IPCC blog series – Working Group 3 – Mitigation of climate change

This blog is part of a series on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s recent 6th Assessment Report, with this post covering the output of Working Group III and the proposed solutions and mitigations for the climate crisis. This article also features a chat with IPCC Lead Author Dr Jo House and contributor Viola Heinrich, researchers at the University of Bristol and Cabot Institute for the Environment. 

Of the three Working Groups, the third makes for the most positive reading. As the title suggests, this one is all about the mitigation of climate change and preventing the disastrous climate futures explained by Working Groups I and II. Whilst remaining focussed on the impending nature of the climate crisis, this report spells out that we have the solutions.

As discussed in the previous posts, massive behavioural changes are needed at government and societal levels. When I spoke to academics, they were positive that we were well past the point of whether climate change is real or has an impact on humanity and that economically minded leaders are starting to see the benefits of sustainable practice and the economic security it brings. Governments and states are listening and looking at policy to mitigate the crisis.

Let’s look at some of the solutions and mitigations proposed:

The quicker we act, the less economic impact

This follows on nicely from previous reports that stated the effects of warming increase with each incremental global average temperature increase. That is to say, a +1.5 degrees C future will see less devastation than a +2 degrees C or even a +1.7 degrees C rise in temperature. Such disasters (drought, extreme weather, flooding) require huge amounts of money resources to sort out. From an economic security point of view, it makes complete sense to act with great urgency. The climate crisis is already here, and therefore already having an economic impact. Action immediately will mitigate against the future potential costs of a climate disaster.

Relative to the economic impact of climate disaster in the future, the investment of reducing the impact of the crisis and securing a liveable planet is small.

The immediate reduction of fossil fuel production and limitation of greenhouse gases in the pursuit of Net Zero

As discussed before, the greatest culprit of the climate crisis is unequivocally greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from fossil fuels. Therefore, in an ideal world, the immediate halt of fossil fuel extraction, production and consumption would be enough to prevent an overshoot +1.5 degrees C (as discussed in the first report, there is a lag between emissions and warming). Unfortunately, this is not an ideal world, so significant policy to pursue a Net-Zero will be needed.

Going further, carbon must also be removed from the atmosphere somehow, to allow the planet to return to preindustrial atmospheric carbon levels.

Carbon removal, naturally and technologically

A key aspect to the third Working Group is its arguments for carbon capture. This could be either through natural carbon removal through plants and trees, or by using carbon removal technology through direct air capture.

Carbon capture will be essential to solving the climate crisis, as carbon needs to be removed in order to return to the pre-industrial levels of atmospheric carbon. As well as this, proposed tech allows for carbon to be captured at the source of emissions. The issue is that carbon capture could lead to a dependence on the technology.

Companies, understandably, are drawn to the idea of “planting trees” to offset their emissions. It’s visible, tangible, and easy for the public to grasp. However, it’s not always the most efficient use of land and resources, and some worry that these methods will be exploited as a crutch to not reduce emissions output. While an extremely important step in mitigating climate change, some worry that there may be a resultant reliance on carbon removal over carbon emission reduction, allowing the world’s most prolific polluters to continue maintain their carbon output.

One of the most cost-effective mitigation techniques is simply the protection of existing forests and natural sites. The IPCC also stresses that decisions of protection like these must involve the input of the indigenous communities living there.

From the policy level to the personal level

It’s brilliant to be making the personal decisions to limit your own carbon impact, but individuals have limited impact on the climate system. What these reports suggest is wide reaching policy at state level to incentivise populations to make better climate conscious choices, by making things easier through improved infrastructure and methods of “demand management”, reducing the consumption of resource intensive products like meat and dairy. Diet changes at a population scale will be needed to combat the emissions of methane (another greenhouse gas) in particular.

In urban environments, investment in public transportation and cycling infrastructure would go a long way to reduce emissions. As would policy that makes retrofitting buildings to be more energy efficient and building new infrastructure with energy efficiency in mind.

For a great bit of further reading, the IPCC Special report on Climate Change and Land goes into much further detail about the impact of changing diets and consumption habits at scale.

Read the IPCC Special Report on Climate Change and Land

As previously discussed in the blog post on the WGII report, the impacts of climate change are not equal or in proportion to climate impact of the nation affected. Therefore, much of the mitigation will need to take the form of humanitarian aid, improving infrastructure for nations without the resources to do so themselves.

