Agenda 2030 Graduate School blog

Lund University Agenda 2030 Graduate School is a global, cutting-edge research school and collaboration platform for issues related to societal challenges, sustainability and the 2030 Agenda. The 17 PhD students from all faculties at Lund University enrolled with the Agenda 2030 Graduate School relate their specific research topics to the Sustainable Development Goals. In this blog the PhD students of the Graduate School discuss topical research and societal issues related to the 2030 Agenda.

Grid View

Shifting agricultural boundaries: Extensive cattle ranching in the Colombian Amazon

Colombian Amazonas from above. Image.

Posted on 2 March 2023 by Jesica López (PhD student, Centre for Environmental and Climate Science and the Agenda 2030 Graduate School)
The views expressed in this publication are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the Agenda 2030 Graduate School or Lund University. The present document is being issued without formal editing.

The Colombian Amazon lost more than 520 km2 of forest in the first half of 2022.

An exponential growth in cattle herds, has led to the expansion of grassland to enlarge the animals, with significant consequences. The fragmentation of large and continuous areas of tropical forests and savannahs in the Colombian Amazon represents an important threat for the conservation of biodiversity and vital ecosystems services[1].  The agricultural livestock sector needs to look for opportunities to alleviate and reduce deforestation rates in the second most biodiverse country in the world[2].

The principal causes of fragmentation according to the National Environment Ministry include i) expansion of grasslands for land acquisition, ii) bad practices of cattle ranching, iii) not-planned transport infrastructure, iv) crops for illicit use, v) illicit extraction of minerals, vi) illegal logging and vii) the expansion of agricultural borders in not allowed areas[3]. Cattle ranching is the main driver of deforestation and degradation in the Colombian Amazon.

Food systems are a major contributor to biodiversity loss

According to the global scientific consensus, the production of animal-sourced foods must be reduced by at least half globally if we are to achieve all 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030 and meet the Paris Agreement climate targets. With food systems now responsible for up to 80% of biodiversity loss[4], particularly due to the impact of industrial animal agriculture practices and generating one-third of all greenhouse gas emissions, the UN Food Systems Summit (2021) clearly showed that international recognition is being given to the topic.

This is to highlight that food systems concern the way our food is produced, processed, transported, traded, distributed, consumed and disposed of. As well as the livelihoods of all the people working in the sector, plus key actors, policies, and investments to satisfy the demands of global consumers. The warning on unsustainable food systems was raised in a 2019 joint report “Food Systems at Risk” by the European Union (EU), the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) and the French Agricultural Research Centre for International Development (CIRAD)[5]. Then in 2021 a set of principles and action tracks, resulted from the UN Food Systems Summit, with the creation of the Sustainable Livestock Solutions Cluster (SLSC). The objective of the SLSC is to seek support for creation of a broad-based multi-stakeholder coalition to develop, model and implement cohesive and integrated measures that promote consumption and production of affordable, healthy diets within safe planetary boundaries from humane and regenerative farming methods globally[6]. The five actions of the SLSC include, 1) ensure access to safe and nutritious food for all; 2) shift to sustainable and healthy consumption patterns; 3) boost nature-positive production; 4) advance equitable livelihoods, and 5) build resilience to vulnerabilities, shocks and stress.

Inspired by the track actions, in December 2022, an exchange of ideas with a group of expertise and participants took place in Colombia to discuss the challenges and opportunities of conventional cattle ranching practices to be transformed towards regenerative principles and sustainability approaches in the long term. The new political situation of the elected Colombian government has been emphatic on the need to build, over the next four years (2022-2026), an economic model for progress that conserves nature and recognizes that biodiversity is the basis of the main drivers of economic and social development in the country and were massive social and economic efforts are required to shift policy thinking.

Part of my research seeks the how to move forward from the conventional livestock and who is essential to work together to identify and deliver deforestation- and conversion-free livestock supply chains as part of a new model of agricultural production that optimizes food production, enhances rural livelihoods, and protects and restores the natural environment. The workshop’s aim was to catalyse collaborative efforts and interregional dialogue for innovation in the livestock sector, with the objective to engage stakeholder perspectives towards integrative solutions and identify key components for transitioning from extensive livestock activities towards a regenerative approach, to explore plausible and future emerging bioeconomy opportunities.

The debates concluded that livestock is one of the agricultural activities with the highest importance in Colombia, as it is estimated that in 2018 the sector contributed with 48.7% of the national GDP and generated close to 810,000 direct jobs[7]. In terms of land use, cattle grazing is widely spread in the country (34 million ha) and is considered one of the main engines of the expansion of the agricultural frontier[8], [9], [10]. By 2020, the Colombian cattle herd reached a total of around 28 million cow heads[11], were most importantly, between the 2016-2022 period, the cattle herd of the Colombian Amazon region grew from 1 143 346 (million cows) to 2 245 534 (million cows), a twofold increase, in the agricultural edge surrounding the Serranía de Chiribiquete National Park (the largest national park in Colombia)[12].

Regenerative Agriculture 

During the workshop main discussions mixed different concepts of landscape ecology, regenerative cattle, sustainable cattle, conservation cattle practices, zero-deforestation, and conservation/production agreements. All in all, the discussions and debates attempted to find pathways towards the “nature-positive production” action track that the SLSC proposed in 2019. Some of the questions raised by the experts and participants were: what is the “most” nature-positive production technique?, what is that we call regenerative?, what do we understand as sustainable cattle?

No single bullet point solutions could answer that, but there was a central character in the room: Regenerative Agriculture (RA). The word “regenerative” comes from the Latin verb regenerāre, meaning “to bring forth again.” The prefix re- means “again” and generate means “capable of producing or creating”.

The approach has been proposed as an alternative means of producing food that may have lower—or even net positive—environmental and/or social impacts[13]. According to researchers, RA is imperative for addressing the persistent challenge of food insecurity[14], were poverty, war and conflict, and natural disasters are factors expected to worsen with climate change[15], [16]. In practice RA is all about keeping productive herds whit healthy grass feed cows in specific rotational cycles. By doing so, the experts say, the combination provides the soil with the time and the inputs needed to renovate itself. There were in Colombia by 2016, 60 farms identified to be using the regenerative principles in their cattle practices and that number has increased doubled in 2022, with 120 farms across the country.

So, in conclusion and according to a RA expert, we cannot talk about regenerative cattle if it is used as an excuse to depredate the ecosystems of the Colombian Amazon region, instead we can possibly talk of regenerative livestock when seen as a practice possible to improve and try to restore some economic, social and ecological services damaged with conventional livestock.

[1] Clerici, N. 2022. Taller sobre el entendiendo de la dinámica de la deforestación en diferentes regiones de Colombia. December 12-13, Medellín, Colombia.

[2] A look at the natural world of Colombia (2017). Retrieved from:,anywhere%20else%20in%20the%20world. [Online Resource]

[3] Ministerio de Medio Ambiente y Desarrollo Sostenible & Instituto de Hidrología, meteorología y estudios Ambientales (IDEAM) (2020). Resultados del monitoreo deforestación: Primer trimestre 2021. Retrieved from:

[4] Hannah R., Spooner, F. and Roser, M. (2022) – “Biodiversity”. Published online at Retrieved from: ‘’ [Online Resource]

[5] Dury, S., Bendjebbar, P., Hainzelin, E., Giordano, T. and Bricas, N., eds. (2019). Food Systems at risk: new trends and challenges. Rome, Montpellier, Brussels, FAO, CIRAD and European Commission.

[6] Sustainable Livestock Solutions Cluster: Stakeholder Group C (2019). Retrieved from: ‘’ [Online Resource]

[7] Federación Nacional de Ganaderos de Colombia (FEDEGAN). (2018). Ganadería colombiana: Hoja de ruta 2018-2022. Bogotá, D.C., Colombia: Federación Colombiana de Ganaderos (FEDEGAN). Recuperado de

[8]DANE-ENA. (2017). Encuesta Nacional Agropecuaria (ENA) [Base de datos]. Retrieved from:

[9] Unidad de Planificación Rural Agropecuaria (UPRA). (2014). Presentación institucional. Unidad de Planificación Rural Agropecuario (UPRA). Retrieved from:

[10]Zuluaga, A., y Etter, A. (2018). Áreas aptas para la actividad ganadera en Colombia. Análisis espacial de los impactos ambientales y niveles de productividad de la ganadería. En L. A. Moreno, C. Rueda, y G. Andrade (Eds.), Biodiversidad 2017. Estado y tendencias de la biodiversidad continental de Colombia. Instituto de Investigación de Recursos Biológicos Alexander von Humboldt.

[11] Instituto Colombiano Agropecuario (ICA). (2020). Colombia recupera su estatus sanitario como país libre de fiebre aftosa con vacunación. Retrieved from: co/noticias/colombia-recupera-estatus-pais-libre-aftosa#:~:text=ICA%2C%20Instituto%20Colombiano%20Agropecuarioytext=A%20partir%20 del%205%20de,22%20de%20mayo%20de%202017

[12] Botero, R. 2022. Webinar: Combating loss of connectivity in the arc of deforestation in Colombia. A visit to non-sustainable cattle ranching. October 6th of 2022. Lund University. Arranged by Jesica López.

[13]Peter, N., Nicole, C., Frankel-Goldwater, L, Bartel K., and Colleen, J. (2020). What Is Regenerative Agriculture? A Review of Scholar and Practitioner Definitions Based on Processes and Outcomes. Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems, 4.

[14] Schulte, L.A., Dale, B.E., Bozzetto, S. et al. (2022). Meeting global challenges with regenerative agriculture producing food and energy. Nat Sustain 5, 384–388.

[15] Pawlak, K. & Kołodziejczak, M. (2020). The role of agriculture in ensuring food security in developing countries: considerations in the context of the problem of sustainable food production. Sustainability 12, 5488.

[16] IPCC Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability (eds Field, C. B. et al.) (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2014).

March 2, 2023

This entry was posted in



0 Comments Leave a comment

Grateful – Reflections from a research visit to Sauder Business School in Canada

Neon light sign with the word Canada. Photo.

Posted on 19 January 2023 by Phil Flores (PhD student, Department of Business Administration and the Agenda 2030 Graduate School)
The views expressed in this publication are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the Agenda 2030 Graduate School or Lund University. The present document is being issued without formal editing.

Grateful is the word to describe my research visit to Sauder Business School at the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Vancouver, Canada. Or extremely grateful, to put it in two words.

At the beginning of 2022, I had the opportunity to go on a research visit to Sauder. The idea of going entered my mind when I read a paper by a researcher who went on an exchange during the PhD studies. So I decided to ask my supervisors if they would allow me to go, and I sent an email to some of the most prominent scholars in consumer research, Darren Dahl and Yann Cornil. Despite not meeting them beforehand and having no mutual connections, I was extremely fortunate to get a reply from both. Perhaps the Phil from the Philippines introduction got them (I have yet to confirm!). Thankfully, I got generous Agenda 2030 Graduate School and K2’s research grants allowing me to stay in Vancouver for six months.

A modern building with many windows. Photo.
Sauder Business School, Vancouver, Canada. Photo: Phil Flores

The initial purpose of the visit was to meet top scholars in the field of consumer research and to learn how to conduct experiments. There were no plans to collaborate on a project together as I did not have concrete ideas. However, Darren and Yann were generous with their time and funding so that we could start a project together. They were willing to teach me everything they could, but they never hesitated to challenge my ideas, which pushed me to work hard. So through their guidance, we came up with a project we are currently working on about better ways to promote green products. Specifically, we look at whether consumers would be more enticed to try novel green products or products that are new and good for the environment if their promotion does not mention the traditional non-environmental products they intend to replace. For instance, would consumers be more inclined to try e-bike sharing if their ads do not mention anything about cars? Or would individuals be more open to eating meat alternatives if they are not sold as meat substitutes?

