Climate action plans can help tackle injustice and inequality in African cities

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Gina Ziervogel
  • Opinion by Gina Ziervogel (Cape Town, South Africa)
  • Inter Press Service

In its executive summary for policymakers, the report states, “Inclusive governance that prioritizes equity and equity in adaptation planning and implementation leads to more effective and sustainable adaptation outcomes (high confidence).” This is a welcome, albeit long-awaited development.

The report provides widespread evidence in support of a focus on justice across sectors and regions. It reflects the rapidly growing concern about climate justice – both in advocacy circles and in the public debate – and a surge in the amount of information on the subject.

Climate justice arguments include the need to address historical inequalities, challenge established power, and consider different perspectives and needs in planning and implementation. Only by directly tackling these problems can we achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and climate goals.

As outlined in the IPCC’s Africa chapter, Africa is highly vulnerable to climate risks. The continent comes out strongly in discussions of equity and equity, advocating low-carbon development without hampering economic growth.

With their concentration of people and growth, African cities are particularly important places to focus climate action. They have been slow to develop policies and practices for adaptation and mitigation, but there are plenty of lessons globally and within the continent to draw motivation from.

Organizations such as 350.org and Climate Justice Alliance fight for equality and justice, both locally and internationally. We can obtain approximations by studying and understanding these efforts, but we need to make them locally relevant.

Around the world, cities are rapidly incorporating climate action into their plans to reduce emissions and the impact of hazards such as drought, flooding, fires and heat waves.

A few African cities have made progress in building justice and equity in climate response programs. Kampala converts organic waste into briquettes for cooking. This provides an alternative livelihood strategy, reduces the number of trees cut down for charcoal and reduces the amount of waste going to landfill.

In response to the flood risk in the area, Nairobi residents have invested in reducing their exposure. In addition, they have mobilized youth groups to disseminate environmental information and undertake activities such as planting trees to stabilize riverbanks.

Some local governments are stepping up their efforts on climate change. Yet city government responses are often sector-specific and cannot succeed on their own – the challenge is too great and urgent.

More projects and programs are needed that use a collaborative or co-productive approach to achieve the goals of equity and equity. We need to have innovative ways to bring in different sectors and actors – to really hear their perspectives and explore potential solutions. Such an approach may require a safe space for experimentation. In addition, we need to develop methods for scaling urban solutions that ensure that adaptation responses meet the needs of the most at-risk groups in cities, and institutionalize urban planning and implementation strategies.

epistemic justice

Epistemic justice refers to the degree to which the knowledge of different people is recognized. Scientific evidence is abundant that solving complex problems benefits from multiple types of knowledge bases. Yet city governments offer few opportunities to integrate different points of view.

In the context of inequality, it is critical to ensure that the voices of marginalized and at-risk people are heard to generate appropriate locally owned solutions.

The FRACTAL (Future Resilience for African Cities and Lands) project involved a transdisciplinary group of researchers, officials and practitioners working in six cities in southern Africa between 2015 and 2021.

FRACTAL is an example of how city stakeholders and researchers can co-produce knowledge about climate impacts and possible adaptation responses in cities such as Lusaka, Maputo and Windhoek.

While climate science was an important part of the project, the early stages gave participants time and space to share “burning questions” in their cities and decide together how to tackle them.

Some cities developed stories about climate risks to guide future decisions. Others developed climate change planning documents and platforms that thought about adaptation projects through a holistic lens. It is important that participants have built up trust and capacity, so that city actors can continue this work together.

When prioritizing adaptation actions at the urban level, local authorities tend to use criteria based on their frameworks and data, which provide only one perspective. However, more bottom-up data is needed to meet the needs of those most at risk.

Climate justice arguments include the need to address historical inequalities, challenge established power, and consider different perspectives and needs in planning and implementation. Only by directly tackling these problems can we achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and climate goals.

Such data can better capture the challenges citizens face, such as accessing water during droughts or recovering from floods that may have washed away homes and assets.

A recent project in Cape Town attempted to do this. Local activists from low-income neighborhoods collected data on issues surrounding water services and explored various means, including film, comics and maps as ways to share this information with other residents and city officials.

Collaborations between NGOs, researchers and local authorities can enhance the type of data available and contribute to a more nuanced understanding.

For example, Uganda’s National Slum Dwellers Federation collected local data that underpinned the planning and development of solutions to reduce climate risk with sustainable building materials and improve water and sanitation. This work enabled them to negotiate effectively with the local government to support further efforts.

Around the world, cities are rapidly incorporating climate action into their plans to reduce emissions and the impact of hazards such as drought, floods, fires and heat waves. They are also rapidly expanding opportunities to access climate finance.

The time has come for African cities to determine how they will participate in climate action and justice space to ensure they can meet the serious challenges they face.

Gina Ziervogel is an associate professor in the Department of Environmental and Geographical Sciences at the University of Cape Town.

Source: Renewal Africa, United Nations, September 2022

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© Inter Press Service (2022) — All rights reservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service





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