NEW PAPER: urban greening, equity, and climate adaptation

Originally posted on Urban Green Adaptation Diary

This post summarises the main findings of the paper ‘What might ‘just green enough’ urban development mean in the context of climate change adaptation? The case of urban greenspace planning in Taipei Metropolis, Taiwan’, which we have had published in World Development.

What is the key point of this paper?

Our main argument is that climate change adaptation requires urban planners, governors and decision-makers to think differently about what equity and justice mean in the context of urban greenspace. It is well understood that urban greening actions may disproportionately accrue to more affluent areas, and that thinking in terms of equity across space can help to redress these imbalances. Yet much of this thinking to date has concentrated on the health, well-being and social capital benefits that greenspace provides. The way in which greenspace delivers climate change adaptation benefits may, however, be more complex. It requires thinking in terms of greenspace function at a whole-city level. As such, additional skill sets are required to balance these imperatives to deliver urban greening that is both appropriate from a technical and scientific perspective, and also desirable from a social justice viewpoint.


What were the findings, and what is new or significant about them?

We sketch out what these challenges might look like in practice through the case of Taipei Metropolis in Taiwan. Through evaluation of greenspace debates in Taipei, we suggest three actions required to work towards effective and equitable climate adaptation through urban greening. First is finding pathways that can guide planning and governance processes with scientific understanding of how greenspace functions are delivered, even in the face of development pressures and site-specific controversies. Second is acknowledging the societal benefits that can come with small-scale greening actions at the neighbourhood level, whilst also realising the most effective ecosystem services may be delivered through coordinated city-wide actions. Third is building wide-reaching rationales for urban greening which extend beyond climate adaptation, all the time ensuring that delivery of benefit to the most vulnerable remains front-and-centre throughout the decision-making process.

Why is this research important?

There has been something of a backlash in social science thinking against ideas of ‘resilient’ cities and thinking of the natural environment in terms of the ecosystem services it provides. Much of this concern is based on on the idea that these ways of thinking maintain the social and political status quo, especially if their aim is to build cross-sector consensus. That is, they do not really address the root causes of why some people end up being more vulnerable to climate change than others. At the same time, though, climate change is a real and pressing issue, which requires urgent and coordinated action across cities with good collaboration across sectors such as local government, private sector developers, NGOs, communities and academia. This is especially true in cities like Taipei, which even with aggressive emissions reduction are already on-track for harmful levels of climate change. We believe it is therefore crucial to find ways to realise the immediate risk reduction that can be gained if we use concepts like ‘resilience’ and ‘ecosystem services’ to get buy-in for adaptation actions from all sectors of society, but also to show sensitivity to the structural drivers of inequity and vulnerability.


How was the research conducted?

The research involved review of existing scholarly literature on equity and justice in urban contexts, with a particular focus on issues relating to urban greening. The concept of ‘just green enough’ actions developed by Wolch et al (2014) as a guard against green gentrification were especially helpful in this regard. Then, for information specific to Taipei, the two largest English-language newspapers in Taiwan were sampled: the Taipei Times and the China Post. Content analysis was undertaken on articles referring to greenspace and/or climate change adaptation issues, with an emphasis on urban heat as a focus issue. Peer-reviewed scholarly articles on planning and urban governance in Taipei were also reviewed for contextual understanding.

Who funded the research?

The initial data collection was undertaken by Dr Leslie Mabon in his own time without funding. However, further literature reviewing, and additional analysis of the dataset, was undertaken as preparation for the Royal Society of Edinburgh-Ministry of Science and Technology Taiwan Joint Research Project ‘Spatial relationship of heat hazard and socio-economic characteristics in urban neighbourhoods – the role of green infrastructure’. Wan-Yu Shih and Leslie Mabon are Co-PIs on this project.


Mabon, L and Shih, W-Y (2018) ‘What might ‘just green enough’ urban development mean in the context of climate change adaptation? The case of Taipei Metropolis, Taiwan’ World Development 107: 224-238.


