Network Collaborations


Dr. Stephen Marr (Malmö University)

The Practice and Politics of Urban Climate Mitigation and Adaptation Efforts at the Margins 

Funded by: Formas

Co-PIs: Patience Mususa (Nordic Africa Institute), Stephen Marr (Malmö University)

 A warming climate and the increased pace of urbanization across the world are two indisputable facts of the 21st century.  The intersection of these processes impact life for urban residents on issues ranging from food security to the provision of clean energy to the need to safeguard coastal cities from flooding.  These challenges have garnered increased international attention, most prominently in the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals.  As such, cities in the West are seen as the vanguard of innovation in the fight against climate change, while financial and technical support is directed towards climate change “megaprojects” in larger cities across Asia, India, and Africa. 

Though admirable, the aforementioned efforts and aspirations tend to mask a more serious problem with attempts to “climate-proof” cities.  The benefits of climate sustainability interventions led by states, international donors, or privately funded efforts disproportionately accrue to wealthier residents.  As socio-economic disparities increase, both between cities and within them, efforts at climate change adaptation reflect and reify these inequities.  Further compounding these problems is that the most severe effects of climate change are most likely to occur in the cities of the Global South, which are largely ill-equipped in terms of financial resources, functionality of governmental institutions or technical expertise.  And, to the extent that these attributes, exist they funnel up to the largest urban environments, often leaving large swaths of the urban population to fend for themselves.

The aforementioned challenges are of urgent scholastic and policy interest.  The proposed research thus takes as its point of departure high degrees of urban inequality in the context of uneven state presence.  The research project therefore interrogates a set of interrelated questions examining how people at the margins adapt to climate change.  How do urban citizens living with, and in, persistent and pervasive socio-economic, political, and spatial precarity conceive and implement sustainable climate solutions?  How do the capabilities of the state influence individual decision-making?  Do “bottom up” adaptations encourage individual or collective solutions, competition or cooperation?  What can formal institutions learn from solutions that happen “outside” the purview of the state?  

 To address these questions the project adopts a comparative and ethnographic approach deployed over a three year period.  The interdisciplinary research team engages five different urban settings across Europe, Africa, North America.  The African cases include Lilongwe, Maputo, and Lusaka, while Detroit and Malmö are from North America and Europe, respectively.  The project benefits from the extensive research experience each applicant possesses via prior work in their chosen field site.  The research design calls for site-specific ethnographic work conducted individually to interrogate the preceding questions.  The individual work leads to a collaborative cross-regional comparison to identify points of similarity and difference in parts of the world rarely studied together. 


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