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To achieve the dual goals of minimising global pollution and meeting diverse demands for environmental justice, energy transitions need to involve not only a shift to renewable energy sources but also the safe decommissioning of older energy infrastructures and management of their toxic legacies. While the global scale of the decommissioning challenge is yet to be accurately quantified, the climate impacts are significant: each year, more than an estimated 29 million abandoned oil and gas wells around the world emit 2.5 million tons of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. In the US alone, at least 14 million people live within a mile of an abandoned oil or gas well, creating pollution that is concentrated among low-income areas and communities of colour. The costs involved in decommissioning projects are significant, raising urgent questions about responsibility and whether companies who have profited from the sale of extracted resources will be held liable for clean-up, remediation and management costs. Recognising these political goals and policy challenges, this article invites further research, scrutiny and debate on what would constitute the successful and safe decommissioning of sites affected by fossil fuel operations – with a particular focus on accountability, environmental inequality, the temporality of energy transitions, and strategies for phasing out or phasing down fossil fuel extraction.

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This panel discussion session explores some of the central dimensions of the Crisis in the Anthropocene that constitute global social challenges in the context of development studies. The conference theme highlighted the profound human impact on our blue-green-brown planet, that is already breaching planetary boundaries and pushing us beyond the roughly 1.5°C tipping point. This threatens liveability and sustainability in many localities and regions and may well rapidly be ‘off the scale’ of imaginability and survivability. Inevitably, as mounting empirical evidence and increasingly clear projections by the IPCC and other authoritative bodies show, these impacts are unevenly spread, both socially and spatially, both now and over the coming decades. The urgency of appropriate action is undeniable and we already know many dimensions of the required adaptations and transformations. Yet progress mostly remains too slow. These challenges are vital to the development studies community – heterogenous as it is – with our concerns for tackling poverty, inequality, deprivation and environmental degradation globally and locally.

Hence this symposium asks what the crisis means for development theory, policy and practice and what development studies can and should be contributing to – and, indeed, whether it is capable of – addressing some key dimensions that warrant greater attention.

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This study examines how the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) can be leveraged to facilitate strategic change towards sustainability involving multiple stakeholders in a pluralistic city environment. By drawing on an exemplary case study of the localisation of the SDGs in Bristol, a medium-sized UK city, we show how the goals can operate as a boundary object. In particular, we identify a pattern in which the discursive localisation of the SDGs moved from problematisation and visioning through strategising and structuring towards embedding and performing. In addition, we elaborate on the three tensions that the SDGs help participants to understand and use productively, that is, across scale, time and different ways of valuing. Our study contributes to research on strategic change in pluralistic settings, such as cities, by offering a nuanced account of the discursive use of the SDGs by organisations involved in a city’s sustainable development. Furthermore, by proposing a framework based on the specific tensions that play an important role in the discursive localisation, our study advances research on the role of city strategising and practice more generally.

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Exploitative working conditions for migrant workers in industrial fisheries have recently drawn considerable attention among activists and scholars, often with a focus on Asian fisheries. Even so, fish work can offer a better livelihood option than migrant workers might have in their home countries. These contradictions are apparent in fisheries around the world, including those based in Europe and North America. In this paper we explore the incongruities and patterns of working conditions for migrant workers in Irish fisheries, situating how the global seafood industry relies on a racialised labour force that is devalued to produce raw materials for high-value seafood products, before turning to an analysis of a decades-long campaign to improve Ireland’s legal framework for migrant fish workers. Persistent campaign work illustrates how a multi-pronged approach, including legal strategies and actions to make the injustices in Irish fisheries more visible, is critical to provoking change, even as working conditions remain far short of most land-based sectors in that country.

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In early 2022, over 30 years after the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its first report on the challenges posed by climate change and four subsequent Assessment Reports later, the word ‘colonialism’ finally entered its official lexicon. The sixth report on ‘Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability’  references colonialism, not only as a historical driver of the climate crisis, but also as something that continues to exacerbate the vulnerabilities of communities to it (). As argues, this comes in the wake of long-standing arguments made by Indigenous groups and others on the frontline of climate change about the centrality of colonialism to comprehending and responding to the crisis. The last decade has also seen a significant increase in scholarly literature that draws explicit links between colonialism and climate change – much of which is referenced in the latest IPCC report. While formal acknowledgement of this relationship is long overdue, in this article we argue for caution and precision in the invocation of colonialism within these debates. Following classic article setting out why ‘decolonization is not a metaphor’, we argue relatedly that colonialism needs to be understood as more than a metaphor in climate change debates.

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The city of Bristol, UK, set out to pursue a just transition to climate change in 2020. This paper explores what happened next. We set out to study how just transition is unfolding politically on the ground, focusing on procedural justice. Over the course of a year, we conducted interviews and observations to study decision making at three levels – public sector, private sector and civil society. We found that not only is it difficult to define what just transition means, even for experts, but that the process of deciding how to pursue such a transition is highly exclusionary, especially to women and ethnic minorities. We therefore argue there is an urgency to revise decision-making procedures and ensure that there is ample opportunity to feed into decision-making processes by those who are typically excluded. Inclusive decision making must be embedded into the process of just transition from the beginning and throughout its implementation – it is not a step that can be ‘ticked off’ and then abandoned, but rather an ongoing process that must be consistently returned to. Finally, we conclude that cities have the unique opportunity to pilot bottom-up participatory approaches and to feed into the process of how a just transition might be pursued at the global level – for example, through their participation in the United Nations Framework for the Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of the Parties (COP) processes.

