Deepal Doshi, Mia Wannewitz, Jan Petzold

Three members of the TRANSCEND group recently attended and presented at the American Association of Geographers’ Annual Meeting held in Denver, Colorado, from 23-27 March 2023. The theme of this year’s meeting was “Just Geographies”.

There were more than 4,500 presentations, posters, workshops and field trips. For a conference at this scale, the AAG App was our guide in getting an overview of the different sessions, selecting the ones we wanted to attend (in-person or virtual) and looking up logistical information. The App also functioned as a database of presenters, abstracts of presentations and own notes taken during sessions.

Overall, it was fascinating to see and explore the variety of themes covered within the discipline of geography - ranging from regional geography, behavioural geography, feminist geography, digital geography, and critical geography. Hence, sessions were as varied as “Feminist Ferment - geography and geopolitics of gender in the United States craft beer space” to “Emerging Research Methods for Social and Economic Equity in Community Resilience and Climate Adaptation Research”. While the three of us attended many sessions of common interest, for example, on climate change adaptation, disaster risk, and urban geography, we also branched out in sessions specific to our work and interest.

Jan attended, amongst others, several sessions focussing on various climate change adaptation issues. The session “Challenges and opportunities related to climate-induced human mobility and migration” brought together different case studies of climate-related relocation, for example, due to rising sea levels or increasing wildfires. Also, resistance to relocation and aspects of environmental justice were discussed - both are topics closely related to our research in TRANSCEND. Similarly, the panel discussion on “bringing equity into climate adaptation partnerships” discussed the crucial question of how equity concerns can be addressed in developing climate services. The panellists shared experiences from different initiatives across the United States, with interesting insights into how community-based organisations and stakeholders can be involved in creating meaningful climate services.

Mia attended various interesting sessions with different foci. Linked to her research interest, she tried to observe across different sessions and presentations if and how other researchers and research fields consider the topic of socio-cultural diversity when assessing and conceptualising local social phenomena. One example where such heterogeneities were covered to some extent was the Session “Adapt-me-not: Resistance to climate change adaptation initiatives”, in which the different presentations showcased how individuals and/or groups of individuals opted for not adapting to climate change for different reasons. Across most presentations, Mia observed that if diversity was considered in explaining social phenomena, there was a focus on socio-economic or demographic groups rather than socio-cultural aspects - an interesting observation for her own study.

Deepal attended some insightful sessions with presentations on climate finance and the emerging use of social media, such as Twitter, which she found inspiring for her research. One session on “Conceiving Social Media as Spaces” showcased interesting studies of using social media platforms as spaces to analyse discontent in society, for example, in the Arab Spring. However, participants also reflected on social media being a highly contested space and not just a one-way battle with conspiracy theories, fake news, censorship policies etc. circulating as well. The session also invited discussion on the difference between “digital selves” and “analog selves” in the use of social media as an analytical space. Such discussions were particularly helpful for Deepal in the context of her current work on assessing social contracts through social listening on Twitter.

Our session, co-chaired by Matthias and Prof. Bill Solecki from Hunter College, NY, was titled “Future risk and adaptation in coastal cities”. The session focused on addressing three key knowledge gaps: first, understanding future trends in exposure and vulnerability; second, knowledge on the feasibility of different adaptation options beyond cost-benefit criteria; and finally, on adaptation governance, including questions on the distribution of roles and responsibilities between different actor groups. Presentations in this session included three contributions by the TRANSCEND team - Jan, Mia and Deepal.

Jan presented his findings of a spin-off review of the Global Adaptation Mapping Initiative (GAMI), assessing how different actors and their roles in climate change adaptation are represented in academic literature. Amongst others, the review shows the different coverage of governmental and non-governmental actors across regions and urban and rural areas and how roles such as implementing or planning adaptation are distributed differently between these actors.

Mia presented findings from a systematic literature analysis also based on GAMI that assesses empirical evidence for adaptation in coastal cities. The paper identifies dominant adaptation patterns among coastal cities and a lack of more transformative adaptation approaches that cannot be explained by city size or income level. These and other insights from this first global overview of the state of adaptation of coastal cities help identify research and adaptation gaps, which can inform the global stocktake of adaptation progress as required by the Paris Agreement.

Deepal presented her paper on “Assessment of social contracts for urban adaptation to climate change through social listening on Twitter”. The presentation focused on the Mumbai case study and showcased findings on the expectation of roles and responsibilities for flood risk management by actors, as discussed in Twitter debates.

We also had a presentation by Prof. Volker Hochschild from the University of Tübingen in this session titled “Urban Structure Types as a planning relevant tool to identify vulnerabilities - examples from climate change suffering coastal cities in Vietnam”. In the follow-up session, chaired by Prof. Bill Solecki (City University of New York), we had two presentations - one virtual by Prof. Javier Revilla Diez (University of Cologne) on “Micro business participation in collective flood adaptation. Lessons from scenario-based analysis in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam” and one by doctoral candidate Marizeh Parisa Setayesh (City University of New York) on “Flood risk perception and household decision making in coastal communities of NY and NJ”.

Apart from the opportunity to present and discuss our own work, the trip to the AAG was valuable for getting closer insights into the current research landscape in the North American geography context, and learning from what leading American institutes (e.g., the Natural Hazards Center, Boulder, NYU, UC Berkeley) and geographers (e.g. Diana Livermann and Bill Solecki) are working on and how they present their research.