Geology for Global Development

Dr Joel C. Gill

Joel is the Founder/Director of Geology for Global Development (@Geo_Dev) an organisation working to support geologists to make a sustainable contribution to the fight against global poverty. He is an interdisciplinary researcher, with a PhD in geography (natural hazards), and research interests in multi-hazard frameworks, disaster risk reduction, rural water projects, and sustainable development. This work has taken him to Chile, China, Guatemala, India, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda. Joel is currently based at the British Geological Survey, and tweets at @JoelCGill.

Photo Highlights – 5th GfGD Annual Conference

Kindly hosted and supported by the Geological Society of London, our 5th Annual Conference had the theme “Cities – Opportunities and Challenges for Sustainable Development”. The event gathered more than 130 participants, with diverse speakers from the public and private sectors, academia and civil society! Find resources online . Thanks to Jesse Zondervan (Plymouth University) for taking and editing photographs.

GfGD Annual Conference 2017 – Cities and Sustainable Development

GfGD 3rd Annual Conference (Geology and the Global Goals for Sustainable Development)

Since the Sustainable Development Goals were agreed in 2015, Geology for Global Development has been at the forefront of mobilising and equipping the geoscience community to engage and make a positive contribution.

In 2015, we organised the first major gathering of geologists/Earth scientists anywhere in the world to explore our role in delivering the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Over 120 geologists came together to consider how our science and skills can help ensure the successful achievement of these 17 ambitious goals, aiming to end global poverty, fight injustice and inequality, and ensure environmental sustainability by 2030. Our 2016 conference had the themes of ‘best practice’ and ‘personal engagement’. We explored the skills and topical understanding required to deliver high quality, high-impact development projects, and practical projects and opportunities to get involved and help achieve the SDGs.

This Friday we hold our 5th Annual Conference, turning our attention to cities and considering the role of geoscience in realising the SDGs in urban environments. There are unique opportunities presented by cities, as well as significant challenges associated with urban development.

Over the past 12 months I have had the opportunity to visit culturally and economically significant cities across three continents, with notable visits to cities in eastern and southern Africa – Nairobi, Kampala, Lusaka and Dar es Salaam. These cities are growing, rapidly. Dar es Salaam is the third fastest growing city in Africa, with some projections suggesting that it will be one of the 20 largest cities (by population) by the middle of this century.

The United Nations note that:

“Cities are hubs for ideas, commerce, culture, science, productivity, social development and much more.
At their best, cities have enabled people to advance socially and economically.”

But what do cities ‘at their best’ look like? How does (or perhaps, how should) geoscience inform urban planning, development, and resilience? What are the primary successes and mistakes of past and current urban development that could support Dar es Salaam and other future megacities? These are some of the questions we’ll be exploring at our conference, with the aim of catalysing ideas for urban geoscience research, innovation and training tools.

Dar es Salaam (Tanzania) – September 2017

The geoscience community have a significant responsibility and exciting opportunity to work with other disciplines to promote sustainable cities and strong stewardship of the Earth. Our conference will bring together ambassadors from multiple diverse disciplines and sectors, together with 140+ geoscientists, to explore these themes and better understand our role in urban development that strengthens society and best serves future generations.

Limited tickets remain (available here), and you can follow the conference on Twitter using #GfGDConf.

New Paper: Geoscience Engagement in Global Development Frameworks

We have recently contributed to a new open access article included in a special volume coordinated by the International Association for Promoting Geoethics (IAPG)This article, synthesises the role of geoscientists in the delivery of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, and the Paris Climate Change Agreement, and discusses ways in which we can increase our engagement in the promotion, implementation and monitoring of these key global frameworks.

Abstract: During 2015, the international community agreed three socio-environmental global development frameworks, the: (i) Sustainable Development Goals; (ii) Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, and (iii) Paris Agreement on Climate Change. Each corresponds to important interactions between environmental processes and society. Here we synthesise the role of geoscientists in the delivery of each framework, and explore the meaning of and justification for increased geoscience engagement (active participation). We first demonstrate that geoscience is fundamental to successfully achieving the objectives of each framework. We characterise four types of geoscience engagement (framework design, promotion, implementation, and monitoring and evaluation), with examples within the scope of the geoscience community. In the context of this characterisation, we discuss: (i) our ethical responsibility to engage with these frameworks, noting the emphasis on societal cooperation within the Cape Town Statement on Geoethics; and (ii) the need for increased and higher quality engagement, including an improved understanding of the science-policy-practice interface. Facilitating increased engagement is necessary if we are to maximise geoscience’s positive impact on global development.

