We often refer to the 21st Century as an urban century – cities will rise across the globe and define the future trajectories of human civilisation. With millions of people arriving in urban areas in the developing world every month and an estimated 70% of global GDP arising from urban areas, the proposition of an urban century does not seem farfetched. Another defining feature of the 21st Century is climate change’s impact on human civilisations across the globe. Cities in developing countries would be disproportionately affected by the scarcity of water, eccentricity of precipitation and increasing temperatures. The poor and vulnerable would again bear a proportionately higher brunt of these changes and face enhanced vulnerabilities. The past few years have seen an increased number of climate disasters like excessive rainfall leading to massive floods, prolonged spells of drought, rising temperatures and increased frequency of cyclonic formations. Thus, there is an emerging necessity of looking into grassroots initiatives and policy planning focusing on climate justice with issues of the poor and marginalised at the centre to achieve true ecological justice.
It is in this context that the Kerala Institute of Local Administration (KILA), Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung South Asia and ActionAid Association (India) organised the Urban Action School 2022 (UAS’22) from 21st to 27th November at the Thrissur campus of KILA. With the broad theme of “Towards Climate Just Cities”, UAS’22 brought together participants from 17 states across India. The participants came from diverse backgrounds, including grassroots activism, academia, policy-making and civil society groups.
Shri MB Rajesh, Honourable Minister for Local Self Government, Rural Development and Excise, Government of Kerala, inaugurated the UAS’22 in the august presence of Dr T M Thomas Isaac, Former Minister of Finance and Coir, Government of Kerala. Dr Isaac delivered the keynote lecture of UAS’22 and introduced the participants to the debates of climate justice – how disproportionate burdens of the climate crisis and climate action are always borne by those who have no role in causing the crisis. The first three days of UAS’22 focused on classroom learning on the conceptual intersections of the urban equity discourse with climate justice, an overview of the climate crisis in cities of the global south and understanding the debates surrounding climate change-induced loss and damage.
On the fourth day, participants went on field visits to Alappuzha to two sites. First, participants saw and heard about climate-resilient actions such as canal cleaning and solid waste management in Alleppey by CANALPY. Then they proceeded to Kainakary in the Kuttanad region of Kerala, the location of some of the most climate-vulnerable sites. Dalits and poorer sections of Ezhavas were brought as casual labourers to create bunds for land reclamation in these areas and continue to live in these climate-vulnerable spaces. However, with the use of diesel and electric motors in the land reclamation, these groups lost their livelihood and started migrating to Alleppey town to work as casual labourers. The Kuttanad area is highly affected by regular floods every year, which is increasing in magnitude and unpredictability in recent years. This field trip provided a rural-urban connection and exposure to climate-vulnerable rural sites linked to an urban area in Kerala and sites of climate-resilient action in an urban area.
In the final three days, participants unpacked the issues related to urban governance and policies in India in the context of the climate change crisis and galvanising people-centred locally-led climate action in urban areas. Dr V Venu, Additional Chief Secretary Home, Vigilance & Environment, Government of Kerala, joined the UAS’22 for the valedictory session on 27th November 2022. Celebrated academicians and activists, including Prof Wendy Steele, Prof Bharat Dahiya, Prof Michael Tharakan, Soumya Datta, Ritwik Datta, Pradip Chatterjee, Leo F Saldanha and Tikender Singh Panwar, among others, joined the diverse pool of resource persons to conduct the different sessions during these seven days.
This Urban Action School reiterates the need for solidarity with the people worldwide working every day, every moment, to sustain themselves, their families and their communities. As Mr Leo Saldanha rightly pointed out, these 7.5 billion people have had minimal to no contribution in causing the climate crisis. Still, they are the ones facing the major brunt of its consequences. They cannot be just the subjects of our academic and policy endeavours. They are, and they should be recognised as the leaders of global climate justice. This UAS’22 stands in solidarity with their daily struggles, small victories and continued resistance.
Sandeep Chachra, Executive Director of ActionAid Association, states, “The economic and social vulnerability of the urban poor will be further compounded by the heightened exposure to climate change and other associated disaster risks. As India prepares for climate change-induced distress, we must focus on making sustainable and inclusive cities resilient against natural calamities resulting from climate change. The UAS’22 aims to build the momentum for further action on climate justice in cities, focussing on people’s initiative with the participation and leadership of local and marginalised communities.”
For more information, contact: Joseph Mathai | firstname.lastname@example.org | 98101 88022