Research helps ensure all voices are heard, not just the loudest

Rear view of united group of volunteers

Credit: SDI Productions / Getty Images

STEPS Centre brings scientists together and amplifies the voices of those directly impacted by climate change.

For the last 15 years, the Social, Technological and Environmental Pathways to Sustainability (STEPS) Centre, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, has brought together social and natural scientists to generate new thinking and practical solutions. The solutions reflect and incorporate, rather than ignore, the variety of views and possible routes relevant to making changes that are necessary to achieve a more sustainable future.

Climate change has attracted many ideas on how the future could be different. High-level policy has often seen climate change as a problem that could be brought under control by better technology and behaviour change. But although people may agree that action on climate change is urgent, they disagree widely about what kind of changes are needed.

Unique local approaches

Various proposed solutions can have unintended consequences, including but not limited to:

  • carbon offsetting
  • geoengineering
  • big ‘green’ energy projects
  • new synthetic foods.

More locally specific, flexible, or careful approaches can be neglected.

For example, STEPS Centre researchers at the University of Sussex, working with partners in East Africa, have shown that building low-carbon energy in developing countries must go beyond financing technology from overseas. Instead, to spark ideas that work for the unique local circumstances, connections should be nurtured between a country’s own:

  • thinkers
  • inventors
  • makers
  • governments
  • other organisations.

This approach has:

  • informed the UN’s climate technology policy
  • been adopted as a funding mechanism by the $10 billion Green Climate Fund
  • been implemented at national level by policy organisations in nine African countries.

Voices of directly impacted communities

Recent STEPS research also highlights the value of the knowledge created by people on the front line of climate change. Though their voices are not always heard in global conferences, they are among the worst affected by climate disruption.

These range from livestock herders producing food in harsh and unpredictable conditions, to people on the margins in coastal India and Bangladesh, for whom climate change is one of many sources of uncertainty. Here, the research involves legal and policy advocacy on conservation and ecology, as well as practical experiments, from innovative farming methods to new designs for fish nets and boats, that make the most of local knowledge.

In the long term, this work will help ensure the voices of communities already directly impacted by climate change are heard and so their needs should be reflected in policy decisions. 

Last updated: 2 July 2021

NOTE Council web content is being transitioned to this website – let us know if you have feedback or would like to help us test new developments.