The IPCC reports end on a poignant note: “International cooperation is a critical enabler for achieving ambitious climate change mitigation goals”.

Insight from IPCC Lead Author Dr Jo House and contributor Viola Heinrich

Dr Jo House

Dr Jo House is Reader in Environmental Science and Policy, Research Lead of Cabot Institute for the Environment’s Environmental Change theme and a Lead Author on the IPCC’s AR6 Working Group III report.

Viola Heinrich is a Physical Geography PhD Candidate at the University of Bristol, studying the emissions and climate mitigation potential within the land use sector in the tropics, especially the Brazilian Amazon. Viola assisted Dr House in her AR6 work, producing figures for WG III.

How did you get involved with the IPCC and WGIII?

Dr Jo House – “I have been working on IPCC reports for 20 years. I was first employed as a chapter scientist to support the chapter team for working group I, 3rd assessment report carbon cycle chapter. I was then made a lead author for the synthesis report for AR3. Since then, I have been a lead author or contributing author on all three Working Groups, as well a lead author for the Special Report on Climate Change and Land. I am also a lead author twice for the IPCC Task Force on Inventories, who provide methodological guidance to countries on how to produce their greenhouse gas inventories, for reporting to the UNFCCC, as well as accounting under the Kyoto Protocol.

Viola Heinrich

Despite the long hours and the many thousands of comments we must respond to, I do IPCC because I care about climate change, and IPCC gets the science into the hands of people who can do something about it.”

Viola Heinrich – “I’m a PhD student working on understanding the emissions and climate mitigation potential within the land use sector in the tropics, especially the Brazilian Amazon. Jo, as my supervisor, approached me in 2019 to help produce some figures for her work on AR6 and WGIII.

It was a great learning experience seeing how these report cycles work and one bonus was that the work I produced for the IPCC reports was able used in the introduction to my PhD thesis”

What’s one key message you’d like to highlight from WGIII?

Dr Jo House – “We are nearly already too late to stay within 2 degrees, so we need to reduce fossil fuels usage drastically and rapidly to avoid even worse impacts.

Also specifically from a land perspective: The land has potential for mitigation, but it cannot do it all, planting trees is not a get out of jail free card for continuing to burn fossil fuels.”

Viola Heinrich – “This report has followed nicely on form previous cycles in that it has reaffirmed what we know about the land use component and the mitigation potential of the land use sector (20% to 30% by 2050). The big caveat of course is that the land can’t do it all and we need to be actively reducing emissions rather than relying in capture methods from trees for example.

Another interesting factor about the report is that it stresses the importance of considering the local communities in places where solutions and mitigations take place, seeking their expertise in protection, and understanding how these actions will affect them.”


As always, we recommend taking a look at the IPCC’s full reports and report summaries for yourself if you seek to further understand the evidence and reasoning behind their headline statements.

That wraps up the blog series, I hope that it was enjoyable and informative.


This blog series was written by Cabot Communications Assistant Andy Lyford, an MScR Student studying Paleoclimates and Climate modelling on the Cabot Institute’s Master’s by Research in Global Environmental Challenges at the University of Bristol.

Andy Lyford



IPCC blog series – Working Group 2 – Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability



This blog is part of a series from the Cabot Institute for the Environment on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s recent sixth Assessment report, with this post covering the output of Working Group 2 and the impacts of climate change on society and ecosystems. This article also features a chat with Prof Daniela Schmidt, a Professor at the School of Earth Sciences at the University of Bristol, and a Lead Author on the IPCC’s AR6 report. For links to the rest of the series, see the bottom of the post.

Welcome to the next post in this series on the IPCC sixth Assessment Report (AR6). Now that we’ve covered the background science to climate change, the next phase looks at the impacts on society, ecosystems, and the intricate fabric of everything in between – combining the science and aiding the transition of translating to policies that governments can implement to better the planet and mitigate the impacts.

This report is, in my opinion, the most alarming of the bunch – some scientists referring to this as the “bleakest warning yet”. Here are the key points:

The increased frequency of Extreme Weather and Temperature will have a cataclysmic impact – Everywhere will be affected

There is no inhabited region on earth that escapes the impacts of climate change. It’s estimated that over 3.3 billion people are living in areas highly vulnerable to climate change effects – largely extreme temperatures, leading to food insecurity and water shortages. Extreme weather events, such as tropical storms and flooding, are also set to increase in both frequency and severity.

