Tag: interview

SweDev interview series: Meet Vasna Ramasar

Vasna Ramasar is an Associate Senior Lecturer in the Division of Human Ecology, Department of Human Geography at Lund University, and a Research affiliate at the Lund University Centre for Sustainability Studies (LUCSUS). She is also the Programme Director for the Culture, Power and Sustainability international Master programme.

Q: The Covid-19 pandemic and the ongoing wars have destabilized planetary dynamics, and rumbled current development paradigms. Which are the main viable alternatives you came up with throughout your 10 years of research experience?

A: Firstly, we must recognise what we think of as the development project has been ongoing since the second World War but has not led to substantial improvements in overall welfare or sustainability despite some encouraging gains in for example healthcare. I believe today – more than ever – we need to create a context where ecological functioning and social well-being can be reached together.

Before joining academia, I worked with local communities around the world to increase communities’ life quality. What I learnt is that the measurement parameters of success were not monetary values, but expressed in terms of human development, the relationship with nature, having some degree of control of the decision-making process and how local and indigenous knowledge can be combined with more scientific knowledge.

These dimensions have been directly applied in research projects I have participated in together with the Global Tapestry of Alternatives. In Peru, for instance, working with El parque de la Papa (the Potato Park) we learnt how the genetic diversity of potatoes in Latin America can be maintained in harmony with community cultural and spiritual practices. During the pandemic, the park has successfully maintained their food security and were able to offer food to communities in Cusco, the closest city where the pandemic caused household food shortages. In India, we analysed MAKAAM, a self-help network for women farmers. During the pandemic, their collective action ensured that women were able to secure seeds and job opportunities that were initially only offered to men –thus ensuring gender equality and livelihood security.

Such projects, however, do have limitations in their ability to be scaled up as different local contexts require different approaches. The broad aim of development should therefore be to connect and relate to the global, but still be grounded in the local lived experience – thus building a pluriverse. The key components for viable alternatives should be the social, ecological and cultural dimension, local acceptance and ownership including new development measures based on what people understand to be a good life for themselves.

We also need to be aware that we should neither romanticize the local nor expect all solutions to come from this level. Local processes may embed unhealthy social relations such as patriarchy, casteism and such which do need to be addressed. Further, putting too much responsibility on the local level ignores the structural elements which restrict viable alternatives. Development research requires us to navigate the balance between scales, actors and impact.

Q: What does sustainable development mean in the context of political ecology and for developing countries?

A: To me, the reason to focus on the framework of political ecology is that it offers a way to question power dynamics in human relationships and human-nature relationships. With the critical political ecology lens that I use, the approaches to sustainable development and the tools for its achievement such as the Sustainable Development Goals must be interrogated with regards to who has the power in decision-making, who benefits and who carries the costs. Unfortunately, given the current state of the world, win-win solutions are few and far between and we need to make trade-offs.

Regarding sustainable development from the Global South, this requires an understanding that there are many developmental challenges still to be met. Thus, our attention must be on both the ecological crises but also meeting basic human needs. Some solutions favour the ecological over the social or vice versa but this is not sustainable in the long run. A further aspect is around what I consider procedural justice. That is, how people in the Global South are involved in making critical decisions about the present and the future. Global governance has brought benefits, but also created an unequal playing field where for example small-island states have little capacity to drive the e United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) agenda. Similarly, SDGs and climate finance are sometimes directed to agendas set by elites and technocrats with a poor understanding of what will work in the Global South. We have seen many examples where projects that were intended for environmental protection and social improvement led to people being in a worse-off situation through losing land for subsistence agriculture and paying higher water prices respectively.

To my mind, a direct and explicit engagement with justice is needed when working with sustainable development in research, policymaking and practice. As development researchers, we need to engage with other actors to make sure our research is relevant, appropriate and useful.

Q: Gender studies have been increasingly used to explain the world of sustainability, poverty and democracy. What does it mean to have a feminist and decolonial approach to development?

A: We often think of gender dimensions as women’s rights, counting number of men vs women and women’s participation. However, the decolonial and feminist approach is not just about the numbers. Instead, it looks deeper into empowerment and power, understanding the historical role of the patriarchal system which has led to a particular foundation in terms of development and knowledge production. This relates to gendered inequalities but with an intersectional approach. I believe this approach opens the opportunity to connect to other aspects such as class, race, caste, etc.

Coloniality is not simply about a period of history but the coloniality of power, knowledge and being. A decolonial approach speaks to the need to acknowledge and change the hegemony of narrow knowledge systems that dominate modern universities, and the material power dynamics between those who have benefited from coloniality and those who have borne the burden of it.

Feminist and decolonial approaches are critical to creating spaces for a long-term and sustainable development programme that has positive societal impact. It requires a recognition of our positionality and privilege as development researchers in Sweden and may call upon us to practice development research in different ways.