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The 2021 UN Food Systems Summit (UNFSS) awakened the world to the critical need for food systems transformation. Several commitments were made during the summit, with the UN Secretary-General reiterating the need to support national mechanisms that develop and implement national pathways to 2030 that are inclusive and consistent with countries’ climate commitments, building upon the national food systems dialogues. Much of the discussion in the post-summit era has mostly been high level and focused on how countries can be supported to transform pathways into strategies and to design and operationalise investment plans aimed at fostering sustainable and inclusive food systems transformation. However, what has been missing in these discussions is what the envisaged transformation means for the smallholder farmer, and what it takes for smallholder farmers to embrace the transformative agenda and transition to more sustainable methods of production. In this article, reference is made to two of the Five Action Tracks, namely Action Track 3 (boost nature-based solutions) and Action Track 5 (build resilience to vulnerabilities, shocks and stresses), whose central themes are anchored around resilience and sustainability. The paper discusses the underpinnings of nature-positive production systems and explores how these systems interface with smallholder farmers’ circumstances and production goals, and how this might affect implementation of the envisaged practices at the farm level. The central argument in this article is that discussions around food systems transformation must include the smallholder farmers, their lived experiences, socio-economic circumstances, aspirations and production goals.

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Since the early 2010s, small drones have become key tools for environmental research around the globe. While critical voices have highlighted the threat of ‘green securitisation’ and surveillance in contexts where drones are deployed for nature conservation, Indigenous peoples and local communities (IPLCs) worldwide have also begun using drones – most often in alliance with non-governmental organisations or researchers – exploring this technology’s potential to advance their own territorial, political and socio-ecological goals. Against this backdrop, this paper examines six different experiences in five countries where communities are using small drones in areas of high ecological and cultural diversity with international significance for nature conservation. We highlight the ways that communities deploy drones – both in terms of their motivations and actual use strategies. We also reflect upon the opportunities and barriers that IPLCs and their collaborators encounter in designing and implementing meaningful drone strategies, explicitly considering social, economic and political challenges. Finally, we consider the socio-ecological outcomes that community drone use enables across these sites along with the ways that drones engender more biocultural and territorial approaches to conservation through IPLC-led monitoring and mapping efforts. In conclusion, we suggest that effective, meaningful and appropriate deployment of drones, especially with IPLCs as protagonists in their use, can support nature conservation together with the recognition and protection of biocultural and territorial rights. Given the mounting demands for conservation to counter intertwined global socio-environmental crises, community drones may play a role in amplifying the voices and territorial visions of IPLCs.

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Drones are unoccupied aerial systems (UAS) whose technology has evolved rapidly over the past 15 years. Increasingly used in conservation to manage and monitor biodiversity, drones offer rich capabilities to observe in difficult terrain, have relatively affordable hardware costs and are likely to continue to proliferate rapidly in the years ahead. Drones are useful for tasks as diverse as monitoring wildlife poaching and illegal timber extraction, managing ecotourism and disaster responses, and tracking the regeneration or degradation of forests, and offer potential for more specialised tasks as their sensory payloads are developed. However, although associated technical issues and applications have been explored in wide-ranging ways within conservation science, there has been relatively little social-scientific engagement with drones to date. This leaves a gap surrounding the potential social benefits and risks of drones, as well as in interdisciplinary conversations. This introduction is the first of four papers under the heading ‘Drone ecologies’, building on an interdisciplinary workshop held under the same name at the University of Bristol in July 2021. Expanding from the plenary dialogues that opened this workshop, this introduction explores what interdisciplinary perspectives on drones can offer in addressing global social and ecological challenges, drawing on expertise from the fields of conservation biology, human and physical geography, rainforest ecology and environmental systems. Setting out the aims of the overall special collection, we review here the ways that drones are being used, and might be used, in biodiversity conservation, setting out important considerations to minimise risks of inadvertent harms.

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Rapidly evolving drone technologies are taking the conservation sector by storm. Although the technical and applied conservation literature tends to frame drones as autonomous, neutral technologies, we argue that neither drones nor their implications can be adequately understood unless they are grounded, conceptually and methodologically, in the context of broader societal structures that shape how drones and the data they produce are used. This article introduces the value of a political ecology framework to an interdisciplinary audience of biophysical and social scientists interested in the multiple possibilities and complications associated with conservation drones. Political ecology provides the tools for studying and critically engaging with drone use in conversation in ways that are politically engaged and attuned to power relations – historic and present, local and global – in a more-than-human world. In making this argument, we point to four conceptual tools in political ecology that offer a framework for unveiling the power relations and structures that surround drones in different contexts: political economy, territoriality, knowledge and expertise, and more-than-human relations. Using empirics from our work across Latin America (Colombia and Guatemala), Africa (Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa and Mozambique), and North America (the US and Canada), we illustrate the salience of this framework and demonstrate why evaluating what drones do in and for conservation requires first understanding the complex set of power relations that shape their use.

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