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Understanding and Supporting Climate-sensitive Decision Processes in Southern African Cities Review

Find out about recent research on how climate information is brought to bear on decision-making in southern African cities. Development of sustainable cities needs to be based on robust climate information while also involving local communities.
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Durban, South Africa viewed from above.
Durban, South Africa. Image credit Planet Labs, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 (July 18, 2016) https://commons.wikimedia.org/

Summary

This paper reviews recent research on how climate information is brought to bear on key city development and urban management decisions in southern African cities, with a focus on the key actors and partnerships involved, illustrated through the cases of Lusaka and Durban. It challenges the emphasis on co-producing decision-support tools, arguing in favor of using such tools in the pursuit of engagement and collaboration across formal and informal actors that shifts the power dynamics of decisionmaking shaping southern African cities.

For cities to develop in ways that are sustainable, climate-resilient and equitable, considerations of climate variability and change must factor into planning, investment and management decisions. Doing so requires robust, actionable climate information and the capabilities and mechanisms to integrate climate information into complex technical and political urban decision-making processes, with key roles for local governments and universities. Southern African cities are marked by rapid urbanization, weak economies, severe infrastructure deficits, high levels of inequality and informality, and undercapacitated governments and scientific institutions.

This weADAPT article is an abridged version of the original text, which can be downloaded from the right-hand column. Please access the original text for more detail, research purposes, full references, or to quote text. The original document is available in the journal Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability through Science Direct and published by Elsevier under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs (CC BY-NC-ND) basis.

This is part of a broader area of work within the FRACTAL Project

Introduction

A growing number of co-production processes supported by decision-support tools, underway in the region, create spaces for engagement and learning about how climate risk features in urban decision-making processes. This paper reviews recent research on how climate information is brought to bear on key city development and urban management decisions in southern African cities, with a focus on the key actors and partnerships involved, illustrated through the cases of Lusaka and Durban. It challenges the emphasis on co-producing decision-support tools, arguing in favor of using such tools in the pursuit of engagement and collaboration across formal and informal actors that shifts the power dynamics of decision- making shaping southern African cities.

Rapidly growing southern African cities face significant climate risks posed by existing climate variability and extremes within a context of severe infrastructure and public services deficits, weak local economies, high unemployment, meagre public budgets and widespread informality. Already, many cities experience the negative impacts of climate related extremes, including flooding, water-borne disease outbreaks, drought, power outages and food insecurity. Many of these climate impacts are projected to intensify over the coming decades unless considerable investment is made, and action is taken. As such, the need to factor climate risks into the decisions that shape the development and management of cities is clear.

Review findings

First the review discusses how the climate and urban agendas intersect in southern Africa, highlighting widespread climate risks, especially in informal areas, and weak devolution of policy making, resourcing and implementation to the local level. We point to the need to take seriously the scale and significance of informality and auto-construction in southern African cities, that is, large numbers of people building dwellings and livelihoods in conditions not (or minimally) regulated and provisioned by the state, when comparing with or transferring lessons from climate policies and plans in cities of the global North.

The third section reviews what multi-scalar climate information is relevant to decisions shaping cities and how coproduction processes can integrate such information into decision-making. It supports an increasing recognition that a linear, supply driven flow of climate information has limited impact on decision outcomes. Instead, stakeholder engagement and knowledge co-production is being shown to increase the integration of climate information in decision-making. But navigating complex power dynamics is challenging. In sections four and five the cities of Lusaka in Zambia and Durban in South Africa are used to demonstrate what climate-sensitive decision-making at the city scale entails. Both cities provide documented evidence of co-productive efforts to enhance climate resilience yet are different in the extent and ways in which the climate agenda has developed locally. Lusaka provides a clear illustration of how co-producing climate risk information can shift the policy narrative, from water supply insecurity to hydro-power shortages affecting water distribution. Durban reveals the importance of sustained efforts to build the capacities and partnerships needed to integrate climate information into measures that address informality and inequality in the city.

The review concludes by proposing to invert the dominant view within the climate domain of co-production processes being the means to create better climate information products and decision-support tools. We suggest that, in complex southern African urban contexts, products and tools can be used as a means to enhance the engagement processes needed to stimulate learning and action. Instead of focusing on climate information products and decision-support tools as being the key to driving decisions that enhance climate resilience, we argue that sustaining co-production processes through which diverse and fragmented actors build mutual understanding and collaborative capacities is key to promoting coordinated decisions and actions to build urban climate resilience.

For further details please see the full document via the ‘Featured Download’ link in the right-hand panel.

Conclusion

Lusaka and Durban illustrate where diverse, emergent and grounded knowledge co-production processes have been central to building a city-scale southern African climate agenda. However, being necessarily iterative and non-linear, co-production approaches are resource intensive and can also surface or compound inequalities, just as easily as they can empower and support.

Finding ways to engage both the formal and informal parts of the city in understanding climate risks and coproducing workable adaptation options is proving challenging yet essential. This demands new thinking and skills within the climate services community to support climate-sensitive decisions at the city scale in southern Africa. Many operating in the climate services space promote engagement and cooperation as a means to developing a tailored decision-support product or tool. Developing or adapting a climate information product, tool or resource is still widely assumed to get to a better decision and thereby decision outcome.

Our review highlights the impact of major informality, weak urban governance structures, and severe capacity constraints in understanding and supporting climate-sensitive decision processes in southern African cities. We argue for the need to invert the emphasis on co-production processes being the means to produce better climate information products to support decision making.

Instead we suggest that decision-support products (like climate projections, climate risk narratives and water resource models) need to serve cooperation and engagement processes that stimulate learning and action between diverse state and non-state actors, while addressing the complex power dynamics at play. This should not risk co-production becoming an end in and of itself without societal impact.

Processes of co-production, engagement and learning build the relationships, trust, capacities and reciprocity that are critical to arriving at more robust and climate resilient decisions and associated actions. At the same time, these processes must grapple with and reflect the differing priorities and interests inherent in rapidly growing, highly unequal cities developing within a changing climate.

Suggested Citation

Taylor A., Jack C., McClure A., Bharwani S., Ilunga R. and Kavonic J. (2021). Understanding and supporting climate-sensitive decision processes in southern African cities
Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability, Volume 51, (2021), pp. 77-84.
https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cosust.2021.03.006

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