Co-coordinators: Professor Priya Kurian and Professor Debashish Munshi (University of Waikato, New Zealand); 

                              Professor John Foran and Professor Kum-Kum Bhavnani (University of California, Santa Barbara, USA)

Host Institutions:    The University of Waikato, New Zealand
                                 The University of California at Santa Barbara, USA


Purpose and goals

A three-day symposium at Bellagio on “Climate Futures.” is the first phase of our project and will identify innovative social, political, economic, and cultural approaches and proposals for dealing with the crisis of climate change. Our primary objective is to bring climate justice organizations and grassroots activists into conversation with public intellectuals and scholars from across the natural, physical, and social sciences to brainstorm ideas on how to craft action plans that address the root causes and future impacts of climate change around the world. These multi-faceted plans will not only help strengthen local, national, and global initiatives but will also incorporate policies created with grassroots input building on the interconnections among climate justice and social justice, sustainable livelihoods, transparent and participatory governance, and innovative political forms to contribute to the transition to a low-carbon, just future.

The cross-disciplinary conversations at the symposium will also become part of a volume entitled Climate Futures: Re-imagining Global Climate Justice. Co-edited by the four symposium organizers, the book will draw on submissions by the symposium participants and others identified by the group. In addition to more typical scholarly formats, some contributions will take the form of conversations, interviews, and creative works. Both the symposium and the book will be examples of a public engagement arising from the collaboration of the cutting-edge scholarship and practical, grassroots work and knowledge production that we feel is necessary to tackle issues that affect the future of our planet.

The forces at play now that create an opportunity for positive change on the issue

The early twenty-first century has revealed climate change as the most dramatic threat to humanity’s prospects for a dignified future on the planet. In December 2015, the UN will convene in Paris to finalize a global climate treaty.  However, the process has been marked by a protracted stalemate, while the agreed two degrees Celsius threshold of warming is jeopardized by current business as usual models and heightened extraction of extreme forms of fossil fuel energy. A rapidly growing global climate justice movement has risen in response, with thousands of organizations interlinked in a vast network of networks. As the UN summit approaches, these movements are striving to persuade governments and global institutions to take decisive steps including, most significantly, signing a fair, scientifically sound, and legally binding global climate treaty. Our symposium is thus particularly timely for policy-makers and climate justice movements seeking to influence the treaty for the better.

Impacts on poor or vulnerable populations

Climate change is already impacting all regions of the world, with droughts, floods, extreme heat waves and storm surges producing crop failures, migration, and economic damage. Climate justice perspectives recognize that the brunt of climate change falls hardest on the poorest and most marginal people everywhere. These gendered inequalities traverse pensioners, urban slum dwellers, indigenous peoples, ethnic minorities, and rural communities. Cases of climate refugees -- women affected by drought and food shortage that increase their burdens or Inuit populations displaced by eroding shorelines and melting permafrost -- are all too frequent. In addition, small island states, such as the Maldives in the Indian Ocean, Kiribati in the Pacific, and Cape Verde off the west coast of Africa, face the risk of being drowned or losing their freshwater resources as sea levels rise, posing the devastating prospects of loss of livelihood and homeland for millions of people.

The work at Bellagio

The symposium will bring together nineteen social scientists, atmospheric scientists, journalists, public intellectuals, and activists from the global North and the global South to work collaboratively on new understandings of the economic, social, political and cultural underpinnings of the climate crisis. This synergy will also be designed to generate innovative action plans and solutions. On the first day participants will discuss their previously submitted website proposals and interact in facilitated conversations. On Day 2, we will develop cross-disciplinary perspectives through engaged break-out sessions based on regional and national climate issues.  The final day will concentrate on planning scenarios and “green prints” for the future to be presented at the 2015 COP 21, using a variety of dissemination outlets. The plans and scenarios will be catalyzed through a visionary “World Cafe” brainstorming process and facilitated conversations.


One product of the symposium will be a book (in print and e-book formats) entitled Climate Futures: Re-imagining Global Climate Justice. This will emerge from submissions by the symposium participants, augmented by others. The symposium will also lead to the production of action plans aimed at a number of different levels from building resilient communities to influencing policy-makers at local, national and international contexts. These plans will be presented at the December 2015 COP 21 Paris climate summit.

Symposium programme/schedule