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Towards climate justice: the role of cross-disciplinary Open Access research

Towards climate justice: the role of cross-disciplinary Open Access research

Climate change is a global problem requiring global solutions. To find ways to mitigate for the huge environmental and societal impacts we are facing across the world, scientists and scholars, policy makers, governments, and industry leaders need to connect and collaborate effectively.  

Open access publishing has a role to play in facilitating the discourse needed, by ensuring that the most up-to-date research is accessible, re-usable, and available to a wide audience quickly. At OUP, our flagship open access series, Oxford Open, includes several journals which connect researchers working in fields relevant to climate justice and which foster wider, more interdisciplinary collaboration. Below we hear from several of our Oxford Open Editors who elaborate on what this year’s Open Access Week theme “Open for Climate Justice” means to them.


Eelco J. Rohling, PhD, Editor-in-Chief, Oxford Open Climate Change 

Australian National University, Australia, and University of Southampton, UK 

Expanding our discourse on climate change

Climate justice calls for “a shift from a discourse on greenhouse gases and melting ice caps into a civil rights movement with the people and communities most vulnerable to climate impacts at its heart” (Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland, 2019). This call is even more pertinent now, after a further three years of climate extremes, alongside rampant global pollution and overexploitation, as well as ceaseless social inequality, poverty, conflict, and displacement. Holistic solutions are needed that span across at least several of these global problems.

In view of quote above, however, I would argue that we need an expansion of the discourse on climate change, rather than a shift. It would not be helpful to shift away from the discourse on climate change because that assumes that we fully understand the impacts and timescales of climate change on global and regional scales. We don’t. This is why IPCC projections keep moving; every new bit of evidence hones our understanding, but also opens new questions. Moreover, human adaptation responses are not uniform across the world, but depend on geography, cultural background, and economic viability.

“We need an expansion of the discourse on climate change; every new bit of evidence hones our understanding, but also opens new questions.”

In the physical sciences, there are especially major questions around the likelihood of crossing so-called climate “tipping-points,” which are abrupt shifts from one climate state to another when a certain threshold value is surpassed. And these tipping points have enormous implications for society—especially vulnerable communities—because they are so poorly predictable, and because the adjustment will be completely disproportional to what has gone on before. We have very good examples in recent geological history that these tipping points are very real and that they have critical environmental implications on hemispheric to global scales.

So, let’s not shift away from the climate change discourse as if we know what’s coming and how rapidly it will come. Let’s instead expand the climate change discourse and bring our knowledge to bear to meaningfully help vulnerable communities both deal with what we know is coming and prepare for what may happen if some of the critical tipping points get surpassed. We need a holistic approach, not a shift from one silo to another. At the new journal Oxford Open Climate Change, we aim to achieve this by reaching across the entire multi-disciplinary climate change research community. 


Peter D. Lund, PhD, Editor-in-Chief, Oxford Open Energy 

Aalto University, Finland 

Climate justice calls for multidisciplinary approaches in energy 

Climate justice as a concept has many facets and is accompanied with different nuances. For me working in energy, the dimension linked to intergenerational justness is of particular concern: our generation’s responsibility to take care of its fair share of reducing the greenhouse-gas emissions without shifting the burden and the unprecedented consequences to the next generations. Climate justice therefore represents here a kind of moral crossway choosing between a just and unjust energy path.

As fossil fuels are in the heart of the global climate crises standing for most of the emissions, transforming our energy systems into emission-free systems is urgent. To limit the adverse effects of the human-caused climate change, carbon neutrality needs to be achieved by the middle of this century. Rapid progress in many clean technologies such as wind power, solar energy, and batteries gives new hope that reaching this challenging goal could be feasible. 

“The complexity of the energy question in the climate justice context cannot be mastered by one discipline only.”

