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.”

Fast facts:

  • 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


The problem

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.


The solution

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.


Helping people

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.


Spillover effect

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.