Sustainability with Dr Manoj Roy

Dr Manoj Roy

In the lead-up to COP27 this month, and with the imperative climate emergency, we thought we would speak to some of the talented minds at Lancaster about their areas of research within sustainability, and what they would like to see focused on in this wide-reaching topic.

This week, we have spoken to Dr Manoj Roy, a lecturer in sustainability at Lancaster Environment Centre.

Can you give me a brief overview of your role at the University?

I prefer to regard myself as a researcher-activist, to complement my role as a lecturer in sustainability at Lancaster Environment Centre. I specialise in research-led international development, in particular, to advance our understanding of how climate change affects ordinary people in the developing world and what we could do to lessen and (perhaps ambitiously) avert those impacts. Sustainability is a meta goal that my research seeks to contribute to.

What areas of sustainability are you currently focused on in your work?

I am focussed on an interdisciplinary understanding of the causalities that keep people trapped in poverty, which in turn result in risk accumulation and eventual collapse of their livelihood viability. I study ordinary lives in both urban and rural settings. This reflects the fact that most developing countries are facing the prospect of urbanisation of poverty. This is also to acknowledge rural hopelessness (exacerbated by a changing and variable climate) as a trigger for poorer people to migrate to urban low-income settlements. Critics call this a movement from the fire pan to the oven, as urban low-income dwelling comes with many perils. We need to appreciate poverty in cities and villages as significantly different yet very much linked in an era of climate change.

What has been your biggest achievement this year?

I have a number of highlights in 2021-2022, These include:

· I was honoured to talk about our research (RECIRCULATE and ACTUATE) to the president of Ghana at Glasgow COP26. Subsequently, I was invited to contribute to Ghana government’s Developing Circular Economy Roadmap and Action plan being prepared.

· I was the lead convenor of a two-day international symposium at Lancaster on ‘Connecting the unconnected: Slum toilets and a safe circular water economy’. Over 100 members of the epistemic community concerned with the global development challenge of ‘water for sanitation and health’ attended this RECIRCULATE & ACTUATE projects sponsored event (see here a short video on the event). At the back of this symposium, I was invited to share our experience at IWA World Water Congress 2022 at Copenhagen.

· Finally, as part of GCRF Living Deltas research hub’s bottom-up dialogues, I have been successful to connect over 2 million dwellers of the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna delta across Bangladesh and India. These research posters (1, 2 &3) explain the related research.

What do you think is the biggest challenge in the work that you do?

My work looks at the realities of climate change among ordinary people in the form of an ‘adaptation ladder’. At the first rung, all the population can do is absorb the shocks the best they can; the second is where they find their own tactics for coping, with small, self-created adaptations; then there’s a stage of progressive adaptation where local authorities provide support and practical help to adapt. The fourth level is where support for the urban poor to deal with climate change is part of the political paradigm, a pro-poor strategy backed up by implementation.

All I’ve seen so far are communities at the first two stages. So, the biggest challenge is how to uplift the practices developed for and by poorer communities to the final two ladders – progressive and transformative adaptation.

This requires a paradigm shift. We must move away from ‘disaster management’ and promote a development coalition based on the importance of co-production. Local, national and international leaders and pressure groups need to work alongside people on the ground, taking the detail of the challenges into account in devising new policies. It is encouraging to see ideas like Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Locally Led Adaptation are emerging. However, we must prevent these from elite-capture, which is a form of corruption where resources are biased for the benefit of a few individuals of superior social status to the detriment of the welfare of the larger, ordinary, vulnerable people. Ordinary people must be reached.

Did you always want to work in the area of sustainability?

I had been through a massive learning curve in my academic and research learning. I am an architect-turned-urban planner-turned-poverty researcher. Intellectual curiosity and a desire to search for what works for poorer people have driven me to work across disciplines, across geographies, and involving multiple methods. During the past few years, my work has been truly interdisciplinary. I have enjoyed working with several Lancaster disciplines, including LICA; biomedical and life sciences; environmental microbiology; agriculture and food security; and entrepreneurship.

COP27 is in November 2022 in Egypt, what area(s) would you like to see being talked about more in order to help the climate emergency?

Policy-makers at international, national and local levels are often focused on the macro-indicators of climate change: natural disaster events, levels of carbon emissions, temperature levels etc. These can be/get monitored/evaluated, plans theoretically feasible drawn-up, and financial pledges made. What tends to fall between the gaps is the day-to-day impacts of climate change on the lives and livelihoods of ordinary people - the ways in which small effects and changes accumulate over time, embedding themselves into daily routines and experiences until they become accepted and unnoticed, creating mounting levels of risk and suffering, cycles of despair. COP27 should seek to come up with tangible mechanisms aimed at minding these ground realities.

What do you think is the role of Universities in sustainability and addressing the climate emergency?

The idea of sustainability is a trans-boundary, trans-disciplinary, trans-species and intra/inter-generational one. It requires “thinking globally, acting locally”, something Universities are uniquely positioned to exercise. Apart from a knowledge-based approach to sustainable development, researchers must be creative to forge and nurture partnerships to promote and leverage positive changes. Individual researchers sitting in their offices and labs cannot do much. We need local/overseas partners supporting us to help bring placed-based positive changes. We must therefore prioritise building, consolidating and sustaining research partnerships. Such a strategy could align universities with the emerging Principles for Locally-Led Adaptation.

Explore our sustainability pages to learn more about Lancaster University's work in this area.

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