Apart from doing research, I got to audit the Consumer Judgment and Decision Making class held by David Hardisty. Dave was kind to have me sit in and participate with other PhD students. This class allowed me to meet other PhDs and get to know their projects. Toward the end, I could also participate in a joint conference of UBC and the University of Washington in Seattle. The event was an excellent opportunity to listen to and get to know other researchers in my field.

Before I left Vancouver, I got the chance to go around British Columbia and discover the beauty of Canada (only a tiny portion), where wild bears could freely roam, and trees could generously grow. Canada is truly a wonder to behold. Six months was not enough to discover everything, but it was enough to understand why Canada is one of the most livable countries in the world, despite its freezing climate!

Darren and Yann are two brilliant mentors, and I could not ask for better collaborators! I would definitely recommend to everyone, if you have the opportunity, to get out of your institution, reach out to people, collaborate, and learn! My research visit to UBC made me realize what distinguishes good research from excellent ones. One day, fingers crossed, I get to produce exceptional work that could impact not only my community, but also the people negatively affected by climate change.

January 19, 2023

This entry was posted in



0 Comments Leave a comment

The Way of the Wazee

Four men sitting under a roof. Photo.
Interviewing The Elders, in northern Kenya. Photo: Billy Jones

The disappearing knowledge systems of pastoralist elders in Northern Kenya

Posted on 18 January 2023 by Billy Jones (PhD Candidate in Ethnology, Agenda 2030 Graduate School)
The views expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the Agenda 2030 Graduate School or Lund University. The present document is being issued without formal editing.

I recently came back from a fieldtrip to Northern Kenya where I was interviewing pastoralist elders (“wazee” in Swahili) on the environmental and cultural impact of climate change. I’ve been hearing about how, in just one lifetime modernity, climate change and overpopulation have flipped their world upside down. Desertification and land degradation are now commonplace across Northern Kenya. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) aim to reverse this situation by creating solutions that are environmentally, socially, and economically sustainable by 2030.

Elders traditionally played a crucial role in sustainably managing resources and maintaining the local environment. But they are gradually being replaced by modern technology. With this change, an entire body of knowledge about the environment and sustainable land management practices is being lost. Achieving the SDGs and reversing desertification in dryland areas like Northern Kenya calls for innovative solutions that work for both people and the environment. The elders, with their disappearing knowledge, may just hold the answers we’re looking for.

Pastoralism as a way of life relies on the abundance of grass to feed livestock. Up until the 1970s, pastoralists in Northern Kenya could usually find sufficient grass on the rangelands to keep all their livestock alive and healthy. In the past 40-50 years, however, modernity, climate change and overpopulation have made this lifestyle untenable. The rangelands are largely denuded, livestock are dying in huge numbers, and people are struggling to make a living from the traditional mode of pastoralism.

Against this backdrop, I have been interviewing elders to find out what life was like in the past and what knowledge we might be able to learn from them to apply to the challenges facing pastoralists today.

The number of people and animals has exploded so that there just isn’t enough grass to go around. An area that was once home to 50 people now has up to 2000 residents – all vying for the same patch of grass to feed their animals. What’s more, the climate has become more erratic and unpredictable. Northern Kenya is currently experiencing the worst drought in 40 years; over 1.5 million livestock have lost their lives and over 2 million people are living with acute food insecurity.[1

Land area shown from above. Photo.
Land area shown from above. Photo.
Two decades of population explosion in Salabani, Baringo County have taken over the grazing lands. Top: the dryland grazing lands in 2001. Bottom: The same area in 2019, densely populated and taken over by individual homesteads. Source: Google Earth.

Besides all this, the elders told me about another damaging change that has come in their lifetimes: the modern economy. When they were young, the pastoralist economy was mostly barter-based; if they needed food they would trek into the hills and trade a goat for, say, a sack of maize or wheat from a farmer. With the introduction of the modern economy, the demand for cash grew. People were expected to find cash for things like school fees and taxes, so traders started demanding cash rather than bartered goods. Fast forward to today and cash is king: school fees, food, electricity, phone bills, transport – it’s all paid for with cash.

In just one generation, the elders have seen their entire world change into something unrecognisable. The need for cash, the erratic environment, and the population explosion have brought such drastic changes, rendering their previous way of life untenable.

This rapid change has disrupted the social structures of pastoralist communities, upsetting the social status of the elders and triggering the loss of traditional knowledge systems. In the past, the elders coordinated the grazing of commons. Because they knew which lands to graze during the rainy and dry seasons, they were able to maintain equilibrium, carefully balancing the grass stocks in different areas to ensure they never depleted. This relied on a body of knowledge of rainfall patterns, the roles of indigenous plant species, and community relations. During a drought, they knew which plants would be good survival fodder for their animals. And they ensured each family in the community had sufficient access to grazing year-round.

A map of Kenya with red circles around some areas. Photo.
Map of Bartum location’s former grazing lands. Mapping exercise done with community elders living on Tugen highlands. Source: Google Maps (annotations by Billy Jones).

With the advent of modernity, the elders were slowly displaced. With less grass to go around and more livestock to compete with, individual families starting fending for themselves. On top of this, the elders’ knowledge couldn’t help them navigate school fees, bank loans, or taxes. Gradually, the elders were losing their position in society and people stopped listening to them. As a result, the knowledge is dying with them. The current generation of elders are arguably the last to hold the knowledge that came with the traditional mode of pastoralism. Their knowledge has not been passed on to the following generation, and very little of it has been written down. Its very survival is in jeopardy.

But with climate change, this knowledge is more important than ever. In the drylands where pastoralists live, more extreme droughts are pushing livelihoods to the edge and people are looking for ways to survive and keep their livestock alive. The SDGs hope to alleviate the poverty and environmental damage in these areas. Specifically, SDG 15 aims to combat desertification and reverse land degradation. Achieving this goal requires novel solutions that build on existing scientific and local knowledge. The elders’ traditional knowledge will play a crucial role in finding and building these solutions.[2] How to preserve dry season grazing lands, which trees to graze during a drought, and how to coordinate a community-based gazing system – all of this knowledge would help pastoralists adapt to the extreme droughts and overgrazing they are currently facing.

For better or worse, Pastoralism in Northern Kenya has changed; modernity and climate change have only made it a more precarious way of life. Modern day pastoralists may do well to start listening to their elders once more and bringing their knowledge back into practice.

[1Drought-affected populations in northern Kenya, October 2022 – Danish refugee council

[2] Harnessing pastoralist’s indigenous knowledge for rangeland management: three African case studies – Pastoralism journal

January 18, 2023

This entry was posted in



0 Comments Leave a comment

‘Unmapping’ green space: densification as sustainability fix

Stadsbyggnadskarta över östra Malmö. Illustration.

Updated on 18 January 2023, originally posted on 31 October 2022 by Alva Zalar (Department of Architecture and Built Environment).

The views expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the Agenda 2030 Graduate School or Lund University. The present document is being issued without formal editing.

The IPCC report of 2022[1] does not only continue to stress the absolute acute situation of the climate crisis, but also more clearly than its precursors move towards focusing on solutions. One of the key aspects of the solutions presented is greener cities, which is to be achieved by more sustainable and environmentally friendly planning[2]. The importance of green spaces is also demonstrated in SDG 11 Sustainable cities and communities, particularly in target 11.7[3] which demonstrates that green spaces are of both social and environmental concern. Simultaneously, in the last decades or so, notions of high-density residential space have emerged as the dominant feature in ongoing debates about ‘sustainable urbanism’, in particular in relation to how urban form might support mass transit infrastructure[4] and achieve social mixture[5]. Whether (the planning of) cities can be burdened with all that responsibility or not is another question, but what we do know is that there is a lot of hope to the promises of cities to achieve ‘sustainability’, not the least by being green and dense[6].

With this background, it is highly interesting to study the potential tension between two goals and values so clearly associated with ‘sustainable urban development’, namely, high density and access to green (public) space. In a recent article for City[7], we[8] attempted to study the effects on green space when a ‘compact city vision’ is pushed onto one of Sweden’s most infamous modernist residential areas: Rosengård. We studied the public planning documents connected to the Amiralsstaden[9] project, an urban renewal densification project aiming to improve the social sustainability in Rosengård, asking two main questions. How does the densification of the Rosengård area affect (public) green spaces? And how do the public planning documents discursively produce knowledge about the existing area and its green spaces, in order to realize this compact city vision?

Case study: the welfare landscapes of Rosengård

Brick buildings with apartments, cycle paths and lawns. Photo.
Rosengård, Malmö. Photo: Alva Zalar

Rosengård was built primarily between 1963 and 1972 as a part of the Million Homes Program, and is located in the southeastern inner-city of Malmö, Sweden’s third largest city. Today, the area consists of a series of modernist neighborhoods and offer homes for just shy of 24 000 residents, primarily in multi-family housing units. Rosengård is the largest of Malmö’s post-war residential areas, and also one of the most clearly racialized as an ethnically othered place in Scandinavia. The area, along with many other similar neighborhoods, was receiving harsh criticism already from the early 1970s. The allegedly uniform and poor architecture and landscaping were associated with, and deemed to negatively affect, the residents[10]. The previous housing shortage turning into a surplus amplified the critique. Since then, both planning, design, community work, associations and other type of citizen-led initiatives has led to many efforts which deal with socio-spatial issues. The once-muddy fields between Rosengård’s building have in the last half-century systematically been recreated as lush green spaces, hosting a range of important recreational facilities and spaces.

Blomsterplantering i bostadsområde. Foto.

But the Amiralsstaden densification plans represents a clear shift from this gradual type of development in close relation to citizens, towards a large-scale development project. Studying the representation of green space and proposed densification in written documents, maps, photos shows that planners tasked with densification have adopted a new way of gauging space. While the potential for green spaces to become ‘intense’ and high-quality was consistently highlighted, the loss of green spaces and the increased pressure (through more intense use) was rarely even registered. Instead, the very existence (and, hence, qualities) of many green spaces were fundamentally obscured in public planning visions and strategies. The actual green spaces needed for renewal was thus ‘unmapped’ discursively, i.e., knowledge about particular spaces is actively obscured. Curiously, the Amiralsstaden project not only ‘unmaps’ existing green spaces by refusing to even acknowledge their existence in a systematic fashion, but then also selectively introduce these spaces back into plans as problematic features requiring planning interventions.

The hidden sustainability conflicts

By not recognizing the existing (modernist-type) green spaces of the area that is proposed to change, the densification can be rolled out without ever grappling with contradictory aspects of the plan’s green ambitions or necessary trade-offs. Densification seems to have become a sustainability fix[11], leading to an unsatisfactory account of the risks of sacrificing green space. Both the Amiralsstaden project and the 2018 comprehensive plan for the city of Malmö describes a vision of a ‘near, dense, green and mixed city’[12], but combining such values can be utterly contradictory and thus, the compact city is seldom ‘as green as promised’[13].

