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).