It’s difficult as an individual, a group or a nation to know how to act when faced with climate change problems. As with other global environmental problems, these challenges are economically, environmentally and socially complex. They come with ethical issues and generate disagreement between different groups of people.
This complexity is particularly apparent in cities where many different groups of people with diverse cultures and perspectives live. And cities, of course, are hot spots for the problems related to climate change.
But the good news is that cities also have the potential to produce solutions to climate change problems because they contain dense networks, technologies and groups of people with diverse perspectives. This was a key message which emerged from the first ever Cities Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change meeting, held in Canada recently.
Science alone can’t provide all the answers or solutions for cities grappling with changing climates and extreme weather. Cities’ social, cultural, economic and historical differences should be considered when planning any climate-related response. And it’s residents, citizens and local authorities who have that context.
That’s where knowledge co-production can be useful. It’s an evolving research process that recognises the importance of multiple knowledge types and perspectives to build a holistic understanding of complex problems.
The Future Resilience of African CiTies and Lands project uses knowledge co-production by gathering together a number of different people from different areas of expertise and ordinary citizens. This was done across nine African cities: Durban, Blantyre, Cape Town, Gaborone, Harare, Johannesburg, Maputo, Lusaka and Windhoek. These groups then consider people’s priorities, cities’ histories and contexts, and what role climate science factors into decisions.
These questions guide our research objectives as people from government, NGOs, civil society groups and academia gather face-to-face to discuss and explore contextual issues and potential solutions.
Putting people at the centre
This process has forced researchers to really take local knowledge into account for each city. We’ve steered clear of a “cut and paste” approach to defining climate risks and responses as much as possible, since each city’s needs and threats are different.