nigeria and developing countries as a whole relate to the digital divide.

This is not only in terms of penetration but also with regards to access and understanding of how to utilise these tools and platforms, especially when the literacy rates in many countries are taken into consideration.

This was reflected upon by Merridy Wilson who acknowledged that

“the problem of the growing technology and/or knowledge gaps between and within countries, places certain groups of people further in the shadow regions of global information flows. These gaps persist both at the level of access to ICT infrastructure, and in terms of the form of information conveyed and who is able to use, understand and produce the information and knowledge which ICTs potentially make accessible.”

We need conscious, strategic approaches to effectively use social media for change

My conclusion therefore is that social media can become an enabling and transformative tool for people to assert their citizenship rights and make demands in developing countries, such as Nigeria. But it calls for prudent adaptation of techniques and tactics for effective strategies towards mass mobilisation.

This can only be attained by being conscious of local realities in the African continent, as in other climes, and supported by concerted and sustained pressure on ground to match the global support a social media audience provides.

What this therefore requires, as put in the words of Andrew Burkett,

“are much more difficult, time-consuming and probably not as glitzy as ICT development efforts – that is, political will, recognition of personal and social responsibilities, and ultimately action on the part of governments and civil society.”


Olusegun Ogunleye is a development practitioner with several years working experience in the field of town planning in Nigeria. He has also taken part in urban-based research in Nigeria, London and, Dar es Salaam. His passion lies in the area of urban governance as he sees it as a veritable tool to ensure and enhance the wellbeing of citizens. He also believes in the potential inherent in community-led development as a means of ensuring sustainable development. Olusegun graduated from the MSc Urban Development Planning in 2014.