Environment and Sustainability

The growing Environment and Sustainability list is at the heart of our remit to publish quality scholarship that addresses global social challenges.

This list covers a broad spectrum of issues and focuses on the social justice dimensions of environmental sustainability, including in: climate change; environmental politics; developing sustainable economies; transport and sustainability; and environmentalist thought and ideology.

The new Open Access Global Social Challenges Journal incorporates these themes to facilitate critical thinking across disciplines and fields.

Environment and Sustainability

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Debate on the need for more fairness in academic research collaborations between actors in Africa (or the ‘Global South’, broadly) and counterparts in the Global North has intensified in recent years, while practice-oriented frameworks and efforts to foster more equitable partnerships have proliferated. Important approaches to recognise and undo asymmetries in concrete collaboration arrangements – division of labour, decision making, access to rewards, capacity building – have been identified.

In this provocation we draw on African and other postcolonial, decolonial and feminist scholarship, as well as systems thinking and global science data to argue that such ‘equitable partnerships’ efforts at best sidestep the urgent need for a much more profound rebalancing of the positioning of Africa and ‘Global North’ in the worldwide science and research ecosystem as a whole. We consider why such wider rebalancing is an imperative for both Africa and the global community, propose that research collaborations must be understood as a key entry point for advancing such a systemic shift, and suggest a necessary transformative collaboration mode to this end. We conclude by positing an urgent need to think and act beyond ‘equitable’ partnerships and highlight where responsibilities for action must lie.

Open access

The legacies of eugenics in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) and their connections to global colonialism remain uncharted. Therefore, it is worth pondering over this relationship, which requires a historical perspective and a repositioning of the recent postcolonial ‘turn’ in CEE to include the history of eugenics. For the most part of the 20th century, eugenics took shape within both colonial and nation-building projects. Eugenic strategies devised to preserve the colonial system outside Europe have always coexisted with programmes designed to improve the well-being of nations within Europe. This convergence between colonial, racial and national dimensions of eugenics requires a critical rethought. While this key line of inquiry has been a major focus in Western Europe and the US, it remains under-theorised in CEE. By highlighting the colonial implications of nation-building in the region, we attempt to destabilise the all-too-pervasive historiographic misconception that CEE nations are largely untouched by the global circulation of eugenics and scientific racism.

Open access

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.

Open access

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.

Open access

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.

Open access

The term polycrisis has recently gained much interest in academia and policy-making circles as a perspective to understand the nature of ‘overlapping emergencies’ – geopolitical, ecological, pandemics and economic – that are disrupting policy and politics in the Global North and South. How do we understand the nature of these new forms of crisis? This provocation argues that polycrisis, while a good descriptive term for the overlapping emergencies that characterise the current conjecture, should be analysed in terms of the larger crisis of capitalist social reproduction. The polycrisis needs to be understood as a political crisis that arises from a contradiction between social reproduction and the crisis of capital accumulation. It leads to increasing authoritarian statist forms as well as the growing resistance and dissent that is a feature of the broken politics of time and distinguishes the multiple intersecting crises of the 21st century.

Open access

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.

Open access

In this policy intervention, we recount the process of producing a policy briefing targeting researchers and practitioners who use drones in biodiversity conservation. We use the writing process as a springboard to think through the ways that interdisciplinary exchange has and might further inform the ethical use of new technologies, such as drones. This approach is vital, we argue, because while drones may be deployed as tools that enable or empower forest, wildlife or habitat monitoring practices, so too can they be variously disruptive, repurposed and/or exceed these applications in significant ways. From questions of surveillance and capture, data ownership and security, to noise disruption, drone use requires careful and critical reflection, particularly in sensitive contexts. Yet, interdisciplinary exchange attentive to the ethical, social and experiential dimensions of drone use remains patchy and thin. To this end, this intervention reflects on the process of a group of scholars from ecological, environmental and social science backgrounds coming together in an interdisciplinary project grappling with diverse issues around responsible conservation drone use. After recounting our methodology, including the surprises and learning that emerged in practice, we contextualise the key themes we chose to foreground in our published policy briefing. We conclude by connecting our collaboration with wider actions and energies in the context of existing (conservation) drone policy and practice, while underscoring our contributions to existing work.

Open access