International collaboration to understand climate change risks and responses in African cities

Some 35 specialists in African urban climate change from across the African continent and beyond came together in the Geography Department at Royal Holloway, University of London, on 16th and 17th April 2013 for a workshop entitled: Bearing the brunt of environmental change: understanding climate adaptation and transformation challenges in African cities.

The combination of rapid population growth, major infrastructure deficits and widespread informality, overlaid with changing climate conditions, creates chronic levels of risk in most African cities. Yet our knowledge and understanding of the processes of systemic change in African urban areas (the inter-relationships between socio-cultural, economic, political and environmental factors) remain inadequate and patchy, being focused on a few large coastal and capital cities. This severely limits the effectiveness of policy and planning interventions. In an attempt to address this gap, the workshop brought together researchers and practitioners (notably government officials and architects) from across Africa, who are often isolated in particular cities, countries and linguistic communities. They shared experiences, identified similarities and differences between cities, and discussed the extent to which generalisations across national and regional boundaries are appropriate. The African cities (re)presented at the workshop were Algiers, Tunis, Bobo-Dioulasso, Accra, Lagos, Dar es Salaam, Lusaka, Maputo, Chokwe, Xai-Xai, Gauteng City Region, Durban, and Cape Town. Collecting and contrasting these perspectives will enrich our understanding and open new horizons for urban change theory and relevant applied communities of practice. Anna Taylor, a Mistra Urban Futures researcher from the African Centre for Cities at the University of Cape Town, participated in the workshop and presented on sources of institutional inertia that constrain attempts to tackle climate change in Cape Town.

Planned outputs from the workshop include: a policy brief to be translated into French, Portuguese and Arabic; an overview article to be submitted to a journal covering academic and practitioner communities; and a proposal for a special issue of Urban Studies. New contacts and shared interests are also likely to lead to new joint research grant applications.

The workshop was organised by David Simon and Hayley Leck and funded by the Urban Studies journal, with additional co-funding from UN-HABITAT, the Urban Climate Change Research Network, the Urbanization and Global Environmental Change project of IHDP, the ACC DAR project of La Sapienza University of Rome, and the African Studies Association of the UK.

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