Posted in New Publications, RSE-MOST Scotland-Taiwan Project | Leave a comment

NEW PAPER: competences for managing sustainability transitions through urban planning

The purpose of this post is to summarise a new paper which has just been published in Journal of Environmental Policy and Planning. The paper, titled ‘Management of sustainability transitions through planning in shrinking resource city contexts: an evaluation of Yubari City, Japan’, looks at the actions undertaken at the municipal level in Yubari City, Japan, to counter challenges relating to the social, economic and environmental sustainability of the city.

What is the key point of this paper?

We argue that the urban scale has a crucial, but perhaps underappreciated role, in facilitating a managed transition to sustainability for cities facing complex social, economic and environmental challenges due to current or historic reliance on carbon-intensive industries. In particular, we suggest the development of sets of competences (sets of skills and attributes which help people to imagine appropriate solutions for environmental issues) in municipal governors and planners are key to being able to respond to this complexity.

We take as our case study the former coal-mining city of Yubari in Hokkaido, Japan. Yubari has seen significant population decline since the 1960s, and loss of economic base exacerbated by the closure of the city’s last coal mine in the early 1990s. After a period of economic hardship, however, the city has recently made progress in ensuring it can function into the future and respond to the social and ecological legacy left by coal extraction.


What were the findings, and what is new or significant about them?

Our findings indicate that the form of the built environment can act as a focal point for considering how to respond to social, economic and environmental issues in shrinking resource city contexts like Yubari. In Yubari, it has largely been the lived experience of change and decline in the urban environment that has brought different groups of people to realise the seriousness of the situation the city is facing. In turn, it is the built environment – especially shrinking or consolidating the city into a more compact form – that has brought consensus on how the city can become sustainable into the future.

The reason this appears to be successful, however, is that planning for sustainability is led by municipal planners and scholars with good competence in visioning the future, in understanding the specific actions required, in facilitating deliberation across sectors and with citizens, and in keeping equity and justice concerns in check. There is also emerging competence in understanding what some of the climate and ecological implications for Yubari might be into the future. Most crucial of all, though, in Yubari spatial planning is supported with strong social policy and the prioritising of citizen welfare in budgeting and decision-making.

Why is this research important?

Cities like Yubari which have relied – or continue to rely – on carbon-intensive activities such as coal mining, oil and gas extraction or petrochemicals face additional complexities in responding to urban sustainability challenges. These might be physical issues such as legacy infrastructure and contamination, or financial issues related to the loss of an economic base. However, this ‘legacy’ can also be social and psychological with regard to continued dependence on high-emitting activities, reluctance to consider transition to different forms of organisation, and even influences on people’s opinions towards and understanding of environmental issues. As such, assessing what Yubari has managed to achieve and the competences required to attain this can help build our understanding of what a managed transition to sustainability might mean in a trickier resource city context.


How was the research conducted?

In-depth interviews have been conducted in Yubari and Hokkaido more widely since 2016, and indeed are ongoing (Leslie was there doing interviews in the deep snow in January 2018, which will feed into the next paper!)

Systematic analysis was also undertaken on the Yubari City Urban Planning Masterplan and its supporting documentation, reading and coding for the five sustainability competences laid out by Wiek et al (2011).

Who funded the research?

The policy analysis and the interviews from 2017 onwards are funded by the Regional Studies Association, through an Early Career Grant held by Leslie Mabon. Initial interviews in Yubari were undertaken in 2016 as part of a project into low-carbon energy in southern Hokkaido led by Leslie Mabon and supported by the UK CCS Research Centre.

