Climate Justice and Urban Change

Authors: Kian Goh*, UCLA
Topics: Urban Geography, Cultural and Political Ecology, Human-Environment Geography
Keywords: climate change, urbanization, social justice, spatial politics, urban theory
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/8/2020
Start / End Time: 3:20 PM / 4:35 PM
Room: Columbine, Sheraton, IM Pei Tower, Terrace Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The central debates in urban studies are neglecting the most urgent issues confronting cities and regions. Recent discourses about general urban processes, historical difference, and planetary-scale urbanization have extended ideas about the urban. But they rarely take, as a primary object of analysis, the intertwined nature of climate change and urban change. Critical conditions, reinforced by the IPCC’s 2018 1.5°C global warming report, should transform core studies of urban processes and places.

Climate change is often considered to be a general process, affecting everyone everywhere. But its impacts are unevenly distributed and experienced. Climate change links general processes and particular impacts and actions, with associated implications for urban theoretical considerations. The concept of climate justice, for example, dislocates discourses of environmental justice, extending previously place-based and locally-experienced injustice to broader and longer spatial and temporal scales and both more generalized and particularized levels of experience and knowledge.

How might climate justice change urban theory? This paper builds on theories of multiscalar urban research and the politics of location to develop a conceptual framework of urban change through the lens of climate justice, illustrated with the author’s empirical research in Southeast Asia, Northeast US, and Western Europe. It concludes with three concepts of urban climate justice: how emerging environmental challenges link particular struggles and broader urban regional processes; how new networks of global and urban environmental governance are formed and refracted across scales; and how propositions for large-scale public climate action invite new concepts of urban justice.

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