Environment and Well-being

Thematic Lead: University of Birmingham and University of Nairobi
Coordinators: Prof. Francis Pope and Dr Anne Kamau
Teaching Fellows: Dr Carlo Luiu and Raphael Indimuli


The 21st century has been referred to as the first ‘urban’ or ‘metropolitan’ century and by 2050 it is forecast that 66% of people will be living in urban areas, with the highest rates of urban growth expected in Global South countries. Urbanisation is positively linked with economic growth and prosperity, as well as the push from rural areas and the pull factors from the cities and towns. However, urbanisation often goes hand in hand with environmental degradation resulting from unequal and unplanned urban growth, emergence and expansion of informal settlements, destruction of green areas, and transport systems. Cities are becoming hotspots for a number of adverse environmental exposures, affecting communities and individuals’ health and well-being. For example, the Lancet Commission on pollution and health estimated that air pollution leads to the premature deaths of over 9 million people globally, contributing to one in six deaths worldwide. Exposure to air pollution contributes to health inequalities, affecting those who live, work, socialize and commute in highly urbanized areas, which typically have a substantially higher concentration of air pollutants.

Increased transportation and mobility are other factors associated with urbanisation. Increased activities of passenger and freight have been growing exponentially in the last decades, making urban mobility one of the greatest contemporary global challenges. The transport sector is considered one of the main contributors to environmental deterioration, making for nearly a quarter of global energy-related carbon emissions.

This module will explore and reflect upon the intersectionality between environment and mobility and understand to what extent such a relationship impacts the well-being of communities, individuals and varying socio-demographic groups and categories. The focus will be on issues concerning four interconnected themes: 1) air and noise pollution; 2) transport decarbonization; 3) local environmental problems/conflicts and 4) environmental and transportation justice. These topics will be explored from the global to the local scale, drawing from examples and case studies based on the students’ contexts and background.

Key questions to be addressed will be the following:

  • What are the main challenges related to environment and mobility? And how do such challenges affect the population’s well-being?
  • What kind of interventions do you think are needed to address the challenges that you have identified? 
  • Is it possible to compare and contrast the global disparities by reflecting on successful interventions and current challenges?
  • What are possible strategies to address challenges from your individual national and local contexts while paying attention to vulnerable population groups and categories?

Environment and Well-being sub-themes

Air and noise pollution: Exposure to air and noise pollutants causes a range of adverse effects on human health and well-being. Air pollution is linked with around 7 million premature deaths worldwide. Main impacts include the increase of issues linked with the respiratory system (asthma and bronchitis), increased risk of heart disease, strokes, cancer and cognitive function of older people and children. Noise pollution is a strong contributor to stress, anxiety, and sleep disturbances. Prolonged exposure to noise pollution can also increase the risk of heart disease, and negatively impact mental health.

Transport decarbonization: Transport decarbonization is the process of reducing the carbon emissions produced by the transportation sector, which is considered among the main contributors to global greenhouse gas emissions. The main goal of transport decarbonization is to mitigate the impacts of climate change by transitioning to low-carbon transportation systems that reduce dependence on fossil fuels. Typical examples in this sense include transitioning to electric mobility, improving a providing better public transportation systems and promoting sustainable transportation modes such as walking and cycling. 

Local environmental conflicts: Local environmental conflicts refer to those issues that emerge from policy and infrastructure development changing the status quo of a specific context. Such changes create controversies between different interest groups or stakeholders (communities, businesses, and government agencies) that are often driven by conflicting values, interests, and perceptions of environmental and societal problems.

Environmental and Transportation Justice: Environmental justice is the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, colour, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies. Transportation justice is the concept seeking the development of a transportation system that is equitable, sustainable, reliable, affordable and accessible to people of all races, gender, age, income, and abilities. These concepts aim at addressing the systemic barriers and patterns that have resulted in unequal health and environmental outcomes for marginalized/discriminated communities.