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
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.
In spring 2021, during the COVID-19 pandemic, research projects funded by the UK’s Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) were subjected to budget cuts. The cuts were the result of UK government’s decision to reduce its Official Development Assistance (ODA), which had devastating effects for humanitarian, development and research work. This article draws on focus group discussions with project teams working on three large GCRF-funded projects to explore the effects of these cuts. The article documents how the cuts curtailed project aspirations and impact, had a negative toll on the mental health of researchers, and imperilled the trusting relationships upon which international research collaborations are built. The article argues that the cuts expose the shallow commitments to research ethics and equitable partnerships of powerful actors in the UK research ecosystem, including research councils and government. In ‘doing harm’ via these cuts, the article explores the failure of research governance structures and the continued coloniality underpinning the UK’s approach to researching ‘global challenges’.
Following the 2008 global financial crisis, Digital Fabrication Laboratories (Fab Labs) have become a common feature of the urban landscape in cities throughout Europe. An emerging body of literature suggests that Fab Labs go beyond providing access to digital fabrication tools, and function as ‘third places’ as they enhance social connectedness. Drawing on a case study of a Fab Lab in the English city of Coventry, this article utilises the concept of ‘austerity urbanism’ to understand the changing nature of third places in England since the 2008 global financial crash. In doing so, we argue that a confluence of austerity urbanism and digital advancements has influenced both the emergence of new third places (such as Fab Labs) while simultaneously undermining long-established third places (such as libraries). As a result, vital aspects of social infrastructure are being shaped and reshaped in the contemporary era. The article reflects on what these changes mean for individual and community well-being.
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.
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.
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.
This article considers the degree to which achieving equity in Global North–South research partnerships is possible under current UK funding models. While there has been significant discussion with respect to the decolonisation of research, it will be argued that there is some distance between the language of equity articulated currently by UK funding bodies, and the realities of working as a project partner in the Global South. The article draws on the prior and ongoing experiences of a multidisciplinary team of researchers brought together by a UK-funded research project. In the interests of moving towards more equitable systems of knowledge production and dissemination, it explores the power asymmetries that can be inherent in Global North–South research partnerships, and the extent to which issues of coloniality continue to shape aspects of research agenda setting, project framing, impact, academic publishing and the division of labour within partnerships.
The continuing coronavirus pandemic has combined with other global crises to highlight some of the fundamental challenges of inequality that currently face us. They are global both in their current configuration and their historical constitution. Similarly, any solutions to the challenges represented will be global. The continuing relevance of the social sciences will rest on their ability adequately to conceptualise the global processes involved. It is only by acknowledging the significance of the ‘colonial global’ that it will be possible to understand and address the necessarily postcolonial present that is the context for issues of inequality in the present. This article argues for the need to consider our colonial past as the basis for thinking about contemporary configurations of the global. This is followed by an address of the implications of these arguments for how we understand citizenship and belonging in the present. What is needed is a ‘reparatory social science’ committed to undoing the inadequacies that have become lodged in our disciplines and working towards a project of repair and transformation for a world that works for all of us.
This review article posits human migration as one of the most pressing social challenges of our time. We argue that challenges associated with migration and displacement will persist if their governance continues in piecemeal, performative and nationalist fashion, with the privileging of resource investment in national border fortification over addressing the root causes of migration and displacement. Advocating for intersectional and transnational approaches, we review some of the important, interdisciplinary dimensions of migration as a phenomenon that touches on every facet of human life. We then discuss how different groups of people on the move struggle with structural barriers to migration, as they attempt to access and then settle into new communities, and the challenges to inclusion and integration encountered in so-called host societies. Topics of discussion include borders and geographical divides, gender, sexuality, race, class, labour, displacement, rights, access and climate-induced migration.
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’.