Fifty years shaping the urbanisation agenda

IIED researcher David Satterthwaite, in his half a century with the organisation, helped to shape global agendas for addressing urban poverty, environmental health issues and climate-related risks in the global South. Equally importantly, he created partnerships with, and platforms for, grassroots organisations and federations of urban poor groups.

May 2024
2 minute read
A man sits next to a woman in front of a sign branded "DPU"

David Satterthwaite speaks at an event hosted by the Development Planning Unit at UCL

David Satterthwaite joined IIED in 1974 as research assistant to founder Barbara Ward and quickly developed a focus on informal settlements in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

A key aspect of his subsequent career was the importance of allowing low-income groups to participate in decision-making processes. He forged partnerships with grassroots organisations such as Slum/Shack Dwellers International and the Asian Coalition for Housing Rights.

‘Environment and Urbanization’, the IIED journal that Satterthwaite and colleagues set up in 1989, created a platform for voices from the global South. It has become a globally accessible archive of local action and an evidence base for change.

Using research and learning to effect change was a defining principle of Satterthwaite’s career, which has had a significant influence on policy globally. His writings helped ensure that urban and environmental health issues were included in Agenda 21, the output of the Earth Summit in 1992, while his advocacy ensured his partners in grassroots organisations took part in the process shaping the Millennium Development Goals.  

In 1997 he joined the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), pushing scientists to focus on adaptation to climate change in urban areas of the global South. In 2007, he was part of the IPCC team that shared the Nobel Peace Prize.