Theory, policy and practice perspectives from Royal Holloway


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Habitat III in Quito – a participant’s view

habitat-iiiThe Third UN Summit on Housing and Human Settlements (Habitat III) in Quito this week is bringing together some 50,000 people representing all manner of urban interests from around the world. Coming 20 years after the Second summit in Istanbul, it is intended to set the direction for the UN system’s urban engagements over the next 2 decades through the adoption by world leaders of the New Urban Agenda (NUA).

Although the UN has made progress in recent years in engaging more substantively with non-state actors (UN-speak for everyone and anyone outside of national governments, which constitute the UN membership club), the contradictions and tensions in this arrangement were exposed during the protracted negotiations over the NUA, with some governments opposing the recognition of subnational (i.e. regional and local) governments even though they form part of the state sector. In UN terms, the NUA’s explicit recognition of the importance of urban local authorities and diverse other stakeholder groups as essential actors in any transitions to greater urban sustainability constitutes a major achievement and historic first. The final NUA text can be found at this link.

These distinctions and tensions are also evident in the entry arrangements at the conference site, with government delegates, UN staff and other categories of accreditation having the highest status and fast track entry to the registration and security clearance areas, while ordinary ‘participants’ have had to stand in interminable queues, often in hot sunshine, for literally hours. While what is by far the largest such event ever held in the Ecuadorian capital is inevitably creating bottlenecks, at the single entry and badge issuing locations, the continued delays – meaning that many people have been missing or arriving late for their sessions – has by Tuesday morning led to the event being dubbed Queueto by some frustrated participants. By Wednesday, additional scanners had been installed – but since the number of registered participants was known in advance, the inadequacy of arrangements was baffling. Continue reading


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We are living in the ‘Anthropocene’, but does ‘big business’ care?

The notion of the ‘Anthropocene’, coined and popularised by the atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen, recognises that we are living in a crucial moment in the history with humanity’s relation with the planet.  It conjures a time when we know that our activities are causing escalating environmental and social crises on a global scale, and may have time to do something positive about it, changing our practices to avert impending catastrophe.  There is evidence to suggest that alternative organisations such as cooperatives, new social movements, and social enterprises are gradually expanding their efforts to integrate sustainability objectives into their decision-making.  However, according to Crutzen’s analysis, there is a need for radical changes in the practices of ‘big business’. On this point, the sustainability news is mixed:

CONSUMER PRESSURE

On the one hand many big companies have changed their policies in response to consumer pressure. For instance, Continue reading


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Sustainable Development Goals: Something new or more of the same?

sdg-logoThe 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 169 targets were described by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon as a ‘to-do list for people and planet, and a blueprint for success‘. They are seen as building on the 15 years of the Millennium Development Goals, which succeeded in providing a framework for global development cooperation and achieving significant progress in the reduction of extreme poverty, child and maternal mortality, and improved access to primary education. However, the MDGs were criticised for a top-down, Northern-centric framing of development definitions and development practice.

The SDGs were developed through a much more participatory process than the MDGs, with outputs including A Million Voices: The World We Want report.  This is both a response to previous criticisms, but also reflects the way Continue reading


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What is Progress?

Craig BennettOn February 8th, the Windsor Auditorium was packed with staff, students and guests anticipating an insightful talk by Craig Bennett, CEO of Friends of the Earth for our Annual Sustainability Lecture. The audience was not disappointed. Craig kicked off his lecture by puzzling the audience with his claim that rather than talking about his environmental campaigning work, he would discuss a much more fundamental question that needs to be answered first: What is progress?

So what is progress? According to the Oxford Dictionary, it is a linear movement towards a set destination or a development towards a more modern society. So which one is correct? Craig’s answer: neither. Rather, he believes that progress should not just create a more modern society but a better one. While this seems very close to the common understanding of sustainable development, Craig opposes this notion as he believes that the idea of sustainable development has not led to the changes in politicians’ engagements we need to achieve a better society. Rather, the continuous debate about the “right” indicators for measuring sustainable development distract from the underlying issue: where do we want to go and what is the right path?

So where to go from here? To move forward, we can learn from the past. Referring to the book A Short History of Progress by Donald Wright, Craig talked about the progress traps that many Continue reading


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Project COBRA highlighted by European Year for Development

Paulette Allicock

Paulette Allicock, Makushi farmer, North Rupununi, Guyana. Source: Project COBRA. Creative Commons Non-Commerical No Derivatives Licence.

As world leaders meet in Paris to decide on a worldwide agreement to tackle climate change at the Climate Summit, COP21 (21st Conference Of the Parties) this week, the European Year for Development is reminding stakeholders of the inextricable link between climate action, sustainable development and poverty eradication. The EU initiative emphasises that climate change can’t be stopped without working with people facing against poverty, who are already the most affected by climate change, in developing as well as in developed countries.

In this context, an EU-funded project that is empowering Indigenous communities in South America by supporting and strengthening local solutions to conserve forests in the Guiana Shield, led by Dr Jay Mistry, Reader in Geography at Royal Holloway, Continue reading


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Why COP21 delegates should pay attention to cities

Professor David Simonlogo-cop-21-carr-_small is currently in Paris participating in events linked to the UN COP21 Climate Conference. In his role as Director of Mistra Urban Futures, he has been contributing to workshops and webinars on the importance of cities in achieving global climate goals. Unlike the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Conference, where cities were ‘almost invisible’, the Paris meeting has highlighted the role of urban areas in the sustainability challenges that the world is facing. Rising living standards in urban areas can lead to increasingly unsustainable lifestyles. However, David also stresses the lessons that can be learned from small and intermediate cities; collaboration across political divides is often easier at a local level, and there are numerous examples of good practice which can be shared between cities, but also scaled up. To see David discussing these issues in a webinar on ‘Cities and Mayors Leading the New Climate Economy’ in the Nordic Pavilion, click here [David’s interview starts about 10.30 mins in].


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Low & Zero Carbon (LZC) Energy Technologies & New-Build Housing: The Importance of Including Householders

Recent and forthcoming amendments to the Building Regulations in England and Wales will necessitate an increasing reliance on low and zero carbon (LZC) energy technologies in new homes to meet tougher carbon dioxide (CO2) emission standards; this will have an impact on those that design, build, regulate and live in new homes. Given the shifts in domestic energy technology configurations that this will lead to, it is prudent to consider how interactions between householders and LZC technology develop, as this will influence the success of this shift in terms of the CO2 reductions achieved. Continue reading