SDI at COP27: Amplifying Voices of the Urban Poor for Transformative Change

by James Tayler

By Ariana Karamallis, Programme Coordinator for Advocacy and Resilience at the SDI Secretariat

From 6 – 18 November, SDI delegates from Kenya, India, the Philippines, Malawi, Zambia, and the SDI Secretariat attended the 27th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP27) in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt. 

Over the past few years, SDI has been steadily building a strong presence in the climate adaptation and justice space – firmly rooted in community-driven climate adaptation and advocacy work carried out by our affiliates on the ground. SDI at COP27 and our participation at the event marked a milestone in our climate work, establishing SDI at COP27 as a key player in the climate space – particularly as it relates to the experiences and needs of and solutions required to address and reduce the impacts of the climate crisis in urban poor communities. COP27 served as an important platform to raise the voices of the urban poor around climate change –- particularly women and youth – showcase their work, action and achievements, and amplify the needs, priorities, and key messages emerging on the ground.

SDI served as a managing partner of this year’s COP27 Resilience Hub, co-hosting an event with GAYO titled “Amplifying Voice from Urban Informal Settlements,” (watch the video of the full session here) and moderating and providing inputs at the closing session, which featured reflections from the director of ICCCAD and Loss and Damage specialist Saleemul Huq, UN High-Level Champions Nigel Topping and Gonzalo Muñoz, and SDI’s former chair, Sheela Patel. The SDI and GAYO session provided space for rich discussions between on-the-ground practitioners and strategic global partners, including inputs from Zilire Luka, director of CCODE Malawi, and Theresa Carampatana, member of the SDI Board and President of the Homeless People’s Federation of the Philippines, Arne Janssen of Cities Alliance, Hellen Wanjohi of WRI Africa, and Christie Kieth of GAIA

Resilience is intimately connected to land ownership. You cannot make a settlement resilient if you don’t have a right to work on the land. This work takes time and investment — for the leaders and community and investment in them as leaders! Money isn’t enough. The community and government have to be empowered to support the issue.” – Theresa Carampatana, member of the SDI Board

“We need to acknowledge that everyone works at different scales and all of that work matters. But to build genuine partnerships between these entities is a painstaking process. Building trust isn’t easy! But it builds ownership and capacity. We have to value this.” – Hellen Wanjohi, WRI Africa

In addition to the above, SDI delegates spoke at over 25 events over the course of the two-week period, sharing experiences and reflections on topics ranging from locally-led adaptation to loss and damage to affordable resilient housing and the development of resilience indicators. No matter where SDI delegates spoke, they always brought with them the unique experience of urban poverty, giving voice to vastly underrepresented issues in climate spaces – that the consequences of the climate crisis have uniquely devastating impacts on urban poor communities, that governments and the international development community must recognise the unique role of cities in addressing the climate crisis, and that the increasing majority of urban residents are and will continue to be informal. 

The good news is that when urban poor communities organise and mobilise, their capacity to catalyse transformative change is immense. But this needs to be supported, replicated and scaled by those in power in order for it to become a reality. And while it is yet to be seen whether those in power are willing to take necessary action, the scales seem to be tipping ever so slightly in favour of justice. Indeed, the agreement by member states to create a fund for loss and damage points towards the power of civil society – who have been pushing to get loss and damage on the climate agenda for decades – to effect change in these spaces, and the degree to which it is increasingly impossible to ignore either the interconnectedness of the climate crisis or the need for solutions that are not only global in nature but address the fundamental inequities of our world. 

While SDI is hopeful about these developments, as well as the increasing support for and commitments to locally-led adaptation, we continue to focus our efforts on demonstrating that urban poor communities across the Global South are already implementing locally-led adaptation work, are capable of managing climate finance, and have many of the solutions required to advance climate justice in our cities. The real work of urban (and global) decision-makers now is to recognise the reality of our rapidly urbanising world and the capacity of its urban poor to effect the change required to achieve the climate-just future we need. We hope that by COP28 we see an increase in commitments from global decision-makers as well as local and national governments to support the work of local communities through increased and institutionalised participation of urban poor communities in climate adaptation planning in cities and increased finance to support locally-led climate adaptation work.

“We need governments and global partners to effectively partner with us – slum dwellers, grassroots communities, urban poor people –  to finance, replicate and scale up the work we have been doing in our communities for decades. We have no choice but to adapt. We are always experiencing loss and damage. These things are our daily reality. Come to us for the answers – we want to help – our lives depend on it.” – Joseph Muturi, chair of the SDI Board