As we’ve seen in recent years, wildfires have become more common (Australia and California making international news) and will continue to rise in frequency – wreaking devastation on communities and wildlife. This, along with the retreat of glaciers and polar ice caps, also results in a release of even more carbon to the atmosphere as the Earth’s natural carbon sinks continue to be dismantled. The ensuing feedback loop amplifies the warming, only serving to increase the severity of these events.

However, the impacts of climate change won’t be experienced uniformly across the planet…

The Impacts of Climate Change will not be experienced equally

This is one of the most important statements from all three Working Groups. It’s been well reported that sea level rise will be existentially cataclysmic for atoll island nations such as Kiribati and the Maldives, but there are other effects of climate change that will be unequally experienced. At the other end of the scale, Britain and other western European nations will see less drastic impacts, despite having some of the greatest contribution to the emissions at the root of the climate crisis. In summer, some parts of the globe are already becoming unliveable due to the extremely high temperatures. In India and Africa for example, where temperatures can exceed 40 degrees C, the number of deaths due to heat are increasing year on year. Poorer communities, especially those who work outdoors, are disproportionately affected as their occupation puts them at greater risk.

Some of the nations with the lowest development and therefore lowest contribution to climate change will experience the impacts more than some of the greatest contributors.

A Climate Crisis exacerbates other ongoing Crises

The effects of a climate crisis add an extra layer of complexity to all sorts of problems the world is already facing. Threats to food and water security because of climate change will increase pre-existing geopolitical tensions as resources become more and more scarce. Therefore, the likelihood of conflict and war increases – which in turn shift focus from fighting climate change. To some extent, we are seeing this already with the war in Ukraine, for example. In summary, climate change can increase severity of a crisis and limits the efficacy of response.

Impacts on ecosystems are already happening as well

Mass die-offs of species are well underway, particularly in oceanic ecosystems as sea temperatures rise and ocean acidification takes place. Deforestation and wildfires are destroying ecosystems.

When I spoke to Professor Daniela Schmidt, a lead author on the WGII report (more from her at the end of the article), she was quick to point out and stress the connections between nature and society, links often underestimated – “Negative impacts on nature will negatively impact people”. Nature, land-use, and conservation will be some of the key tools in helping mitigate the effects of climate change.

This is something to explore further with the next blog in this series on Working Group 3: Mitigation of Climate Change.

Insight from IPCC AR6 Lead Author Professor Daniela Schmidt 

Daniela Schmidt is a Professor of Palaeobiology, Cabot Institute member and a key author on the IPCC’s WG2 report.

How did you get involved with IPCC AR6 and Working Group II in particular?

“I was a lead author on the fifth assessment report, working on the ocean chapter. I have since worked on reports for the European Commission on food from the ocean. I volunteered for this cycle with the expectation of working with WGI but I was assigned work on WGII, which was challenging because it was way out of my comfort zone. Working on this report has changed the way I will conduct research in the future, and has taught me to be more open to the complexities of life”

What’s one key point you’d like to get across from the WGII report?

“The official key strapline from AR6 is that the evidence is clear, climate change is real and happening right now. It’s a rapidly closing window of opportunity to do something about it.”

“One of the main things I like to communicate is that if we don’t hit 1.5 degrees C targets, then 1.7 degrees C is still better than for 2 degrees C example. The point is that every increment matters and that we can’t give up if we miss targets. I think it’s important to tell people that if we are overshooting 1.5 degrees C, yes, there will be consequences, some of which are irreversible, but we can still come back.”

“I also try not just to talk about climate change. Much of the adaptation action for climate change incidentally will, in my view, help to make the world a better place – providing clean drinking water, clean energy, habitable homes and ensuring there is nature surrounding them


We recommend taking a look at the IPCC’s full reports and report summaries for yourself if you seek to further understand the evidence and reasoning behind their headline statements.

Going further, potential solutions and climate change mitigations will be covered in greater detail in our summary of WG3’s report titled “Mitigation of Climate Change”, will be the next blog in this series, featuring a chat with IPCC AR6 Lead Author Dr. Jo House and contributor Viola Heinrich.


Andy Lyford

This blog was written by Cabot Communications Assistant Andy Lyford, an MScR Student studying Paleoclimates and Climate modelling on the Cabot Institute Master’s by Research in Global Environmental Challenges at the University of Bristol.

