Engaging citizens in environmental politics:
The role of conflict in generating urban change

Is climate change adaptation and the transition towards more sustainable cities possible without conflict?

In this conversational keynote Robin Leichenko and Amanda Machin present two cases of efforts to develop inclusive approaches for fostering urban sustainability.

Robin shares her study of efforts to incorporate equity in urban climate-change adaption planning in New York city, and Amanda looks at the Climate Change Citizen Assemblies that are being introduced in cities across the world.

While such inclusive approaches hold the promise of a harmonious world in which local communities can have a say in the decisions and policies that affect them, Amanda and Robin point to how conflict between different visions, objectives and goals is always present.

However, far from being solely obtrusive, conflict – they argue – might enliven the debate and stake out new avenues for urban change.

Bringing equity into climate change adaptation planning in cities:  Conflict, cohesion, and transformation

Robin Leichenko, Rutgers University

The goal of equitable adaptation and resilience has become central to climate change planning in cities worldwide. Yet conflicts and contentions often emerge in these efforts, particularly when resiliency plans and objectives of public officials and developers conflict with the resiliency goals and visions of local community groups.

Conflicts over adaptation and resilience planning can also arise within local communities, especially in situations where communities encompass a diversity of groups with competing views and aspirations for what a resilient future might look like.

This talk will discuss efforts to incorporate equity in urban adaptation planning, focusing on conditions where conflicts can arise, as well as opportunities and pathways for cohesion and transformation. The talk will draw from the growing literature on equity in climate change adaptation planning and on case study research on equity-based adaptation in New York City. 

Robin Leichenko is professor at the department of Geography at Rutgers School of Arts and Sciences, USA. She is interested in economic geography and human dimensions of global environmental change. Her work examines how and why processes of global economic and environmental change differentially affect cities, regions and sectors, and the implications of these processes for questions of vulnerability, equity, and sustainability. Current and recent projects investigate three inter-related issues: economic vulnerability and resilience to climate change; economic and social equity implications of climate change impacts and adaptation; and the interplay between global change processes, housing markets, and urban spatial development.

Sustainability, Agony and Rupture: The Illusion of Consensus in the Climate Citizens’ Assembly

Amanda Machin, University of Agder

Cities are key drivers not only of climate change, but also of climate politics and policy. One instrument that has been implemented in cities around the world to discuss and legitimize climate policy and to facilitate a shift to urban sustainability is the Climate Citizens’ Assembly (CA).

In this talk I consider the tendency of Climate CAs to be orientated towards consensus. This orientation, I argue, undermines both the inevitability and the value of disagreement in democratic climate politics.

Political disagreement around environmental issues – in the form of ‘agony’ (from inside) and ‘rupture’ (from outside) – is crucial for a democratic, engaging, passionate, creative and representative sustainability politics.

The question this provokes is how political disagreement can enliven urban climate politics without ultimately destroying the forums in which it is expressed.

Amanda Machin

Amanda Machin is an Associate Professor at the Department of Sociology and Social Work at the University of Agder, Norway. Machin is a political sociologist with a specialisation in environmental politics and​ radical democracy. After completing her PhD at the University of Westminster, London, supervised by Chantal Mouffe, she has held various positions at universities in Germany. Machin’s work is oriented around the dynamics, identifications and discourses of socio-ecological transformation and the role of human bodies in politics. She has developed a model of ‘ecological agonism’ in which democratic disagreement over environmental issues is understood to be crucial in provoking the emergence of alternatives, disrupting unsustainable conventions, and engaging citizens in a lively politics.