But the energy transition ahead is not just leading to a paradigm shift from fossil to clean energy. It will also trigger a huge societal transition affecting almost everything around us from legislation and business models to consumer behaviour, educating users, and more—that is, affecting in practice each and every one of us. To be successful, the clean energy transition has to consider simultaneously the technical, economic, social, and policy layers of the change. These need to advance without friction to accomplish a successful transition much in the same way as the gears in a clockwork need to be “synchronized” to move the clock hand forward. Such “synchronization” touches, for example, complex socio-political questions around the ability of developing countries and vulnerable groups in our societies to afford and manage such a big transition in a relatively short time. It should go without saying that stronger climate solidarity will be required, meaning that those with greater power and resource must ensure everyone can stay aboard in the transition. In energy, that would mean developing affordable, safe, and clean energy for all. 

The complexity of the energy question in the climate justice context cannot be mastered by one discipline only. For science to provide relevant solutions and to deliver content with wide societal impact in response to the climate justice, we need much stronger interdisciplinary research that spans more than one energy discipline. 


Rachael J.M. Bashford-Rogers, PhD, Associate Editor, Oxford Open Immunology

Wellcome Centre for Human Genetics, Oxford, United Kingdom 

Addressing the climate crisis will also avoid a global health crisis 

There are multiple direct and indirect factors linking climate change with human health. Although the extent of human (and animal) vulnerability to infectious disease caused by changes in climate have not been fully quantified, there is widespread agreement that we are already observing changes in pathogenic patterns. The shifts in the geographical ranges of pathogens and their vectors are clear ecological indicators of climate change and are already requiring significant changes to health care service infrastructures to efficiently diagnose and treat these diseases, with over half of known infectious diseases affecting humans reported to be aggravated by climate change through multiple mechanisms

For example, changes in temperature, rainfall, and humidity are associated with an expanded range of vectors, such as mosquitoes, ticks, birds, fleas, that are implicated in the increased outbreaks of viruses, bacteria, protozoan, and animal-meditated diseases such as dengue, chikungunya, plague, Lyme disease, West Nile virus, Zika, malaria, trypanosomiasis, and echinococcosis. Warmer temperatures at higher latitudes results in pathogens and their vectors surviving winters and therefore aggravating outbreaks, for example in dengue and Zika. In 2020, nearly half of the world’s population was at risk of malaria causing ~627,000 deaths annually and significant morbidity worldwide. With climate change, we are seeing the proliferation of the malaria-carrying mosquitoes at higher latitudes and altitudes, resulting in an increase in malaria transmission in areas that were previously malaria-free. In areas where malaria is already endemicwarmer temperatures alter the growth cycle of the parasite in the mosquito enabling it to develop faster and therefore increasing transmission and disease burden. 

There is both hope and caution with the impact of some of these diseases. Will the development of effective malaria vaccines outweigh increased drug resistance and pathogen evolution? Will we learn from the COVID-19 lockdown periods to replace unnecessary travel with technology-aided communication? Will we build housing and infrastructure that will reduce carbon and pollution emissions whilst also maintaining an improved living environment for us all? However, the climate crisis and its accompanying health crisis cannot be solved by scientist and clinicians alone. 


Evelyne de Leeuw, PhD, and Patrick Harris, PhD, Editors-in-Chief, Oxford Open Infrastructure and Health 

University of New South Wales, Sydney 

Connecting health and infrastructure for climate justice 

Humanity strives to and achieves progress through infrastructure. Infrastructure provides the hardware, tools, and services for a connected and functioning planet. Those connections are not just for humans but whole ecosystems. But climate change, especially with a justice lens, challenges infrastructure to be bold in scope and ambition, dynamic and adaptive, and full of vision and aspiration. Infrastructure for climate justice is not just engineering and building projects but is inclusive of the range of factors and dynamics between the planetary and nano-particle. Above all, the new era of the Anthropocene requires infrastructure that emphasises big connections for wellbeing.  

“Climate change, especially with a justice lens, challenges infrastructure to be bold in scope and ambition, dynamic and adaptive, and full of vision and aspiration.”

