Headline: Justice in Sustainability: The IASS Focal Topic for the Year 2022

Justice in Sustainability is the RIFS focal topic for 2022/23.
Social justice is the RIFS focal topic for 2022/23. Shutterstock/Lightspring

We are happy to announce the adoption of the institute’s inaugural focal topic. Throughout 2022 we will undertake collaborative research activities, hold public events, and publish research exploring themes related to matters of justice and sustainability.

Why Justice in Sustainability?

Social justice has become a major topic in research and public debate on sustainability. From the outset, achieving justice for future generations has been at the core of sustainable development. There is growing scientific interest in the nexus of justice and sustainability, and the relevance of research in areas such as just transitions or equity in governance has become more prominent in recent years. Social justice is also a key topic in international climate negotiations. At the upcoming UN Climate Summit (COP26), debates about the responsibilities of industrialised countries as the main emitters of greenhouse gases, and the heightened vulnerability of poorer countries in the Global South will loom large. Moreover, movements like Fridays for Future have recently emphasised the connections between sustainability, climate justice, and intergenerational justice. Further aspects of social justice, such as environmental justice or the recognition of minority group justice claims, have come to the foreground of sustainability politics in recent years, partly due to the success of civil society engagement and grassroots activism. The coronavirus pandemic, for its part, has further heightened awareness of the unequal effects of crises on the health and wellbeing of different socio-economic groups.

Justice in sustainability is already of key importance for many IASS research groups, who work on issues from the local and national levels to the global level and across diverse policy fields. With next year’s focal topic, we want to pool our expertise in empirical and theoretical social justice research and create synergies which highlight the strengths of a reflective and transdisciplinary approach to justice and sustainability transformation issues – here, special social justice fellows will also play a key role. This focal topic will help bring to the fore how engrained injustices hinder sustainability transformations and new questions of justice emerge during transition processes. IASS research explores how these issues impact peoples’ perceptions and behaviours, which processes of remediation exist (aiming to reveal and reduce injustices), where new methods and tools need to be developed, and which key policy implications can be extracted.

Current research on sustainability and justice at IASS addresses the following themes:

Environmental justice: research in this area includes for example the work of the group “Democratic (Re)Configurations of Sustainability Transformations”, which critically examines contemporary conditions for democracy and explores how knowledge about Earth systems shapes political spaces and planetary justice agendas. Particular attention is paid to how global climate politics shape, condition or limit the fight for land, forest, human and nature rights, with a focus on the Global South and minorities rights defenders such as indigenous peoples, low-income communities affected by infrastructure projects or environmental disasters, and new arenas of justice litigation and concepts (e.g., ecocide, rights of nature).

Just transitions: our research in this field focuses for instance on socially just transformation pathways in regions that are undergoing decarbonization processes. IASS researchers explore the various justice claims that are formulated in these transitions, for instance related to the coal phase-out in Germany. Another area of interest is Energy Justice, where researchers examine the social and development implications of energy technologies, policies, and projects. Here, research is focussed on developing quantitative approaches to assess the justice implications of low carbon transitions and of renewable energy, focusing on the Global South.

In order to contribute to the understanding of mobility justice, the EXPERI team studies different aspects of distributional justice within the transport sector. Among others, this includes the unequal exposure to transport-related emissions and noise as well as the unequal access to mobility services based on socio-economic factors. Analysing both the benefitting and the afflicted actors in the current structures of the transport sector serves as a lead-in to the question of how a socially just mobility transition can be promoted.

Climate justice: research in climate justice at IASS includes research on Climate Governance processes and the role different actors can take in them. Research in this area explores, for example, the evolving role of just transitions and social justice in the negotiations under the UNFCCC and the different approaches implemented by countries in the pursuit of just transitions. Other aspects include how various societal, governmental, and private sector stakeholders deal with issues like the differentiated responsibilities of world regions, and intergenerational climate justice.

