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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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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 failure of COP26 to secure binding commitments delivering a pathway to global warming limited to 1.5°C is attributable to a UN political process that prevents addressing the inequalities between and within nations in generating greenhouse gases. Historical divergences of national wealth and the present extreme inequalities of purchasing power (Piketty, Milanovic, Savage) manifest themselves in how the richest people in the richest nations are now the leading forcers of climate change. A second dimension of inequality, receiving less attention, concerns the inequalities between nations of environmental resources in fossil energy, agricultural land, minerals and renewable alternatives. The concept of sociogenesis of climate change analyses the combination of these two dimensions of inequality to account for the present political impasse, national and international. A dominant feature of a nation’s wealth has historically been based on the unrestricted exploitation of its own environmental resources, or those that it commands through colonisation or trade. This has resulted in the US now producing more than double the CO₂eq per capita than China, or Germany consuming four times more coal per capita than India. The COP26 impasse on coal and fossil fuels arose in part from China’s and India’s unwillingness to strand its environmental assets without alternative pathways to equivalent national wealth, while wealthier nations continue to excessively exploit theirs. A sociogenic analysis of wealth and environmental resource inequalities signals the need for a radical change in the political processes required to mitigate the climate emergency.

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Despite obstacles, institutional barriers and prejudices, interdisciplinarity is a growing movement within academia. Evolving from the pioneering experiences in broad multidisciplinary ventures since the post–Second World War era, interdisciplinary programmes and research projects are now a worldwide reality in universities. Complex and interconnected challenges of humanity, such as social unrests, economic and ecological crises, political turmoil and global human health emergencies demand integration of efforts and competencies of researchers from a wide range of backgrounds, and the involvement of actors from outside the academia. In recent years, complex challenges fuelling the need for better integration of work in universities and research centres with real demands of societies are further feeding transdisciplinary endeavours. Such movements pose new questions, ranging from institutional arrangements to methodological frameworks, which are far from being solved. This article reflects on the nature and practice of scholarly engagement in this trajectory during the 21st century from vantage points of the Global South. Some insights are based on what we have learnt over our work lives, and some are based on collected information about experiences in India and Brazil. This contribution also raises questions that could potentially concern other countries, especially in the Global South. However, it is not a handbook directly applicable to realities other than Brazil and India. Discussions in academia about pathways to interdisciplinarity should go beyond its legitimisation. The agenda now has to shift towards transdisciplinary co-construction of knowledge, by creating gateways to connect the scientific world to the ‘real world’.

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Since the early 2010s, academic and policy debates about the interlinkages between climate and security have expanded and deepened. Climate is now widely acknowledged to magnify security risks especially in conflict or post-conflict contexts. This relationship is viewed as complex, dynamic and indirect, involving a wide range of intermediate variables. However, this discussion – and hence, related policy efforts – have tended to occur at highly aggregate levels of analysis, especially national, regional and global ones. Instead, this paper addresses climate-sensitive peacebuilding at the local level. What does local climate-sensitive peacebuilding look like on the ground? What are the promising areas for research and policy responses in fragile and conflict-affected settings? After offering a broad overview of climate-sensitive peacebuilding, we focus on the case of Afghanistan, drawing on specific examples that were in place prior to the 2021 return to power of the Taliban. We find that the traditional Western approach in the country – top-down, focused on hard security rather than human security and highly state-centric – tends to ignore the impacts of climate change. In addition, the dominant security paradigm overlooks the potential of local peacebuilding initiatives that address adaptation and resilience. We argue that climate-sensitive peacebuilding offers a bottom-up alternative to addressing the intersection of these risks in conflict-affected settings.

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