Climate change, uncertainty and the city — Lyla Mehta


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CLIMATE CHANGE, UNCERTAINTY AND THE CITY: Challenges and opportunities for transdisciplinary co-production and transformation.

The keynote lecture of the Realising Just Cities 2019 conference, delivered by Professor Lyla Mehta, Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex, UK, and Visiting professor, Norwegian University of Life Sciences
Recorded at The Diamond, University of Sheffield, 17 October 2019.

The scale and impacts of climate change remain deeply uncertain. This is particularly true at the local level, where climate-related uncertainties combined with unequal capitalist growth trajectories often exacerbate social and political inequities and the vulnerabilities of marginalised communities.

Policy makers and scientists tend to draw on quantitative assessments, models and scenario-building to understand and capture climate-related uncertainty. But these are often disconnected from how local people – particularly those living at the margins – make sense of and cope with uncertainty.

By drawing on research conducted in India, this presentation focuses on how climate change and uncertainty are understood and experienced from ‘below’ by the lived experiences of local people, how they are conceptualised and represented from ‘above’ by climate scientists and experts and how the ‘middle’ – civil society, NGOs, academics – can potentially function as brokers between the ‘below’ and ‘above’.

Uncertainty can be epistemic, ontological and linked to broader political economy conditions. Often official efforts to deal with uncertainty are highly policiticised and can increase the vulnerabilities of marginalised groups.

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While uncertainty can lead to anxieties about the future, I conclude by exploring whether it can also provide an opportunity for hybrid alliances to co- produce transformation and structural change in unequal and marginal urban spaces characterised by climate related uncertainties.

Lyla Mehta is a Professor at the Institute of Development Studies, UK, and a Visiting Professor at Noragric, Norwegian University of Life Sciences.

She trained as a sociologist (University of Vienna) and has a Ph.d. in Development Studies (University of Sussex). She uses the case of water and sanitation to focus on the politics of scarcity, gender, human rights and access to resources, resource grabbing, power and policy processes in rural, peri urban and urban contexts. Her work also focusses on climate change and uncertainty and forced displacement.

She has extensive research and field experience in India and southern Africa and is currently leading a Belmont / Norface / EU / ISC project on Transformations as praxis in South Asia. Her most recent book is Water, Food Security, Nutrition and Social Justice (Routledge, 2020).

This lecture was sponsored by Mistra Urban Futures as part of the 2019 Realising Just Cities UK programme.
Urban Institute, University of Sheffield and Mistra Urban Futures



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