The ‘planning epistemology’ unmapping green space that we have identified in Rosengård leaves professionals with a pre-determined and narrow vision, hence, a narrow interpretation of sustainable planning. Furthermore, it underpins the dispossession of green spaces from the existing citizens in a clearly racialized, poor and stigmatized part of the city and undermines the planners’ discursive possibilities to engage productively with local demands to preserve green community assets. Green space is not only sacrificed, but the result is also affecting one the least politically influential communities. This is done despite the citizen dialogue of the Amiralsstaden project stressing the particular importance of local green spaces (courtyards) for women, elderly and children[14] – echoing the ambition of SDG 11.7 to ‘provide universal access to safe, inclusive and accessible, green and public spaces, in particular for women and children, older persons and persons with disabilities’[15]. For green cities to be just, urban planning must to a much larger extent account for the everyday of existing spaces and residents in the areas that are up for ‘sustainable development’.

[1] IPCC, 2022: Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [H.-O. Pörtner, D.C. Roberts, M. Tignor, E.S. Poloczanska, K. Mintenbeck, A. Alegría, M. Craig, S. Langsdorf, S. Löschke, V. Möller, A. Okem, B. Rama (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press. In Press.

[2] IPCC climate report 2022 summary: The key findings


[4] Bibri, S. E., J. Krogstie, and M. Kärrholm. 2020. “Compact City Planning and Development: Emerging Practices and Strategies for Achieving the Goals of Sustainability.” Developments in the Built Environment 4 (2020): 100021.

[5] McFarlane, C. 2016. “The Geographies of Urban Density: Topology, Politics and the City.” Progress in Human Geography 40 (5): 629–648.

[6] Angelo, H., & Wachsmuth, D. (2020). Why does everyone think cities can save the planet? Urban Studies57(11): 2201-2221.

[7] Zalar, A. and J. Pries. 2022. Unmapping green space: Discursive dispossession of the right to green space by a compact city planning. City 26(1): 51-73.


[8] Alva Zalar from Agenda2030 graduate school and the department of Architecture and Built Environment at Lund University, together with colleague Johan Pries, associate senior lecturer at the Department of Human Geography at Lund University

[9] Malmö stad. 2015. Planprogram för Törnrosen och del av Örtagården i Rosengård i Malmö. Malmö: Stadsbyggnadskontoret; Malmö stad. 2020. Planprogram Amiralsgatan och Station Persborg: Från nu till år 2040. Malmö: Malmö stad.

[10] Hall, T., & Vidén, S. (2005). The Million Homes Programme: a review of the great Swedish planning project. Planning Perspectives20(3), 301-328.

[11] While, A., Jonas, A. E., & Gibbs, D. (2004). The environment and the entrepreneurial city: searching for the urban ‘sustainability fix’ in Manchester and Leeds. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 28(3), 549-569.

[12] Malmö stad. 2018a. Översiktsplan för Malmö: Planstrategi. Malmö: Malmö stad.

[13] Bibri, S. E., J. Krogstie, and M. Kärrholm. 2020. “Compact City Planning and Development: Emerging Practices and Strategies for Achieving the Goals of Sustainability.” Developments in the Built Environment 4 (2020): 100021.

[14] Malmö stad. 2015. Planprogram för Törnrosen och del av Örtagården i Rosengård i Malmö. Malmö: Stadsbyggnadskontoret.

[15] 11 Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable

October 30, 2022

This entry was posted in



0 Comments Leave a comment

Connecting the dots: Food for thoughts, thoughts for climate and health

Broccoli looking like human raising its hands. Photo.
Photo by Mockup Graphics on Unsplash.

Posted on 9 September 2021 by Anna Stubbendorff (Department of Clinical Sciences) and Jesica López (Centre for Environmental and Climate Science).

The views expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the Agenda 2030 Graduate School or Lund University. The present document is being issued without formal editing.

“Our relationship with nature is broken. But relationships can change. When we protect nature – we are Nature protecting itself.”

Greta Thunberg

In September 2021, the Food Systems Summit is taking place as part of the Decade of Action to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. All 17 SDGs rely to some degree on healthier, more sustainable, and equitable food systems[1]. Hopefully the interlinkages of food, land use change and healthy diets will target significant outcomes to understand the topic.

Let us begin with the findings of the UN Report: Nature’s Dangerous Decline ‘Unprecedented’; Species Extinction Rates ‘Accelerating’[2]. Five direct drivers of change in nature are having large relative global impacts, including changes in land and sea use, direct exploitation of organisms, climate change, pollution, and invasive alien species. Moreover, around 1 million animal and plant species are now threatened with extinction, many within decades, more than ever before in human history2. We live in a world with a disconnected conversation. We keep talking in separate ways about what kind of food is less harmful to the environment, apart from food that we need to be healthy. This is the diet-environment-health trilemma.

It is about time to face the evidence of a worldwide unsustainable food system. The food system is complex and not only nutrition or food security are issues that must be tackled, we also need to connect the dots to understand the food system through the lenses of land use change and its effects on climate change and biodiversity loss (e.g. mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and insects).  Why? Because behind the present food production, food supply and food consumption systems, is the land we use for agriculture.  The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)[3] mentions that about 11% (1.5 billion ha) of the globe’s land surface (13.4 billion ha) is used in crop production (arable land and land under permanent crops). This area represents slightly over a third (36%) of the land estimated to be to some degree suitable for crop production. So, among the environmental impacts of food and agriculture, food accounts for over 26% of global greenhouse gas emissions[4] and it uses 70% of global freshwater withdrawals[5], where agriculture alone contributes to the 78% of global ocean and freshwater eutrophication (“the process of too many plants growing on the surface of a river, lake, etc., often because chemicals that are used to help crops grow have been carried there by rain” [6]).  Despite the impacts of global agriculture, almost a billion people still suffer from inadequate diets and insecure food supplies[7]. The rapid human population increase, and the development of contemporary production systems has resulted in extensive land conversion and current biodiversity loss. Over the past 12,000 years humans have reshaped the world’s landscape from wilderness to farm, and food lies at the heart of this change[8].

Now, equally important is to talk about the biodiversity that is crucial for our food and agriculture, i.e. all the species that support our food systems and sustain the people who grow and/or provide our food. Sadly, the foundation of our food system is under severe threat. José Graziano da Silva (FAO’s director from 2012-2019) said “Less biodiversity means that plants and animals are more vulnerable to pests and diseases. Compounded by our reliance on fewer and fewer species to feed ourselves, the increasing loss of biodiversity for food and agriculture puts food security and nutrition at risk.[9]” In other words, that biodiversity is defined by ourselves, the consumers, or better put, is defined by our diets.

Diets are the link between the environment and human health and we are living under a global planetary diet transition. At present, a too big part of our diets are based on refined sugars, refined fats, oils and meats. If we continue with this eating trends, in 29 years, it would be a major contributor to an estimated 80% increase in global agricultural greenhouse gas emissions from food production and to global land clearing[10]. Additionally, we will have more incidence of type II diabetes, coronary heart diseases and other chronic non-communicable diseases that lower global life expectancies according to FAO. In fact, unhealthy dietary habits lead to overweight, obesity, malnutrition, and development of chronic diseases. Today 800 million people are malnourished, and the number is increasing[11]. At the same time almost 2 billion people are overweight or obese, and the numbers are increasing as well[12]. Obesity comes with increased health risks but also with increased environmental pressure compared to normal weight. The total impact of obesity on worldwide greenhouse gas emissions may be ~700 megatons per year of CO2eq, which is equivalent to 1.6% of worldwide GHG emissions[13]. To compare, aviation is responsible to 1.9% of all CO2eq[14].  

For example, dietary risks and malnutrition are the leading risk factors of disease and death globally. The most important factors for loss of DALYS (Disability Adjusted Life Years – measure of the overall disease burden including the number of years lost due to ill-health, disability and early death) due to dietary habits are low intake of plant-based foods, such as wholegrains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, and nuts. High intake of red meat, processed meat, sodium, and sugar sweetened beverages are also contributing[15].

Moreover, cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the world and over 400 million adults are living with type 2 diabetes[16] [17]. Annually there are approx. 17 million new cancer cases worldwide, and almost 10 million deaths according to estimates from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC)[18]. Unhealthy diets are a major contributor to development of chronic diseases, and the good news is that many of these diseases can therefore be prevented. It has been estimated that 30-50% of all cancers can be prevented with a healthy lifestyle, 80% of cardiovascular diseases and 90% of all diabetes cases[19].

Current diets are neither sustainable nor healthy, but the positive side is that the same foods that are good for the planet are also good for our health (with exceptions of course).  A diet that is mainly plant-based with high amounts of whole grains, legumes, vegetables and fruits and restricted amounts of meat has been shown to be positive for health and the environment. The EAT-Lancet Commission on Food, Planet and Health called for a global transformation of the food system to address human and planetary health when they published their report in 2019. The commission presented for the first time a reference diet in accordance with global goals for human health and global environmental sustainability, in a growing global population[20]. Scientific target values regarding consumption of 22 food groups were given, based on both environmental and health aspects. If the diet was followed globally, it was estimated that it could feed 10 billion people, decrease malnutrition and overweight and prevent 11 million deaths annually. The EAT-Lancet diet got a lot of attention globally and it has been recommended as a basis when integrating health and environmental aspects into national dietary guidelines.

In conclusion, diets can be both sustainable and healthy. Research suggests that if everyone shifted to a plant-based diet we would reduce global land use for agriculture by 75%. Even cutting out beef and dairy (by substituting chicken, eggs, fish or plant-based food) has a much larger impact than eliminating chicken or fish[21]. Understanding about the environmental impact of our food choices needs to be a new “norm”. Major challenges remain to change the current unhealthy and unsustainable dietary patterns of the global population. But what is most important, is a call for action from all sectors and our recognition as “consumers” that urgent substantial changes are needed to be made in the agricultural and food industry practices to change the food environment.

Recommended sites

The Food and Land Use Coalition (FOLU) is a community of organizations and individuals committed to the urgent need for food and land use transformation to create a healthier planet and healthier people. Website: Food and Land Use Coalition | World Resources Institute (

The EAT-Lancet summary report.

[1] UN Food systems Summit. 2021. Official website:

[2] UN Report: Nature’s Dangerous Decline ‘Unprecedented’; Species Extinction Rates ‘Accelerating’.

[3] FAO, World agriculture:towards 2015/2030. Crop production and natural resource use.

[4] Poore, J., & Nemecek, T. 2018. Reducing food’s environmental impacts through producers and consumers. Science, 360(6392), 987-992.

[5] FAO. 2011. The state of the world’s land and water resources for food and agriculture (SOLAW) – Managing systems at risk. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome and Earthscan, London.

[6] Definition of eutrophication . Oxford dictionary.

[7] Godfray, H. C. J. et al. 2010. Food security: the challenge of feeding 9 billion people. Science 327, 812–818.

[8] Ritchie, H. & Roser, M. 2021. “Biodiversity”. Published online at Retrieved from:

[9] FAO report. The state of the world’s biodiversity for food and agriculture. 2019. Retrieved from:

[10] Tilman, D., Clark, M. 2014. Global diets link environmental sustainability and human health. Nature 515, 518–522..

[11] FAO report. The state of food security and nutrition in the world. 2021. Retrieved from:


[13] Magkos. Et al, The Environmental Foodprint of Obesity. Obesity (2020)



[16] Collaborators GBDCoD: Global, regional, and national age-sex-specific mortality for 282 causes of death in 195 countries and territories, 1980-2017: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2017. Lancet 2018, 392:1736-1788.

[17] Saeedi P, Petersohn I, Salpea P, Malanda B, Karuranga S, Unwin N, Colagiuri S, Guariguata L, Motala AA, Ogurtsova K, et al: Global and regional diabetes prevalence estimates for 2019 and projections for 2030 and 2045: Results from the International Diabetes Federation Diabetes Atlas, 9(th) edition. Diabetes Res Clin Pract 2019, 157:107843.


