Racial justice Covid SDGs: pictures of our panel

Symposium ’20: Racial justice, Covid and the SDGs

Racial justice, Covid and the SDGs at the Grantham Centre Annual Symposium.

Every year, at our Annual Symposium we showcase sustainability research at The University of Sheffield. Plus we invite special guests to talk about the year in sustainability. This year they included Magid Magid, Charise Johnson and Sarah Storey.

Normally this is a live event, but because of lockdown in 2020 it was online. And the pandemic’s impact on various sustainability issues was a talking point of the symposium. However, Covid was only one of the seismic events of 2020 and conversations about racial justice sparked by the Black Lives Matter movement was our major theme.

Day 1: Racial justice, Covid-19 and the SDGs

SDG 13 Climate Action: A special panel on ‘No climate justice without racial justice’

icon for SDG 13 Climate ActionOur panel opened the symposium with a discussion about racial justice and climate justice. The 3 speakers gave short talks, and then our audience asked questions. Here we’ll have some highlights, but if you want more detail then check out this collation of our live-tweeting on Twitter.

Magid Magid

Magid MagidFirst up was Magid Magid. During his talk, Magid explained the need for leaders to be actively anti-racist: ‘We need everyone – especially those in leadership – to be actively anti-racist, not passively sympathetic.’

Stressing that climate action cannot happen at the expense of racial justice, Magid said: ‘We need to make sure centralised climate projects do not worsen injustice for those in Black and Brown communities.’

Each speaker was asked to provide an action for our audience to look into. Magid wrote that: ‘We need everyone to understand that our racial inequality crisis is intertwined with our climate crisis.’

Charise Johnson

Charise JohnsonAfter Magid, we heard from Charise Johnson. Charise spoke about the reasons why climate activism is so White. One of her points she made related to the framing of climate action.

‘You will cast a much larger net by reframing conversation to be relevant to your audience.

If you explain how racial justice and climate justice are connected you start reaching a lot more people.’

For her action, Charise suggested reading: All We Can Save: Truth, Courage and Solutions for the Climate Crisis. This book is written by women (several of whom are women of colour) who have dedicated their lives to reshaping society into one that is ‘rooted in compassion, connection, creativity and collaboration’.

Dr Aarti Ayer

Aarti AyerLast to speak was Dr Aarti Ayer. Asked how White people can combat racism in organisations, she said it was essential to be open and willing to listen. Vitally, they should not make themselves the centre of the discussion. Lastly she said: ‘People should be mindful not to reproduce systems of oppression in conversations.’

For her action Aarti suggested reading How Green Groups Became So White and What to Do About It by Diane Toomey.

If you want to read our coverage of the ‘No climate justice without racial justice’ panel discussion as it happened, then look at our curated story on Twitter.

After the panel, speakers from the Grantham Centre and The University of Sheffield explained their research in relation to the SDGs.

SDG 6 Clean Water and Sanitation: Prof Vanessa Speight and Naomi Oates

icon for SDG 6 Clean Water and SanitationStarting, Vanessa Speight explained the context of SDG 6, which covers water pollution, efficiency, and management. Unfortunately, Vanessa explained that the last 2 are not well handled even in developed countries. After this Vanessa talked about some of the work around tracing Covid-19 in sewage – ‘people are pooping Covid’.

After this was Grantham Scholar Naomi Oates. Naomi talked about water governance in Malawi, the focus of her PhD work. Over the last few years, Naomi has written a series of blogs about this topic and you can find them all on her profile page.

Summarising, Naomi talked about the impact of the pandemic. ‘Covid could be an opportunity for more autonomy on the ground, even as it throws up ethical problems such as who is exposed to risk.’

SDG 11 Sustainable Cities and Communities: Maria del Carmen and Dr Dani Densley-Tingley

icon for SDG 11 sustainable cities and communitiesHow can we make our buildings more sustainable? This is the question that Dani Densley-Tingley is researching. During her talk she explained how a circular economy of materials and buildings might be the answer. ‘We need a kit of parts, like giant Lego. Buildings should be designed for adaptability and deconstruction.’

As part of her work, Dani has created a tool with Urban Flows. Regenerate is a circular economy engagement tool for all those involved in the design and construction of buildings. And you can download it here.

Following on, Maria del Carmen talked about her work using plants to mitigate air pollution. Plus she explained how the pandemic has highlighted the importance of green spaces for mental and physical health. Importantly, air pollution exacerbates many risk factors for Covid-19, such as hypertension and cardiovascular disease.

Last year we interviewed Maria about her green barriers project, so if you to know more then look here.

Racial justice, Covid and the SDGs – day 1 as it happened

Our Communications Officer Claire Moran and Grantham Scholar Roberta Fabrizi live-tweeted day 1. In order to capture the highlights we made a Twitter moment – look here to find day 1 on Twitter.

Day 2: Covid – a catalyst for sustainability & climate justice?

SDG 3 Good health and well being: Dame Sarah Storey & Dr Ross Cameron

Special guest Sarah Storey – Olympian and Active Travel Commissioner – started day 2. During her talk, she explained the impact of Covid-19 on the Active Travel programme in Sheffield.

You can find all the details of Sarah’s talk in this Twitter thread ↓


Then Ross Cameron talked about how gardening became more popular during lockdown. For instance, 322 million more plants were planted during 2020 than 2019.

Concluding, Ross explained how his own research has found that gardens make a positive impact on people’s lives. ‘Those who didn’t garden have (self-reported) big differences in health to those who do.’

We collected Ross’ slides on Twitter during his talk and you can find them here.

SDG 2 Zero Hunger: Prof Guy Poppy, Dr Richard Bruce, Prof Bhavani Shankar, Nicole Kennard & Phillipa Hughes

icon for SDG 2 Zero HungerFirst to talk to SDG 2 were Guy Poppy (former Chief Scientific Adviser to the Food Standards Agency) and our Chief Business Advisor Richard Bruce. Richard stressed the need to look at food systems when trying to make one aspect of food production more sustainable.

‘Many think of food sustainability in terms of food miles, but it is more complicated. The carbon footprint of imported food may be lower than locally produced. Plus, it could have a negative affect on countries we import from if we stop.’

After this, Bhavani Shankar shared some awful statistics about global hunger (pre-Covid). And it is not just about hunger, as poor people can also not afford healthy food. Exacerbated by the pandemic, a lack of food and nutrition will have a permanent impact on children. ‘Poor people consume less nutritious food when prices inflate. This has a lasting impact on children’s outcomes.’

Last to talk during the symposium were Grantham Scholars Nicole Kennard and Phillipa Hughes. Together they talked about their work providing food to those in need through lockdown.

During lockdown they volunteered at Foodhall, a community kitchen in Sheffield that delivered food to hundreds who could not otherwise get it. Through this they met people who had already been food insecure, and also those who had been made so because of Covid-19. Before the symposium, we interviewed Nicole and Phillipa about Foodhall, and they explained how the community kitchen fed Sheffield during lockdown.

Summing up their time at Foodhall, they highlighted how lonely the pandemic made some: ‘Some people reported that the helpline was the only human contact they had had all day.’

Covid – a catalyst for sustainability & climate justice? Day 2 as it happened

As with day 1, we live-tweeted the event. You can find all the highlights collected together here in a Twitter moment.

The Twitter cards featured on this page were made by Roberta Fabrizi. Writing by Claire Moran.

For 2020 our Annual Symposium theme was Racial justice, Covid and the SDGs. Last year it was Policy, Protest and SDGs and you can find out more here.