Climate justice essential to address sustainability concerns

02 August 2021 | Research News

The world needs to focus more explicitly on climate and environmental justice in the fight for a sustainable future, says a Lincoln University postdoctoral fellow.

Dr Ritodhi Chakraborty shared his views at the 2021 Sustainability Research and Innovation Congress (SRIC), an annual event bringing together more than 1400 global leaders, experts and industry.

He was selected as one of five Early Career Champions for the event, which prioritises supporting and elevating the next generation of scholars and thought leaders.

All five champions spoke during the congress’s ending plenary that summarised the major outcomes of the conference, with Dr Chakraborty addressing the topic, 'Sustainability for Whom?'

During his speech, Dr Chakraborty said global sustainability could not occur without achieving equity for the most vulnerable and underrepresented communities.

"Yet the framing of sustainability, investment in innovation and academic analysis has been dominated by processes that give relatively little regard to these communities, even when they are about them. We need to incorporate this diversity if we are to achieve a just, sustainable future."

He also pointed out that certain processes remained unaddressed as far as sustainability was concerned.

"There is a stark absence of conversations about climate justice; instead, the focus is on climate change. Colonisation still provides the fundamental building blocks of our institutions and knowledge systems. This needs to be dismantled and conversations on how to do so are a necessity."

Dr Chakraborty said that "we need to hold each other accountable, both in public and private, especially as we push for addressing equity, ethics and justice in sustainability".

"Avoiding uncomfortable conversations only supports the culture that silences the marginalised."

He continued by highlighting the need for co-production of knowledge.

"Indigenous and local communities are more than mere caricatures. The stories of their complicated intersectional lives need to replace their static representations by extractive frameworks of science and governance.

"Scientists and policymakers have to facilitate a transfer of power and be ready to listen and unlearn things as an act of allyship and democracy."

Dr Chakraborty also mentioned the importance of incorporating a plurality of world views in sustainability science, focusing on SDG 17 (revitalising global partnerships) from the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.

"There is no single perfect means or approach for achieving sustainability, so we need to expand opportunities to learn from each other to support a deep transformation that promotes and enhances sustainable societies and communities," he said.

"We need to move to an acceptance of communal and individual plurality. If, as many have claimed, we are running out of time as a species, our first act should be that of real partnership as espoused in SDG 17. Partnership not just with other humans, but also with the plants, animals, spirits and energies with whom we share our one home.

"We invite you all to join us in this journey."

Dr Chakraborty holds a PhD from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and now works with Lincoln University’s Centre of Excellence: Designing Future Productive Landscapes, headed by Professor Pablo Gregorini.

"I chose to move my family to Aotearoa New Zealand because I feel this nation’s engagement with its colonial past and simultaneous engagement with biculturalism is quite inspirational," he said.

"I also wanted to compare the situation here to my own experiences with indigenous communities, to better understand just and equitable pathways for future sustainable societies."

As a postdoctoral fellow, Dr Chakraborty is researching the effects of global environmental change on grassland socio-ecological systems.

He was drawn to Lincoln due to the potential of the Centre of Excellence and Prof Gregorini’s vision about the future of land use and land management.

"I found the transdisciplinary focus a very timely intervention to business as usual, both in our science and management cultures, and in terms of the bigger transformations happening across the world," Dr Chakraborty said.

During his time at Lincoln, he has worked on co-creating a transdisciplinary, multi-stakeholder framework for knowledge production in natural resource management and landscape futures. It is "deeply inspired by and builds on Lincoln University Professor Hirini Matunga’s Mauriora Systems Framework", which was developed to support culturally responsible environmental decision-making grounded in Te Ao Māori.

"I am currently working with Prof Matunga and other members of the Centre for Excellence on several projects related to equality and justice issues of land governance and land use in Aotearoa," Dr Chakraborty said.

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