March Global Thematic Dialogue

21 March 2024

Cultures of Climate Research in the Contemporary University


Held online, across two time zones, attendees from around the world discussed the opportunities and roadblocks for forming collaborative research partnerships across discipline divides, to enable climate action.  

The Dialogue attracted 110 registrations from 29 countries across 6 global regions.  Registrants represented 52 higher education institutions, 18 of which were IUCA member universities.


About the Sessions

Across the two sessions, participants heard case-studies and provocations from: Professor Margaret Barbour (The University of Waikato); Dr Srinjoy Bose (University of New South Wales); Tanya Fiedler (University of New South Wales); Dr Henry Gandhi (University of Nairobi); Dr Stephen Hammer (New York Climate Exchange); Injy Johnstone (University of Oxford); Professor Warren Mabee (Queen’s University, Canada); Dr Paul Munro (University of New South Wales); Professor Ben Newell (Institute for Climate Risk and Response); Dr Amanda Power (University of Oxford). 

Whilst the theme and central questions were the same across the two sessions, each had a different focus that emerged through the case studies and conversations between participants. The first session emphasised the importance of institutional support to create a culture of collaboration. The second session explored the topic through the lens of individual scholars, with a particular emphasis on the racialisation of climate politics and the need for more inclusive and locally-informed research. 

Following the case-studies, discussion in both sessions drew together several themes that had emerged: 

  • the need for better funding that doesn’t favour particular disciplines;
  • the need for institutions and funding bodies to value interdisciplinary research, as well as valuing research outputs and outcomes that are outside the status quo;
  • creating opportunities inside institutions for climate-based roles to connect, such as cross-faculty institutes;
  • the difficulty of breaking down discipline silos; questions of ontology and epistemology;
  • the social and political as inherent in all climate research;
  • the need to accept that challenges are not the same for those in different parts of the world; and
  • the desire to find new ways of working across disciplines. 
Summary of case studies 


Professor Margaret Barbour told participants about The University of Waikato’s Bachelor of Climate Change, a pan-university degree holistically touching on science, social sciences, policy, ethics, and indigenous studies within their degree. The idea of the degree is that graduates are able to talk about climate change from their area of expertise, but with knowledge of perspectives from other disciplines as well. Professor Barbour also discussed her own collaborative research through three case studies: The first example was an autoethnographic study, collaborating with a sociologist and five other scientists, and Professor Barbour discussed the challenges in finding the right ‘home’ for the work; Professor Barbour’s second example was of her collaboration (as a plant scientist) with a philosophy scholar, to consider the relationship between humans and trees. Professor Barbour explained how the translation of language specific to each discipline was a challenge; Thirdly, Professor Barbour discussed her most recent work, collaborating with a creative practice scholar, an indigenous studies scholar, and a tribal elder, looking at the parallel narratives for the relationship between pine trees and people in New Zealand. Professor Barbour discussed several principles for cross-disciplinary collaboration, honed through the first case-study example: 1) Shared purpose and vision (not funding driven); 2) Respect and humility; 3) perseverance in the face of the range and number of challenges; 4) trust in the knowledge and expertise of your collaborators. 

  1. Haeffner et al. 2022 One Earth 5, 157-167  

  1. Nassar & Barbour 2023 Cultural Politics 19, 128-147  

  1. Barbour et al. 2022 The Global South 16, 135-160  

Dr Srinjoy Bose, a political economist, considered the connections between environment and climate, and violent conflict and peace. Dr Bose discussed the need to unpack and problematise ideas of race and racialisation in climate politics and environmental justice and just practices, and the need to decolonise thinking and practices around climate adaptation, mitigation, and transition. Dr Bose highlighted how the idea of ‘climate resilience’ has implications on developing and post-conflict countries, who are often told to do more, and coerced into acquiescing to the interests of industrialised countries. Dr Bose suggested that this is exemplified by recent COP statements that refer to indigenous populations, but do not elaborate on pathways, processes, or practices, which incorporate indigenous knowledge in climate mitigation and adaptation. Dr Bose reflected on shared frustrations from within the academy, and proposed that there is a danger of paying ‘lip-service’ in terms of dialoguing with indigenous and marginalised communities, and people of colour, which serves as a barrier to truly realising transdisciplinary research and impact. Dr Bose argued that topics of race and climate politics, and just transitions (which dialogues with racialisation and indigenous inclusion), needs to be better supported within the academy, and in local and global governance. 

Dr Tanya Fiedler, an interdisciplinary qualitative accounting academic, outlined her interest in understanding how information from the climate sciences can be translated into information that is useful to businesses. She discussed the need for businesses to understand and disclose their exposure to climate-related risks, and discussed the challenges and need to mediate between the language and terms of climate science, and the language and terms of business and accounting. 