IPCC blog series: Working Group 1 – The Physical Science Basis

This blog is part of a series from the Cabot Institute for the Environment on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s recent AR6 report (IPCC, AR6), with this post covering the output of Working Group 1 and the physical scientific basis of climate change. This article also features a chat with Professor Dan Lunt, a Climate Scientist at the University of Bristol who focusses on paleoclimates and climate modelling, and a Lead Author on the IPCC’s AR6 report. For links to the rest of the series, see the bottom of the post.

The IPCC begins their 6th Assessment Report by explaining the physical science basis and publishing the finding of Working Group 1 (WG1) in August 2021. This means that, rather than considering the impact on humans, ecosystems and societies covered by later working groups, this report only looks at the effects on the planet from a physical standpoint. Consider this part of the report to be describing the problem, where later reports describe the impacts and then the possible solutions.

Here are the key points from WG1, detailing the physical science basis:

Human activity has unequivocally caused a change in the global climate.

If you were in any doubt before, let this be the sole key message you take away from this report.

Human activity has caused widespread warming of the land, ocean an atmosphere, affecting weather systems, ecosystems, and the cryosphere (areas covered by ice such as mountain glaciers and the polar regions).

One of the main drivers of this change has been Greenhouse Gases (GHGs), which have been observed to be increasing in atmospheric concentration since as far back as 1750 and the beginning. These gases, such as carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O), come from human processes that burn fossil fuels – transport, energy production, intense cattle farming for example.

Greenhouse gases in the atmosphere act like blanket, trapping rather than heart from the sun, warming the Earth. We also know from studying past climates that the Earth will get warmer with greater atmospheric CO2 levels.

Changes to the climate are happening at an unprecedented rate.

Figure 1: Graph from AR6-WG1 showing the unprecedented levels of warming seen in the last 2000 years.

You may have heard that the Earth’s climate has naturally ebbed between periods of hot and cold. This is completely true, however it can be a misleading statement that completely undersells the issue. Human activity has caused the planet to warm at an unprecedented rate. We are currently undergoing thousands of years of warming in just a few decades (fig.1) – much to fast for adaptation from the world’s ecosystems.

As such, the Earth will take millions of years to recover and reach an equilibrium. I highly encourage you to check out climatearchive.org’s simulations of the next million years using cutting edge modelling data – created by the Cabot Institute for the Environment’s Sebastian Steinig.

Climate change is ALREADY affecting every inhabited region on Earth, with observed increases in extreme weather and climate extremes.

Many people believe that the climate crisis is far off in the future, a problem to prevent before it arrives. However, this is not the case. It’s already happening under our noses. And everywhere. Every inhabited region in the world currently experiences an increased likelihood of an extreme weather event, extreme heat drought, or extreme precipitation. This summer for example, temperatures in the UK have been modelled and subsequently measured to creep above 40°C, unprecedented for a region with a usually temperate climate and setting national records.

Increased warming leads to an increase in effect and creeps towards a tipping point from which recovery is impossible.

You might have heard phrases like “2 degree C future” or “1.5 degree C rise” in the news, but what do these really mean? These numbers refer to the global mean temperature rise using a rolling average of the previous 20 years, relative to the temperature measured between 1850-1900 when climate change started to begin. Currently, the average global temperature anomaly sits above 1 degree C of warming (fig.1).

The Earth system is remarkably robust, but not quite robust enough to maintain an equilibrium with such rapid warming in a short space of time. One place where this is most stark is the cryosphere – parts of the Earth usually covered by ice all year round (glaciers, polar regions for example).

Melting has already begun and will continue to happen for decades even if emissions magically ended tomorrow. This is incredibly troubling, since the cryosphere also happens to be huge carbon store in the form of methane trapped in the ice. This creates what’s known as a feedback loop, where the effects of warming lead to greater warming in themselves.

Through studying paleoclimates, the IPCC reports that climate sensitivity and therefore “tipping point” sits at around 3 degree C, resulting in total climate breakdown.

Significant and immediate action limiting Greenhouse Gas emissions will be a major key in fighting climate change.

