Oxford Martin School launches new programmes focused on plastics, cooling, cross-border resource sharing and informal cities

08 April 2019

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The Oxford Martin School is pleased to announce support for four major new solutions-focused research programmes that aim to improve outcomes across two or more of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Each programme was created in response to a call from the School for research projects on the theme ‘Innovating for a Sustainable Future’ and anticipates outcomes that could make a meaningful and timely contribution to the delivery of the SDGs. These are:

The Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Plastics

350 million tonnes of plastics are produced annually. They visibly pollute lands and seas and are produced and used without full consideration of waste management or their environmental impact. However, plastics are also integral to modern life and key to meeting many SDGs: they provide hygienic and lightweight packaging, efficient insulation, and are used in water purification membranes and essential medical devices.

The Future of Plastics programme aims to develop new plastic materials, examine the stocks and flows of plastics across the globe, and propose policy and regulatory levers to accelerate a sectoral transition to a circular economy, where plastics can be re-used, recycled or can degrade in the environment without harm. Led by Charlotte Williams, Catherine Redgwell, and Cameron Hepburn, it will bring together chemists, economists, legal scholars, and geographers to deliver practical and strategic solutions to the global plastics problem.

The Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Cooling

Ten new air conditioning systems are expected to be sold every second for the next thirty years. Cooling is necessary for the quality of life of billions of people living in developed and developing countries and will become ever more so as the frequency of heatwaves increases due to climate change. But its delivery comes at the potentially unaffordable price of the tripling of energy demand from air conditioning by 2050. Unmanaged, this could drive up greenhouse gas emissions and, in turn, lead to further warming.

Understanding the uptake and use of cooling technologies is a key part of the programme. The researchers will also assess the health impacts of heat, including morbidity and healthcare costs, to help countries make informed policy decisions where the risks of severe heat are increasing. The researchers will also work to accelerate the uptake of more sustainable coolant gases and policies that promote more energy efficient air-conditioning.

Led by Radhika Khosla and Malcolm McCulloch, the Future of Cooling programme aims to help facilitate sustainable cooling for all.

The Oxford Martin Programme on Transboundary Resource Management

Climate change and resource scarcity threaten the well-being of millions of people around the world. In regions like the Nile Basin, where vital natural resources span political borders, these threats can be exacerbated by mismanagement, political disputes and lack of trust. This is also compounded by growth in demand, with the population of the Nile Basin alone expected to double in the next thirty years.

This programme aims to use ‘Track II’ diplomacy and cutting-edge natural resource systems models to promote practical cross-border co-operation for resource-based SDGs in the eastern Nile Basin and the Jordan River Basin. The programme brings together a novel team of scholars that reflects the technical, political, social and environmental dimensions of the complex challenges faced in the region. Jim Hall, Steve Rayner, and Richard Caplan will lead this ambitious new undertaking.

The Oxford Martin Programme on Informal Cities

By 2050, nearly 70% of the world's population will be urban and delivery of the SDGs will increasingly be in the context of city environments. However, as formalised cities grow in the developing world so do the informal, self-constructed settlements and economies that operate outside of the common legal and regulatory framework and yet are intricately woven into the functioning of the city. The contribution of the large and growing number of marginalized ‘informal’ citizens to the delivery of SDGs remains poorly understood.

The Oxford Martin Programme on Informal Cities will draw on the University’s expertise in anthropology, geography, mathematics and epidemiology to find new ways to study informal neighbourhoods, economies, healthcare and transport in cities. It will also search for both scalable and specific solutions to delivery of SDGs in informal city systems. The programme will be led by Kazem Rahimi, Michael Keith, Neave O'Clery, and Tim Schwanen.

Professor Sir Charles Godfray, the School's Director, commented: "Each of these proposals demonstrates the pressing need to consider multiple Sustainable Development Goals simultaneously to achieve real progress. They join our existing programmes to meet James Martin’s vision for the School to develop innovative and novel solutions that work in the real world "