[19] Socialstyrelsen, Nationella riktlinjer för sjukdomsförebyggande metoder. Tobaksbruk, riskbruk av alkohol, otillräcklig fysisk aktivitet och ohälsosamma matvanor. Stöd för styrning och ledning. 2011.

[20] Willett, W. et al, 2019. “Food in the Anthropocene: the EAT-Lancet Commission on healthy diets from sustainable food systems.” Lancet.

[21] Ritchie, H. 2021. If the world adopted a plant-based diet we would reduce global agricultural land use from 4 to 1 billion hectares.

September 9, 2021

This entry was posted in



0 Comments Leave a comment

Should my financial adviser be a robot?

Robot looking into the camera. Photo.
Photo by Alex Knight on Unsplash.

Posted on 26 May 2021 by Juan Ocampo (Department of Business Administration).

The views expressed in this publication are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the Agenda 2030 Graduate School or Lund University. The present document is being issued without formal editing.

This post is part of a blog post series on AI and sustainability.

Artificial Intelligence in the field of Financial Inclusion

As we have been discussing along this series of posts on AI and Sustainable development algorithms are increasingly becoming recognised as an important element in our society and this is not different in the financial world. What interests me and my research is financial inclusion, for which AI has been focused in enhancing both communication and risk assessment. For this introductory post, I will mention the general characteristics of these applications and later briefly explain how the ML for chatbots work. In future posts I will cover the other applications so keep in the loop! But let’s start by summarising the three main use cases for financial inclusion: Risk measurement; Fraud Detections, and Customer service.

Usually a bank will offer you a loan based on your financial history, but what happens with people that have been left out of the financial system? How do they create a financial record if they are not even allowed to start one in the first place? This is a challenge, both for the lenders (usually banks) and for the people that are trying to get a loan. To solve this challenge, AI is being used to assess people’s creditworthiness by using alternative data, which is basically the use of information beyond conventional credit information as your payment history or banking behaviours. Alternative data can consider information coming from your transaction in e-platforms (e.g. Amazon), your emails, or even your movements (i.e. GPS location information)[1],[2]. All this information, or data points, are usually stored in your phone, mobile apps, and internet behaviour, for which you give consent to use when accepting the terms and conditions of the services. Scary as it sounds, the idea is that based on these data points companies create credit-scoring models that evaluate your potential payment behaviour and suggest the approval and loan amount.

A second use of AI is to automate fraud detections which is related to a term known as Know-Your-Customer (KYC). In broad terms, what these applications try to do is to avoid money laundry activities or identity thefts. Through this application the financial institutions try to secure that the information that is given when, for example, opening a bank account is true[3] for example by checking on different databases that store personal information or analysing your social media behaviour in an attempt to confirm your “trustworthiness” for future business transactions[4].

AI as financial advisor

A third way in which AI is being used as a financial inclusion tool is to handle customers. Chatbots can enhance customer support, provide financial advice, or even suggest the user financial products they could acquire based on their financial actions. But how are chatbots relevant for financial inclusion? Well, I have been struggling with that question and even though there are many products related to handling customer calls and helping them to “self-serve”[5], the impact on people is rather functional in the sense that they can be served faster and cheaper (for the company at least), however, as you might have experienced, chatbots do not always offer the best experience (yet). Still, it is questionable the effect on improving people’s lives and solving societal problems.

But we need to propose if we want to reclaim technology for the good, and in this post I will mention some opportunities for using AI for an equal and resilient economy. But before I go into this and following our initial post on more transparent and ethical AI[6], I think it is important to go ‘under the hood’ of chatbots and try to make this more transparent and accessible. The following section is a high overview of how the algorithms in chatbots work, however it serves the purpose of demystifying algorithms and help us think in how to make these algorithms work for the people.

Introducing the chatbot

In this post I will explain customer service chatbots. As for many industries, communicating with customers is key when providing customers a good experience and chatbots are (sometimes) good and cheap solutions for handling customers. As in many machine learning applications, these chatbots are based on great amounts of text databases but in this case they are built from dialogues between people. To make a chatbot application, the first step is to prepare the data, which basically means to separate sentences (or words) and later link these sentences in a way that a meaning can be ascribed. Most times, this is a table with a column that will be a question or context and a column for the answer[7]. Then we need to train the machine learning so it accomplishes the task, which in the case of chatbot could either be to respond in a ‘new’ way (i.e. generative) or based on previous answers (i.e. selective)[8]. If it is generative, machine learning will create a response that is not already defined in your database, so it is basically (trying) to be intelligent. In the second case, the machine will identify the meaning of the question and look for the answer that better suits it. In both cases, the ML use a process called sequence2sequence[9],[10],[11]. This process (developed in Google) iterates over potential answers (i.e. decoder) based on the previous inputs (i.e. encoders) and later selects the answer that offers the least loss in a utility function of the algorithm.

For the sake of the explanation I will build on two examples from our daily life, so bear with me in this one. Imagine you are playing with your dog (in this case the algorithm). You have trained him before and he knows that if he makes you happy he will get a treat. The dog has been trained with a set of predefined instruction (i.e. encoder) in which a certain order means a specific response. So, you say sit, and based on his previous training he decides to sit (i.e. decoder) and gets a treat! This is an example of a selective case in which the algorithm will give a response based on predefined commands. Now imagine you are babysitting your beautiful niece, she is learning to talk so she makes sounds to communicate with you. This is not the first time you have been with her so you have been keeping a list of certain sounds she makes when you are doing certain actions. In this case, you are the algorithm and the list with sounds and actions is the training dataset. Today, with a smile in her face she says “bo” “gal”!  You look at your list and learn that the last time she said “bo” you were eating peas and carrots and for “gal” you were eating smashed apples. Based on that information you decide to give her smashed carrots, she starts to cry! This is a fail case of a generative response based on previous data. It might be she wanted smashed peas or complete apples, so as you see generative algorithms are more complex since the responses are not pre-set and more context is needed. Even thought some would agree that keeping a baby happy is a benefit for humanity, is not the type of purpose we want to discuss.

Chatbots with a purpose

Far beyond rigorous, the purpose of the previous explanation was to demystify AI. The more people understand that AI are algorithms that are developed by human beings with errors, biases, and interests, the quicker it will be for us to reclaim power over them. I want to stress the importance on the dataset that is informing a chatbot. These robots need to be trained by people with an interest in the wellbeing of the user and not only in the profit of the company that is ‘hiring’ the chatbot.

This said, I believe that a meaningful and constructive application of chatbots for financial inclusion lays in basic financial education. Chatbots can be programmed as financial literacy tools in which people can ask questions and learn skills relevant for financial inclusion; for example, financial terminology or basic product education. Imagine an application in which uneducated users could ask a chatbot questions on the legality of products they are being offered or decision making support on questions that they don’t feel capable to deal with like interest rate calculation, conditions, or risk involved in loans. In other words, let’s make chatbots trustworthy financial advisors!

There are three main benefits of this type of financial advisors that come to my mind:

  1. Balance the information access between lenders and borrowers. People should be able to make informed decisions based on transparent, accessible and educative sources
  2. Allow policy makers/regulators to identify opportunities to develop financial education policies based on the needs that people are expressing through the chatbots. In other words, policy built from the bottom
  3. Inform EdTech companies in potential educative needs and uncover opportunities for developing products with a positive societal impact

I end this post with some reflections on how AI is being used in the world of financial inclusion. At the moment, it seems that AI applications are solving the problems of the business. AI applications are made for financial institutions and with a major focus of increasing profit and decreasing risk. But perhaps it is important to have a balance and find ways in which users can also benefit from algorithms. How could AI be beneficial for the user side? How can AI be used to incentivise productive development? If you have any examples or thoughts please get in touch!

By the way, if you are interested in AI and the impacts it will have in our society I will be moderating a panel discussion on AI and the Future of Work[12]. We will be discussing how current and future generations should prepare for a world where algorithms and humans become co-workers! Don’t miss out and register in this link[13].

[1] See for more information on alternative data:

[2] For more info on credit scoring:

[3] For more about AI and Financial services.

[4] Nir Kshetri (2021) The Role of Artificial Intelligence in Promoting Financial Inclusion in Developing Countries, Journal of Global Information Technology Management, 24:1, 1-6, DOI: 10.1080/1097198X.2021.1871273

[5] Some examples:;

[6]Initial post of the series:

[7] Vinyals and Le (2015) A Neural Conversational Model.


[9]  More on sequence 2sequence: Sutskever, Vinyals and Le (2014) Sequence to Sequence Learning with Neural Networks.

[10]  More on sequence 2sequence: Vinyals and Le (2015) A Neural Conversational Model.

[11] More on sequence 2sequence:

[12]More info on the event:

[13] Register to the event:

May 26, 2021

This entry was posted in

AI and sustainability Okategoriserade


0 Comments Leave a comment

Can AI solve our environmental challenges?

Miniature tree among big trees. Photo montage.
Photo by Iván Tamás on Pixabay.

Posted on 20 May 2021 by Jesica López (Centre for Environmental and Climate Science) and Maria Takman (Department of Chemical Engineering).

The views expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the Agenda 2030 Graduate School or Lund University. The present document is being issued without formal editing.

This post is part of a blog post series on AI and sustainability.

“Building a more sustainable future requires a rethink of some deeply held assumptions about the role of artificial intelligence.”

Victor Galaz

In Dark Machines[1], Galaz explores why the idea of planetary change, digitalization, and AI, is naïve and dangerous. The hope that AI solutions can help “solve” deeply complex social, economic, and environmental challenges is described as just Hype. Our living planet is complex and it has its own capacity to sustain our growing needs, however there is a hyper focus on novel methods behind AI that ignores what is really important and it gets stuck in assuming a largely stable world. AI has potential to contribute to a more sustainable development in many fields, but AI alone is not always the answer.

In many industries, AI can entangle positive and negative contributions for environmental sustainability. Including agriculture, forestry, energy, transportation, water resource management, manufacturing, material science, and the list goes on. As the field of AI continues to evolve, so does its ability and applicability, appeal to help the environment. Just because the algorithms are all around us, as technology becomes more familiar daily. Indeed, it is possible to say that algorithms underpin almost all environmental monitoring technologies nowadays. In 2015, at the Transformations 2015 Conference in Stockholm[2],  our Planet Earth was presented as a geosphere that evolved to the biosphere and then, we humans created the Technosphere, as an integrated element of the biosphere. Moreover, at the same event the Biosphere Code Manifesto v1.0[3]represented a way to develop algorithms that helps us protect global ecosystems for all involved in the algorithm uprising.