The one silver lining the report alludes to is that IPCC scientists are confident that the climate crisis is caused primarily by greenhouse gas concentrations, therefore we know the solution – reducing emissions quickly and effectively will mitigate against the worst warming in a big way. Pursuing a net-zero CO2 strategy and limiting other GHG emissions will be absolutely necessary. Working Group 3’s report on the Mitigation of Climate Change goes into greater detail on how governments can work together to go about this. This will be published on 29 August 2022.

Insight from IPCC WG1 author Professor Dan Lunt

Professor Dan Lunt is a Professor of Climate Science, Cabot Institute member and a key author on the IPCC’s WGI report.

How did you get involved with IPCC AR6?

Dan Lunt

“I was involved with the previous IPCC report, AR5, providing some data and graphs for a section on polar amplification in past and future climates (the disproportionate warming of the polar regions relative to the rest of the Earth system). This time round, a call went out around four or five years ago for authors to work on the upcoming Sixth Assessment Report. I applied for and was chosen to be a Lead Author on Chapter 7 of the AR6 report – a section focussed the Earth’s radiation budget and Climate Sensitivity, as well as on paleoclimates as evidence for the patterns of global warming, such as polar amplification.”

What’s one key point you’d like to get across from the work of Working Group 1?

“For me, what I would interpret as the key message would be climate change is already happening, and it’s happening all over the globe. It’s unprecedented in terms of its magnitude and its speed of change, relative to the past tens of thousands of years. It’s unequivocally caused by human activity.”

“One of the new key points in this assessment report is that there’s a lot more evidence now that there are changes in the frequency of extreme events. We now have enough data to say that this increased frequency is human induced. So that’s more droughts, floods, extreme heat events etc.”


We recommend taking a look at the IPCC’s full reports and report summaries for yourself if you seek to further understand the evidence and reasoning behind their headline statements.

As we’ve discussed the scientific basis for climate change, you may be wondering what the real-world impacts. The specific impacts on ecosystems, global health and on human society will be covered in greater detail in our summary of WG2’s report titled “Impacts, Adaption and Vulnerability”, publishing tomorrow (Thursday, 28th of August).


This blog was written by Cabot Communications Assistant Andy Lyford, an MScR Student studying Paleoclimates and Climate modelling on the Cabot Institute Master’s by Research in Global Environmental Challenges at the University of Bristol.

Andy Lyford



Introducing our IPCC blog series


This blog is the first part of a series from the Cabot Institute for the Environment on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s recent Sixth Assessment Report (IPCC AR6). This post is an introduction to the blog series, explaining what we’re aiming to do here and with a glossary of some climate change terms that come up in the later posts. Look out for links to the rest of the series this week.

What is the IPCC?

The IPCC is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Formed in 1988 by scientists concerned about the state of the global climate, they’ve been publishing assessment reports on the climate to advise policymakers and governments to act. This year they published their 6th assessment report (AR6), which has been described as their ‘starkest warning’ about the dangers of climate change. The report was built up of 3 Working Groups and over 2800 experts representing 105 countries covering different aspects, from the base science to the sociological impacts of a climate crisis. Alongside their assessment reports, the IPCC also publish special reports on key issues to explore them in more detail. These topics have included Land Use, Impact on the Ocean and Cryosphere and further clarifications on the goal of mitigating 1.5°C global warming.

The IPCC are the most trusted climate group worldwide, with their work being used in policy decisions all over the world.

What are the three Working Groups?

Each of the working groups focuses on a different part of the climate story, looking at causes, effects, and solutions.

• Working Group 1: The Physical Science Basis (WGI)

• Working Group 2: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability (WGII)

• Working Group 3: Mitigation of Climate Change (WGIII)

What is this blog series covering?

The full reports are well over 1000 pages each, with many chapters, subchapters, and footnotes to wade through. As previously mentioned, the full report is split into the domains of the working groups.

Each report from the Working Groups is then filtered down into its own Summary for Policy Makers, which is still dense and features a lot of explanation of evidence. This is further broken down into the headline statements that get released to the press. Even at this level, it’s hard for ordinary members of the public to take the time to read all the evidence and digest the key points.

The aim of this campaign is to distil the key points in each Working Group report in a short, easily understood, and shareable blog as a tool for public outreach. As well as this, the campaign will feature voices from across the Cabot Institute for the Environment including IPCC authors from each of the working groups.

It’s a nearly impossible job trying to filter down the output of thousands of experts into a digestible snippet, but hopefully readers will come away more informed about the IPCC reports and the climate crisis than before.

This week, we’ll be sharing my report summaries here on the Cabot Institute for the Environment blog as well as on Twitter and LinkedIn, starting this Wednesday [27 July] on the output of Working Group I: The Physical Science basis. Keep an eye out for it!

This blog campaign was written by Cabot Institute Communications Assistant Andy Lyford, an MScR Student studying Paleoclimates and Climate modelling on the Cabot Institutes’ Masters by Research in Global Environmental Challenges program at the University of Bristol.

Engaging with visions of mobilities within the landscape of risk

When describing the commercial port land of Felixstowe (fig. I) as a ‘nerve ganglion of capitalism’ in 2006, a proto-nostalgic horizon ‘blighted by cargo ships’, Mark Fisher was describing a vision of the natural’s collision course with the monetary in words that ooze forth from the ascetic expanse he walked us through, right up to the journey’s reposeful end point, the burial ground at Sutton Hoo (fig. II). Here, in this space, palpable is the sense that the increasingly unseen in today’s world is seen so lucidly that upon listening closer, Beowulf’s verses may come rushing forth upon the Deben mists to play amongst the ancient mounds and time-worn grasses.

Figures I (top) & II (bottom): Felixstowe container port (top) the largest of its kind in the United Kingdom, a point of arrival and nerve ganglion of capitalism responsible for the distribution of material commodities across the land along established networks of commerce. By contrast, the ‘sunlit planetary quality of serenity’ offered at Sutton Hoo (bottom) engages with a vision of departure, two different points within a geography that speaks to themes of migration, mobility, and the conflict of boundary in space and time. (sources: Institution of Civil Engineers (top) & thesuffolkcoast.co.uk (bottom)).

In a space as innately human as this, the purpose of the city, the urban, and what it means to exist in it becomes overwritten in the victorious verse and rhythm of nature and the environment, yet there is an eeriness inherent in this vision. A sense of disconnection and immobility that is increasingly disassociated with the ever-expanding urban centres across the world. This is a sense that many might argue is, itself, becoming increasingly overwritten through development and, possibly more directly, through proliferating networks of digital visualisation and communication.

More of us are living in urban settings and more of us are moving to them, what drives this flight to the city, the deeper motivations can only be described as, much like the conditions of the British weather, myriad. What this mobilisation and migration looks like is relatively more straight forward to describe: a need for access to resources through labour, coupled with a space in which to live and be at home, to rest. Mirrored perfectly in Fisher’s visions from Felixstowe to Sutton Hoo, a seamless cross section of the Anthropocene. Capturing the stillness afforded by a space so radically different to the city, where the scale of achievement, to simply occupy a space with as much concrete matter as is condensed into the wondrous square miles of London, Birmingham, and Manchester, amongst many others, by comparison to that which does not occupy the vastness of Suffolk is astonishing. Historically, progress for those who have settled in these cityscapes has, in many senses, been assured, simply through an increased likelihood of encountering streams of revenue and capital, or so goes the utopian visions of the upwardly mobile Mondeo Men and Worcester Women.

Loosely this might be described as the enabling of capital progress, however these connections, patterns and trends underpinning, however loosely, such stereotypical visions of city living have become much more distant for most within the current global climate. A crude utilisation of Tobler’s first law of geography would, when coupled with Mark Fisher’s nerve ganglion metaphor, lead us to deduce that those closest to capital, to the contemporary capital markets of the city, are not as readily likely to benefit from this proximity as they might once have. This sense of capital mobility associated with the city is now fundamentally more precarious and is visually very different from that seen in the past, offering the first glimpse of the landscape of risk.

Of course, this form of mobility is not completely linear as the city has long also been associated with a flux of capital mobility represented by a great, and growing, disparity between those operating at the top of the metropolitan hierarchy, in gleaming beglassed monoliths, and those looking up at them from the mosaic of avenues and streets below. This structural and spatial inequality of the cityscape is as symbolic of the urban as it is of the human condition it embodies, where products of value are exchanged for labour and where, as David Harvey explained in Social Justice and The City, ‘capitalism annihilates space to ensure its own reproduction.’ Historically facilitated by barbaric internal mechanisms in the West, from blockbusting and redlining amongst a spectrum of variable living standards that extend from unthinkable to the decadent, urbanisation and urban expansion reassembling the natural spaces in the pursuit of capital will naturally enhance and further facilitate the growth of inequity and thus, further strengthen the boundaries of the risk landscape.

