Exploring interlinks to ensure integrated action
What urbanisation pathways can cities take worldwide, mindful of ecological and social justice concerns? To engage on this closely, Youth for Unity and Voluntary Action (YUVA) organised a roundtable discussion on 13 August 2018. The discussion was led by Gesa Schöneberg, co-author of Humanity on the Move: Unlocking the Transformative Power of Cities, a report published by The German Advisory Council on Global Change (WBGU) in 2016.
Schöneberg began the discussion with a brief factual and visual presentation of global climate challenges, accelerated by the rapid pace of urbanisation world over. By 2050, it is estimated that the population in cities worldwide will exceed 6 billion, from 3.9 billion in 2014. This surge of urbanisation is expected to primarily affect Asia and Africa. India is projected to add 404 million urban dwellers by 2050, much more than China and Nigeria, and Delhi is projected to be the world’s most populous city by 2028. Especially for urban areas around coastlines, such as the Mumbai Metropolitan Region, where the impacts of climate change are already being witnessed on a large-scale and especially by marginalised populations, it is important to consider how interventions can be mindful of ecological concerns. Schöneberg discussed the challenges from urbanisation such as the kind of infrastructure development which leads to path dependences, impact on the environment and resource demand, and growing poverty and socio-economic disparities.
Drawing from the WBGU Report, Schöneberg discussed how we can drive urban development to focus on the concerns of the poorest groups in cities. The answer to this could be found in a normative compass (framework) to promote cities’ development pathways towards a people-oriented form of urbanisation, focusing on sustainable natural life-support systems (such as maintaining global temperature limits, limiting the reach of local environment problems, and so on), inclusion (substantive, political and economic), and by promoting Eigenart (approaches based on the specific character or identity of the city). She highlighted the need to shift from a sectoral to a systemic approach, with interlinks between local and central governments and civil society partners for lasting change. Schöneberg mentioned areas of urban development with largest potential leverage effects (such as urban land use, mobility, decarbonisation, and others) as important points for reimagining strategies, with goals, measures and approaches delineated to monitor change.
Participants at the roundtable discussion put forth their views regarding their vision for a sustainable urban future and the role that change agents can play to drive initiatives. All participants were more or less in agreement that alternative models of development and vision are required to work with an eye on ecological and social justice, with capacity building of multiple stakeholders to address emerging challenges. Climate change mitigation and adaptation are the two common approaches taken towards change. The participants spoke about the importance of working together in an integrated manner, instead of functioning in silos where they are unable to incorporate ecological justice concerns within social justice work. Different actors need to come together, so that varied approaches and perspectives can be incorporated within change endeavours made. Without the people’s participation and support and the growth of active citizens’ groups, it will be difficult to view and debate how systemic and long-term issues can be tackled. Alongside this, the question of accountability of actors polluting the environment and raising emission levels was raised. While informal settlements and communities are most impacted by climate change manifestations (storms, floods, heat waves and so on), the question of sustainability of their habitats was discussed. Models of cities that have already been successful in combating climate challenges were put forth, but the attendees returned to the theme of Eigenart, approaches that best work for a city based on its unique character and context. A participant also mentioned that we can learn important lessons from rural peasant and tribal movements in India too, who have often engaged with governance structures through a participatory approach. The discussion continued with active participation and is just the start of conversations on interventions grounded in social and ecological justice that we hope to continue in future as well.