Justice and equity in governance: research in this area includes the work of the Ocean Governance team, which researches equity concerns around governing marine biodiversity as well as the sharing of benefits derived from marine life and mineral resources. Since the international seabed is the “common heritage of humankind”, numerous social justice questions arise, such as who benefits from seabed mining, who shoulders the burdens, and whether the environmental risks are socially acceptable. The Systemic Risks team investigates disparities in risk exposure, the sources of those disparities and how these issues are related to justice and equity in risk governance. This research aims to address and/or mitigate disparities in exposure to risks, e.g., with regards to climate change.

Responsible research practices and epistemic justice: research in this area includes the work of the Arctic Governance group, which is particularly interested in co-creative approaches that bring together diverse forms of knowledge, the structural changes necessary to improve collaboration between Indigenous rights holders and researchers, and context-specific understandings of what constitutes ethical research.

What is planned for 2022?

We are planning several public events in 2022, the most prominent of which will be a public lecture series featuring guest speakers. Fellows are invited to give a public lecture in this format. IASS Fellows will also meet every two weeks to discuss themes of social justice, discover synergies, work on texts together, brainstorm and prepare for workshops. Our researchers and fellows are also invited to prepare a special issue on justice and sustainability together. Further activities, such as discussion series and movie screenings are planned. Fellows are also encouraged to suggest their own ideas to contribute throughout the year.


Takele Teshome am 05.09.2021 - 09:28


I am the founder and executive director of a national NGO working in areas of food and nutrition security, climate change adaptation and women and youth economic empowerment. Our social accountability project and climate justice initiatives with the Ethiopian Young women Christian Association is exerting effort despite the challenge in funding shortage.
I am keen to partner with your good organization to promote social and environmental justice in Ethiopia where upscaling all over Africa is possible because of the presence AU, ECA, UNDP Africa based in Addis Ababa

Rosine Kelz am 06.09.2021 - 11:19

In reply to by Anonymous

Thank you very much for your interest in our focal topic! If you would like to apply for our fellowship program, please follow this link
for further information about the program and application procedures and if you have any other further questions please contact me directly by email: rosine.kelz@iass-potsdam.de

Aneta Galek am 20.09.2021 - 09:43

In reply to by Anonymous

Thank you for your request and your interest in our focal topic. We do not have any fixed templates for the proposal. The exact requirements for the application as well as the requirements for the proposal can be found in the call for applications.

Dr. Aisha Thawab am 28.09.2021 - 22:40


I am the founder and executive director of Abs Development for woman &Child Organization working in areas of Health, food security and nutrition, climate change adaptation, and women and youth economic empowerment.
I created the first Feminist Association in the Hajjah governorate, which focuses on Women's empowerment in Abs district, Haradh, Al-Zuhra and Aluhaiah districts, and Tehama region. I hope to be a partner with your good organization to promote social and environmental justice in Yemen.

Rosine Kelz am 06.10.2021 - 11:51

In reply to by Anonymous

Thank you very much for your interest in our focal topic. If you would like to apply for our fellowship program, please follow this link
https://www.iass-potsdam.de/sites/default/files/2021-08/210827_Fellow-Call_focal_topic.pdf. If you would be interested in other forms of cooperation or have further questions about the focal topic please contact me directly by email: rosine.kelz@iass-potsdam.de

Manfred Nitsch am 05.10.2021 - 22:35

Fair pensions and other provisions to manage and reduce inequalities in an ageing world should be worth research and gatherings. I would like to participate.

Thank you very much for your interest in the focal topic Justice in Sustainability. To discuss possibilities for a cooperation and further information about the focal topic year, please email me directly at rosine.kelz@iass-potsdam.de

Keghah Roger Nuah am 07.10.2021 - 20:52


Greetings to this prestigious organization. I am the director of Community Agriculture and Environmental Protection Association Cameroon. CAEPA was founded by a group of women seeking to improve their agricultural production systems by making them environment friendly and sustainable especially. Lately we realized the linkage between natural resource rights, and climate and environmental justice. We also realised there was a connection between land degradation, poverty and violence against women and HIV and AIDS. We included fighting against violence in the programmes. Since 2009, Our activities have expanded to address issues of natural resource rights, climate and environmental justice, and their connection to land degradation, poverty and violence against women/girls and HIV and AIDS. I wish to be part of this fellowship. I am proposing an inclusive climate justice project through the waste sector.

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