Mabon, L and Shih, W-Y (in press) ‘Management of sustainability transitions through planning in shrinking resource city contexts: an evaluation of Yubari City, Japan’ Journal of Environmental Policy and Planning DOI: 10.1080/1523908X.2018.1443004


Posted in New Publications, Regional Studies Association Early Career Grant 2017-18, UKCCSRC International Collaboration 2016 | Leave a comment

RSE-MOST Project Work in Taipei, January 2018

In January 2018, we had the first Taipei session for our Royal Society of Edinburgh-Ministry of Science and Technology Joint Research Project. Following on from the Scotland visit last summer, this time it was Leslie’s turn to travel to Taiwan to further our understanding of green infrastructure and its role in climate change adaptation. The purpose of this year’s visit was to build a good understanding of the social, policy and environmental context within which green infrastructure is considered in Taipei, in order to develop a comparable dataset to the material we collected in Glasgow last year. To that end, we undertook both site visits and interview-based research over the course of the week.


First stop was Winchain Consultants, who are involved in part of the urban planning review for Taipei City. Over the course of nearly two hours we learned much about the potential for greening actions in the city to provide socio-economic benefit, and about the challenges and opportunities for greening actions within the policies and regulations in place in Taipei.


Discussion with Wen-Yan Jiang of Winchain Consultants

We then jumped onto the blue and red MRT lines (note: I love the music the trains play when they arrive…) to head to our first site visit, to the wetlands around Guandu Nature Park in the north of Taipei. We availed ourselves of bicycles in order to cover as much ground as possible in the time available, taking in some of the nature park itself, seeing fishing activities at the convergence of the Keelung and Tamsui Rivers, and getting a good chance to observe the biological diversity that is present in this part of the city. For me (Leslie) at least, this was the first time for me to get out of the centre of Taipei, and to see a different kind of ‘nature’ within the city to the very disciplined and managed parks I have been used to so far.


Meeting Po-Hung Liu and team

Thursday brought one of those busy, frantic days that social scientists like me simultaneously love and hate – the double-header interview. Our morning interviewee was Ian Chen of CNHW Planning and Design Consultants, who was involved in developing a green infrastructure plan for Taipei back in 2010 and brought us a different perspective to the more socially- and economically-focused discussion we had heard the previous day. Then it was a dash across town to New Taipei City, where we met Po-Hung Liu, Honorary President of the Taiwan Institute of Landscape Architects. Liu has been heavily involved in trying to bring different sectors together with the aim of progressing urban greening in Taipei, and indeed facilitated the forum at which I ended up being an impromptu speaker in December 2016. Wan-Yu did a terrific job to translate all of Liu’s knowledge into English as we went along, and from a social engagement perspective it was fantastic to hear about initiatives such as Taipei Open Green which aim to increase community participation in greening actions across the city.


At Parks and Street Lights Office, Taipei City

Our final meeting of the week was with the Parks and Street Lights Office of Taipei City Government. As the name suggests, they are responsible for the formal designated parks within the city, and – as they told us during our interview – have the unenviable task of trying to balance a range of societal pressures and development imperatives within the spaces they manage. Clearly we need to analyse our findings before we jump to any conclusions, but it was interesting in our discussion to see how the higher-level rhetoric of citizen participation in Taipei is filtering down to issues such as management of open space.

Other highlights of the week included a chance to catch up with new team member Yi-Chen Huang, who at the time was just about to embark on the bold move of leaving Taiwan to move to Aberdeen and start her PhD under Leslie’s supervision (she has subsequently arrived in Scotland and is settling in well!) Both of us are very much looking forward to having Yi-Chen’s input on this project and others. There was also an impromptu extended opportunity to look at how the green and blue corridors of Neihu and Zhongshan Districts have developed along and near to the Keelung River. It’s been said that despite having several large watercourses, in recent years Taipei and its residents have not had much of a relationship with their rivers – so it was educational to see the steps that have been taken to draw out more societal benefit from these spaces, particularly as regards recreation and provision of corridors for sustainable transportation by bicycle.


View towards Guandu Nature Park

Happily, this trip also continued our run of good fortune. This is now the third consecutive time we have received good news relating to our collaborative research just after Leslie has returned to Scotland from visiting Taipei! This time it is a couple of papers which have been accepted for publication, and as soon as they are out in the public domain we will tell you more!


