Imagining Just Environmental and Climate Futures in Africa May 3-4, 2024, Cornell University Hybrid

On Friday, May 3 and Saturday, May 4, 2024, the Institute for African Development, in collaboration with the Polson Institute for Global Development and the Einaudi Center for International Studies, Cornell University, will host a symposium on Imagining Just Environmental and Climate Futures in Africa. Please see our website for the schedule on Friday and Saturday! The event is fully hybrid, so join us in Mann in person or remotely via zoom

Symposium Schedule (all times are Eastern Standard Time EST)
Overview of Keynote Talks

Overview of Keynotes

Edmond Totin: “Path dependencies shaping environmental and climate futures in African food systems” Friday, May 3 at 9:00 – 9:45 AM, Mann 160

(Abstract forthcoming)

Edmond Totin (Benin) is a social scientist by training. He has expertise in the management of agricultural innovation, climate adaptation and governance. He is a lecturer at the Université Nationale d’Agriculture du Bénin (West - Africa). Before joining the university, Edmond served as a Scientist for policy and institutions at the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) and as project coordinator at Climate Analytics Gmbh, with a leading role in bridging the gaps between climate science and policy. He has a long and engaging experience in climate change and food security across Africa. Edmond served as one of the Coordinating Lead Authors on the AR6-Africa Chapter of the IPCC 6th assessment report. He is also an Associate Editor for Climate & Development Journal, one of the leading platforms in climate sciences.

African Climate Solidarities: Beyond Boundaries W. R. Nadège Compaoré is an Assistant Professor of International Relations (IR) in the Department of Political Science at the University of Toronto. Friday, May 3 at 1:00 – 2:30 PM, Mann 160

On September 6, 2023, African leaders issued a global call to action on climate change at the inaugural Africa Climate Summit held in Nairobi. The Nairobi Declaration prominently called for climate action funding from international financial institutions, including the operationalization of loss and damage funds. This regional approach to climate justice speaks to a vision of collective futures, rooted in continental solidarities, and seeks to challenge western interests in the global fight against climate change. However, with Africa’s top economies predominantly being oil and mineral economies, to what extent can we speak of a collective African climate justice, while African states remain rooted within an extractivist agenda? How can we re-imagine African societies beyond this extractivist logic? I suggest that seeking collective, just, climate futures in Africa requires an imaginary that goes beyond boundaries. I invite us to rethink African climate solidarities through three intertwined pathways, as a way to move beyond boundaries. First, thinking beyond disciplinary boundaries is paramount. For instance, trained in political science, I am especially informed by Black geographies and afro-feminist epistemologies, in seeking to reframe what we understand by African climate solidarities, and as a way to unlock an imaginary beyond the limits of the state-centred, extractivist landscape embedded in the Nairobi Declaration. Second is thinking beyond spatial boundaries, in order to rethink environmental solidarities between Africa and the diaspora, thus challenging the territorial frontiers evoked in current conceptualizations of African climate justice. Third, thinking beyond temporal boundaries is at the core of this invitation, and calls for us to be unbound and to lean into afrofuture imaginaries of just climate solidarities.

W. R. Nadège Compaoré is an Assistant Professor of International Relations (IR) in the Department of Political Science at the University of Toronto. Her work lies at the intersection of critical IR theory, African politics, global extractivism, gender and race in IR. Her current work includes two main projects. The first investigates dynamics between global resource governance initiatives and claims of sovereignty by states and communities affected by resource extraction in Africa. The second investigates connections between Pan-Africanism and Black Female Internationalism. She is co-editor of New Approaches to the Governance of Natural Resources: Insights from Africa (Palgrave), and her work has been published in journals such as International Studies Review, International Studies Perspectives, Etudes Internationales, and in various book chapters. Her current research is funded by the Social Sciences Hurmanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) and the University of Toronto. A native of Burkina Faso, Nadège received her PhD in Political Studies from Queen’s University (Canada), where her research on the global governance of oil revenues was informed by fieldwork in Gabon, Ghana, and South Africa. Nadège is a past board member of the Canadian Association of African Studies, and sits on the editorial board of International Studies Review.

Rural Work: What Future for Social and Ecological Reproduction Timothy Raeymaekers is an senior Assistant Professor at the Department of History and Cultures of the University of Bologna, and affiliated researcher at the Department of Geography of the University of Zurich, Switzerland. Friday, May 3 at 1:00 – 2:30 PM, Mann 160

In this talk, I propose a research agenda focusing on rural work and its social and ecological reproduction in contemporary agrarian supply chains from an environmental justice perspective. Building on my recent studies of contemporary rural capitalism in Central Africa and the Mediterranean, the ambition is to embrace the radical potential of a planetary geographies perspective that takes on board the full extent of today’s agrarian transformations with regards to rural dispossession, work, and social reproduction. My talk will build on two research projects, on farm work in the South Italy, and on extractive (artisan and small-scale mining) work in DR Congo. Through these examples, I foreground a comparative analytical scope inspired by critical race studies and feminist political ecology.

Timothy Raeymaekers is an senior Assistant Professor at the Department of History and Cultures of the University of Bologna, and affiliated researcher at the Department of Geography of the University of Zurich, Switzerland. His research focuses on the frontiers of capitalism. In particular, he is interested in the political ecology of mineral and agricultural markets in Central Africa and the Mediterranean. His work seeks to raise questions about the power relations that underpin contemporary supply chain capitalism, with particular attention to liminality, borders, the politics and aesthetics of difference.

