Uneven cities, Uneven Climate Change
Climate change meets existing historical and spatial inequalities
From extreme temperatures in the Pacific Northwest to floods and cyclones in parts of South Asia to droughts in South America, we are already experiencing rapid, accelerating climate change. Yet, market-oriented solutions rarely trickle down to the communities most often displaced, destroyed, and devastated by extreme climate events.
The impacts of climate change on urban life are costly and debilitating for all of us, but especially catastrophic for historically marginalised communities. Many cities and marginalised sections of their citizenry have already been grappling with diverse vulnerabilities including acute problems of access to basic urban services like housing, water, sanitation, and transport. Urban areas, especially in the Global South, are turning into the main theatres of climate impacts. This is exacerbated by a global rise in the number and spread of mega cities, migration to urban areas, and concentration of population in urban agglomerations. Climate crises will further compound and aggravate the already existing and historical urban inequalities—social, political, and economic.
Despite this, the two challenges of urban inequality and climate change are often thought of in isolation from one another. While one is considered baggage of the past, the other is the challenge of the future. We argue that the future city cannot be envisioned and its challenges cannot be addressed without looking at existing and historical inequalities and cleavages. Additionally, climate justice requires fair distribution of benefits and costs, access to decision-making, and recognizing existing and historical forms of inequalities.
Building an agenda “from below”
A climate-just future for the city
Social justice movements unfolding in cities across the Global South have long developed narratives, argumentations, and articulations of rights and claims to address these inequalities. What we learn from these articulations is that the social justice movements around the world have already formed latent yet powerful frameworks and on-ground models that speak to the amelioration of the effects of historical and current inequalities, as well as the vision of a future just city. They have, in essence, been working to claim both the access to urban services and resources, as well as space and involvement in reshaping the process of urbanisation. These articulations can help us define the distributional, procedural, and recognitional justice requirements of the city’s climate justice agenda.
Thus, our project — Urban Climate Justice from Below — aims at gathering insights and understandings from grassroots and city-level movements in order to understand the different dimensions of, and linkages between, urban inequalities and the effects of climate change. The project is an attempt to study the significance of urban inequalities for future climate-related imperatives. It is also an attempt to amplify the voices and agendas of already existing social movements from various cities and capture what we could learn from them to attain future urban climate justice. This project is based on the belief that, in order to envision a climate-just future for cities, we need to look at claims being made on the city by the grassroots activists and marginalized populations who are suffering from and resolutely acting against inequalities.
Support for the project
Research supported by:
UBC Department of English Languages & Literatures