Sustainable futures: Where we need to be and how we get there

Overview of the conference

This PhD conference looked at the different aspects of sustainable futures, covering both how to mitigate the pressures we exert on our planet and societies and what needs to be put in place to help us deal with the consequences of this change. The objective of the conference was to build capacities and networks of early stage researchers in areas related to sustainable development pathways. The two day event included keynote lectures, the chance for PhD researchers to discuss and present their research, and workshops on how to ensure the success and impact of your research. 


There is a growing realisation that our current model of development is unsustainable. We have entered into a new geological era – the Anthropocene – where humanity is the main driver of change at the earth system level. The accelerated pressure we are placing on our climate, forests, fisheries and biodiversity is threatening the stable earth system that supports us today. At the same time societies across the globe are dominated by huge inequalities and unsustainable societal practices. The impacts are showing already. We need new approaches to help us deal with climate change and other global environmental as well as social threats such as armed conflicts, diseases and famines to put us on a roadmap to sustainable development.

Conference sessions

The conference sessions included presentations and discussion on: 

1. The built environment: innovative finance and delivering the low-carbon built environment; localism and planning; sustainable infrastructure futures
2. Behaviour: scientific engagement and scepticism; motivating low-carbon behaviours; travel transitions
3. Governance and industrialised countries: aviation policymaking; product labelling for sustainable production and consumption; participatory emissions budgets
4. Impacts and resilience: climate change induced extreme weather events; ecosystems services and urban resilience; migration decisions
5. Energy: biomass energy & community issues; nuclear district heating; sustainable energy for development in desert regions
6. Governance and industrialising countries: REDD plus (reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation); water resource conflicts; biofuels vs. food production
7. Methods for modelling the transition: assessing interdependence of critical infrastructure; optimising renewable energy deployment; multi-stakeholder participatory scenario generation

Prizes, sponsored by the Journal of Environmental Innovation and Societal Transitions (Elsevier), were awarded for the three best presentations.

Who attended

Researchers at all stages of their PhD were invited to attend. The conference was intended to give PhD researchers an understanding of issues relevant to the sustainable development transition. Participants were exposed to a range of disciplines, had the opportunity to strengthen communication and networking skills through interactive activities and were encouraged to reflect on the impact and relevance of their research.

There was a web-streaming facility for those not able to attend the conference in person. Web-participants were also most welcome to take part in discussions by asking questions through the provided Ustream channel. This link will take you to the online streaming of the conference. 


The conference commenced on Wednesday 30th March at 9am, finishing on Thursday 31st March at 5pm.

Keynote speakers:
Paul Ekins – professor of energy and environment policy, University College of London Energy Institute, co-director of the UK Energy Research Centre
Andy Gouldson – professor of sustainability research, director of the ESRC Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy
Andrew Simms – founder of the climate change, energy and interdependence programmes at nef (the new economics foundation), former policy director at nef
Alice Bows – lecturer in energy and climate change in the School of Earth Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences and Sustainable Consumption Institute, University of Manchester
Libo Wu – professor at the Centre for Economics & Strategy Studies, Fudan University, China 

Panel experts:
Molly Conisbee – director of communications and campaigns at the Soil Association
Stephen Heal – consultant, former head of climate change at Tesco
Colin Challen – climate change campaigner, former Labour MP (2001–2010), founder member of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Climate Change
Kevin Anderson – professor of energy and climate change, University of Manchester (Mechanical, Aerospace and Civil Engineering), deputy director Tyndall Centre
Nick Pidgeon – professor of environmental psychology, director of the Understanding Risk research group at Cardiff University

Please see a full conference programme here.


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