Cléa Daridan introduces the Jameel C40 Urban Planning Climate Labs on the Cities 1.5 podcast


Cléa Daridan, senior curator and cultural lead at Community Jameel, spoke about the Jameel C40 Urban Planning Climate Labs in Chennai and Amman in an appearance on 'Cities 1.5', the podcast from C40 Cities, developed by the University of Toronto Press and hosted by the former mayor of Toronto, David Miller.

The episode – 'Funders focus: Philanthropic efforts that are driving the fight against climate breakdown' – was published on 9 April 2024.



Cléa Daridan: I'm Cléa Daridan, senior curator and cultural lead at Community Jameel, calling from London.

David Miller: Community Jameel is a philanthropic organisation that supports scientists, humanitarians, technologists and creatives to understand and address pressing human challenges. Their work has led to significant scientific breakthroughs, including a Nobel prize-winning experimental approach to alleviating global poverty, championed by the co-founders of the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab, also known as J-PAL.

J-PAL is a partner on the C40 Urban Climate Labs project, which works with national, state, and city government teams to foster evidence-based and innovative strategies in tackling climate change.

In her career, Cléa has served as curator and publisher for numerous cultural institutions and has a wealth of knowledge on how climate projects might fuse with health, arts and culture in the future.

Cléa, first of all, thank you very much for joining us on 'Cities 1.5'.

Cléa Daridan: Thank you.

David Miller: Well, it's our privilege to have you. Could you maybe just introduce yourself a bit and tell our listeners a bit more about what you do?

Cléa Daridan: Sure. Community Jameel is an independent global organisation advancing science and learning for communities to thrive.

I am responsible for the curatorial strategy and partnership development to design and deliver programmes and projects related to culture and the arts with a specific focus on the Middle East and the Global South.

David Miller: Can you speak a bit more about the history of Community Jameel, why it has a focus on the Middle East and why, given the background and role you've just mentioned, it's thinking about the climate crisis and its related impacts?

Cléa Daridan: Community Jameel was launched in 2003 to continue the long tradition of philanthropy and community service established by the Jameel family of Saudi Arabia in 1945. We support scientists, humanitarians, technologists and creatives to understand and address pressing human challenges.

The work enabled and supported by Community Jameel has led to significant breakthroughs, including: the MIT Jameel Clinic's discovery of new antibiotics; critical modelling of the spread of COVID-19 conducted by the Jameel Institute at Imperial College in London; and a Nobel prize-winning experimental approach to alleviating global poverty championed by the co-founders of the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab.

Community Jameel's work aims to understand and address some of the world's most pressing challenges. And as you know, research conducted by WHO shows that 3.6 billion people already live in areas threatened by climate change. The climate crisis and its impact are far-reaching and have implications on everything that we all do.

As the climate crisis worsens, it will become the leading threat to communities across the globe, which has unfortunately made it a priority for us.

David Miller: It's interesting, the link that Community Jameel provides between the academic world and its funding. Can you talk a little bit about the philosophy there of Community Jameel and why it supports the academic work and how it sees its role as a funder, as a philanthropy, in connecting that work to real outcomes on the ground that benefit people's lives?

Cléa Daridan: So, in terms of the model and the connection to research, we've built a kind of model with centres of excellence, and we acknowledge the fact that within the team, not all of us are experts. There are experts out there and experts from different geographies, which are the geographies that we're trying to concentrate on.

So, in terms of the funding, OECD, which is a very strong partner of ours, states that over recent years, private philanthropic foundations have largely stepped up their financing towards climate action in developing countries, with over USD 1.5 billion for climate action in 2020.

The targeted activities are various, and they include agriculture, environment protection, energy and transport, social infrastructure, awareness raising, which is key, and last but not least, urban development.

David Miller: Community Jameel's unique because most philanthropists, at least the ones that we're aware of here at 'Cities 1.5', have roots in the Global North. Community Jameel has roots that aren't in the Global North, as you said. Can you speak a little bit about how that affects the philosophy and the thought about where the organisation wants to fund and who it wants to support?

Cléa Daridan: Yes, so, as mentioned before, the Jameel family originally comes from Saudi Arabia. The Community Jameel team is composed of a majority of people from the Global South. We believe that philanthropic organisations should invest in South-led science and innovation for a just and equitable climate finance framework.

It would be great if there could be more philanthropies in the Global South, but to be honest, there are already many of them doing great work, and our colleagues in the Global North are also doing a fantastic job.

We work with a lot of them, but as I was mentioning before, we're trying to push for a new model, which is science-led, embedded in a local context, governed by local stakeholders, and aligned to community challenges.

David Miller: Well, that model sounds to me like it's starting from the right place, because it's grounded in community and empowering community. Community Jameel is working with C40 and in partnership with J-PAL, helping create pioneering climate labs.

Can you talk about that work as perhaps an example of the point you're making about grounding action, support and resource in community, with local stakeholders addressing local challenges?

Cléa Daridan: Yes, absolutely. And that's a lab that we're very proud of. When C40 came to us mentioning urban planning, it actually struck a chord for one and only reason, and that is evidence.

Two-thirds of the world's largest cities are coastal delta cities, vulnerable to rising sea levels. Only recently, while we were all at COP28 in Dubai discussing climate emergency, Chennai was facing another dreadful cyclone, exposing 12 million people to extreme flooding, storms, threatening lives and economies.