Coming back to the “industries” and looking at the promising potentials of AI, for example in agriculture to have the power to make agricultural practices safer for the land and the health of the public or solving agricultural water efficiency problems[4] and the creation of and enabling environment for data-driven farming[5]. Moreover, another example related to monitoring of forests, where AI is helping local communities in using technology to protect the rainforest from illegal deforestation[6], and enabling diverse groups of stakeholders across the globe to have access to the latest data, technology and tools that empower them to better manage and protect forest landscapes[7]. In addition, the energy sector, where AI is increasingly used to manage the intermittency of renewable energy so that more can be incorporated into the grid[8]. Or, water resource management, where AI can help reduce or eliminate waste while lowering costs and lessening environmental impact[9]. Finally, if we talk about climate change, AI has been seen as a game changer. Through computer systems that “can sense their environment, think, learn, and act in response to what they sense” AI has helped researchers and governmental agencies to create weather forecasts achieving 89-90% accuracy in identifying, for example, tropical cyclones, weather fronts, and atmospheric rivers, all of which can cause heavy damages and are often hard for humans to identify on their own. It seems like AI is shaping itself to be a tremendously useful tool in our society. Although AI presents all these transformative opportunities to address the Earth’s environmental challenges, left unguided, it also has the capability to accelerate the environment’s degradation[10]

These environmental benefits for our society to get better climate forecasts, to make the jump into what is called precision agriculture/smart agriculture, the optimization of cooling of grids for energy, and even, but not forgotten, the monitoring of supply chains and global shipping[11], ocean mining, fishing, coral bleaching or the outbreak of a marine disease, is showing that AI has powerful advantages with some promising projects going on globally. Nevertheless, let us not set aside the so-called cons, better said risks, just because we are impressed by the tempting strategies and applications of AI in the environmental sector. Apart from the high cost of implementation, no human replication, no improvement with experience, the no-creativity nature of its algorithms, and maybe the riskiest of all with severe effects, the rise of capital-intensive technologies with less human-intensive requirements[12], AI’s potential to help address the climate challenge lies not in optimizing systems, but in augmenting people’s capacities to become stewards of the biosphere[13].

All being said, the pros and cons of AI in the environmental dimension being evaluated, we need to be more responsible together with the technology giants, international think-tanks and policy-makers to redirect and think ahead towards AI advanced agendas. As a good example, the potential of AI can be put in terms of how we handle nutrients and water sources. In fact, our relationship with water is close, a human body is up to 60% water and we live on a “watery” planet with about 71% of the Earth’s surface covered by water. We use it for drinking, for irrigation, for washing, for energy production, in industries, and probably in many other applications. One could perhaps even say that water is one of our most important resources. On the “opposite side”, or in “the other end” of the water we use, is the wastewater we produce, both our very own faeces and urine, as well as wastewater from a number of industrial applications.

Resources in water and wastewater

To protect the precious resource, which water is, and to protect ourselves from the wastewater we produce, different infrastructural systems have existed for ages. The oldest traces of systems to handle sanitation in communities are from the Mesopotamian empire (3500 – 2500 BC), and also the Romans are famous for their refined water and sewage infrastructure[14]. However, when the Roman empire collapsed, so did much of the water and wastewater systems. Pots were for example instead sometimes emptied directly out on the street, resulting in increased disease spreading, and the period from the middle ages to the industrial revolution is even sometimes called “the sanitary dark ages”[15]. With the industrial revolution and rapid urbanization, new sewer systems were once again built to decrease spread of disease and to improve sanitation in urban settlements. As environmental awareness increased during the 20th century, focus also shifted towards decreasing emissions of nutrients, and later also chemicals such as pharmaceutical residues and other micro pollutants. Consumption of energy and chemicals have also been put in the spotlight, and improved automatic control can optimize treatment processes and potentially decrease use of those resources.

In Les Miserables, Victor Hugo wrote that “the history of men is reflected in the history of sewers”[16][17]. Questions discussed at many levels in our society today, such as digitalization, AI, and environmental concern, are of course also reflected in the discussions about our water and wastewater systems. AI could be applied to save both money, energy and chemicals through optimizing different process steps in our water and wastewater treatment plants, and potentially enhance our understanding for specific processes, plants or waters[18]. There are initiatives to use AI to easier and faster track water quality parameters, such as bacteria and heavy metals[19], to use AI to optimize irrigation, based on moisture measurements in the ground and weather data[20]. AI is also tried out to assess status, maintenance needs, and risks of future malfunctions in piping networks[21].

The global challenges are however, unfortunately, sometimes more complicated than this, and there are of course also questions to which AI alone is not the answer. Challenges regarding safe drinking water and sanitation for all, resource efficiency, or for example land use are probably also on a more systematic level. To, for example, use the potential resources in the wastewater, such as water and nutrients, in a sustainable way, the challenges are probably in terms of both technology, politics, logistics and infrastructure, and the fundamental way of how we handle such resources might have to be changed, potentially including recycling of both nutrients (such as phosphorus and nitrogen)[22] and water[23], or other ways of more efficient use. Many wastewater systems are for example based on toilets flushed with water, in many cases of drinking water quality. In areas where drinking water is scarce, it is of course questioned if this is the best way of handling fresh water (even if you can use AI to optimize the treatment process or reduce leakages), or if other types of, less clean, water could be used, for example reused wastewater or sea water. Going back to the example about nutrient recycling, mining for the nutrient phosphorus may cause both environmental and economic problems[24][25], as well as being a non-renewable resource[26]. To reach a system change where we instead return our nutrients to the farmland, optimized irrigation or fertilization using AI will not alone be a solution, even if it probably has potential to help along the way.

In conclusion, many AI tools are developed “to solve” problems with land use, climate change, biodiversity loss, or water and wastewater management, but the bigger picture also needs to be considered. AI probably has big potential to optimize current and future water and wastewater systems, to optimize processes and decrease use of energy of chemicals, reduce operational problems, simplify water quality monitoring, optimize irrigation, and help in maintaining our piping systems. There are probably also challenges where AI alone is not the solution, such as how to handle important resources such as freshwater and nutrients.

[1] A book about AI, automation, and our living planet.

[2] Transformations2015, held in Stockholm Oct5-7 2015, focused on transformations towards sustainability.

[3] Galaz, V. 2015. A manifesto for algorithms in the environment.

[4] Itshaky, R. 2021. How AI will solve agriculture’s water efficiency problems

[5] Microsoft, 2015. FarmBeats: AI, Edge & IoT for agriculture.

[6] White, T. 2018. The fight against illegal deforestation with TensorFlow.

[7] Global Forest Watch.

[8] Polycarpou, L. 2013. Charting the Course to a Renewable Energy Future.

[9] Gow, G. 2020. Environmental Sustainability And AI.

[10] World Economic Forum. 2018. Harnessing Artificial Intelligence for the Earth.

[11] TRASE platform. Transparency for Sustainable Economies.

[12] Kumar, S. 2019. Advantages and Disadvantages of Artificial Intelligence
Advantages and Disadvantages of Artificial Intelligence | by sunil kumar | Towards Data Science

[13] Galaz. V. 2021. Will the Fourth Industrial Revolution Serve Sustainability?

[14] Lofrano, G., Brown, J., (2010) Wastewater management through the ages: A history of mankind. Science of the total environment. DOI: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2010.07.062

[15] Lofrano, G., Brown, J., (2010) Wastewater management through the ages: A history of mankind. Science of the total environment. DOI: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2010.07.062


[17] Lofrano, G., Brown, J., (2010) Wastewater management through the ages: A history of mankind. Science of the total environment. DOI: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2010.07.062

[18] Zhao, L., Dai, T., Qiao, Z., Sun, P., Hao, J., Yang., (2020) Application of artificial intelligence to wastewater treatment: A bibliometric analysis and systematic review of technology, economy,management, and wastewater reuse. Process, safety and environmental protection

[19] Can AI help combat the world’s clean water crisis? (2019) ;

[20] Svensk startup ska vattna gräsmattor med AI (2019)

[21] AI vattenledningsnät (2020)

[22] Högstrand, S. (2020) Coming closer to closing the phosphorus cycle – how bacteria could be the solution to the coming food crisis. Journal of Water Management and Research.

[23] Takman, M. (2019) Opportunities for wastewater reuse in Sweden. Journal of Water Management and Research.

[24] Forskning från Marocko styr världens matproduktion (2019)

[25] Florida’s frightening phosphate problem – Phosphate mining’s significant threats to Florida’s water and wildlife

[26] Högstrand, S. (2020) Coming closer to closing the phosphorus cycle – how bacteria could be the solution to the coming food crisis. Journal of Water Management and Research.

May 20, 2021

This entry was posted in

AI and sustainability Okategoriserade


0 Comments Leave a comment

Familiar yet elusive: What does ’nature’ really mean?

Plant growing on asphalt. Photo.
Photo: Michael Gaida at Pixabay.

Posted on 12 May 2021 by Naja Yndal-Olsen (Department of Sociology).

The views expressed in this publication are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the Agenda 2030 Graduate School or Lund University. The present document is being issued without formal editing.

In the time of climate and biodiversity crisis, nature is a concept through which we are often asked to rethink our position as human beings, our relations to and responsibility towards other species and our current use of natural resources. In the very beginning of the 2030 Agenda resolution, it is made clear that the United Nations are “determined to ensure that […] economic, social and technological progress occurs in harmony with nature”[i]. But what is nature at all?

As a contested concept, nature has been called a ‘terrain of power’ and an ‘ideological battleground’[ii]. Though the word is widely used in both everyday and academic language, its meaning is far from self-evident[iii]. When engaging in sustainability debates, it can therefore be useful to be critically aware of diverse latent assumptions about nature and naturalness – regarding how these different concepts of nature contribute to legitimize, reproduce, challenge or resist certain practices in society.

Embedded in a web of dichotomies

Nature does not let itself define effortlessly, and its meaning is easiest to explain by determining what it is not. Thus, nature is embedded in a web of dichotomies, often representing the opposite to civilization, human, culture, society and urban environment, though it can also be understood in opposition to what has been developed consciously by rational intention or the artificial, supernatural and preternatural[iv].

With an ambiguous symbolic load nature can be ascribed different extents of instrumental, recreational, aesthetic or intrinsic value. It can be viewed as the home of fellow beings or as empty, uncapitalized land. It can mean the untouched wilderness representing valuable and unspoiled or brute and dangerous places, or it can be understood as the idyllic countryside or a primitive condition before human society. Nature can be seen as living or objectified, a nurturing mother, spiritual goodness or the mundane and secular. It can be viewed as robust or fragile, a provider of ecosystem services, or it can represent spaces for recreational experiences. Sometimes nature means the totality of cosmos, including humans.

Nevertheless, nature most often refers to “the green”, “out there” understood as physical landscapes with plants and animals[v]. But even here, nature is interpreted differently: Does nature start on the other side of the city border, or could a small piece of nature exist in an urban plant bed? Can landscapes with monocultural fields or planted forest be called nature – or is nature only to be found in areas free from human interference? Should nature-management be about taming or rewilding nature? Are domesticated animals part of nature, part of the societal sphere or left in a boundless non-space? Farmed animals represent 60 % of the planet’s mammalian biomass, while wildlife only represents 4 % and humans 36 %[vi]. In this light, it is interesting to consider what it means that commodified animals have been completely separated from discourses of nature and thus have not been seen as a concern for the green movements – until the recent focus on the central role of present time’s animal agriculture in the climate and biodiversity crisis.

The crisis of anthropocentrism

Anthropocentric approaches position humans at the centre of the world, assuming that nature exists only to supply the needs of human flourishing – and human flourishing alonevii]. They manifest themselves in structural practices of human supremacy, marginalizing non-human perspectives and beings, and builds on hyper-separation of the human and the non-human through dualisms of human-nature, humanity-animality and civilization-wilderness[viii]. In these approaches, nature often connotes instinct, automata, passivity and object, whereas culture connotes agency, purpose, meaning and subjectivity. Yet in the light of the climate and biodiversity crisis, a widespread realization has emerged: namely, that the highly instrumentalizing and exploitative approaches to nature have shown to be self-subversive.

