We are happy to announce the adoption of the institute’s inaugural focal topic. Throughout 2022 we will undertake collaborative research activities, hold public events, and publish research exploring themes related to matters of social justice.
Why social justice?
Social justice has become a major topic in research and public debate on sustainability. From the outset, achieving justice for future generations has been at the core of sustainable development. There is growing scientific interest in the nexus of justice and sustainability, and the relevance of research in areas such as just transitions or equity in governance has become more prominent in recent years. Social justice is also a key topic in international climate negotiations. At the upcoming UN Climate Summit (COP26), debates about the responsibilities of industrialised countries as the main emitters of greenhouse gases, and the heightened vulnerability of poorer countries in the Global South will loom large. Moreover, movements like Fridays for Future have recently emphasised the connections between sustainability, climate justice, and intergenerational justice. Further aspects of social justice, such as environmental justice or the recognition of minority group justice claims, have come to the foreground of sustainability politics in recent years, partly due to the success of civil society engagement and grassroots activism. The coronavirus pandemic, for its part, has further heightened awareness of the unequal effects of crises on the health and wellbeing of different socio-economic groups.
Social justice is already of key importance for many IASS research groups, who work on issues from the local and national levels to the global level and across diverse policy fields. With next year’s focal topic, we want to pool our expertise in empirical and theoretical social justice research and create synergies which highlight the strengths of a reflective and transdisciplinary approach to justice and sustainability transformation issues – here, special social justice fellows will also play a key role. This focal topic will help bring to the fore how engrained injustices hinder sustainability transformations and new questions of justice emerge during transition processes. IASS research explores how these issues impact peoples’ perceptions and behaviours, which processes of remediation exist (aiming to reveal and reduce injustices), where new methods and tools need to be developed, and which key policy implications can be extracted.
Current research on sustainability and justice at IASS addresses the following themes:
Environmental justice: research in this area includes for example the work of the group “Democratic (Re)Configurations of Sustainability Transformations”, which critically examines contemporary conditions for democracy and explores how knowledge about Earth systems shapes political spaces and planetary justice agendas. Particular attention is paid to how global climate politics shape, condition or limit the fight for land, forest, human and nature rights, with a focus on the Global South and minorities rights defenders such as indigenous peoples, low-income communities affected by infrastructure projects or environmental disasters, and new arenas of justice litigation and concepts (e.g., ecocide, rights of nature).
Just transitions: our research in this field focuses for instance on socially just transformation pathways in regions that are undergoing decarbonization processes. IASS researchers explore the various justice claims that are formulated in these transitions, for instance related to the coal phase-out in Germany. Another area of interest is Energy Justice, where researchers examine the social and development implications of energy technologies, policies, and projects. Here, research is focussed on developing quantitative approaches to assess the justice implications of low carbon transitions and of renewable energy, focusing on the Global South.
In order to contribute to the understanding of mobility justice, the EXPERI team studies different aspects of distributional justice within the transport sector. Among others, this includes the unequal exposure to transport-related emissions and noise as well as the unequal access to mobility services based on socio-economic factors. Analysing both the benefitting and the afflicted actors in the current structures of the transport sector serves as a lead-in to the question of how a socially just mobility transition can be promoted.
Climate justice: research in climate justice at IASS includes research on Climate Governance processes and the role different actors can take in them. Research in this area explores, for example, the evolving role of just transitions and social justice in the negotiations under the UNFCCC and the different approaches implemented by countries in the pursuit of just transitions. Other aspects include how various societal, governmental, and private sector stakeholders deal with issues like the differentiated responsibilities of world regions, and intergenerational climate justice.
Justice and equity in governance: research in this area includes the work of the Ocean Governance team, which researches equity concerns around governing marine biodiversity as well as the sharing of benefits derived from marine life and mineral resources. Since the international seabed is the “common heritage of humankind”, numerous social justice questions arise, such as who benefits from seabed mining, who shoulders the burdens, and whether the environmental risks are socially acceptable. The Systemic Risks team investigates disparities in risk exposure, the sources of those disparities and how these issues are related to justice and equity in risk governance. This research aims to address and/or mitigate disparities in exposure to risks, e.g., with regards to climate change.
Responsible research practices and epistemic justice: research in this area includes the work of the Arctic Governance group, which is particularly interested in co-creative approaches that bring together diverse forms of knowledge, the structural changes necessary to improve collaboration between Indigenous rights holders and researchers, and context-specific understandings of what constitutes ethical research.
What is planned for 2022?
We are planning several public events in 2022, the most prominent of which will be a public lecture series featuring guest speakers. Fellows are invited to give a public lecture in this format. IASS Fellows will also meet every two weeks to discuss themes of social justice, discover synergies, work on texts together, brainstorm and prepare for workshops. Our researchers and fellows are also invited to prepare a special issue on social justice together. Further activities, such as discussion series and movie screenings are planned. Fellows are also encouraged to suggest their own ideas to contribute throughout the year.