On 4-5th May, adelphi was at the Resilient Cities Congress 2017 in Bonn to speak on an IDRC panel on ‘Violence and Climate Change in Cities’. The session was a unique and much required discussion on the interactions between climate change and conflict in urban settings.
While research on climate change and urban violence are independently strong, few research or dialogue efforts have been made to link the two and understand the linkages between them. The panel brought together experts in these two fields to discuss and reflect on whether, where, and how climate change adaptation and urban violence intersect and interact. It tested assumptions about the potential connections between climate change adaptation and urban violence, and identified some of the gaps in the knowledge base and potential entry points for future research and action.
What is it that makes cities so special when it comes to climate and fragility risks?
From a climate perspective, the concentration of populations, infrastructure, economic activity and services means that social, economic and political impacts of climate change in cities are exacerbated.
From a conflict perspective, cities put a spotlight on inequality just through the sheer proximity of rich and poor – often with the wealthiest and the poorest living side by side. Inequalities have increased in 75 percent of the world’s cities in the past 20 years (OECD 2016). In a fragile context, where inequality, poverty and marginalization are drivers of grievance and conflict, climate impacts make any such inequality even more apparent, as it is often the poorest who live in the most exposed areas (such as flood plains).
Based on our research, adelphi outlined three issues of particular significance: weak governance; informal settlements and economies; and migration.
1. Weak governance: Most urbanization will occur in lower-income countries, many of which are classified as ‘fragile states’. While in principal, cities can absorb new entrants and provide them in many cases with employment, this is harder to ensure in fragile states where governance capacity is already weak or strained. Even relatively robust governments may struggle to provide jobs, housing and services to meet the rates of need of their rapidly growing populations. Where the government is absent or incompetent, local groups, from the benign (NGOs, labour unions, religious groups) to the malignant (organised crime cartels and terrorist organizations), step into the void.
2. Informality of shelter, communities, and economies: Inhabitants of informal settlements are often particularly exposed to climate impacts. Without adequate governance of in-migration to cities, the number of people living in slums has been projected to triple by 2050 by UNDESA. Informal settlements, and informal economies, which often thrive within them, can indeed be a source of resilience through the strong social capital and cohesion present within these communities. But the informal nature of those economies does not provide much in the way of governance, stability or predictability. Addressing the particular vulnerabilities and harnessing the dimensions of resilience of slum/shack dwellers is thus of particular importance in ensuring stability.
3. Migration: is another important trend that converges in cities. It overlaps with other pressures such as inequality and climate change in complex ways. For example, climate change may contribute to rural-urban migration. Migration can offer opportunities for fostering resilience, for example through remittances. It can also pose a risk to migrants in urban settings since a disproportionate number of slum/shack dwellers are migrants and are exposed to greater climate vulnerability. A more nuanced understanding of migration strategies is required to foster positive migration in the face of climate-fragility risks.
What can cities do to be more resilient to climate and security risks?
Facing these challenges requires innovations in governance. At the moment, the international system is set up to act on a state-to-state basis. City leaders are forging networks within and across international boundaries to address shared problems, including climate change. However, national governments and multilateral agencies such as the UN are not organized to work with city-level governance mechanisms. They are still organized around working with nation states, which limits the scope for devolved decision making and consultative engagement at the city level.
We are also in an unprecedented era of global frameworks, which offer real opportunities to promote resilience. But the SDGs, the ‘New Urban Agenda’ and the ‘Sustaining Peace’ agenda all have gaps when it comes to addressing this nexus of climate change, cities and fragility. The SGDs have an urban goal (SDG 11) and a peace and security goal (SDG 16) and the ‘New Urban Agenda’ makes reference to ‘conflict and post-conflict contexts’. But the city is absent in the ‘Sustaining Peace’ agenda, and the ‘New Urban Agenda’ doesn’t provide a substantive guide on how to address urban violence and conflict.
To ensure that policy responses genuinely address the complex risks posed to cities by climate change and fragility, we need to realise that climate change and conflict prevention activities do not operate in a vacuum in cities such as Karachi, Nairobi or Kabul.
The panel all agreed that climate change and peacebuilding need to take account of city dynamics. Similarly, urban planning and development need to be climate and conflict sensitive. That is to say, resilient cities efforts must understand the complex dynamics of cities, the conflict dynamics, and the political economy: Who holds power when land and resource rights are not clearly defined? How will an urban planning intervention such as a slum upgrading programme affect social dynamics such as social cohesion? What can build resilience? To do so, the resilient cities community need only look to the peacebuilding and climate adaptation sphere for existing tools to understand conflict and climate vulnerability.
There was also consensus in the room on the need for greater localization. The gaps in the global frameworks illustrate the need for greater localization of global and national development efforts at the urban scale. This would require a transformation of the way the UN system and many donor agencies operate, e.g. recognizing the role of urban authority (that remains absent in many agreements) and building local urban capacity. This also requires greater contextual knowledge of city actors (such as mayors, urban dwellers, municipalities and urban conflict dynamics).