Advocating for a Sustainable and Just City
Nonprofit organizations in Sao Paulo, Brazil are organizing a community-based effort that empowers
the city’s poorest to join in dialogue on climate. The project’s full title says
it all, “Advocating for a sustainable and just city: promoting poor people’s
participation in climate change and urban planning policy in Sao Paulo, Brazil.”
- Integrates the issues of housing, poverty reduction and climate change at a policy level
- 3,950 low-income Sao Paulo households benefitted
- 100 grassroots groups and community organizations directly involved
In the past 50 years of Sao Paulo’s urbanization, the city’s poor has been pushed to the
periphery – in favelas, or slums, far from services and often in environmentally sensitive areas such
as floodplains, along ravines and in deforested areas. This not only results in a lower quality of life for
such citizens, it also means that they’re more vulnerable to climate-related disasters such as
flooding, landslides and waterborne diseases. Such problems are only expected to get worse as climate
change progresses. But in Brazil, poorer populations – though certainly impacted by urbanization
policies and climate change – are not typically involved in environmental advocacy.
Local policy must respond to the needs of those most affected by climate change. That’s why
“Advocating for a Sustainable and Just City” is not only educating families in these
communities on housing and climate change, it’s also mobilizing them to influence policy. Workshops
and assemblies feed into participation in public consultations, then dialogue and negotiation with
decision-makers on city planning.
The goal is for Sao Paulo’s favela communities to develop a specific set of local and regional policy
requests that address climate change, while at the same time improving their own living conditions. British
charity CAFOD is spearheading the effort, working with local Sao
Paulo groups Apoio and MDF.
Helping the planet
Sustainable city planning policies that the project hopes to establish include many aspects of
sustainability, such as promotion of a compact city (for, by example, converting abandoned buildings in the
city’s center into social housing), designing low-cost “green” housing that reduces
energy use and waste, and “formalizing” favelas by establishing infrastructure that would
mitigate potential effects of disasters there.
This project’s approach of directly involving disadvantaged communities in policy-making not only
improves lives, it has ripple effects as social capital is built. Poor and excluded citizens are encouraged
to re-envision themselves as protagonists of a sustainable city, then influence policies that literally
shape the city and their own lives. Success would mean reduced climate change risks for the more vulnerable
poor populations of one of the world’s largest metropolises.
Many cities in Brazil and around the world are confronted by challenges similar to those facing Sao Paulo
– in particular, the twin trends of rapid urbanization and increased climate change impacts. This
project could act as a model for how to involve disadvantaged communities, which are disproportionately
affected by climate change, in developing positive policy to adapt to and mitigate its effects.
Images owned by the activity partners, all rights reserved.