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The new CES Environmental Research Network seeks to expand and intensify the research focus of CES related to major environmental challenges of the twenty-first century and their political and social consequences. We aim to focus initially on the six areas outlined below. However, these areas should be taken in the spirit of an opening set of prompts that will evolve over time depending on member interest:

Populism and Environmental Security – As the climate crisis worsens and resource conflicts intensify, a rise in populist rhetoric is likely to follow. This has already been seen in some countries in the mainstreaming of nativist policies under the guise of environmental security, and the growth of narratives that differentiate a ‘pure’ people from corrupt elites in ecological terms. This phenomenon has not remained within political party lines. This research area seeks to analyze, evaluate and predict how populist politics will impact environmental security policy in the decades to come.

Climate Change, Resilience and Infrastructure – Rising sea levels, extreme weather, wildfires and intense seasonal storms are becoming a ‘new normal’, spreading destructive effects that intensify existing kinds of social inequality and create new kinds of precarity (e.g. climate refugeeism). There is a need to understand how to lessen the impacts of these climatological trends upon critical infrastructure, particularly energy, water, healthcare, citizenship and security. This research area is primarily concerned with how states, regions and localities can and are implementing changes to their critical infrastructure networks to make them more resilient to the burgeoning climate crisis. 

Energy Transition and Climate Mitigation – One of the greatest challenges facing society in the twenty-first century is the rapid decarbonization of the global economy to hit international climate mitigation targets. Providing a reliable supply of clean, affordable energy for all presents complex and significant social, political, economic, ethical, and technological challenges, all of which must be solved within a generation. This area focuses on the current energy transition dynamics in Europe and will seek to engage and inform policymakers.

Food and Water Security – Maintaining food and water security in the face of unprecedented and unknown environmental changes counts among the most important existential challenges facing both Europe and the world in the twenty-first century. Climate change and other forms of environmental degradation are drivers of problems such as droughts, flooding and water pollution, problems that also limit nations’ and communities’ capacity to provide both high quantity and quality food. The climate crisis directly impacts the ability to provide sufficient clean water and nutritious food, thus exacerbating illness, hunger and starvation, especially among marginalized populations. This area examines food and water availability in connection to environmental degradation and social inequality with the goal of exploring existing practices and how they can be improved to attain a more sustainable and just distribution of food and water.

Emerging Technology and Environmental Sustainability – Innovations in green technology have considerable potential for making more efficient use of resources, creating new pathways to sustainable development and reducing environmental burdens, including climate change. Technologically informed environmental policy likewise has the potential to drive innovation, the creation of new skills and climate adaptation. This area examines the ways that new technology could provide solutions to environmental issues, while at the same time taking seriously the limits of technology-driven approaches to create positive social change and exploring the ethical questions surrounding technological impacts upon vulnerable groups. 

New Economic Models and Practices – In recent years it has become clear that growth-oriented economic thinking, whether neoclassical or Keynesian, contributes significantly to unsustainable economic practices and consumption-oriented ideas of wellbeing. Economic theory has diversified rapidly to try to develop new models—among them, circular economy, solidarity economy, care, doughnut economics, degrowth—that seek to encourage new (or in some cases old) economic practices that better commensurate equity and justice goals with environmental sustainability goals. This area will examine these new, sometimes experimental, economic ideas as they are being implemented in communities across the world, assess their outcomes and implications and consider which ones might be capable of scaling to become effective global solutions to contemporary social and environmental challenges.

In each of these six research areas, we see the opportunity to broaden CES’s academic membership (engaging for example scientists and engineers) and to actively engage many groups of non-academic stakeholders, among others, policymakers, social movement leaders, activists, architects and urban planners, peacekeepers and energy and green tech entrepreneurs. Given the intense interest of younger scholars in environmental issues, we also feel that the ERN would be an excellent platform from which to develop a new CES outreach and mentoring program for younger scholars, helping graduate students and recent PhDs to develop both academic and non-academic networks and skills vital to solving contemporary environmental challenges.