Siri Eriksen: “Between a rock and a hard place: Exploring the lived experience of climate change and social injustice” Saturday, May 4, at 9:00 AM, Mann 102

In this paper, we examine social justice in adaptation through a disability lens. We draw on exploratory fieldwork in East Africa regarding the lived experiences of disability and inclusion of persons with disability in local climate change adaptation planning. We ask, what does it mean to shift the quality of interactions between actors engaged in adaptation, so that social equity and justice become the central feature of processes and outcomes, along with ecosystem stewardship, inclusion, and knowledge diversity? Studies of past climate interventions show that placing people in vulnerable situations at the centre of transformative adaptation requires approaching adaptation as an empowering learning process. Such an approach entails designing interventions as learning processes that address unjust knowledge and power relations. Transformative adaptation involves actions and processes that aim towards fundamental change in values, worldviews, ideologies, structures and power relations to achieve more just and equitable adaptation outcomes. The case of disability inclusion illustrates particularly well key elements of such processes. First, persons with disabilities are often in particularly vulnerable situations in a context of climate change and socio-environmental marginalization, both in terms of the physical impacts of an extreme climatic event such as drought or floods, but also effects on longer term livelihood security. Distributive injustice furthermore manifests as the unfair distribution of benefits from climate interventions, with projects often making few considerations of the needs or particular contexts of persons with disability. Second, empirical insights from local level climate planning in Uganda and Kenya show the mechanisms through which persons with disabilities are excluded from – and seek to be included in – decision-making processes and hence the everyday experiences of distributional (in)justice. Third and related, attitudes, values and recognition of the diverse lived realities of persons with disabilities are fundamental to such processes and the extent to which they are inclusive. Social justice in essence describes the combination of processes through which people come to be stuck between a rock and a hard place, perhaps the way that vulnerable situation can best be described in an everyday setting. Importantly, exploratory work also illustrates the ingenuity with which people try to negotiate their way out of such situations. The experiential knowledge of persons with disabilities about how climate change vulnerability manifests, its intersection with social processes of marginalization, as well as of resilience strategies that are deployed in the face of adversity and uncertainty, helps deepen our understanding both of what it takes to build inclusive, mutually learning processes into adaptation. In this, solidarity emerges a key ingredient of socially just climate resilient development, highlighting a shift in understanding from our place in the world from one of humans as atomized individuals to be made resilient to humans as interconnected agents of collective resilience.

Siri Eriksen is a Professor in climate and development at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences. Her recent research has focused on the politics of adaptation, conflict and climate change, the effect of climate change adaptation interventions on vulnerability reduction and social equity, disability and climate change, climate resilient development, and the personal-political dimensions of vulnerability. She has conducted local fieldwork on vulnerability and adaptation to climate change in East Africa as well as Norway. She holds a PhD from the University of East Anglia, UK, and worked in various research roles in Norway and internationally, including Kenya, South Africa and the UK. She is author on the IPCC Working Group II Sixth Assessment Report (2022) as well as the IPCC Synthesis Report (2023). She is also lead author on the ongoing IPBES Nexus Report.

Nature-Based Solutions to Climate Change and the Reproduction of Maladaptation in Africa. Hanson Nyantakyi-Frimpong is an Associate Professor in the Department of Geography & the Environment at the University of Denver.

Nature-based Solutions (NbS) to climate change, strategies for mitigation and adaptation that rely on natural ecosystem processes, have gained prominence globally. These solutions – from regrowing forests to restoring wetlands and regenerating agricultural soils – can, at least in theory, simultaneously reduce greenhouse gas emissions, protect biodiversity, and enhance community well-being and resilience. Thus far, scholarly research on NbS has been largely conceptual. Empirical research from the critical social sciences is also widely absent, as are insights into the actual outcomes of NbS. In this talk, I will draw on insights from political ecology to make two interrelated arguments. First, I will argue that NbS can be maladaptive and reproduce some of the same problems they are intended to address in the African context. The second argument is that the definitional ambiguity of NbS and the proliferation of funding for these solutions lead to a retrofitting of adaptation into existing development agendas. I will discuss two dimensions of this retrofitting process, including a shallow understanding of climate vulnerability context and inequitable local participation in the design and implementation of NbS. Ultimately, I will provide insights into how policymakers, governments, private foundations, and international development institutions can make NbS work, particularly for marginalized groups and just climate futures in Africa.

Hanson Nyantakyi-Frimpong is an Associate Professor in the Department of Geography & the Environment at the University of Denver. His research addresses questions at the intersection of political ecology, the human dimensions of global environmental change, and sustainable agriculture and food systems. He has published over 50 scientific articlesand received many awards for his research, including a Distinguished Scholar Award from the Africa Specialty Group of the American Association of Geographers. He is a Contributing Author of the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. He currently serves as Editor for the journal Gender, Place and Culture. He received his Ph.D. in Geography from The University of Western Ontario, Canada.

Rachel Bezner Kerr, Director, Institute for African Development and Professor, Global Development
For more information or questions, please contact Emily Baker -
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