Fishing vessels and river banks at the convergence of the Keelung and Tamsui Rivers

Originally posted on

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Progressing CCS in Japan – December 2017 Visit

For the past week I’ve been in Japan for a series of carbon capture and storage-related events, largely linked to Japan’s recent successful endeavours in deploying CCS technology in the ‘real world.’ The Tomakomai CCS Demonstration Project, up in Hokkaido in the north of the country, in November 2017 celebrated injecting its 100,000th tonne of carbon dioxide. Regardless of one’s views on CCS or on Japan’s climate policy more widely, it is hard to argue against the fact that in financing, building and delivering a large-scale CCS project on time and securely injecting and storing carbon dioxide, Japan has set an example for pretty much the entire world to follow. Moreover, as well as the technical challenges associated with CCS, the Japan CCS Company has managed to achieve this close to a large urban centre, under a seabed from which Tomakomai’s prized Sakhalin surf clams are harvested, and in a country where there is recent awareness of the links between the sea, seismic activity and energy infrastructure. This is laudable from a project management perspective, and fascinating from a social science point of view.


The first big event was Wednesday 13 December, when I was one of the main speakers at the Future of CCS symposium held in Tokyo by the Japan CCS Company and the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry to mark the 100,000th tonne of injection into the geological formations under Tomakomai Bay. I shared billing with Prof Toshifumi Matsuoka of the Fukada Geological Institute and Prof Yasuko Kameyama of the National Institute of Environmental Studies, and discussed the findings of the paper on Tomakomai I lead-authored which came out earlier this year in Marine Policy. Now, I would be lying if I said I was not terrified at the prospect of presenting in Japanese in front of 380 people (spread over two rooms, with the people in the second room watching via video link). However, the nerves soon abated as I started to pick out many friendly faces in the audience who I knew from previous research collaboration, seminars, and even participating in my interviews. Getting to smash open a big barrel of Hokkaido sake was my reward for getting through it – although in being joined on stage for the barrel-breaking ceremony by Kirsty Anderson of the Global CCS Institute, clearly nobody in Japan had got the message that giving two Scots a big hammer each and standing them in front of a massive vat of alcohol was A Bad Idea.


It was then an early start on the 14th to jump on a JAL flight up to Hokkaido, for a couple of days’ fieldwork in Tomakomai. Tomakomai – and southern Hokkaido more widely – is one of the case studies for my Regional Studies Association project into just transitions for carbon-intensive coastal regions, so this was a brilliant opportunity to get some extra research done. We drove through the ice and slush to the CCS plant and injection site on the far side of Tomakomai port. When I was last here in 2014 all of this was under construction, so it was fascinating to see the whole thing complete. After 6 years’ research, 9 peer-reviewed papers, and 7 projects with a CCS component, I finally got to see a CO2 capture and injection site for real!


Meeting Akihiko Sasaki, the Vice-Mayor of Tomakomai City

The most important thing for me when coming to Tomakomai, though, is to talk to people and find out about the history, culture and context of the place around which CCS happens. In this regard I was fortunate to be able to speak with the head of the Tomakomai City Chamber of Commerce; the Business Location Promotion Division of Tomakomai City Government; and the Principal of Tomakomai Komazawa University. There was also a fantastic opportunity to meet with Sasaki-san, the Vice-Mayor of Tomakomai City, who had attended the symposium in Tokyo and was keen to hear more about my research and findings. And of course, in-between formal meetings there were ample opportunities to enjoy the wonderful seafood and hospitality of Tomakomai.