Different approaches to nature

Radical ecologies emphasize the value of both human and non-human life for its own sake. Some approaches focus on biotic communities where energy is transferred between different lifeforms and between living and non-living. From a biocentric view, everything living possess intrinsic value due to the preference for continuing life and interest in striving for their own good. Humans can exploit nature to cover our vital needs but are not the end of all things. Other approaches criticize systemic understandings of nature as ecosystems, biodiversity, populations and species, i.e. nature as abstract units, opposite to embodied of individuals with interests, perspectives and experiences of life. Some approaches advocate to include the built environment in understandings of nature. Other stress humans’ existential connectedness with many other species: We share a world, a planet that we co-inhabit, have bodies, are vulnerable, come into life and die, and our histories are entangled in social and institutionalized relationships[ix]

Nature-rights and indigenous perspectives

Nature-rights are getting traction, and several rivers have been granted legal personhood, a hybridization of indigenous concepts of reciprocity and Western concepts of rights[x]. Assembly of First Nations describes nature as Mother Earth, a provider of gifts such as air and water, and whose spirit lives in all things. Humans are caretakers, and ideals are reverence, humility and only to take what is needed[xi]. Where animism from a Western perspective was earlier seen as mistaking objects for subjects, today it is often seen as a vital alternative to over-exploitation. A shared key concept for many indigenous peoples is interrelatedness. Because of the strong tie to specific localities – animals, plants, glaciers, rivers and mountains are considered non-human relatives. This causes intimate relations to nature, which however, is not seen as untouchable but should be treated with honour[xii]. Nevertheless, critics point to a tendency that non-human relatives are anthropomorphized through a model of the human social world, which implies a failure to recognize the diverse uniqueness of non-human others[xiii].

A general struggle within less or non-anthropocentric approaches seems to be, whether nature should be seen as delimited or all-encompassing. When we define nature as places where humans are not, we lose sight of the fact that we are just one among countless species, but if the concept is extended to include all human activity, it doesn’t have a clear purpose and could become meaningless.

Conclusion: Concepts of nature as communicative tools?

All definitions of nature already contain a concept of nature: What is seen as nature and what is not? How is nature regarded? From which position is nature viewed? Concepts of nature are historically and culturally conditioned, interwoven in worldviews and have ontological, epistemological, existential and ethical implications. They are reproduced through practices, and dominant concepts are structurally embedded in society. Not least, they reflect the perceivers: How do we understand ourselves as human beings and relate to otherness?[xiv]

Nature is often divided into more precise terms such as ecosystems, biodiversity, habitats or populations. In this way, nature often comes in other “boxes”. Nevertheless, this does not remove the diverse taken-for-grantedness of different academic disciplines, stakeholders or lay people reacting to concrete sustainability projects or politics[xv].

It would be naive to believe that disagreements about ecological sustainability are solely founded in conceptualizations – clearly, economic interests play a fundamental role – but while acknowledging this, it might be useful in sustainability-debates to reflect on and explicit different concepts of nature in order to provide common vocabularies functioning as communicative tools in conflicts.

[i] Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

[ii] Pellow, D.N., Brehm, H.N. (2013) An Environmental Sociology for the Twenty-First Century. Annual Review of Sociology, 39, 229–250,

[iii] Soper, K. (1995) What is Nature? Culture, Politics and the Non-Human. John Wiley And Sons Ltd

[iv] Dussault, A. C. (2016) Ecological Nature. A non-dualistic concept for rethinking humankind’s place in the world. Ethics & the Environment, vol. 21, issue 1,, L. W. (2004)

The “Nature” of ‘Nature’: The concept of nature and its complexity in a Western cultural and ethical context. Global Bioethics, vol. 17, issue 1,

[v] Casetta, E. (2020) Making sense of nature conservation after the end of nature. History & Philosophy of the Life Sciences, vol. 42, issue 2,

[vi] Yinon, M., Phillips, R., Milo, R. (2018) The Biomass Distribution on Earth. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America,

[vii] Chakrabarty, D. (2020) The Human Sciences and Climate Change: A Crisis of Anthropocentrism. Science and Culture, January-February 2020,

[viii] Weitzenfeld, A. & Joy, M. (2014) An Overview of Anthropocentrism, Humanism and Speciesism. In Nocella (Ed) Defining Critical Anima Studies. An Intersectional Social Justice Approach for Liberation. Peter Lang Publishin

[ix] Meijer, E. (2019) When Animals Speak: Toward an Interspecies Democracy. New York University Press

[x] Tănăsescu, M. (2020) Rights of Nature, Legal Personality, and Indigenous Philosophies. Transnational Environmental Law, vil. 9, issue 3,

[xi] Assembly of First Nations (2021) Honouring Earth,

[xii] Inoue, Y. A. & Moreira, P. F. (2016) Many worlds, many nature(s), one planet: indigenous knowledge in the Anthropocene. Revista Brasileira de Política Internacional, vol. 59, issue 2,

[xiii] Snodgrass, J. G. & Tiedje, K. (2008) Indigenous Nature Reverence and Conservation— Seven Ways of Transcending an Unnecessary Dichotomy. Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature & Culture, vol. 2, issue 1,

[xiv] Christensen, J. (2008) Hvad er et natursyn? Refleksioner over natursyn som begreb. Institut for Samfundsudvikling og Planlægning Aalborg Universitet.

[xv] Keulartz, J., Van der Windt, H., Swart, J. (2004) Concepts of Nature as Communicative Devices: The Case of Dutch Nature Policy. Environmental Values, vil. 13, issue 1,

May 12, 2021

This entry was posted in



0 Comments Leave a comment

An introduction to ethical AI

Glass box with black frames. Photo.
Photo by Wilhelm Gunkel on Unsplash.

Posted on 11 May 2021 by Alexander Tagesson (Division of Cognitive Science) and Juan Ocampo (Department of Business Administration).

The views expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the Agenda 2030 Graduate School or Lund University. The present document is being issued without formal editing.

This post is part of a blog post series on AI and sustainability.

AI ethics is a broad field that considers itself with questions spanning several sub-domains. In this post we want to highlight some of the issues regarding the ethical development and use of artificial intelligence (AI), as we believe there is significant overlap with sustainable development and use of AI. For starters, several experts from different backgrounds are currently discussing the different challenges and risks that AI poses to humanity[1]. More and more, research institutes focus on trying to understand and mitigate the potential risks connected to AI, including weaponization, accidents, and security breaches[2]. It is an imperative to talk about ethics and transparency along with AI.

Hagendorff[3] performed a meta-analysis on articles discussing the most common ethical guidelines regarding AI. Most articles discuss accountability, privacy and fairness and these guidelines are most often operationalized mathematically and implemented in terms of a technical solution. This runs the risk of not connecting guidelines to a wider societal context, but rather think of them as technical problems with technical solutions. There is also often a mention of the potential benefits we can gain from using AI for sustainable development, but no paper mentions that AI-practices may be countering sustainability goals, creating e-waste, mining natural resources, consume energy and force people into becoming “clickworkers” [4] [5] [6] [7] [8].

Cathy O’Neil talks about “weapons of math destruction”. Building on her experience in the financial world, O’Neil questions the quality and reliability of the algorithms that are being developed as objective and reliable decision making instruments. However, in reality some of this algorithms  “encoded human prejudice, misunderstandings, and bias in systems that are increasingly managing our lives”[9]. It is important then that programmers, users, and public in general become aware the way in which algorithms are creating the future world that we will inhabit together[10]. If we no longer are certain that we will be able to control an AI-system, or even be able to secure that algorithms are doing what they are meant to do[11],  the ethical choice is likely to refrain from creating that system[12] and that choice ought undoubtedly also be considered the most sustainable one, given the potential risks and uncertainties for human life.

Other issues concerning the use of AI ethics is the “technological race” between AI superpowers, where actors race each other to reach AI supremacy and regulators are lagging behind. Within this competitive atmosphere actors focus on development of new technology and become more willing to take risks and impede ethical considerations[13]. Moreover, most of the big tech companies do not seem to care about ethical artificial intelligence beyond using it as a market strategy. They do not face any real consequences for developing algorithms that produce unethical behaviour[14] and are at the same time silencing ethical considerations that might hinder sustainable development[15] .

It is not an easy task to keep up with the Big Tech, however regulators are setting some rules in order to avoid undesirable outcomes and promote the use of AI for solving societal challenges. For example, the EU has proposed the “Artificial Intelligence Act[16]” with the objective of ensuring: (i) the respect of existing law on fundamental rights, (ii) legal certainty for investment; (iii) governance and enforcement of the law; and (iv) a suitable market development. If you are interested in how policies around AI are being implemented, we invite you to read the book, “Human-centred AI in the EU” [17] . In these compilation, Stefan Larsson and his colleagues discuss how different member states of the European Union (e.g. Poland, Italy and the Nordic states) have implemented and adopted the AI policies.

Aware of the ethical risks around AI, it was a first and necessary step to bring forward some of these considerations in regard to this technology. However, there are many opportunities for AI in the context for sustainable development and this will also be part of this series of posts. In the following weeks we will get into more specific cases on how AI is being used in different socio-economic and environmental fields. Far from rigorous, this is first an invitation to the readers to be open and critical about the possibilities and risks that AI poses and an overall introduction to what you will encounter in the future posts.

[1] See Daniel Kahneman and Yuval Noah Harari discussion for different perspectives on the topic


[3] Hagendorff, T. The Ethics of AI Ethics: An Evaluation of Guidelines. Minds & Machines 30, 99–120 (2020).

[4] Crawford, Kate, and Vladan Joler. 2018. “Anatomy of an AI System.” Accessed April 30, 2021.

[5] Irani, Lilly. 2016. “The Hidden Faces of Automation.” XRDS 23 (2): 34–37.

[6] Veglis, Andreas. 2014. “Moderation Techniques for Social Media Content.” In Social Computing and Social Media, edited by David Hutchison, Takeo Kanade, Josef Kittler, Jon M. Kleinberg, Alfred Kobsa, Friedemann Mattern, John C. Mitchell et al., 137–48. Cham: Springer International Publishing.

[7] Fang, Lee. 2019. “Google Hired Gig Economy Workers to Improve Artificial Intelligence in Controversial Drone-Targeting Project.” Accessed February 13, 2019.

[8] Casilli, Antonio A. 2017. “Digital Labor Studies Go Global: Toward a Digital Decolonial Turn.” International Journal of Communication 11: 1934–3954.

[9] Cathy O’Neil. 2016. Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy. Crown Publishing Group, USA.


[11] This is known as GlassBox: For more see: Rai, A. Explainable AI: from black box to glass box. J. of the Acad. Mark. Sci. 48, 137–141 (2020). or


[13] Hagendorff, T. The Ethics of AI Ethics: An Evaluation of Guidelines. Minds & Machines 30, 99–120 (2020).

[14] Ibid



[17] Larsson, S., Ingram Bogusz, C., & Andersson Schwarz, J. (Eds.) (Accepted/In press). Human-Centred AI in the EU: Trustworthiness as a strategic priority in the European Member States. European Liberal Forum asbl.

May 11, 2021

This entry was posted in

AI and sustainability Okategoriserade


0 Comments Leave a comment

Is AI sustainable?

Imaage of red heart among numers of zeros and ones. Photo.
Photo by Alexander Sinn on Unsplash.

Posted on 10 May 2021 by Alexander Tagesson, Jesica Murcia López, Juan Ocampo and Maria Takman.

The views expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the Agenda 2030 Graduate School or Lund University. The present document is being issued without formal editing.

This post is part of a blog post series on AI and sustainability.

