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UCL Department of Science, Technology, Engineering and Public Policy


Applied in Focus. Global in Reach


UCL’s MPA Students Host Second Summit on Sustainability

By leonie.dunn, on 16 May 2024

On 26 April, a cross-faculty student committee representing the MPA degrees from the UCL Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose (IIPP), UCL Department of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Public Policy (STEaPP), and UCL Department of Political Science (DoPS) hosted the second annual Summit on Sustainability.

MPA students The Summit brought together students, academics, and professionals for an interactive and collaborative learning experience as well as engaging discussions about ongoing action in sustainability. This year’s theme, the Power and Politics of Sustainability Transitions, aimed to navigate the increasingly complex world of activism, policy, and conflict surrounding sustainable transitions and solutions.

Collaboration with the UCL Climate Action Unit opened the Summit

Dr. Kris de Meyer from the UCL Climate Action Unit started the event off with a talk about climate change and the uncertainty of the future. He demonstrated how we are doing what we can because it’s what we know, but posed the question: “If we knew the solution, what might we do differently to get there?” The thought-provoking talk set the tone for the event and explored the different realities that can and do exist in sustainability.

Jon Alexander and Jane Davidson in fireside chat about collaboration

Co-founder of The New Citizenship Project and co-author of Citizens, Jon Alexander has worked to center the public at the heart of collaborative issues like climate change and economic insecurity – to treat people like Citizens not Consumers. He sat down with Jane Davidson, former Welsh Government minister and current chair of the Wales Net Zero 2035 Group, to discuss community participation in policymaking. Ms. Davidson delved into her history has a lawmaker in Wales, living through community collaboration for a better future. Her passion for sustainability led to the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act (2015), putting sustainability at the forefront of all government and public organization action.

Panel with Jon Alexander and Jane DavidsonPolicy Pathways Simulation adapted from in-field work for MPA participation

After lunch, the UCL Climate Action Unit once again took the stage to deliver a two-hour activity in which the participating students and staff joined a Climate Strategy Advisory Board to advise on a hypothetical green transition plan set out by the Prime Minister. Policy Pathways was created by the Unit as a virtual exercise for policymakers and politicians to collaborate and deliver different methods of sustainability transitions through financial regulation, taxation, and public subsidies. The simulation was adapted for the Summit with the goal of providing groups with differing perspectives the chance to discuss and debate amongst themselves, leading to somewhat differing strategies.

UCL Climate Action interactive workshopAfter the activity, Dr. de Meyer showed that, in the field, stakeholders struggled to utilise the existing policy tools to deliver effective and affordable green transitions. He brought the conversation back to his opening talk, wherein he stated that we can only do what we know, so we must expand that knowledge in order to expand the reality of sustainability.

Multi-profession panel explores navigating power and politics in the field of sustainability

Moderated by one of the student organizers, the three-person panel discussed different actors’ roles in change, and how power plays into the sustainability movement when it comes to justice and representation. Selina Newell, Director of Climate Action Implementation at C40, Fatou Jeng, founder of Clean Earth Gambia and Youth Climate Advisor to the UN Secretary General, and Asad Rehman, Executive Director of War on Want, unpacked the different levels of action, from individual movements to global affairs. Much of the conversation focused on equity being utmost important for sustainability movements and recognising economic inequality as a major point of conflict when it comes to global change. The cross-sector backgrounds of the panellists offered unique insight into the different powers that activists and policymakers have to enact change through sustainability transitions.

Multi-professional panelClare Farrell speaks on the failure of ‘sustainability’ and where to go from here

To round out the Summit, keynote speaker Clare Farrell, co-founder of Extinction Rebellion, delivered a talk titled Why Sustainability Isn’t Working Out. She spoke on her background in fashion and ethics, and how her work on the ground in activism led to the group’s message of civil rebellion for democratic change. Her thought-proving talk demonstrated the slow-moving and barrier-filled process of change through established political and economic institutions, and how the conventional perception of ‘sustainability’ has failed to come to fruition. Ms. Farrell guided the attendees to think about what must change now in order to achieve future goals in green transitions. She wrapped up the event by evoking hope in action now for change later.

Clare Farrell Extinction Rebellion as speakerAfter closing remarks, guests and attendees were invited to food and drinks for a two-hour networking social with open discussion and further questions.

Continuing cross-MPA collaboration and learning

Last year’s summit paved the way for the collaborative effort made this year. The three departments delivered learning in different contexts. Unifying those views for a cohesive and multi-perspective educational opportunity allowed the attendees and the committee to learn from both each other as well as the guests. Collaboration between the MPAs is imperative as we the students prepare to embark on our professional journeys as decision makers. Our ability to learn from each other must be fostered now so that it is not limited to these formal institutions. After coming together for this year’s Summit, we hope the relationship between the departments’ MPA programs continues to grow and furthers collaboration in the coming years.

Authors Note

Written by Erin Sebastian.

Erin along with the other organisers of the Sustainability Summit would like to give a special thanks to Kazuhiro Naito and Liam Orme for photography.


AHIA 2020-21 Demonstrating dependencies between humanity and nature for a sustainable future: A nitrogen case-study

By c.washbourne, on 1 September 2020

STEaPP’s Dr Carla Washbourne is part of a new project supported by the ALTER-Net High Impact Action (AHIA)-fund. This blog is also published at on ALTER-Net website

Through this project we want to explore how past and current research on the nitrogen cycle can be used to generate new insights on the dependence of humans on non-human-nature. Insights from this project will provide a new way to view humanity’s place in nature and could help to shape the development of more equitable and sustainable environmental decision-making and management.

Team photo

Team photo

The nitrogen (N) cycle is a familiar concept. Many of us first encountered it at school, where it was used to illustrate the scale and importance of global cycles that link air, water, rocks and living things. Humans are often presented as the end recipient of natural processes like the nitrogen cycle, and sometimes are not shown as part of the cycle at all! However, humanity is part of the cycle, being both a direct beneficiary (of  food) and direct contributor (fertiliser use) and is impacted by effects of nitrogen on air and water quality. This AHIA-funded project questions what the nitrogen cycle would look like if we rebuild it to more clearly include humans and to show the true scale of our dependence on non-human nature. The project is driven by a desire to provide a different narrative of the relationship between people and nature, that better represents our place in the biosphere.