Dr Henry Gandhi from the University of Nairobi described the climate research culture in Africa and the need for interdisciplinary and cross-disciplinary work to find solutions. Dr Gandhi explained some of the research infrastructure that exists, such as the Africa Research Universities Alliance (ARUA), as well as the difficulties faced by African universities to produce outputs in climate research, with an IPCC outlook. Dr Gandhi explained that climate impacts and risks, as well as locally-led adaptation possibilities, are important themes for climate research in the ARUA. Dr Gandhi also explained that The University of Nairobi is taking a trans-disciplinary research approach, to encourage participation, and to break down barriers in order to try to influence policy, and to impact communities. Dr Gandhi discussed some of the challenges for research that include acceptability (in terms of whether transdisciplinary research is valued), funding, and involvement from other experts to guide the model. 

Dr Stephen Hammer explained some of the future opportunities that will come out of the newly-established New York Climate Exchange – a not for profit consortium consisting of 12 universities, 3 major corporations, and over 30 community organisations across New York City. Dr Hammer explained that the New York Exchange is a centre for climate solutions, with a 12.5-acre campus being built on Governors Island to host students from partner universities, and will include the establishment of research laboratories and a tech incubator. The New York Exchange will also provide an opportunity to bring together expertise to consider the challenges local to New York City, as well as challenges relevant to other cities around the world, that are impeding climate action. 

Injy Johnstone from The University of Oxford reflected on her experience as an Early Career Researcher, and considered what makes an effective climate research community. Injy discussed four key elements to successful collaboration: that it is interdisciplinary; that it is inter-temporal; that it is international, and that it is inclusive. Injy discussed the need to acknowledge that interdisciplinary working is a strength that can make research more practical and applicable, but relies on open-mindedness to engage beyond our disciplinary silos. Injy then discussed the importance of casting our lens back in time to learn lessons from the past, engaging with the present to consider what we can do right now, and also looking to the future – and working to consider all three temporal perspectives at once. Injy considered how important it is to be part of international teams working together, and how to translate findings internationally – and noted that most climate materials are currently presented in English (and if not English, then in the main UN languages). Finally, Injy outlined the importance that researchers across the globe and from different contexts are not only included, but can take leadership and ownership of projects. Injy’s case study was a project called Early Career Researchers for an Inclusive Stocktake (ECSIS), hosted by the University of Maryland to bring together 15 researchers from around the world. 

Professor Warren Mabee gave an overview of the work that Queen’s University is undertaking to understand the commonalities between tools and methodologies across researchers from different disciplines, as a way to connect academics from across the university. 

Dr Paul Munro gave an overview of his work as Director of Sector Engagement for Climate in the UNSW Faculty of Arts, Design and Architecture. Dr Munro explained the desire within his faculty to address the challenges of recognising and pinpointing climate research that happens within the Faculty, and finding opportunities for collaboration within the faculty between individual researchers, and gave an overview of some of the ways in which he is working to do that within his role. 

Professor Ben Newell described the background to the establishment of the Institute for Climate Risk and Response (ICRR) at UNSW Sydney. Professor Newell explained how the Institute came out of an acknowledgement from the university that there were scholars from across different faculties (particularly in the Faculties of Business and Law) that were researching aspects of climate risk, and would benefit from working closely together with climate scientists and behavioural scientists as part of an Institute that is specifically focussed on climate risk and response. 

Dr Amanda Power, a mediaeval historian from The University of Oxford explained the value in including a humanities perspective in conversations about climate change, in order to press the urgency of action and engagement needed. Dr Power discussed the importance of considering what is meant when climate change is described as anthropogenic, as something that is caused by human histories, ideologies, values, choices, systems, cultures, inequalities, practices of violence, forms of governance, modes of consumption, for example. Dr Power explained the depoliticised way that climate change is usually communicated to individuals, which is rhetoric that stems back to World War II (of every individual playing their small part). To illustrate her consideration of climate change as anthropogenic, Dr Power also drew on a number of examples of imagery from history, such as: frescos from the palace of Ashurbanipal concerning the power of the King; images from the middle ages; and exploration of the Americas. 

As part of wider discussion, Professor Erica Smithwick from The Pennsylvania State University (Penn State) provided an overview of how collaboration across disciplines works at Penn State, and how it could serve as a model for other institutions, including through institutes and seed-grants to foster a culture of collaboration. 

Penn State Climate Consortium (for those who would like to collaborate)


It was a privilege to hear such a diverse range of ideas, experiences, and stories from around the world on interdisciplinary collaboration and multidisciplinary partnerships for climate action within higher education. We would like to thank all those who participated, presented, shared their thoughts, and connected over the course of the two sessions. 

Cultures of Climate Research Tile