At Lund University, we are working on this through feminist and anticolonial groups, where we are rethinking our research methodologies. Similarly, I have been involved in creating a Post-Development Academic Activist network (PEDAGOG) which is working toward these aims. When designing research projects, we should engage with the people we are researching with/about. We need to consider what they consider to be relevant and insert this dimension from the design phase in a manner which breaks patterns of hierarchy, power and control. In my own research, I am collaborating with an African NGO to articulate what an African eco-feminist just transition should look like. In the context of development, just transition work is ongoing, but we are seeking to include a local African and gender perspective in the decolonial narrative.

Q: The aim of SweDev is to connect development researchers across Sweden to strengthen collaboration with practitioners. What would you like to share with this community?

A: At a pragmatic level, to get a strong societal impact, we need to consider how to measure the contributions that academics make in the long term with partners and stakeholders. Academic performances should not only be evaluated in terms of the number of publications but should also be community-evaluated.

I have had the privilege of being a development practitioner for ten years before coming back to academia. I think we are all in this field to make a difference and that is a common purpose that can bring us closer together. The challenges we face are great, but we need to be innovative and creative and approach development research from a starting point of care – care for the planet, people and nature.

Written by Alessandro Giacardi, Communication, and Research Intern at Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) for the Development and Aid Policy Team and SweDev. Edited by Alice Tunfjord and Ylva Rylander at Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) and Vasna Ramasar.

SweDev interview series: meet Naghmeh Nasiritousi

rooftop garden

Naghmeh Nasiritousi is an Associated professor and researcher at Stockholm University and the Swedish Institute of International Affairs. She works primarily with issues around climate action in the post-Paris climate policy landscape.

Q: Can we talk about sustainable development solutions or is it better to refer to alternative sustainable solutions to development?

A: In my research, I look at pathways towards carbon neutrality and investigate how governments aim to go net-zero. The Paris Agreement came up with a bottom-up architecture in which governments themselves choose solutions. We aim to assess how governments come up with these. We are facing unprecedented climate change consequences: it is not enough to simply reduce emissions, but we need to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Viable solutions do exist. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said we need to redefine development, including concepts such as well-being economy, aiming at leaving no one behind. This is a much more holistic vision than current models: focusing more on human development, rather than only economic development, would also increase resilience.

Q: Your PhD thesis from Linköping University (Nasiritousi, 2016) examined the roles of non-state actors in global climate change governance. How is the state-of-the-art today, 7 years after the adoption of the Paris Agreement?

A: The literature has been growing very fast due to the more prominent role of non-state actors in the policy area internationally. Recent literature emphasizes the need for coordination and multilateral cooperation. We also see the need for directionality where governments set a role. As a researcher, I have attended several UN climate meetings and had the opportunity to observe different non-state actors and the ways in which they seek to influence policy-makers. We must consider that non-state actors represent different interests. My thesis showed that there are many types of non-state actors involved in climate governance, and that it is important to recognize that they do not all pull in the same direction. Governments can engage non-state actors to accelerate decarbonization, but it is still the state that has responsibility for making sure action is taken to reduce emissions.

Q: Small-income and developing countries are often severely affected by extreme climate phenomena and have at the same time fewer resources to counteract or contain them. How can locally grounded solutions – promoted by these countries’ universities and research centres – be supported as opposed to top-down forms of aid?

A: This is a very big question in climate policy. There is a huge demand for capacity support and financial resources, but often actors from the North are reluctant to direct those resources.

I do believe that both solutions, bottom-up and top-down, are needed. I’m not an expert on how to make this happen, but I would suggest creating more partnerships involving developing countries. Capacity building needs to start from the local level using existing expertise.

Q: You lead the project Pathways to Carbon Neutrality, funded by the Swedish Energy Agency. Could you tell us what that is? Which are the implications for Sweden within the European and global climate frameworks?

A: We are studying strategies submitted by countries, aiming to identify how each country defines decarbonatization. By examining what different states highlight as viable paths toward net-zero economies, we also explore how international cooperation could accelerate the transition. For instance, we examine the idea of “climate clubs” that had previously been highlighted by economists but that are also frequently mentioned in policy circles, such as by G7 leader Germany. While the idea of climate clubs carries different meanings in the literature, the prevalent one in the economic literature is about a group of ambitious countries benefitting from reducing emissions, while punishing non-members through sanctions for example. We examine the political feasibility and desirability of this idea and how other types of climate cooperation could accelerate decarbonization. We also examine the European Green Deal and its design of a carbon border adjustment mechanism that would represent the world’s first carbon border tariffs. Sweden has been active in many international cooperation initiatives on climate and has a prominent role in initiatives on industrial decarbonization.

Q: SweDev aims to connect development researchers across Sweden to strengthen collaboration with practitioners. Which are your three most important research-based outcomes contributing to the 2030 Agenda and carbon-stockage projects that you would like to share with your colleagues or practitioners?

