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The social dimension of urban adaptation: justice and fairness

Sander Chan discusses the need for socially just and fair outcomes of urban adaptation to benefit people who are the most affected by climate change.
SANDER CHAN: What makes a city? Is it the bricks, the concrete, the green spaces in between? What really makes a city is its population and their different socioeconomic, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds. Some of the people are well-off, others less so, for instance, the poor, ethnic minorities, and those living in slums. A key question about urban adaptation is, therefore, does urban adaptation result in socially just and fair outcomes?
SANDER CHAN: But what is fair? Some might say fairness is about reducing wealth gaps between rich and poor nations. Others argue that it is about equal access to resources and means to live for all people, also within countries. Others argue that the most disadvantaged groups should benefit the most. We can identify very different outcomes of urban adaptation between cities and within individual cities.
SANDER CHAN: Globally, we see more and more cities stepping up with promises to realise resilient and sustainable development, applying adaptation solutions, such as green buildings and measures to reduce vulnerabilities to floodings and storm surges. However, we also see great disparities between cities in developing and emerging economies and cities in rich countries. Most cities in developing countries spend far less on climate adaptation. This is even more worrying as these cities often grow fast and are already more vulnerable to climate change impacts. By contrast, cities in rich countries spend more on adaptation relatively to their size of their economies and per resident.
The global urban picture shows that adaptation responses are more found in wealthy and relatively less vulnerable cities, rather than in poorer cities that are already badly impacted by climate change. Globally, we therefore need to ask, what are we protecting? High capital investments or the most vulnerable people?
SANDER CHAN: But disparities are not only found between cities. Take the Indian city of Mumbai, for example. The city suffers from increasing heat waves and floodings, but not everyone is vulnerable to the same degree. Vulnerability is mainly accounted for by differences in wealth and socioeconomic status. For many years, the city’s elites have contained themselves from real and perceived health threats. They build roads, railways, and reclaimed land mainly to serve their economic interests. At the same time, necessary investments were not made into sanitation, affordable housing, and clean water systems for the broader population in informal settlements or slums, leaving them exposed to displacements due to extreme weather, but also to new developments by powerful developers.
SANDER CHAN: Urban adaptation is therefore not only a matter of physical infrastructure. It requires a close look at structural mechanisms that may exclude vulnerable populations. On top of that, we cannot ignore questions of institutionalised inequalities and power asymmetries. The planning of urban adaptation needs to redress structural disparities, particularly relating to risks and vulnerabilities experienced by marginalised populations, for instance, the urban poor, slum dwellers, and oppressed minorities.
In this video step, Sander Chan introduces the social dimension of urban adaptation, and two of the most important social concepts that define this social dimension: justice and fairness. After watching the video, can you imagine questions of social justice and fairness arising from climate adaptation measures in your community?

Further reading:

Romero-Lankao P, Gnatz DM, Sperling JB. Examining urban inequality and vulnerability to enhance resilience: insights from Mumbai, India. Climatic Change. 2016 Dec 1; 139 (3-4): 351-65.

Georgeson, L., Maslin, M., Poessinouw, M., Howard, S. (2016) Adaptation responses to climate change differ between global megacities. Nature Climate Change, 584-588.

Shi, L., Chu, E., Anguelovski, I., Aylett, A., Debats, J., Goh, K., Schenk, T., Seto, K.C., Dodman, D., Roberts, D., Roberts, J.,T, vandeveer, S.D. (2016) Roadmap towards justice in urban climate adaptation research. Nature Climate Change, 6 (2), 131-137.

Adger, N., Barnett, J., Brown, K., Marshall, N., O’Brien, K. (2013) Cultural dimensions of climate change impacts and adaptation. Nature Climate Change, 3(2), 112-117.

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Sustainable Cities: Governing Urban Adaptation Under Climate Change

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