Champion of urban climate action to deliver IIED's 2016 Barbara Ward Lecture

19 July 2016

Leading urban practitioner asks: will Habitat III's New Urban Agenda deliver?

Debra Roberts will become the latest 'outstanding woman in development' to deliver the Barbara Ward Lecture

The 2016 Barbara Ward Lecture taking place in London, UK, on 11 October 2016 will be delivered by Debra Roberts, head of the Sustainable City Initiatives portfolio in eThekwini Municipality, Durban, South Africa.

The lecture comes as the world focuses on urban issues ahead of Habitat III, the United Nations' first urbanisation conference in 20 years.

Roberts' lecture will be based on her experience as a practitioner working in an African city and will question if the New Urban Agenda − to be agreed at the summit − is actually capable of driving sustainable urban development at the local level and in the real world, outside of UN negotiating halls.

Roberts brings a unique perspective to the urban debate. Through her work in institutions on the ground she brings a clear understanding of how global frameworks such as Habitat III can support local needs.

In the international arena, Roberts is lead author of Working Group II of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report. She is also currently co-chair of Working Group II for the IPCC's sixth assessment cycle.

She is a member of several international advisory bodies focused on climate change issues in cities and was a member of the South African United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change negotiating team. 

IIED's Barbara Ward Lectures celebrate outstanding women in development in honour of the institute's founder, who pioneered work in linking environment and development.

More about Debra Roberts

As a city official, Roberts has received worldwide recognition for spearheading work in how the world's urban spaces can tackle the risks of climate change. She is known particularly for putting Durban on the map as a frontrunner in climate change adaptation. 

She led the Durban Adaptation Charter for Local Governments, developed and adopted during the UN climate negotiations in Durban in 2011. Signed by more than 100 cities around the world, this charter secured political commitment of local governments to strengthen capacity of cities to deal with the impacts of climate change.

Prior to taking up the post as head of Durban's Sustainable City Initiatives portfolio in 2016, Roberts was head of Durban's environmental planning and climate protection department. She is also the municipality's first chief resilience officer, overseeing the city’s first climate resilience strategy.

Debra Roberts discusses cities and climate change at the 7th International Conference on Community Based Adaptation, in 2013

Roberts is a regular contributor to Environment & Urbanization (E&U), one of the world's leading environmental and urban studies journals.

She has worked as a lecturer and researcher at the University of Natal, South Africa and has written widely in the fields of urban open space planning, environmental management and urban climate protection.

About the Barbara Ward Lecture series

Barbara Ward was a renowned speaker whose lectures influenced audiences around the world. In honour of her pioneering and inspirational work in sustainable development, IIED organises lectures by the current generation of outstanding women in development. 

The lectures prompt us to reconsider and debate thinking around important aspects of sustainable development and are followed by a lively question and answer session.

IIED has been engaging with urban issues since the 1970s. Our Human Settlements research group works on urban environmental issues at all levels – from grassroots partnerships to global summits. Our Urban Matters blog focuses on urban poverty, climate change in cities and rural-urban linkages.