A: 1. We are experiencing a slow shift in reducing emissions, and it is not enough with incremental change. Today we have much of the knowledge and many solutions, but politics still play a central role when it comes to implementing and navigating interests, many coming from vested interests that depend on continuing fossil-based economies;

2. Power inequalities need to be addressed: greater participation in decision-making, especially from marginalized actors;

3. Politicians can accelerate the transition by enhancing the coalition of actors and strengthening the voices calling for transformation.

The recent war is once again emphasizing the need for systems thinking. The high fuel prices should lead us to higher investments in renewables. We need more synergies to face crises in the upcoming decades.

Written by Alessandro Giacardi, Communication, and Research Intern at Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) for the Development and Aid Policy Team and SweDev. Edited by Alice Castensson, and Ylva Rylander at Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI).

SweDev’s interview series: Meet Veronica Brodén Gyberg

Green leaf.

Veronica Brodén Gyberg, Senior Lecturer at Linköping University, studies the preconditions for sustainable development and just transitions, and climate aid in and for low-income countries.

Q: Global challenges are putting a lot of emphasis on the word “sustainability.” Part of your research centred around climate security challenges. What are your research findings in sustainable development and cooperation in low and middle-income countries?

A: The concept of sustainability is clearly not new, but the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) has placed it higher up on policy agendas, underlining the need to balance social, ecological and economic dimensions. In the implementation, however, it can be a challenge to identify and address both potential synergies and trade-offs between these dimensions. For example, with foreign aid, there may be high level policy underlining the need to integrate gender, conflict, environment and climate in all operations, but doing this in practice can be challenging. In a study for the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), I interviewed Sida employees working on the policy area of environment and climate as well as staff working with conflict and security, both at the Stockholm headquarters and in partner country contexts in Eastern Africa (Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and Sudan) in order to better understand how they integrate these two cross-cutting dimensions in aid operations. 

Overall the ambition is clear om several levels, and in some contexts, Sida is one of few aid actors working with this emphasis. At the same time, it is not uncommon, for example, for work to be done in silos based on expertise within one of these areas for example. This is also logical – it’s not an easy equation finding the balance between specialist and cross-cutting knowledge. It seems that achieving the SDGs requires further integration of cross-cutting perspectives. At the same time, synergies and trade-offs vary depending on geographical and political contexts and the work with integrating cross-cutting issues such as gender, conflict, environment and climate also needs to consider their interrelation, otherwise unintended consequences such as maladaptation can arise. 

Q: Another research focus of yours focuses on the preconditions for just transitions. Could you explain what you have found in these areas? Why is this important?

A: The preconditions for just transitions towards more sustainable societies vary deeply, both between and within countries. For example, Swedish climate goals are set high, but one country’s efforts towards fossil freedom is also intertwined with other countries’ efforts and preconditions in an interconnected global system. The actions and solutions on the road to more sustainable futures – as well as which voices are active in framing and forming them – need to be studied carefully. The importance of technological innovation tends to be underlined in Swedish climate politics for example, but research also shows that transitions are not just technical and economic, they are social.

Q: Climate change-related societal impacts, such as climate migration flows, are an ongoing issue. What are the implications and consequences for Sweden?

A: To the best of my knowledge, there is still no clear legal definition of climate migrant or refugee, which can leave people who flee or migrate due to environmental degradation or climate change in a limbo. Depending on what policy level and actors one studies, migration due to the effects of climate change can for example be framed either as a threat and something to be avoided, or as an opportunity to be enabled, as part of climate adaptation for example. These framings of what is defined as a threat and what is to be protected can result in very different policy interventions – focused either on protecting borders or people for instance – and therefore need to be critically studied.

The direct and indirect implications for Sweden are difficult to assess, but research shows that most displacement and migration due to environmental degradation and climate change currently occurs within countries and regionally. Increased migration to and within Europe is one possible future development (see for example the discussion by the Swedish National Expert Council for Climate Adaptation in their recent report). Sweden works for example through providing foreign aid both multilaterally and bilaterally focused on increasing resilience in partner countries through support to climate adaptation and mitigation.

Q: SweDev aims to connect development researchers across Sweden to strengthen collaboration with practitioners. What would you like to share to this community?

A:  I believe there is a need for a more transformative science and knowledge production. From my perspective, interaction with a broad(er) set of stakeholders in research enables asking different questions and studying phenomena that would not otherwise be made visible to me. I think consistent preconditions for researchers to collaborate more deeply with diverse sets of stakeholders would be positive. A challenge in this is of course the well-known problem of time available as well as the incentive systems in science – but as researchers we can for example push to expand methodological and theoretical toolboxes, diversify empirical points of entry, think critically about whose voices are included and account for many types of knowledge in this work.

Written by Alessandro Giacardi, Communication, and Research Intern at Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) for the Development and Aid Policy Team and SweDev. Edited by Alice Castensson, and Ylva Rylander at Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI).