Nathan Oxley

Nathan Oxley

Communications and Impact Manager

Nathan contributes to the impact, communications and engagement work of the STEPS Centre. He is also a web editor for the Future Agricultures Consortium. He has worked for a specialist communications agency on sustainable development, and as a web editor for a national charity in the UK.

  • Lyla Mehta interviewed by BBC World Service on inequality and consumption

    Published on 8 February 2016

    STEPS researcher Lyla Mehta was a guest on BBC World Service’s flagship discussion programme, The Forum, to talk about inequality of consumption. During the discussion, Lyla shared insights from the STEPS Centre’s project on peri-urban sustainability.

    Although some people in cities in the global South have access to water supplied by the state, there are many others who struggle to get access to water and sanitation. As the STEPS project found, these are often people who live in so-called ‘illegal’ or informal colonies, many on the edge of cities. Gender is also a factor in this inequality, as it often falls to women and girls to fetch and carry water – an activity which can take minutes or hours away from other potentially productive activities like schooling.

    The other discussants on the programme were the historian of consumerism Frank Trentmann, and the political scientist Eduardo Gómez.

    You can listen again to the programme on the BBC website.


  • STEPS researchers among winners of China-Africa research fellowships

    Published on 3 February 2016

    The China Africa Research Initiative has announced the Fall 2015 winners of its SAIS-CARI Fellowship Programme. Research projects will start between January 2016 and April 2016, and two researchers associated with STEPS are among the winners.

    They are Lucy Baker of SPRU and the Energy Research Centre, University of Cape Town; and Wei Shen of the Institute of Development Studies. Lucy and Shen are conducting research on the theme of ‘China’s Involvement in South Africa’s Renewable Energy Sector’.

    See the full announcement on the SAIS-CARI website.

  • What would a sustainable city look like?

    Published on 31 January 2016

    Yamuna, Delhi

    On Thursday, India announced the first 20 cities to receive funding to become ‘Smart Cities’. It’s a high profile mission to modernise and transform urban infrastructure, especially using digital technologies like sensor networks and data centres.

    Smart cities are one response to the huge challenges facing urban India. The conference on pathways to sustainable urbanisation, which took place in Delhi this week, looked at many others facing cities in South Asia and around the world, including neglected ones. It was one of the first activities of the new South Asia Sustainability Hub.

    The conference brought researchers and practitioners together to discuss urgent questions for urban policy and action in South Asia.

    Peri-urban challenges

    Many people in peri-urban areas – where the city and countryside meet and interact – have faced problems of neglect or inequality. Access to water is uneven; there is competition over land, making it difficult for small farmers to survive; and evictions are common. Health problems from industrial processes and poor water are serious.

    But these peri-urban areas are neglected or not recognised in official policy. This is made all the more ironic since these areas are often where the fastest growth is happening – they are the cities of the future. They also remind us that the boundaries of cities are difficult to locate: there are many human and non-human flows between rural, peri-urban and urban spaces, including people, water and food.

    Making connections

    Another challenge is recognising the intimate relationship between water, waste, energy, food, health and the environment. For example, in San Diego a proposed waste to energy plant could not operate because of a lack of water. India’s small farmers often find their water diverted to service tourism projects or local industry. And waste workers in some of South Asia’s biggest cities face huge health risks – from fungal infections in sewer workers, to exposure to toxic chemicals among those who recycle electronic waste.

    Recognising these connections in planning, and examining past mistakes – and successes – in cities around the world, could be crucial to help South Asia create healthier, more sustainable places for its citizens to live. Often, though, the connections between environment and health are not understood by policy makers, or evidence is simply ignored.


    There are success stories and promising experiments too. Waste pickers in India are trying new partnerships with local authorities and formal systems; in Delhi, separate bus lanes and cycle lanes have been tried to reduce congestion. Many alliances have formed to campaign for particular areas and issues.

    No one solution

    What is more difficult is achieving lasting change in the way that cities are governed. No one approach, method or solution will work alone.

