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Exploring Power and Procedural Justice Within Climate Compatible Development Project Design: Whose Priorities Are Being Considered?

The authors explore how climate-compatible development design processes reconcile stakeholder preferences and procedural justice, using a case study analysis of two donor-funded projects in Malawi.


The authors explore procedural justice and power in project design through a case study analysis of two donor-funded projects in Malawi. They find that “top-down” and “expert-led” design processes and hidden power dynamics often result in the selective involvement of stakeholders, and that over time, the dependency on funding has led to the institutionalization of the donor project design preferences in the practices of non-governmental organizations (NGOs). While a considerable overlap exists between the stakeholders’ “revealed” priorities, invisible power dynamics encourage the suppression of “true” preferences. Therefore, visible, hidden, and invisible forms of power create barriers to procedural justice in climate-compatible development design in these projects.

The authors also present a theoretical framework that is meant to facilitate a holistic exploration of power and procedural justice in project design. Specifically, they used the “power cube” approach as a starting point to facilitate the understanding of participatory and procedural justice “spaces”, through which stakeholders can meaningfully engage with governance systems, along with the visible, hidden, and invisible power dynamics that delimit these spaces. The framework facilitates multilevel analyses, thereby enabling the investigation of whether and how the procedural justice spaces, open to stakeholders, differ across these dimensions.

The authors suggest that policymakers and practitioners can facilitate the patterns of procedural justice, if they put local priorities first, make participatory assessments robust and reflexive, take steps to reconcile worldviews, and harness co-production between professional stakeholders. Furthermore, to create pathways toward procedural justice, policymakers must avoid making design decisions on the basis of epistemological certainties and embrace discursive solutions.

Climate justice and global cities: Mapping the emerging discourses

The paper draws on case studies and a database of initiatives from 100 cities to examine the emergence of the discourses on distributive and procedural justice in urban responses to climate change.


The paper seeks to examine the ways in which concerns about justice are being articulated in the planning and implementation of urban climate change policy and projects, and consider the extent to which the city provides an arena within which questions of climate justice could be thought anew. The authors showcase the differences across the mitigation and adaptation domains in the ways by which the principles of climate justice have been articulated. They have also addressed some of the critical challenges in translating these principles into the urban arena. Drawing on an analysis of the projects and interventions taking place in 100 global cities in response to climate change, they have identified the explicit articulations of distributive and procedural justice across the adaptation and mitigation domains in only a small number of cities.

The authors highlight how the urban context brings to the fore the difficult questions of forms of procedure and type of participation, which could count as “just”, in the context of the widely-variegated forms of climate change response. While similar principles of distributive and procedural justice can be applied to both mitigation and adaptation, in practice, notions of justice are articulated differently across these domains. The authors also highlight specifically the differences in the ways in which justice has been articulated and what it has come to mean when it is framed at different scales, from nation states to individuals.

The authors find that there is limited explicit concern with justice at the urban level. However, where discourses of justice are evident, there are important differences emerging between urban responses to adaptation and mitigation, and between those in the north and in the south. Adaptation responses tend to stress the distribution of the “rights” to protection, although those in the South also emphasize the importance of procedural justice. Mitigation responses also stress the “rights” to the benefits of responding to climate change, with a limited concern for “responsibilities” or for procedural justice. The authors also find that while adaptation responses tend to focus on the rights of individuals, discourses of collective rights are emerging in relation to mitigation. They notice less of an emphasis on matters of procedural justice; such matters are more likely to be a concern in initiatives in the south, whereas responses in the north (often focused on the adaptation to heat) are more technocratic in their orientation.