Megan LUKAS, PhD in Environmental and Geographical Science (South Africa)

For Megan Lukas, pro-environmental activities should be recognised in cities of the global south. She has identified self-motivated groups promoting sustainability in an impoverished township in Cape Town. She hopes to use their example to inform decision makers about what is required to achieve sustainability and improved well-being within townships.

Current position: Post-doc at the African Climate & Development Initiative (ACDI), University of Cape Town

Research focus: human connection to the environment in an under-resourced township setting regarding pro-environmental behaviour, sustainable living and place attachment

Much of the modern environmental-ecological movement is anti-urbanist and many take the view that cities are the roots of degradation and pollution and therefore should not exist. Megan, however, supports the idea of sustainable cities, where populations take actions to reduce their environmental impact. She has identified a particular form of African urbanism, characterised by the ways in which individuals and households forge and sustain association networks within a context of material scarcity and the failure of formal institutions.

Megan’s research examines the environmental engagement and everyday lives of residents living in Nyanga, a poor township in Cape Town. Given the local history, the community itself was poorly designed and a sustainable lifestyle is often difficult for a population that suffers from overcrowding, high unemployment, a lack of formal education, high crime rates, and a shortage of green open spaces. In Nyanga, Megan pinpointed two groups that exemplify pro-environmental behaviour. The first of these groups “Etafeni” initiates community projects, such as developing parks, vegetable gardens and recycling programmes. The second “Abalimi Bazekhaya” teaches local community members to plant and grow their own fruit and vegetables. Both of these groups have thrived, even without institutional support.

Megan’s goal is to identify ways in which people in poorer urban communities can improve their lives, using sustainable methods that are both self-motivated and self-implemented. The jury recognised significant value in Megan’s long-term aim of providing political decision makers with an understanding of what is required at a social and grassroots level to achieve sustainability and improved socio-economic well-being within townships. 

Currently, Megan is working on the IPCC's 6th annual report as a chapter scientist. It's a post-doc position she got through the African Climate and Development Initiative (ACDI) at the University of Cape Town.