Professor Kazuhiro Kawashima, President of Tomakomai Komazawa University

Last activity was giving a lecture at a study group held jointly by the Engineering Advancement of Japan and the Japan CCS Company in Tokyo on Monday 18 December. I spoke about the potential applications of thinking around social licence to operate and social impact assessment to offshore CCS in Japan, and spoke at length – perhaps a little too much so (sorry!) – about the importance of using such tools carefully and reflexively as a means of incorporating societal concerns within decision-making processes. Also presenting were Prof Tomochika Tokunaga of University of Tokyo, who discussed regulatory, governance and ethical issues around long-term geological storage of radioactive waste and their potential applicability to CCS, and Dr Motoko Kosugi of Shizuoka University, who talked us through the theoretical social science state-of-the-art on risk communication and risk governance. What impressed me most about JCCS and ENAA was that in Prof Tokunaga and Dr Kosugi, they had invited two speakers from outside the CCS ‘epistemic community’ who were prepared to speak in a rigorous, critical and theoretically-grounded way about the governance of CCS. I’ve often felt this constructive critique from ‘outside the bubble’ has been lacking in many CCS-related events I’ve been at in the past, and its inclusion is something I’ve long called for in my own work – so it was encouraging and motivating to see it included here.

It’s been a busy week, and I need to thank both the Engineering Advancement Association of Japan and the Japan CCS Company for inviting me and looking after me so well over the course of the week. I’m also very grateful to my collaborator Dr Jun Kita of the Marine Ecology Research Institute, who was crucial to me being able to undertake the initial fieldwork in Tomakomai last year and who joined us in Hokkaido this time too, and to the Regional Studies Association who are supporting this phase of the Tomakomai research and its extension beyond CCS into just transitions. I was also delighted to have my wife Naoko with me this time – she provides so much support behind the scenes in terms of making sure all the translations are spot-on when I submit work for peer-reviewed publication, so I was happy to have a chance to show her my ‘field sites.’ Lastly, as always the biggest thanks of all goes to the people of Tomakomai City for their warmth and support towards not only my research, but also the CCS project as a whole. See you again in January!

Above image: why monitoring of CO2 storage and injection matters – delicious seafood of Tomakomai Bay

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Special session on just transitions at RSA Annual Conference 2018


As per the title, I am running a session at the Regional Studies Association Annual Conference 2018, in Lugano, Switzerland from 3-6 June 2018. Deadline for abstract submissions is 23 February 2018, through the RSA website. Details of the session are as follows, any questions please do get in touch!

SS24. Just Transitions for Carbon-Intensive Regions

Session organiser(s)

Leslie Mabon, Robert Gordon University, Scotland (

This session assesses the implications of climate change and sustainability challenges for cities and regions heavily reliant on carbon-intensive industries for an employment and economic base. Cities and regions are increasingly seen as sites for solutions to contemporary environmental issues, as evidenced by the IPCC commissioning a Special Report on Climate Change and Cities, and the creation of Sustainable Development Goal 11 specifically to address sustainable cities and communities. Yet this notion of ‘sustainable’ cities and regions may be problematic for areas that remain dependent on fossil fuel extraction (e.g. coal, oil, and gas) and high-emitting industries (e.g. steelworks and petrochemicals) for not only employment and economic benefit, but also identity and sense of being. Trade unions, national- and regional governments and academics are hence showing increasing interest in understanding what ‘just transitions’ mean at the city and region level. When understood in this way, the aim of a just transition at the regional level is to ensure locations – and the workers within them – traditionally dependent on carbon-intensive activities are not left behind in the move to clean energy and a sustainable economy.

This session contributes to this field by explicitly considering the role of actors at the urban and regional scale in facilitating a just transition. Both empirical and theoretical contributions addressing any aspect of just transitions thinking are welcome. Topics to address may include (but are in no way limited to):

-the relationship between governmental, private sector and civil society organisations in governing a regional just transition;

-the role of urban planning and built environment configuration in enacting a just transition;

-lessons for just transition planning and governance that may be learned from analogous regional changes (e.g. deindustrialisation, coal mining closures);

-the role of more ethically challenging energy-related technologies (e.g. coal seam gasification, shale gas, carbon dioxide capture and storage) in facilitating a gentler transition away from fossil fuels and high-emitting industries;

-pathways to balancing social and economic development goals with climate and sustainability issues for regions involved in extractive activity or high-emission industry in low and middle-income countries.

-the interface between just transitions thinking at a global level, and at an urban and regional level;

The envisaged format will be oral presentation, but with a strong emphasis on facilitated panel- and roundtable discussion. Depending on the nature and volume of contributions, publication of a special issue featuring the presented papers, or production of a co-authored article involving all contributors, will be considered.