This does come down to a fundamental connection between capital and risk, where risk is largely framed in the context of ‘asset loss’ but the landscape in which it is most acutely observed, where capital value is most apparent, the city, is where it is, and will continue to be, predominant. Harvey concludes his vision on the engagement with political process as fundamental to traversing the forms of inequality and injustice generated and facilitated through ties to this form of ‘development’. Consequent of the unprecedented recent times we have lived in, and now continue to live through, together, the public inquisitions regarding the moral constitution of those responsible for overseeing political processes challenges any desire for engagement. Age old theoretical undercoats of societal constitution and modernity begin to peel away under the searing heat of growing public discontent whilst those at the very zenith continue to profit financially.

The risk landscape is one fraught with conflict and is perpetually in crisis. However, were this crisis to be wholly one of capital, it would affect everyone. Capital and inequity are one facet of the greater conflict the risk landscape has with the environment at large, as even when this crisis is framed in the context of equity, it finds equilibrium in the continuation of the trend that, depending on where you are categorised within the social hierarchy of the city, you will continue to be worse off from here on out and no amount of ‘levelling up’ will bring about a truly positive change to this course. We are beginning to feel this at home, on a personal scale now through a volatile geopolitical landscape, but that doesn’t mean that labour is any less abundant. The boundaries of the risk landscape will continue to expand beyond this and find a continuing but ultimately existential conflict with the natural environment, generating an accelerated form of risk that is much more linear in outcome. The general message related to this is clear: ‘Adaptation of current modes and systems to emergent environmental risk is needed, with further mitigation required to prevent the acceleration of this risk

The modern human age is liquid, where change and continuity are seen to different degrees and operate at various tempos across time. Were I to define which of the processes discussed throughout this missive are representative of change and continuity, I would posit that the ultimate defining factor of both lie in the hands of nature and not my own. Whilst social categories become redefined through mechanisms closely tied to the city, overwriting of old landscape structures through the proliferation of the urban over time generates a legacy of risk through reparation and over expansion. In appropriating space that is not in the interest of that which inhabits that space, be it the development of floodplains to accommodate homes, the utilisation, or lack, of land due to pollution from past industry, processes of land reclamation, we are clutching at straws. Yet, capital is generated and claimed with little interest for the longevity or safety of those inhabiting these new spaces, asserting a dynamic of equitability for whom exactly?

It is in this dissection of value, it’s definition and by whom (or what), that the vision of the risk landscape becomes truly material. How these values shift, and to what benefit, must continue to be explored if we are to make a sustainable vision of the city into a liveable environment, equitable for all who will call it home. If our mobility within this exploration could be versed in the cognitive, as Mark Fisher did for us, then we are becoming more aware of the trends that connect the naturally seen and unseen with the landscape of risk. Supporting us in the delineation of what is really of and for us against that which appears to be, revealing what it is to be truly of and for the natural.


This blog is written by Cabot Institute for the Environment member, Dr. Thomas O’Shea. Dr O’Shea is a postdoctoral research associate with the University of Bristol School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies. The primary focus of his research is on developing understanding of the human-water interface with specific interests in the application of social theory, urban and hybrid geographies towards shaping narratives and strategies of sustainability.

This blog is the final blog in the Migration, Mobilities and the Environment blog series, in conjunction with Migration Mobilities Bristol.

Migrants and miners: gender, age and precarious labour in a Tajik resource extractive landscape

Migration is both gendered and aged. It is also deeply tied to the emergence of new extractive landscapes around the world, marked by extractive frontiers pushing into already stressed and fragile environments.  The story of the village of Kante in Tajikistan, of its male migrants and its coal miners – men, women and children – illustrates the ways in which multiple forms of precarious labour appear alongside these new landscapes.

The village of Kante, Tajikistan, 2014 (Negar E. Behzadi)

In Tajikistan, a landlocked country in post-Soviet Muslim Central Asia, men started migrating seasonally for work following the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. In Kante, a village of 1,500 inhabitants on the slopes of the Fann Mountains, 2,000m above sea level, the men gradually began leaving a derelict landscape and a run-down collective tobacco farm. Like most Tajik male seasonal migrants, they left for Russia to find new livelihoods and to escape a country torn by civil war. During the seven years of conflict, which followed the collapse of the Soviet Union, men who did not fight travelled as far as the Kamchatka peninsula in search of work. Some Kantegui mountaineers became fishermen. Others went to Moscow, Sverlovsk, Irskuk and other big Russian cities to do ‘mardikor’ (the work of men) on construction sites.