PDF (open access) here: 

Geoscience and Sustainable Cities (SDG 11) in Eastern Africa

Kampala (Uganda) – March 2017

Over the past seven months I’ve had the opportunity to visit four growing cities in eastern Africa: Kampala (Uganda), Nairobi (Kenya), Lusaka (Zambia) and Dar es Salaam (Tanzania). The importance of geoscience in delivering SDG 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities) was evident.

“More than half of the world’s population now live in urban areas. By 2050, that figure will have risen to 6.5 billion people – two-thirds of all humanity. Sustainable development cannot be achieved without significantly transforming the way we build and manage our urban spaces.” (United Nations Development Programme – UNDP)

Around the world cities are expanding, and that is no different in eastern Africa. Based on statistics from the United Nations and, between 2014 and 2017…

  • Kampala: The population of the metropolitan area has increased from 1.936 million people to 3.125 million people (an increase of 61%).
  • Nairobi: The population of the metropolitan area has increased from 3.915 million people to 5.350 million people (an increase of 37%).
  • Lusaka: The population of the metropolitan area has increased from 2.179 million people to 2.375 million people (an increase of 9%).
  • Dar es Salaam: The population of the metropolitan area has increased from 5.116 million people to 5.550 million people (an increase of 8%).

These figures and sources come with associated uncertainties and limitations, however the trend towards increasing urban populations is consistent with both longer term United Nations and national census data. Growing urbanisation is a development mega-trend, associated with both major challenges and significant opportunities for delivering all 17 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. For example, while the concentration of people in cities may increase exposure to natural hazards (i.e., a challenge), it could also make it easier to provide basic services to a greater proportion of the population (i.e., an opportunity).  Cities support social and economic development, by bringing people together from diverse backgrounds, enabling commerce and innovation, and facilitating the pursuit of the sciences and arts [UN].

What role for geoscientists?

Growing cities need a secure supply of resources – water, energy and food, but also the raw materials used in the construction of new buildings – from sand and aggregates, to metals and other minerals. Cities also need good planning to ensure they grow in a safe and sustainable manner. This planning includes both surface and subsurface infrastructure, where understanding of ground conditions, geotechnical properties of materials, and potential natural hazards are of critical importance. Cities also need resilience. Large concentrations of people in urban areas could result in catastrophic disasters if both physical and social vulnerabilities to environmental shocks remain high. For example, the integration of seismic history into building design, and environmental science into school education could help to reduce vulnerabilities.

Dar es Salaam (Tanzania)

Diverse geoscience expertise is therefore critical to ensuring sustainable cities… hydrogeologists, engineering geologists, survey and resource geologists, geomorphologists, geohazard specialists, and geochemists can all use their expertise to ensure cities have the resources they need, the integrated planning, and measures to strengthen resilience to environmental stresses, shocks and change.

Example: Transport Infrastructure

Take the example of urban transportation networks. Talk to anybody in Kampala, Nairobi or Dar es Salaam about the challenges of their growing cities and they’ll mention traffic congestion. One review placed Nairobi as second in the world with regards to traffic congestion. Growing populations will exacerbate this problem, having an impact on health, the economy (employment, trade and tourism), and the natural environment. Cities may decide that one way to tackle this congestion is to develop and enhance public transport infrastructure (e.g., metro systems, overland trains and trams). Such approaches would reduce the number of cars on the road, reduce pollution and increase opportunities for employment and trade. For example, journeys from the airport in Dar es Salaam to the city centre and business port could be significantly reduced.  Enhanced transport infrastructure could be of great benefit to a city such as Nairobi or Dar es Salaam, but would need to be built with a thorough understanding of the local geology and environmental dynamics. Alongside urban planners and engineers, geoscientists would be instrumental in tackling this challenge and turning it into an opportunity for sustainable development.

Urban Geoscience

Given the growth or urban areas, and the role of geoscience in ensuring these cities are resourced, well planned, and resilient, there is a growing need for geoscientists to engage in the global urban agenda. The next GfGD Annual Conference is a great opportunity to do that, and learn more about the response needed by geoscientists if we are to play an effective role in ensuring urban spaces are safe and secure. Registration for the 5th GfGD Annual Conference is now open (Friday 3 November, Geological Society of London)! Aimed at geoscientists at all stages of their career, the theme this year is “Cities: Opportunities and Challenges for Sustainable Development”.  This conference will explore themes such as the sustainable resourcing of cities and resilient cities, with a particular focus on the Global South.

Visit our website for further information about the programme and confirmed speakers. Get your ticket here >>

Dar es Salaam (Tanzania) – September 2017