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Responding to climate change in a carbon-intensive coastal region?

Aberdeen is in a challenging position when it comes to thinking about the future. We know very well that reductions in carbon dioxide emissions are required if we are to avoid significant harm on a global scale. This entails, among other actions, reducing the role that oil, gas and coal have in providing us with electricity, fuel and heat. Even if you don’t buy into the scientific basis for climate change, it is at least true that fossil fuels are finite and that we will sooner or later need to renew our energy systems. But making these changes at a global and national level can be tough for regions like north-east Scotland, places that rely significantly on these very same fossil fuels and other carbon-intensive activities for their economic and employment base.


Oil and gas are part of daily life in Aberdeen – as on RGU campus

There are scores of cautionary tales – both in the UK and globally – of what can happen to a region when the resource on which it relies is no longer economically viable to extract or when society’s needs have moved on. What is clear from all of these is that we need to plan early, and plan carefully, if we are to avoid the worst of these effects in the north-east.

However, Aberdeen does have one huge resource which we can draw on to help us make this transition – the sea. I am currently halfway through an Early Career Grant project funded by the Regional Studies Association, which is looking at two regions in Japan which have faced – and continue to face – challenges around keeping everyone in work and maintaining social wellbeing as they move beyond fossil fuels. Like Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire, both of these areas are coastal regions who have been exploring new and innovative ways of using the sea to respond to employment, economic and energy challenges. When I talk at Aberdeen Climate Action’s second Climate Café in early December, I’ll use these two examples as a starting point for us to think about what we might be able to do with the North Sea, and how that might help us in our daily lives.

North Japan Ma

The first case study I’ve been working with is Iwaki in Fukushima Prefecture. Under Iwaki is the massive Joban Coalfield, which until the 1960s and 70s produced significant amounts of coal for Japan. What is so impressive about Iwaki is that even as Japan’s energy systems moved on to oil and nuclear power, the vast majority of coal workers were able to find other jobs and the regional economy diversified. One of the very interesting things they did to help this process was build a brand-new power station, designed specifically to run on the low-energy coal that came out the Joban Field. This kept coal operations going for a bit longer, and eased the drop-off the region faced with the mines closed. This was supported by other initiatives including attracting other industries to the region by developing the port area, building their tourism sector, and – bizarre but true – opening a Hawaiian-themed resort which to this day remains a big draw.


Old coal-mining buildings, Uchigo, Iwaki

Now I am categorically not suggesting we build coal-fired power stations in Scotland (!), but the Joban Joint Power Company’s power station was a really good example of being pragmatic and making the best use of what you have along the way. I’ve said this before, but Scotland will require oil and gas for a little while yet, so why not make the most efficient use of the North Sea rather than prospecting for oil and gas elsewhere? What is also important to note is that the regional government in Iwaki did a lot to facilitate diversification. They saw what was coming and merged a number of administrative districts, so that they could better plan for the decline of coal. The trade unions, regional government and national government worked together on a feasible plan for closure of the mines, rather than prolonging at all costs. And the organisational structure of the Joban Coal Mine Company ensured benefit remained within the region rather than flowing elsewhere. Today, the region is thriving and the adjacent Pacific Ocean is host to some of Japan’s newest and most powerful offshore wind turbines – something we too are seeing develop in north-east Scotland.


View out to offshore wind turbines from Naraha Township, Fukushima Prefecture

The second case is a bit more complicated. At the lower end of Japan’s northernmost island of Hokkaido are Iburi and Sorachi Subprefectures. In Sorachi – especially Yubari City – like in Iwaki they mined coal until the 1990s. Meanwhile on the coast in Iburi – particularly the cities of Muroran and Tomakomai – steelworks, petrochemical refining and heavy industry were aggressively developed during the post-war years, taking advantage of the shipping links connecting Iburi to the rest of Japan and beyond. Since then, Tomakomai has done okay (more about that in a second), but Yubari and Muroran have struggled as coal, steel works and other carbon-intensive industries have moved away (albeit not for climate reasons) and not been replaced. Things even got so bad in Yubari that the city essentially went bankrupt in 2007.