None of us writing this post has been working specifically with Artificial Intelligence (AI). We brought more questions to the table than concrete answers, but isn’t that one of the motivations for collaborations? With a common awareness of the relevance of AI in the world, and with a sincere interest in its use for a more sustainable future, we decided to begin unfolding the world of AI. Curious about the creative tensions between AI and Sustainable Development, we initiated a collaboration with AI Lund[1] and other actors across Lund University.  After some meetings and discussions we found ourselves dealing with the following main questions: Why do we need AI? What needs to be considered when using AI to solve global challenges? And, how do we use AI in a sustainable way? We thought these questions were broad and relevant enough to open an interdisciplinary and meaningful discussion.

A working document on AI

There are several definitions of what AI is, however, the broadness of its applications and the fast pace of its development makes it difficult to have a “static” definition of AI[2].  In this line of thought, Heintz[3] identifies two main characteristics of AI applications: (i) these are systems that do things that would require some cognitive functionality if done by people and (ii) they continually improve over time.

Artificial Intelligence is a relevant topic in academia, industry, and our daily lives. In general, AI solutions permit the automation and delegation of tasks such as sorting your email[4], suggesting your next favourite song[5] or restaurant[6], or have a dialogue with your friend Alexa[7]. Great. But at the 2030 Agenda Graduate School we were not satisfied with this answer. It is expected that AI will bring incalculable future benefits, both societal and personal[8], however it also poses certain responsibilities in how AI is developed[9] and for what is being used[10]. We want to contribute to this discussion.

In Sweden, Lund University is a leader in terms of AI research, education and development[11],[12]. We at the Graduate School want to contribute to this endeavour by reflecting on the relevance of AI in attending the societal problems such as the ones identified by the 2030 Agenda on sustainable development. AI is not an easy topic, but we decided to give it a go and start by exploring what is happening in some of our fields of interest. The series will be divided into different themes. First, and most importantly we need to talk about ethics and transparency as a common basis for a general discussion on AI. The posts in this series will include topics such as cognitive science, environment, land use, water management, and financial inclusion.

This is an opportunity to learn, challenge, and be critical about things that matter. If you are interested in participating with a post or getting more information about the events related to this collaboration follow our Social Media and get in touch!


[2] For another definition go to Vinnova 2018 – AI in Business and Society – Summary –

[3] Frederik Heinz Commentary on AI in the EU, on Larsson, S., Ingram Bogusz, C., & Andersson Schwarz, J. (Eds.) (Accepted/In press). Human-Centred AI in the EU: Trustworthiness as a strategic priority in the European Member States. European Liberal Forum asbl.



[6] Orlikowski, W.J. and Scott, S.V. (2019), “Performing Apparatus: Infrastructures of Valuation in Hospitality”, Kornberger, M., Bowker, G.C., Elyachar, J., Mennicken, A., Miller, P., Nucho, J.R. and Pollock, N. (Ed.) Thinking Infrastructures (Research in the Sociology of Organizations, Vol. 62), Emerald Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 169-179.


[8] Vinuesa, R., Azizpour, H., Leite, I. et al. The role of artificial intelligence in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Nat Commun 11, 233 (2020).


[10] Valerio De Stefano (2018); “Negotiating the algorithm”: Automation, artificial intelligence and labour protection” -ILO—ed_emp/—emp_policy/documents/publication/wcms_634157.pdf

[11] Vinnova 2018 – AI in Business and Society – Summary –

[12]For a good visual analysis see:

May 10, 2021

This entry was posted in

AI and sustainability Okategoriserade


0 Comments Leave a comment

Degrowing for peace? Tackling structural violence and climate resilience

Olive tree with city in longshot background. Photo.
Olive branch framing the city of Athens. Photo by Feri & Tasos on Unsplash.

Posted on 17 February 2021 by Christie Nicoson (Department of Political Science).

The views expressed in this publication are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the Agenda 2030 Graduate School or Lund University. The present document is being issued without formal editing.

This blog post was originally posted as a
Story on the webpage of Resilience –

The United Nations’ 2030 Agenda[1] sets out global priorities, calling on countries to take “transformative steps which are urgently needed to shift the world onto a sustainable and resilient path”. The Agenda seeks to strengthen universal peace as part of a holistic agenda, bringing together social, environmental, and economic goals for sustainable development. Globally and in our local communities, we face complex challenges of how to address these different facets of sustainability.

This historic decision is far reaching, including not least goals to build sustainable peace and take urgent climate action. Climate change is both an ecological and political problem, bringing broad impacts[2] for human societies, including negative consequences for health, infrastructure, and security. These impacts have consequences for peace, affecting dynamics of violent conflict and (re)producing situations of vulnerability (consider for example humanitarian consequences[3] of climate change). Climate change makes it clear that achieving peace entails not only ending violent wars, but also addressing structural violence – systemic harms perpetrated by situations of vulnerability or privilege shaped by societal power structures.

In a recent article[4] published in Sustainability Science, I explore how climate action and peace can be advanced simultaneously. Finding an answer, I suggest, lies in making space to imagine alternatives to our current sustainability approach: transitioning to a different economic system that focuses on people rather than profit, foregrounding broad understandings of peace, and pursuing societal change. Seeds of such change, lie with degrowth, activities and policies that recenter the economy on ecological and human well-being. Examples of degrowth provide a starting point for considering concrete steps toward tackling structural violence, fostering climate resilience, and advancing peace.

Peace, climate, and the economy

While the 2030 Agenda calls for climate action and development of peace alongside continued economic growth, research has not always supported linkages between these phenomena. To start, economic growth has long been seen as key to raising living standards, as well as essential for building peace. For example some studies[5] have linked low-income levels and slow economic growth to conflict between and within states, or have posited that sustained economic growth helps reduce the risk of recurring civil conflict[6]. However, others[7] have shown that the opposite may instead be true, and that rather than resulting from growth, peace may stem from other factors such as people’s ability to have decent work opportunities or access to services.

Looking at peace in a positive sense, encompassing not only the absence of war but also of structural violence, the results become even more wary. Economic growth is shown to inflict harm against both people and the environment, perpetrating “market violence”[8]. Furthermore, despite increased economic growth, we find that almost all countries are facing rising average inequality[9]. While economic growth may be essential to help people achieve a certain standard of living, the benefits seem to stall or diminish after a certain threshold[10]. That is, economic growth may have its place, but only up to a point.

The environmental impact of continued economic growth presents other challenges. Proposals in line with the logic of Agenda 2030 suggest that we can continue economic growth without further contributing to climate change by shifting to a “green growth” framework. Essentially, by using cleaner energy, we could still continue to grow the economy but without such detrimental climate impacts. However, researchers have shown that this may be not only challenging, but potentially impossible to achieve within the timeframe and at the scale needed to prevent catastrophic climate change[11]. Decoupling – or separating economic growth from resource use and carbon emissions –does not seem feasible on a global scale nor to maintain in the long term[12].

An alternative approach: climate resilient peace through degrowth

In my recent article, I bring together findings to highlight aspects of degrowth processes that hold promise for peace in our communities in light of climate change. I suggest three key aspects of degrowth that hold potential to benefit the environment while fostering peace: redistribution, reprioritized care, and addressing global equity.

First and foremost, what is degrowth? Degrowth is a different kind of economic model. It includes both philosophical ideals as well as social and political actions for a transition to a society where growth is no longer the central economic goal. It is not an economic recession, but rather an intentional shift. A degrowth economy centers on sharing, simplicity, conviviality, care, and the commons[13]. Degrowth entails ecological aspects – downscaling of production and consumption, as well as social – enhancing human ecological well-being[14].

Redistribution is one important aspect of degrowth. This can help foster peace by moving us beyond structural violence. In many communities, resources and power are disproportionately allocated and held, leaving some groups in positions of privilege and others at a disadvantage. A transition towards degrowth will require us to share political power, wealth, leisure time, and other resources more equitably and equally. What does this look like? Take the example of localizing food systems through urban gardens. Grassroot urban gardens have relatively low environmental impacts and provide benefits such as filtering air and water, preventing soil erosion, and reducing dependence on petroleum-based food production systems[15]. Urban gardens not only make healthy food options available, but can also facilitate social benefits. For example, they can strengthen neighborhood relations and foster sharing of space and responsibilities, political agency, employment opportunities, or reclaiming “unutilized” spaces in cities[16]. Urban gardening can not only contribute to peace materially – providing food resources to improve well-being – but also by redistributing resources and power at a community level.

Reprioritized care, meanwhile, is a process that holds promise for disrupting harmful underlying power structures. Take, for example, gendered hierarchies. Not only do women still make less than men in paid employment, they also continually bear the brunt on reproductive and care work. Care work includes actions that underlie the “formal” economy by providing for the welfare of communities. This work might take the form of caring for young and elderly, education, or environmental work, and it is often unpaid. The peaceful potential here is in disrupting this hierarchy and revaluing care. Policies such as basic income hold potential to help create this shift, balancing household power linked not only to gender but also income, education, ethnicity, or race; and on a higher level, challenging the divide in society between receivers and givers[17]. This also holds potential environmental benefits, by for example limiting harmful emissions through reducing the consumption of status goods and bringing more people to a modest expenditure level[18].

Finally, global equity. Not only is wealth held disproportionately, but responsibility for climate damages is also unbalanced. The world’s richest 1% produce half the world’s emissions[19]. Although there are wealthy individuals all over the world, the majority of those in the top 10% bracket live in rich OECD countries[20]. Moreover, high-income countries also hold the greatest responsibility for driving climate change[21]. Addressing these inequalities in wealth and environmental damages holds potential to foster peace. For example, wealth caps or maximum income policies put a ceiling on how much an individual can amass. This not only helps redistribute wealth, but also limits environmental harm by curbing unsustainable lifestyles and holding the biggest and richest emitters responsible, addressing inequalities both between and within countries. Such policies already exist in some localities or in specific sectors, and have been proposed or are being used in for example the United States, Great Britain, Switzerland, Spain, and the Netherlands[22].

Envisioning a peaceful future

It is important to realize that these steps are not inherently peaceful. For example, there are also examples where urban gardens, rather than holding benefits for peace as discussed above, could entrench systems of structural violence by marginalizing funding or keeping food resources restricted to only certain parts of a community. The pursuit of peace must keep questions of intersectionality at the forefront – how do factors such as race, gender, or class intersect to create particular privileges or vulnerabilities in society? What is important here is the process towards peace. The above examples highlight processes of systemic change – addressing structural violence and disrupting harmful power structures peace.

The examples and pathways outlined here present a first step towards thinking about not only how to take climate action and foster peace, but how to achieve these two sustainability goals simultaneously. To do so, we must not only take care to address structural violence, but to do so in a way that does not further contribute to climate change. The processes of redistribution, reprioritized care economies, and global equity help us see how we can address differentiated climate vulnerability as well as take steps to help mitigate further climate change and environmental damage.

The full article on which this post is based and further references can be found in the special issue of Sustainability Science,
“The Sustainability–Peace Nexus in the Context of Global Change”, at


[2] Mora, C., Spirandelli, D., Franklin, E.C., Lynham, J., Kantar, M.B., Miles, W., Smith, C.Z., Freel, K., Moy, J., Louis, L.V., Barba, E.W., Bettinger, K., Frazier, A.G., Colburn IX, J.F., Hanasaki, N., Hawkins, E., Hirabayashi, Y., Knorr, W., Little, C.M., Emanuel, K., Sheffield, J., Patz, J.A., Hunter, C.L., 2018. Broad threat to humanity from cumulative climate hazards intensified by greenhouse gas emissions. Nature Climate Change 1062–1071.


[4] Nicoson, C., 2021. Towards climate resilient peace: an intersectional and degrowth approach. Sustain Sci.

