Theory, policy and practice perspectives from Royal Holloway

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We are living in the ‘Anthropocene’, but does ‘big business’ care?

The notion of the ‘Anthropocene’, coined and popularised by the atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen, recognises that we are living in a crucial moment in the history with humanity’s relation with the planet.  It conjures a time when we know that our activities are causing escalating environmental and social crises on a global scale, and may have time to do something positive about it, changing our practices to avert impending catastrophe.  There is evidence to suggest that alternative organisations such as cooperatives, new social movements, and social enterprises are gradually expanding their efforts to integrate sustainability objectives into their decision-making.  However, according to Crutzen’s analysis, there is a need for radical changes in the practices of ‘big business’. On this point, the sustainability news is mixed:


On the one hand many big companies have changed their policies in response to consumer pressure. For instance, Continue reading


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What is Progress?

Craig BennettOn February 8th, the Windsor Auditorium was packed with staff, students and guests anticipating an insightful talk by Craig Bennett, CEO of Friends of the Earth for our Annual Sustainability Lecture. The audience was not disappointed. Craig kicked off his lecture by puzzling the audience with his claim that rather than talking about his environmental campaigning work, he would discuss a much more fundamental question that needs to be answered first: What is progress?

So what is progress? According to the Oxford Dictionary, it is a linear movement towards a set destination or a development towards a more modern society. So which one is correct? Craig’s answer: neither. Rather, he believes that progress should not just create a more modern society but a better one. While this seems very close to the common understanding of sustainable development, Craig opposes this notion as he believes that the idea of sustainable development has not led to the changes in politicians’ engagements we need to achieve a better society. Rather, the continuous debate about the “right” indicators for measuring sustainable development distract from the underlying issue: where do we want to go and what is the right path?

So where to go from here? To move forward, we can learn from the past. Referring to the book A Short History of Progress by Donald Wright, Craig talked about the progress traps that many Continue reading

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Project COBRA highlighted by European Year for Development

Paulette Allicock

Paulette Allicock, Makushi farmer, North Rupununi, Guyana. Source: Project COBRA. Creative Commons Non-Commerical No Derivatives Licence.

As world leaders meet in Paris to decide on a worldwide agreement to tackle climate change at the Climate Summit, COP21 (21st Conference Of the Parties) this week, the European Year for Development is reminding stakeholders of the inextricable link between climate action, sustainable development and poverty eradication. The EU initiative emphasises that climate change can’t be stopped without working with people facing against poverty, who are already the most affected by climate change, in developing as well as in developed countries.

In this context, an EU-funded project that is empowering Indigenous communities in South America by supporting and strengthening local solutions to conserve forests in the Guiana Shield, led by Dr Jay Mistry, Reader in Geography at Royal Holloway, Continue reading

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Why COP21 delegates should pay attention to cities

Professor David Simonlogo-cop-21-carr-_small is currently in Paris participating in events linked to the UN COP21 Climate Conference. In his role as Director of Mistra Urban Futures, he has been contributing to workshops and webinars on the importance of cities in achieving global climate goals. Unlike the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Conference, where cities were ‘almost invisible’, the Paris meeting has highlighted the role of urban areas in the sustainability challenges that the world is facing. Rising living standards in urban areas can lead to increasingly unsustainable lifestyles. However, David also stresses the lessons that can be learned from small and intermediate cities; collaboration across political divides is often easier at a local level, and there are numerous examples of good practice which can be shared between cities, but also scaled up. To see David discussing these issues in a webinar on ‘Cities and Mayors Leading the New Climate Economy’ in the Nordic Pavilion, click here [David’s interview starts about 10.30 mins in].

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Business as usual in the face of climate change?

Greg Barker lecture 2014 This year’s Royal Holloway Sustainability Lecture was given by the Rt Hon Greg Barker, Conservative MP for Bexhill and Battle (Recording available here). As the Minister of State in the Department of Energy and Climate Change from 2010-2014, he was ideally placed to comment on policy directions in the field of climate change, particularly given his role in international climate change conferences and negotiations.

Unsurprisingly, he was optimistic about the prospects for international action on climate change, particularly in contrast with the disappointing outcomes of the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. The Copenhagen Conference was presented as the last chance for the ‘international community’ to make significant progress on agreeing Continue reading