So why is it that Iwaki was able to imagine a more sustainable future, whereas the south of Hokkaido has struggled? There are a few factors at play. One, prior to coal-mining, Iwaki had a rich resource base of lovely scenery, fertile farmlands and seas full of delicious fish. Southern Hokkaido, on the other hand, had virtually nothing. It was cold, life was harsh, and so after coal and its associated investment disappeared there wasn’t much to fall back on. Two, Iwaki is just a couple of hours by express train from Tokyo, which gives them access to central government expertise and to a market of 20 million potential day-visitors. The south of Hokkaido, meanwhile, is a two-hour flight and a lengthy Scotrail-esque train ride away. Three, whereas everyone in Iwaki pushed in the same direction to imagine a solution, in Hokkaido the issue of industrial development and the future became a political football, whereby different factions would oppose outcomes for the sake of opposing them.


Muroran, Hokkaido

It’s worth noting, though, that off the coast of Tomakomai the Japan CCS Company, under the guidance of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, is trialling a potentially crucial climate change mitigation technology – carbon dioxide capture and storage. This involves capturing carbon dioxide from emitting sources (in their case part of the oil refinery), transporting it and injecting into geological formations deep underground. Our geology in the North Sea is suitable for this too, and we’ve come close to deploying it a couple of times. Could this be something we in Aberdeen want to think about as a way of using all our subsea know-how to help fight climate change?


Carbon capture and storage information point, Tomakomai City Hall

I don’t want to scare everyone, but when a Japanese professor friend of mine came to visit Aberdeen earlier this year and I told him about what’s happening with the North Sea over a few whiskies, he said it sounds more like Yubari than Iwaki. Yikes. But the key point to take away from all of this is that it’s not just the technologies that matter, but rather how we organise ourselves to use them. The North Sea is full of potential solutions to our climate challenges, but what I’ve learned in Japan shows that it needs us on land to work out how to use these in a way that can sustain wellbeing and bring environmental benefit to the north-east and beyond.

Dr Leslie Mabon’s research in Japan on post-coal regional governance and just transitions is funded by the Regional Studies Association through their Early Career Grant scheme.

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Climate change in coastal communities stage 2: Scotland

Recently, we had the pleasure of the second bilateral visit for our Scotland-Vietnam collaboration on climate change in coastal communities, funded by the British Academy International Partnership and Mobility scheme and also supported by an Official Development Assistance grant from the Scottish Funding Council. On this occasion it was the turn of the Institute of Human Geography in the Vietnam Academy of Social Sciences to do the traveling, as my Co-PI Dr Nguyen Song Tung and her colleagues Dr Pham Thi Tram and Nguyen Thi Kim Dung came to Aberdeen for a week to continue our fieldwork and research development activities.


Left-right: Prof Stephen Vertigans, Dr Leslie Mabon, Dr Linda Smith, Dr Nguyen Song Tung, Beate Houette, Nguyen Thi Kim Dung, Dr Natascha Mueller-Hirth, Dr Chris Yuill, Dr Pham Thi Tram

Since the visit to Hanoi back in May, as PI for the Scotland side I have been working to draw themes out of our data that can connect up two nations facing very different climate change challenges. Across the RGU and IHGeo teams, we have come to understand that Nam Dinh Province and Aberdeenshire, whilst very different in absolute terms, are both coastal regions at the mouth of major rivers where climate change has the potential to negatively affect livelihoods. Having done interviews in Xuan Thuy National Park, the significance of ecosystem health in guarding against the worst effects of climate change and sustaining societal wellbeing has also come to the fore. With a bit of preparation and a slice of good fortune, as I’ll now explain we managed to collect a highly comparable dataset in Aberdeenshire over the course of the week.