[5] Chassang, S., Padró i Miquel, G., 2009. Economic Shocks and Civil War. QJPS 4, 211–228.

Gartzke, E., 2007. The Capitalist Peace. Am J Political Science 51, 166–191.

[6] Collier, P., Hoeffler, A., Söderbom, M., 2008. Post-Conflict Risks. Journal of Peace Research 45, 461–478.

[7] Vernon, P., 2015. Peace through prosperity: Integrating peacebuilding into economic development. International Alert.

[8] Chertkovskaya, E., Paulsson, A., 2020. Countering corporate violence: Degrowth, ecosocialism and organising beyond the destructive forces of capitalism. Organization 135050842097534.

Fırat, A.F., 2018. Violence in/by the market. Journal of Marketing Management 34, 1015–1022.

[9] World Inequality Lab, 2018. World Inequality Report. World Inequality Lab, Berlin.

[10] Easterlin, R.A., McVey, L.A., Switek, M., Sawangfa, O., Zweig, J.S., n.d. The happiness–income paradox revisited. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 107, 22463–22468.

[11] Ward, J.D., Sutton, P.C., Werner, A.D., Costanza, R., Mohr, S.H., Simmons, C.T., 2016. Is Decoupling GDP Growth from Environmental Impact Possible? PLoS ONE 11, e0164733.

[12] Hickel, J., Kallis, G., 2020. Is Green Growth Possible? New Political Economy 25, 469–486.

[13] Kallis, G., Kostakis, V., Lange, S., Muraca, B., Paulson, S., Schmelzer, M., 2018. Research On Degrowth. Annu. Rev. Environ. Resour. 43, 291–316.

[14] D’Alisa, G., Demaria, F., Kallis, G. (Eds.), 2015. Degrowth: A vocabulary for a new era. Routledge, Oxon and New York.

[15] Clarke, M., Davidson, M., Egerer, M., Anderson, E., Fouch, N., 2019. The underutilized role of community gardens in improving cities’ adaptation to climate change: a review. PPP 12, 241–251.

[16] Colasanti, K.J.A., Hamm, M.W., Litjens, C.M., 2012. The City as an “Agricultural Powerhouse”? Perspectives on Expanding Urban Agriculture from Detroit, Michigan. Urban Geography 33, 348–369.

Taylor, D.E., Ard, K.J., 2015. Research Article: Food Availability and the Food Desert Frame in Detroit: An Overview of the City’s Food System. Environmental Practice 17, 102–133.

White, M.M., 2011. Sisters of the Soil: Urban Gardening as Resistance in Detroit. Race/Ethnicity: Multidisciplinary Global Contexts 5, 13–28.

[17] Cantillon, S., McLean, C., 2016. Basic Income Guarantee: The Gender Impact within Households. Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare 43, 25.

[18] Bollain, J., Groot, L., Miller, A., Schmidt, E., Tahiraj, E., Verlaat, T., Yi, G., 2019. A Variety of Experiments, in: Torry, M. (Ed.), The Palgrave International Handbook of Basic Income. Springer International Publishing, Cham, pp. 407–435.

[19] Oxfam, 2015. Extreme Carbon Inequality.

[20] Chancel, L., Piketty, T., 2015. Carbon and inequality: from Kyoto to Paris.  Trends in the global inequality of carbon emissions (1998-2013) & prospects for an equitable adaptation fund. Paris School of Economics, Paris.

[21] Hickel, J., 2020. Quantifying national responsibility for climate breakdown: an equality-based attribution approach for carbon dioxide emissions in excess of the planetary boundary. The Lancet Planetary Health 4, e399–e404.

[22] Buch-Hansen, H., Koch, M., 2019. Degrowth through income and wealth caps? Ecological Economics 160, 264–271.

February 17, 2021

This entry was posted in



0 Comments Leave a comment

Responsibility shifting in investment and sustainability

Green cactus money box. Photo.
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash.

Posted on 12 February 2021 by Soo-hyun Lee (Faculty of Law).

The views expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the Agenda 2030 Graduate School or Lund University. The present document is being issued without formal editing.

This article is the winner in an essay competition held by the 
UNCTAD YSI Summer School on Globalization and Development Strategies. Participants of the school worked with senior scholars to fine-tune their drafts, and the top-5 articles were published here.

UNCTAD is a permanent intergovernmental body established by the United Nations General Assembly in 1964. Its headquarters are located in Geneva, Switzerland, with offices in New York and Addis Ababa. UNCTAD is part of the UN Secretariat, reports to the UN General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council, and are also part of the United Nations Development Group.

When it comes to understanding the relationship between investment and sustainability, national and international governance institutions take a facilitative rather than regulatory approach. 

This is largely premised on two assumptions: (1) overreach would result in regulatory chilling that could limit investment and (2) regulating investment inflows would limit their potential economic impact. Though taking place in different forms between portfolio investments and foreign direct investment, a facilitative approach, in principle, shifts the responsibility of defining and understanding the interplay between investment and sustainability to market interactions: between the investor and the recipient. 

Assessing the facilitative approach to investment and sustainability within the microeconomics of sustainable development policy renders some noteworthy observations. Namely, creating a regulatory and governance environment that facilitates the consumer and producer, or in this case the recipient and the investor, shifts responsibility away from the government or prevailing institution from taking a more prescriptive approach: defining, implementing and enforcing a more substantial linkage between investment and sustainability.

A prescriptive role, while more vulnerable to the potential consequences of regulatory chill, may be necessary to administering the nexus between investment and sustainability because sustainability as a motivating factor does not naturally arise from the economic rationality that fuels market interactions. The relationship between investors and the recipients of investment, just as that between producers and consumers, does not function on the logic of advancing sustainability, but rather economic profit maximization. For this reason, should their interaction deviate from this core market-based logic by, for example, running deficits in consumer and/or producer surplus, or being involved in investments where risk supersedes returns, their interaction is jeopardized and likely to be discontinued. For that reason, shifting the responsibility to the consumer to fuse a more molecular bond between investment and sustainability seems destined to meet an inconclusive outcome as it saps away the essential motivation to shoulder that burden both materially in terms of resource allocation and substantively as a determination to form a meaningful investment and sustainability nexus.

Turning to views in sustainable consumption, Mont, et al (2013) identifies a similar paradox in their work for the Nordic Council of Ministers based on interviews with policymakers as a myth of sustainable consumption. They write that shifting the responsibility of sustainable consumption to the consumer limits state involvement to raising awareness rather than taking more proactive interventions against unsustainable consumption. The inherent problem behind shifting responsibility, they write, is that consumer behaviour is based on contextual factors that are “beyond the control of individual actors”, namely prevailing social norms that shape a consumer’s understanding of consumption in connection to sustainability. Presently, this norm is that sustainable consumption is an extraordinary decision that requires justification (Mont, et al, 35-37) as it deviates from market-based reasoning. The consumer requires additional justification for these decisions to justify that divergence: why to choose a product that provides comparatively less consumer surplus by paying a higher price or paying a price to receive less utility arising from consumption?

Lorek and Spangenberg (2013) explains responsibility shifting in sustainable consumption as the lock-in situation, where transitions to sustainability is contingent on more growth and technological innovation. This is reflected through the I = P*A*T equation, which offsets the added cumulative climate impact (I) as the function of the factor of population growth (P) and greater per capita affluence (A) by technological progress (T). With advances in (T), higher unsustainability derived from increasing (P) and (A) values are offset by technologies that enhance the sustainability of consumption. Herein lies one of the causes behind responsibility shifting, which is a “technological optimism” that firms will advance the state of technology if given the means to do so (Lorek and Spangenberg, 35). The central economic tenet behind this technological optimism is economic liberalism, which attributes the agency and primacy of economic optimality to market-based actors, in turn manifesting external intervention by the state or another prevailing authority as obstacles to that optimality. As such, the role of the state or prevailing authority is limited to providing information, shifting responsibility to market-based interactions (Lorek and Spangenberg, 40).

Responding to the situation of lock-in, which strives in the ecosystem of economic neoliberalism, Dalhammer (2019) advances that policy instruments are necessary to form a sustainable choice architecture that features sustainability as the default option. Lock-in prevents microeconomic transitions to strong sustainability, such as adopting ideas of consumptive sufficiency, thus rendering top-down involvement of the government or prevailing authority necessary (Dalhammer, 140). Simultaneously, policy instruments should be mobilized within a “reflexive governance mode”, which Mont (2019) identifies as a standpoint of continuous learning and acknowledgment of intertwining contextual factors that influence consumptive behaviour (Mont, 3). The policy instruments arising from this mode should aim to facilitate the transition from system optimization, which perpetuates the business-as-usual scenario, to system transformation, which seeks to integrate alternative solutions to the policy and governance process that move beyond the primacy of consumer sovereignty (Mont, 9).

Extrapolating these observations from sustainable consumption to the investment and sustainability nexus takes no stretch of the imagination. The engine that drives forward such extrapolation is simple yet powerful: more consumption and investment are better. The economic neoliberalism to which the origins of unsustainable consumption are traced also lays claim to the origin of crucial disconnects between investment and sustainability. This applies to both forms of investment, portfolio and foreign direct, as do many of the ruminations in sustainable consumption thought. This close albeit conceptual cross-disciplinary application warrants closer examination.

Sustainable portfolio investment has been building traction over the last three years with latter half of 2019 alone witnessing billions of USD identified under the environmental, social and governance (ESG) investment label. There remain considerable limitations to the concept, the most pronounced amongst them being a lack of shared understanding and standards of ESG metrics and stewardship. The World Bank Group (WBG) and the UN Principles on Responsible Investment have been on the forefront of institutional efforts to address these concerns. Despite the wide involvement of national pension schemescentral banks and government regulation, policy instruments remain within the system optimization mindset that shifts responsibility to the actual sustainability element of ESG to the producer-consumer.

The result of a soft sustainability approach to regulating ESG has exposed it to systematic greenwashing. The mentality in ESG continues to be growth-oriented, investors financing asset managers based on perceptual cues and little understanding of metrics and their shortcomings. With the entry of large names in finance like BlackRock and MSCI or international organizations like the WBG and United Nations through the PRI, portfolio investors are eased into the lethargy of technological optimism. Morgan Stanley’s Institute for Sustainable Investing identified promising trends in the sustainable investment epithet, employing a definition of sustainable investing that was not only substantively vacuous but very much aligned to the central economic ideological tenets of growth-oriented market fundamentalism.

Moving outward to foreign direct investment and its governance does little to mitigate these concerns. Despite international investment law being based on a regime of treaties and treaty arbitration, which directly involves governments, investment, less considerations of sustainability in investment, find no prescriptive definition. Investors, which notably include shareholders of companies, are given rights and protections in the state recipient to that investment, such as access to investor-State dispute settlement (ISDS), but the means to determine the substantive qualities of investment remain ad hoc and left the judicial discretion arising from investment arbitration (See, for instance, Mihaly International Corporation v. Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, ICSID Case No. ARB/00/2Ceskoslovenska Obchodni Banka, A.S. v. The Slovak Republic, ICSID Case No. ARB/97/4Malaysian Historical Salvors, SDN, BHD v. The Government of Malaysia, ICSID Case No. ARB/05/10).

While there is no single government to adopt and then apply a reflexive governance model to the multilateral regime of international investment law, the United Nations can and should play a larger role in taking more prescriptive, system transformative action to ensure that sustainability is not simply a spillover of investment, rather sustainability leads decisions of whether investment should be admitted.

The views expressed in this publication are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of any institution. 

February 12, 2021

This entry was posted in



0 Comments Leave a comment

Older Posts