Perspective | Published:

The urban south and the predicament of global sustainability

Nature Sustainabilityvolume 1pages341349 (2018) | Download Citation


Urbanization is a global phenomenon with strong sustainability implications across multiple scales. We argue that much of the associated challenges, and opportunities, are found in the global south. We show that urban issues in the global south are distinctly and statistically different from those in the global north, but our current urban knowledge is predominantly shaped by research on and from the global north. Cities in the global south have strong imperatives, and unique but often overlooked capacity, to innovate and experiment for sustainability. We call for a renewed research focus on urbanization in the south, and suggest targeted efforts to correct structural biases in the knowledge production system.

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H.N. acknowledges research funding from Azim Premji University’s Centre for Urban Ecological Sustainability. E.S.B. acknowledges support from the United States National Science Foundation for the project ‘Catalyzing action towards sustainability of deltaic systems with an integrated modeling framework for risk assessment (BF-DELTAS)’ (NSF # 1342898). We thank S. Agarwal, E. Bhar, C. Hilliker, S. Mundoli, A. Tabassum, P. Venkatram and Y. Zhang for assistance with data coding and figures. This Perspective is a contribution to the Future Earth Urban Knowledge-Action Network.

Author information


  1. Azim Premji University, Bangalore, India

    • Harini Nagendra
  2. Australian National University, Canberra, Australia

    • Xuemei Bai
  3. Beijing Normal University, Beijing, China

    • Xuemei Bai
  4. Indiana University, Bloomington, IN, USA

    • Eduardo S. Brondizio
  5. University of Campinas, Campinas, Brazil

    • Eduardo S. Brondizio
  6. Makarere University, Kampala, Uganda

    • Shuaib Lwasa


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H.N. and X.B. conceived the paper. H.N., X.B. and E.S.B. designed and conducted the analysis. All authors wrote and commented on the manuscript.

Competing interests

The author declare no competing interests.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Harini Nagendra or Xuemei Bai.

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