    The context is the many agencies and interests involved, very rapid change, and competition over resources. At least in India, the rhetoric on sustainability and climate change is very visible in the media. ‘Sustainable cities’ and cleaner, healthier cities are part of this vision.

    But we should question what these statements really mean. Whose version of sustainability is being promoted? Whose interests are being promoted or sidelined? Who is being included, and who is being pushed out?

    To address the challenges of South Asia’s growing cities, researchers and policy makers will need to address these questions and put the interests of poor and marginalised people much higher up the agenda. Without this, the vision of sustainable cities will remain only for some, not for all.

    More about the conference

    Find out more about the Conference on pathways to sustainable urbanisation.

    Photo 1: House by Yamuna River, Delhi / Flickr (cc-by 2.0). Photo 2: STEPS Centre

  • South Asia Sustainability Hub launched in Delhi

    Published on 29 January 2016

    The economist Nitin Desai, the environmentalist Sunita Narain and the writer P. Sainath spoke at the South Asia Sustainability Hub & Knowledge Network launch event yesterday in Delhi.

    The new hub joins five other hubs around the world in the Pathways to Sustainability Global Consortium, which the STEPS Centre convened to link up research and action on environmental and social change around the world. Other hubs are located in China, Africa, Latin America, North America and Europe.

    Hub launch audience

    At the launch, P. Sainath said that urban development was based on many false assumptions. “Affordable housing has a serious crisis worldwide, but there isn’t anything being done,” he said.

    Sunita Narain said she hoped the hub would help to link knowledge and policy. “I’m proud to be a part of this moment. We have a huge challenge of unmet needs,” she said.

    “This is a key moment for India as it responds to climate change, rapid urban development and other big environmental and social challenges,” said Prof Pranav N. Desai of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), director of the new South Asia Sustainability Hub. “It is vital to act now to make sure its citizens get a more equal share of the benefits of development. This means listening to poor and marginalised people when we make decisions about the future.”

    Other speakers at the event included Fiona Marshall and Ian Scoones from the STEPS Centre, as well as Tikender Singh Panwar, Dipak Gyawali, Priyanie Amersinghe and others. For a full list, see the launch event page.

    Climate change and India

    India emerged as a key player in international climate talks in Paris last month. The country has fast-growing energy demands, but many areas are vulnerable to flooding, droughts and other environmental damage linked to climate change.

    • In the Sundarbans, defences against rising sea levels are patchy and many people have lost land and livestock to floods. Long term health and livelihood impacts are being felt in after tropical cyclone Aila hit the region in 2009.
    • Mumbai is vulnerable to sea level rises due to its location near the coast and the loss of mangrove forests.
    • In the drylands of Kutch, people depend on scarce water supplies. Changes in rainfall and drought patterns may seriously affect their livelihoods.

    Challenges for India’s cities

    The urban landscape of many cities in India has transformed, with transport improvements, shopping malls and waste to energy plants. But adverse effects are felt by people in informal settlements and those living at the edges of cities, where there is competition over land and resources.

    People’s lives could be improved by sharing skills, ideas and innovative ways of working together, and including vulnerable groups in the planning process. For example, agriculture is very important for poorer people in peri-urban areas – but it is often not recognised in urban planning, and is in competition with urban development projects like housing or parks.

    Related events

    The launch is part of a week-long programme of events which include a workshop on climate change and uncertainty, a conference on sustainable urbanisation and a policy-focused workshop on risks and responses to urban futures.

    The hub will build on work on these and other themes, and join forces with researchers in Latin America, Africa and elsewhere during 2016 as the Global Consortium develops ‘transformative networks’ to address sustainability challenges.

    About the South Asia hub

    STEPS2The South Asia Sustainability Hub & Knowledge Network (SASH&KN) aims to develop a growing network of institutions and people committed to exploring pathways to sustainability in South Asia. It is part of the STEPS Pathways to Sustainability Global Consortium.

    TRCCs2The South Asia Sustainability Hub & Knowledge Network (SASH&KN) is hosted by the Transdisciplinary Research Cluster on Sustainability Studies (TRCSS) at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU).

    Read more about the South Asia hub


  • Workshop: Climate Change and Uncertainty from Above and Below

    Published on 13 January 2016

    27-28 January 2016
    New Delhi, India

    Presentation slides and photos from this workshop are now available.

    Presentation slides


    About the workshop

    Uncertainty is often considered to be a “super wicked problem” or “monster” by scientists and policy makers. The integration of uncertainty in climate change decision-making is very much debated and disputed by scientists. Often, the reaction has been to view it as something that needs to be minimised and controlled. Despite these ambiguities, the scientific community has relied heavily on quantitative assessments to capture and understand uncertainty.

    Sundarbans boat

    But does the focus on models, diagrams, regressions and future scenarios factor in the lived realities of local people (poor or rich, women and men, urban or rural especially in the global South)? Theorizing about uncertainty from ‘above’ by experts may have little to do with how many people live with, understand and cope with uncertainty in everyday settings from ‘below’.

    This workshop aimed to tease out the above-mentioned propositions and questions from an interdisciplinary perspective, based on short commentaries and submissions from a few leading thinkers.

    It builds on the recently concluded STEPS Uncertainty From Below project and the ongoing Norwegian Research Council project on Uncertainty, Climate Change and Transformation.

    Presentation slides

    The following presentations are viewable on Slideshare.

    Anshu Ogra: Uncertainties and climate change adaptation

    Anu Jogesh: Media and climate change – representations of risk and uncertainty

    ASSAR – Adaptation at scale in semi-arid regions

    Brian Wynne: Reconciling top-down and bottom-up uncertainties in knowledge, with power and conflicts of purpose or interest

    Coleen Vogel: An inconvenient truth – the Hell Niño in South Africa

    Dominic Kniveton: Embracing uncertainty

    Krishna AchutaRao: Uncertainty from above – can it be reduced?

    Life and water at Rachenahalli Lake

    Lyons et al: Protecting what is left – making local perspectives of uncertainty count in climate adaptation planning

    Matthias Heymann: The climate change dilemma – big science, the globalizing of climate and the loss of the human scale

    Mehta et al: Climate change and uncertainty from below and above

    Saurabh Arora: The advantages of uncertainty – toward new principles for cooperation between divergent practices from ‘above’ and ‘below’

    Ian Scoones: Enabling plural pathways – uncertainty and responses to climate change

    Shibaji Bose: Voices from below – a Photo Voice exploration in Indian Sundarbans

    Sumetee Pahwa Gajjar: Uncertainty from within

    Suraje Dessai: Uncertainty from above and encounters in the middle

    Suresh Rohilla: Climate change and sanitation, water resources



    A gallery of photos can be found on our Flickr page.



    For more information, contact Lyla Mehta.

    Related events

    Launch: South Asia Sustainability Hub & Knowledge Network
    28 January 2016, Delhi

    International conference: Pathways to Sustainable Urbanisation
    29-30 January 2016, Delhi

  • International Conference: Pathways to Sustainable Urbanisation

    Published on 12 January 2016

    29-30 January 2016
    Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India

    Ahmedabad waste pickers

    Cities in India and other South Asian nations are in the midst of experiencing rapid urbanization. In this time of growth, safeguarding environmental integrity and social justice will be decisive for the health and livelihoods of citizens. This workshop focuses on the possibilities for sustainable urban transformations.

    Whilst urbanisation brings the creation of new opportunities for some, it can also pose enormous challenges for poor and marginalised citizens in cities and in peri-urban areas.

    This conference is organised by the South Asia Sustainability Hub & Knowledge Network (SASH&KN).

    Event details

    Contact: Pravin Kushwaha


    Urban sustainability: perspectives and approaches

    Environment, health and sustainable cities: what next for the ‘nexus’?

    Growth and urban sustainability

    Social mobilization and sustainable urban transformation

    Developing future research agendas: what is to be done?


    The conference will include keynote speeches by expert participants from the UK and South Asia. It also contains interactive ‘working group’ sessions where participants will discuss topics, and then report back to plenary.