Forvie National Nature Reserve

First field visit was to Forvie National Nature Reserve, at the mouth of the River Ythan. Like Xuan Thuy National Park, this is part of a wetland area protected by the Ramsar Convention. Both Forvie and Xuan Thuy are fragile areas, where managers are having to work hard to protect biodiversity from human threats. From my perspective, the biggest problem is trying to get overseas visitors to take you seriously when you try to explain that one of the main threats to the Sites of Special Scientific Interest adjacent to Forvie is Donald Trump and his golf course… Anyhow, during our visit to Forvie, we were fortunate to be accompanied by Reserve Manager Annabel Drysdale, some glorious sunshine, and a squadron of 150-odd seals.

The following day we were joined by Finlay Bennet of Marine Scotland Science, who came to talk about his group’s work in relation to climate change and their interest in adaptive management. Over the course of an hour and a half he delivered a session more structured, educational and downright interesting than anything I could ever hope to do, with a strong applied focus that fits well with IHGeo’s own remit. We learned about the origins of adaptive management, its value and role in decision-making under situations of high uncertainty with a strong value dimension, and its potential applications. One of the overriding messages was that – as is so often the case in environmental governance – it is often easier to see when things aren’t going well, or when people aren’t doing adaptive management, than when they are. The fact I can remember all of the content of the session without referring to my notes speaks volumes about the manner in which it was delivered. Finlay, if you’re reading and ever feel like switching jobs, you know where I am.


Finlay Bennet of Marine Scotland Science discussing adaptive management

The third and final piece of fieldwork had us moving around within the confine of Aberdeen City. Countryside Officer Ian Talboys guided us round the Seaton Park Wetland Project, a new wetland established in 2016 in response to drainage challenges arising from flooding and ongoing precipitation. It serves the triple purpose of flood mitigation via retention and drainage, biodiversity protection, and social benefit. Perhaps less fortunately for Tung, Dung and Tram, the site visit turned out to be significantly colder, windier and wetter than the 35 degree heat of Hanoi they had left. Happily we stumbled across a small stall which, as well as selling vegetables from nearby allotments, was also dispensing hot tea and coffee. Warmed up, we then made our way over to Marischal College, where Aberdeen City Council planner Alison Leslie talked us through the progress that’s been made on Aberdeen Adapts – Aberdeen City’s climate change adaptation plan. This was an excellent way to end the week, not least because by interviewing a regional climate adaptation planner we mirrored exactly the very first interview we did in Nam Dinh Province, where we all piled into the meeting room of the Department for Agriculture and Rural Development and questioned the province’s climate adaptation governors.


Meeting with Alison Leslie of Aberdeen Adapts/Aberdeen City Council

In-between times, we also managed to squeeze in a full-day seminar to introduce our collaborators to some of the research we do at RGU, hold a half-day paper writing workshop (the output of which will be submitted for peer review by the end of this month), and have a session on upcoming funding calls we are going to apply to as a next step. All this, plus the field visits, may go some way to explaining why I slept until 2pm on the Saturday.

I want to finish this post by extending a huge thanks to our colleagues from IHGeo. They coped admirably with freezing temperatures, lost luggage, local accents, jet-lag, Scottish university canteen food and many other things. This year has been very important in terms of building a base and getting to know one another, and from our side at least we have come to realise Dr Tung and her team are great people to work with. We miss them already! I look forward to continuing the discussion online to draw out the findings from this specific project, which still has a couple of months to run, and hopefully developing our collaboration into the future.

Thanks are extended to the British Academy for funding our Scotland-Vietnam collaborative project on climate change and coastal communities through an International Partnership and Mobility grant; and to the Scottish Funding Council for providing support to allow us to undertake more in-depth fieldwork and capacity-building within the project through Official Development Assistance funding.

And as a bonus…a ‘same but different’ series, showing us doing the same things in Vietnam and Scotland!


Outside the regional government offices


Field visit to a Ramsar site


Coffee break during fieldwork


Institute canteen food


Interviewing regional climate adaptation planners

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