Citizens’ voices need to be heard on climate and cities

A woman speaking into a microphone.

Citizens’ voices need to be heard on climate and cities, say researchers at launch of South Asia Sustainability Hub

More dialogue between citizens and politicians is needed to deal with the impacts of climate change and rapid urbanisation in India, according to researchers from India and the UK speaking at a new South Asia Sustainability Hub, launched today in New Delhi.

The South Asia Sustainability Hub joins five other hubs around the world in the Pathways to Sustainability Global Consortium, convened by the UK-based ESRC STEPS Centre. The Consortium aims to link up research and action on environmental and social change around the world. The other hubs are located in China, Africa, Latin America, North America and Europe.

Speakers at the launch event on 28 January included the renowned environmental journalist Palagummi Sainath and the writer and environmentalist Sunita Narain.

At the launch, P. Sainath said that urban development was based on many false assumptions. “Affordable housing has a serious crisis worldwide, but there isn’t anything being done,” he said.

Sunita Narain said she hoped the hub would help to link knowledge and policy. “I’m proud to be a part of this moment. We have a huge challenge of unmet needs,” she said.

“This is a key moment for India as it responds to climate change, rapid urban development and other big environmental and social challenges,” said Prof Pranav N. Desai of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), director of the new South Asia Sustainability Hub. “It is vital to act now to make sure its citizens get a more equal share of the benefits of development. This means listening to poor and marginalised people when we make decisions about the future.”

Prof Ian Scoones, Director of the ESRC STEPS Centre said: “2016 will be an important year for action on sustainability and climate change, but there are many possible ideas and pathways. It is vital that these are debated and created in democratic and inclusive ways.”

Climate and cities

There is a vast difference between how people deal with rising sea levels, floods and droughts, and how these impacts are modelled by scientists and other experts. The gap undermines effective policies and leaves people more vulnerable than they should be, say researchers at the new hub.

The researchers also warn that poorer people in India’s cities are being harmed by the impacts of rapid urban growth and development. Opportunities are being missed to link up water, food and energy services in and around cities.

Floods, droughts and uncertainty

India emerged as a key player in international climate talks in Paris last month. The country has fast-growing energy demands, but many areas are vulnerable to flooding, droughts and other environmental damage linked to climate change.

  • In the Sundarbans, defences against rising sea levels are patchy and many people have lost land and livestock to floods. Long term health and livelihood impacts are being felt in after tropical cyclone Aila hit the region in 2009.
  • Mumbai is vulnerable to sea level rises due to its location near the coast and the loss of mangrove forests.
  • In the drylands of Kutch, people depend on scarce water supplies. Changes in rainfall and drought patterns may seriously affect their livelihoods.

Prof Lyla Mehta said: ‘’Climate change has usually been framed by the ‘Above’ (scientists, modellers and policy makers) and most often ignores the lived realities of people who live with Uncertainties on a day-to-day basis. The Climate Change, Uncertainty and Transformation Project aims to foster wider societal change by unmasking the barriers that Uncertainty poses in bringing about most sustainable, equitable and just societies.’’

Challenges for India’s cities

The urban landscape of many cities in India has transformed, with transport improvements, shopping malls and waste to energy plants. But adverse effects are felt by people in informal settlements and those living at the edges of cities, where there is competition over land and resources.

People’s lives could be improved by sharing skills, ideas and innovative ways of working together, and including vulnerable groups in the planning process, say researchers. “People in cities all over South Asia are creating ideas for how to deal with waste or use water differently,” said Fiona Marshall of the ESRC STEPS Centre, UK. “Listening to these alternatives is a crucial step towards healthier, more sustainable cities.”

The launch is part of a week-long programme of events which include a workshop on climate change and uncertainty, a conference on sustainable urbanisation and a policy-focused workshop on risks and responses to urban futures.


Notes for editors

Contact: Shibaji Bose shibbose@gmail.com – phone: +91 96 740 87 140

The South Asia Sustainability Hub & Knowledge Network (SASH&KN) is launched on 28 January in New Delhi. It is hosted by the Transdisciplinary Research Cluster on Sustainability Studies (TRCSS) at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU).

SASH&KN is the South Asia hub of the Pathways to Sustainability Global Consortium established by the ESRC STEPS Centre, which is based at the University of Sussex and the Institute of Development Studies, UK. Other hubs are being established in Africa, China, Europe, Latin America and North America.

Details of the launch event and speakers are here: http://steps-centre.org/about/global/south-asia/south-asia-hub-launch-event/

SASH&KN and the STEPS Centre are holding three invite-only events in Delhi around the time of the launch:

27 January

Policy workshop on ‘Risks and Responses to Urban Futures’

Project page: http://steps-centre.org/project/urban-futures/

27-28 January

Workshop: Climate change and uncertainty from above and below

This event will address how to overcome the differences between how local people view climate change, and how it is modelled and theorised by scientists and other ‘experts’.

More information: http://steps-centre.org/2016/blog/climate-change-and-uncertainty-from-above-and-below/

29-30 January

An international conference on ‘Pathways to Sustainable Urbanisation’. The conference will address the following topics:

  • Urban sustainability: perspectives and approaches
  • Environment, health and sustainable cities: what next for the ‘nexus’?
  • Growth and urban sustainability
  • Social mobilization and sustainable urban transformation
  • Developing future research agendas: what is to be done?

More information: http://steps-centre.org/2016/blog/international-conference-pathways-to-sustainable-urbanisation/

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