Can urban green and blue spaces contribute to health, wellbeing and climate change mitigation in the cross-border coastal cities of the developing world?

We now live on a largely urban planet. Further rapid urbanisation will result in the transformation of an area the size of South Africa to urban uses. Sub-Saharan Africa is urbanising faster than any other region globally. In already densely populated regions, such as West Africa, migration and population growth place stresses on the natural environments in and around cities. This is particularly apparent in low-lying, tropical coastal cities, which often confront multiple environmental hazards, such as riverine and coastal flooding, extreme temperatures, air and water pollution and vector-borne diseases.

One way to address the many challenges coastal cities face is appropriate management of the natural environment. However, in low-income settings, the retention, restoration and creation of urban green and blue spaces is frequently not prioritised by decision-makers or considered important by residents. When conurbations cross international borders, the challenges compound. Actions taken in one country, e.g. on a coastal lagoon or riparian area, could have major implications across the border regarding exposure to flooding and flood risk. Similarly, the loss of green space in one border-zone city could lead to increased temperatures, flood risk and pollution levels in the neighbourhoods in the other country. Contiguous settlements are also subject to different national policies, which may vary in terms of their multi-level structures, sectoral targeting and responsibilities. This kind of disjointed institutional setting poses major challenges for collaborative, integrated management of what are actually contiguous systems.

The benefits that derive from green and blue spaces include improved self-reported improved wellbeing and mental health, climate regulation and flood risk mitigation.  However, maximising the delivery of these benefits is likely to require cooperation and collaboration across international borders, something can be challenging. This studentship will work in the coastal cities and settlement of Togo that are contiguous with settlements across international borders in Ghana and/or Benin. Building on known research directions regarding the need to take borders and boundaries into account in conservation of natural resources (see Dallimer M & Strange N. 2015. Why socio-political borders and boundaries matter for conservation. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 30, 132-139), the studentship will examine the following over-arching research themes:

  1. Exploring how, in cross-border cities, the scale of decision-making and management structures could align, or match, the scale of environmental management required to maximise benefits. Scale-matching is key way in which the impact of borders and boundaries on conservation outcomes has been managed. In non-urban settings, transboundary protected areas and catchment management organisations that span multiple countries are common. However, management structures to deliver improved environmental outcomes within cross-border cities remain unexplored.
  2. Cooperation on the management of the natural environment across borders is more likely if economic performance and human wellbeing are enhanced for all parties. Demonstrating this within an urban setting would be a unique and valuable contribution to the literature, and to the sustainable development of such cities. This could be done through improved management of freshwater and flood risk, retaining functioning networks of urban green and blue spaces to enhance biodiversity as a way of reducing risks associated with the transmission and spread of vector-borne diseases, for example.
  3. Stated preference studies have shown that values and preference for conservation often differ radically across international borders, even though environmental concerns are similar. Examining the magnitude of such differences in an urban setting could reveal new insights into how individuals and organisations might be incentivised to cooperate across international borders.

The student will, travel restrictions permitting, collect empirical data in Togo, Ghana and Benin, working closely with the in-country co-supervisor, Dr Pierre Radji, University of Lomé in Togo. There is flexibility regarding methods and approaches which could include: (a) land-use/land cover change analyses using remote sensed data, (b) biodiversity surveys, (c) quantifying the values held for the natural world across international borders and (d) exploring how varying governance structures improve or hinder urban green/blue space restoration, retention and conservation and the implications of that variation.