    Related events

    Workshop: Climate Change and Uncertainty from Below and Above
    27-28 January 2016, Delhi

    Launch: South Asia Sustainability Hub & Knowledge Network, 28 January 2016

    STEPS-JNU symposium: Exploring pathways to Sustainability, 2014

    Related themes

    Urban transformations

    Urbanisation and economic growth go hand-in-hand. How to balance rapid economic growth with sustainable management of ecosystem services and enhanced social justice are crucial issues to the health and livelihoods of the world’s citizens. Our work encourages the rethinking of urban planning initiatives through a sustainability lens.


    Waste not, want not Digital story (

    The Water Cookbook Graphic novel

    Contested sustainabilities in the peri-urban interface Report

    Bangalore: Living in a global city Film

    Water and justice: peri-urban pathways in Delhi Film

    Resilience and the peri-urban: limitations and potential Briefing

    Mailing list

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  • Resource Conflicts & Social Justice – Nexus Network workshop, February 2016

    Published on 8 January 2016

    STEPS members Lyla Mehta, Jeremy Allouche and Amber Huff are involved in a workshop in February for our partners The Nexus Network, on the subject of ‘Resource Conflicts and Social Justice’. The workshop is led by Lyla Mehta and follows our symposium on Resource Politics last September.

    In recent years, the notion of the nexus has gained traction in the domain of natural resource governance. It has become the defining vocabulary to understand the interlinkages between land, water, food and climate. Since the 2008 World Economic Forum pushed key players to be concerned about water, food and energy security and their interlinkages, the nexus has become a strong policy metaphor to address the ‘world in crises’.

    Date: Monday 29 February 2016.
    Venue: Institute of Development Studies, Brighton, UK

    Event page (Nexus Network website)

    Register your interest in this event by Friday 12 Feb 2016, using the eventbrite form

    Eventbrite - Resource Conflicts Workshop – Monday 29 Feb 2016


  • In search of transformations at COP21

    Published on 5 January 2016

    The International Social Science Council has published interviews from the COP21 climate conference with three researchers who are part of their ‘Transformations to Sustainability programme’.

    The interviewees include STEPS researcher Adrian Ely, and Cosmas Ochieng, director of ACTS, one of the institutions in the STEPS Africa Sustainability Hub. The Africa hub was an important partner in our programme of events at COP21. The other interviewee is Ethemcan Turhan of the Istanbul Policy Centre.

    Read the interviews (ISSC website)

  • Call for papers: EASST/4S session on makers, manufacturers and politics of digital fabrication

    Published on 4 January 2016

    STEPS member Adrian Smith is one of the organisers of a session at this year’s EASST/4S conference. The session title is ‘Digital fabrications amongst hackers, makers and manufacturers: whose “industrial revolution”?’

    The conference itself (title: ‘Science and technology by other means: exploring collectives, spaces and futures’) is on 31 August until 3 September in Barcelona, and abstracts are invited now. The deadline for abstracts is 21 February.

    More detail about the session and how to submit abstracts can be found on the Grassroots Innovations website.

  • A year of STEPS: 2015 highlights

    Published on 22 December 2015

    As it’s nearing the end of 2015, here are some highlights you may have missed from the STEPS Centre’s last 12 months. We’ll see you next year!

    STEPS researchers and islanders on the move in the Sundarbans

    Our coverage of the COP21 climate conference

    STEPS members wrote blogs, organised events and reflected on the future of climate change action around the Paris conference in December.

    STEPS América Latina launch

    Open Science, horizontal innovation and more were on the agenda at the launch event in Buenos Aires in November.

    Rei(g)ning back the Anthropocene?

    Andy Stirling shared concerns about the increasing popularity of the ‘Anthropocene’ idea, and responses followed from Johan Rockström, Victor Galaz and Laura Pereira.

    Sustainability: the next 50 years

    Framing part of a new strategic direction for the Institute of Development Studies, this paper brings together insights from development studies and sustainability studies. It is co-written by Hubert Schmitz and Ian Scoones. (more…)