Those big connections are the intent of Oxford Open Infrastructure and Health (OOIH). Our vision for the journal stems from decades of research and practice working at the interface of health, broadly defined, with societal challenges that have congealed around what infrastructure does and can do. Infrastructure that is poorly thought through and planned, and therefore impossible or slow to adapt, is proving to be a devastating cause of climate injustice globally and locally. Institutionalised inertia is core to the problem with limited accountability from governments and industry for the infrastructure they fund and build to the people and the environment.  

The gap between the various manifestations of infrastructure and human, planetary, and ecological wellbeing has been researched for years now. But filling that gap requires a scholarly and policy platform. OOIH intends to step in. Connections between big boundary-spanning ideas like the Sustainable Development Goals are foundational. Linking those ideas across sectors and disciplines to foster connections for progress is the journal’s necessary function. And above all, our aim is to challenge the status quo to be bolder, better, innovative, adaptive, and accountable. 


Robert Vajtai, PhD, Editor-in-Chief, Oxford Open Materials Science 

Rice University, USA 

Fair and responsible consumption of materials 

It is an interesting and paradoxical fact that—despite our best effort and intentions—scientific and engineering advancement often comes with a big footprint: we pursue a more convenient life, at the cost of high energy consumption, and more materials used and wasted. For example, advances in efficient computer and mobile phone processors do not only result in previously bulky equipment now shrinking into pocket-sized devices, but also much greater demand for smartphones and constantly updating to newer models, even in low-income environments. A state-of-the-art phone has a much larger memory and higher computational power than the computers which delivered humans to the Moon. Looking at mining, production, and waste management for the vast quantities of personal electronics demonstrates this point. 

“The responsibility of all materials scientists and nanoengineers is to focus on advancement in the direction of a safer and better world at large.

Having this said, the responsibility of all materials scientists and nanoengineers is to focus on advancement in the direction of a safer and better world at large. Staying with the example of computers, we are working on improving the efficiency of computations; using quantum materials and neural networks to build computers that predict the pathway of hurricanes more accurately and earlier or bring us to a liveable Mars. Our mission is to develop materials for higher-efficiency solar energy conversion, highly efficient and selective nanocatalysts, high volumetric and specific capacity batteries, and—in my opinion—the most environmentally-friendly energy storage: hydrogen economy. We must do all of this to make sure that clean energy, clean air, and clean water are available for every citizen of Earth, in order to deliver climate justice. 


Sam Gilbert, PhD, Senior Editor, Oxford Open Neuroscience 

Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, University College London, United Kingdom 

How can neuroscientists contribute towards achieving climate justice? 

We can start by limiting, where possible, the impacts of our own activities: the emissions caused by wet labs and tools such as MRI scanners, the carbon footprint of computationally-intensive methods and data centres, the harm caused by air travel to academic conferences and meetings. But the concept of climate justice highlights another issue. The countries that have contributed least to global emissions are also the least well-equipped to deal with the impacts and will suffer the most severe consequences. Those countries that have historically emitted the most therefore bear the greatest responsibility to act. 

A similar argument can be made about our individual role as neuroscientists. Those of us who have built successful careers on decades of air travel can most afford to cut back now and are best placed to argue for climate action in our own institutions. One welcome consequence of a neuroscience community less reliant on frequent air travel to promote and disseminate research would be a reduction to the barriers faced by students, early-career researchers, and those from parts of the world historically under-represented within our field. Neuroscientists, particularly those at the highest levels of seniority, have the skills, influence, and the responsibility to advocate for change. 

Oxford Open is the flagship series of open access journals published by Oxford University Press. Journals in this series further OUP’s mission to support excellence in research, scholarship, and education.

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Recent Comments

  1. Stephen Kamugasa

    “Climate change is a global problem requiring global solutions. To find ways to mitigate for the huge environmental and societal impacts we are facing across the world, scientists and scholars, policy makers, governments, and industry leaders need to connect and collaborate effectively.” I totally agree.

    Which is why I have published an open letter to the president of Uganda calling on him to ” please cancel the oil and gas project for the sake of your own children and grandchildren. Please do not put off until tomorrow what so urgently needs to be done today.” See, https://thekamugasachallenge.com/climate-emergency/

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