I come from Alexandria, Egypt, and in 2022, the IPCC published a report mentioning that, best case scenario, if the Mediterranean rises only 50 centimetres by 2050, 30 percent of Alexandria will be flooded, 1.5 million or more people will be displaced, almost 200,000 jobs will be destroyed, and losses in land and construction will reach USD 30 trillion – now, between you and I, I believe that none of us knows what USD 30 trillion actually represents.

This is the reason why we were so interested in setting up the Jameel C40 Urban Planning Climate Labs: to actually assist rapidly growing cities in merging climate action with urban planning.

I think that we're all conscious of the fact that urban planning has a significant influence over how people live and how they move around the city, how this can impact greenhouse gas emissions.

And the thing is, without bold action, there is a risk of continuing with unsustainable development patterns, fuelling carbon-intensive societies. Sustainable, inclusive, resilient urban planning offers a chance to mitigate and adapt to climate risk for decades. And that's what the Jameel C40 Urban Planning Climate Labs are trying to do.

They will support the integration of climate action in the new master plan of Chennai in India and in the urban planning regulations of Amman in Jordan.

David Miller: What's the goal from a Community Jameel perspective with the work in Amman and Chennai?

Cléa Daridan: Community Jameel is aiming to support Amman and Chennai for them to mainstream climate action, so the goal is to ensure the integration of climate action at the level of both municipalities in Chennai and in Amman.

When you mention the impact of climate change, one has to understand that there are several layers to the impacts of climate change. Obviously, there's an impact on construction, there is an impact on economies, but mostly there is an impact on lives.

And when it comes to cities such as Chennai or cities such as Amman or even, you know, any cities around the world who might be facing extreme weather challenges, you have to keep in mind that the buildings, of course, but also people who might be living in informal settlements, people who might be homeless, and all of those different communities have to be addressed and we have to find ways to include them all in the programmes that we're trying to design.

David Miller: One of the things we're seeing at C40, and we're seeing through the Journal of City Climate Policy and Economy and the submissions of the various academics who are proposing articles, is a very interesting increase in projects that sort of straddle the intersection between climate change and health and culture and arts.

So, given that your role at Community Jameel straddles those, can you speak a little bit about why this is happening and why should civil society, city leaders and national governments be paying attention to these trends?

Cléa Daridan: So, I'm an art, architecture and design historian by background and I live in Paris. So, when Baron Haussmann and Napoleon III started to work on Paris' transformation, it was quite controversial.

Financially, they benefited from Pereire and from Rothschild's help. Now who remembers them outside Parisians? No one.

And same goes for philanthropy supporting urban planning today. Will Community Jameel ever benefit from having its logo on Chennai or Amman's new climate action plans, if they even do? I really doubt it.

The truth is, many of our friends, esteemed colleagues, working on climate change and for big philanthropic organisations, already support climate action and networks, such as C40 – but very few of them are ready to go into such a niche space as urban planning.

And they may want to call us mad – but from an impact perspective, there is no doubt that this pioneer, innovative model, focused on trust-based philanthropy towards the municipalities themselves, is a scalable model that will have a very, very big environmental and social impact.

And just to go back to what you were mentioning previously, we have also partnered with J-PAL to develop clean air and water labs at the national level in Egypt, at the state level in India, including in Gujarat, and at the city level in Cape Town, South Africa.

So, collectively, we think that these labs will guide evidence-based policies and serve more than 260 million people.

David Miller: It's a lot of people. Your answers have been very forward-looking, I think, about the reason for Community Jameel to be involved in these initiatives at the community level, the city level, and in some cases at the national and sub-national level.

Can you just speak to where you think philanthropy needs to go, and where it will go, and what you might say to other funders about getting involved in this space in the future?

Cléa Daridan: In terms of funding, I do think that there will continue to be a bigger role for philanthropy to channel increased funding towards climate action, that's for sure.

Now, when it comes to Community Jameel, our hope is to impact more lives around the world and to continue to build our community of scientists, of humanitarians, of technologists and creatives, especially in the Global South.

In terms of what I would want to say to other philanthropic organisations, I think I would want to say, we need you. Please, come on board. We need you.

David Miller: That gap seems to be particularly true in the Global South around issues like adaptation, as you were speaking to, and we need other funders to come on board to help communities build their own solutions grounded in their own reality.

Cléa Daridan: Absolutely, and please make sure to involve the municipalities, the scientists, the local academics. They are fantastic, they have incredible knowledge, and we all have so much to learn from them.

David Miller: Cléa, thank you very much for being with us today, but more importantly, for Community Jameel's very thoughtful approach to connecting the academic world with the political world and the practical world, in order to produce meaningful outcomes on the ground, particularly in the Global South.

It's a fascinating philanthropy – judging from the evidence, highly effective. So we appreciate you not just being with us, but your everyday ongoing work, which is making such a big difference.

Cléa Daridan: I would also like to thank you, because Community Jameel wouldn't exist if not for the partnerships that we build. So, it's not only about us, it's about the community around us, and C40 is part of this community.

And we now have an incredible team working on the Jameel C40 Urban Planning Climate Labs, which will surely make a difference. So, thank you to everyone involved.