2021 Earth System Governance Conference – Innovative Session (virtual): Urban governance in an age of compound crises

This innovative session aims to facilitate a transdisciplinary discussion on the urban governance challenges that arise from ‘compound crises’. Cities play a central role in navigating major global disruptions, from COVID-19, climate emergency, economic downturn, social inequality, institutional racism, and political polarization. These crises are commonly treated in isolation; however, it is increasingly clear that multiple crises co-occur and are fundamentally linked through systemic interactions, underlying drivers, and interdependent outcomes. This virtual session will bring together scholars, activists, and policy practitioners to debate the conceptual, methodological, practical, and ethical challenges generated by these interactions.

We invite contributions that focus on one of the following three challenges of compound urban crises:

  1. Unsettlement. The interaction of slow-moving crises and sudden shocks (resulting from pandemics, climate change, economic crises, etc.), result in systemic dysfunction and unsettlement of everyday life that persists over extended periods. How can decision makers and other actors deal with systemic drivers of shocks and enduring crises?
  1. Unevenness. Urban crises affect groups differently and uneven impacts are often linked with historical patterns of inequality and justice, such as those arising from the legacies of a postcolonial world order. How to deal with justice implications and develop intersectional approaches to address the uneven experiences, impacts, and responses of compound crises?
  1. Unbounding. Through the interaction of multiple forms of crises, traditional problem framings, response programs, and responsibilities may become inappropriate and ineffective. Cross-cutting crises thereby challenge the fundamental structures of urban governance. How can authority and agency be reimagined to enable inclusive and democratic decision-making?

Speakers are invited to contribute a short intervention that speaks to one of these urban governance challenges. The first half of the session will be organised thematically around the three challenges, with each speaker delivering a short presentation (approximately 6 minutes) followed by reflections by a discussant from academia and policy/practice. The second part of the session will allow for open interdisciplinary discussion across the thematic areas, synthesising identified challenges, strategies, and opportunities. This interactive component will be structured according to a ‘virtual long-table discussion’ format, an approach developed especially to enable multiple participants to engage in dialogue around complex themes and topics.

Please submit a title and short abstract (100 words) by July 5 to Linda Westman (l.westman@sheffield.ac.uk) or Rachel Macrorie (r.m.macrorie@uu.nl) or Marielle Papin (marielle.papin@mail.mcgill.ca).

Confirmed speakers will be invited to submit a short intervention (1,000 words) by July 30.

The innovative session is hosted through the 2021 Earth System Governance Conference in Bratislava (https://www.earthsystemgovernance.org/2021bratislava/) on September 7-9, 2021. Date and time of the session TBC.

Preliminary list of discussants


Julie Greenwalt: A climate change and urban specialist, formerly of the Cities Alliance, who leads Go Green for Climate, an independent global consultancy focused on issues of climate change, sustainable cities and the natural environment.

Dr. Enora Robin: Leverhulme ECR Fellow, Urban Institute, University of Sheffield (UK), currently working on the project ‘Off-grid cities: the financial mediations of life off the grid in African cities’.


Ibinado Johnson: Journalist and activist at Chicoco Radio, a radio station built by young people from Port Harcourt’s (Nigeria) waterfront settlements.

Prof. Gina Ziervogel: Associate Professor at the Department of Environmental & Geographical Science, Research Chair, African Climate and Development Initiative, University of Cape Town (South Africa), lead author of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Sixth Assessment Report: Chapter Six (Cities), WG 2 (Adaptation).


Representative from: C40 Cities – a network of the world’s megacities committed to addressing climate change / Slum Dwellers International (SDI) – TBC.

Prof. Jeroen van der Heijden: Professor of Public Governance at the Victoria University of Wellington (New Zealand), inaugural Chair in Regulatory Practice and co-editor of ‘Urban Climate Politics: Agency and Empowerment’ (2019).