When the war ended, some men came back to Kante, only to find destroyed infrastructure, abandoned fields and an uncertain future. So most returned to Russia. In Kante, as in the rest of Tajikistan, migration became a way of life and a rite of passage – every real man in Tajikistan has migrated, provided for his family back home, drunk alcohol in overcrowded compounds, travelled illegally through borders. Some have slept with Russian women, fallen in love, even taken a second Russian wife, leaving a Tajik wife back home (Behzadi, 2019). Life has also changed for those referred to as ‘the left-behind’. Women, children and the elderly live without husbands, fathers or sons for most of the year. Men become absences, photos, voices down the phone, heroic stories, the amount of remittances arriving at the Western Union in the local town.

Unlike villages in the rest of the country, however, Kantegui men have an alternative to migration. The village lies on one of the largest coal reserves in the country. After the fall of the Soviet Union, families started digging up the mountain with pickaxes to extract coal, using donkeys to haul their load. At first, families extracted the coal for subsistence, but later they started selling it on a growing informal market. This coincided with a broader turn to coal as a major source of energy across the country. Following Uzbek/Tajik resource conflicts, Uzbekistan shut off the pipeline providing Tajikistan with gas in 2012/13, leading to a new Tajikistani coal development strategy (Behzadi, 2019). The same year, a formal Sino-Tajik mine was established in the village, which blew up the Southern slope of the mountain with dynamite. The rolling stones and big machinery crushed some of the donkeys of the informal miners and damaged their houses. The company brought in engineers and managers from China and pushed informal miners away.

Young boys coming back from the mines with coal bags on donkeys, 2014 (Negar E. Behzadi)

In 2014, around 300 men from Kante and neighbouring villages worked in the formal Sino-Tajik mine. Most Kantegui miners in the ‘Chinese’ mine were men who had retired from migration, tired of the back and forth between Russia and the village. In their 30s and 40s, these men had nothing to prove anymore – they were the ‘djahon didir’ (those who have seen the world) who had come back to a quieter life (Behzadi, 2019). But the formal mine does not offer jobs to all. Those who do not work for the Chinese carry on splitting their year between labour migration to Russia in spring and summer and informal coal mining in autumn and winter. In 2014, around 500 men were working in the informal mines. The hardship of their labour and the simplicity of their tools contrasted with the relative ease of labour in the Chinese mine. Although less arduous, however, work for the Chinese project is a mixed blessing: precarious contracts, unpaid salaries and difficult relationships with Chinese managers take their toll in other ways. And the trade-off is significant: men who accept work for the Chinese mine know it is threatening the very existence of their village. The Chinese are ‘taking all our coal’, many villagers say, in particular the informal miners. Part of the informal mines have already been destroyed, and they fear that the whole village might follow.

Map of informal and formal mining areas in Kante, 2018 (Negar E. Behzadi)

Like migration, extractive labour in mines is gendered and aged. Women and children cannot work in the Sino-Tajik mine, but they do work in informal mines. In the past decade about 20 women have been going mining every day high above the village, and sometimes at night when they know they can go unseen. Some of their husbands, like Nadirah’s (a female miner in her 30s), left the country straight after their wedding and took a second wife in Russia. Now he sends only sporadic remittances. Nadirah goes mining with a friend and her daughter who is 13. Her work is considered ‘ayb’ (shameful) in the village and, as a result, Nadirah is stigmatised and excluded from social networks. But while it is considered unacceptable for women to work underground, it is tolerated for children. Most children start at the age of five, leading the donkey in and out of the coal galleries to the market while their parents extract the mineral on the coalface. ‘Coal,’ says Gulnissar, a mother of a 10-year-old child coal miner, ‘there is only coal in children’s heads today.’

Sino-Tajik mine containers in Kante, 2014 (Negar E. Behzadi)

Male seasonal labour migration, the ‘shameful’ work of female miners and the spread of child mining comprise a few of the many precarious forms of labour that emerge in new extractive landscapes around the world. The story of Kante illustrates the fragmentation of societies along gendered and aged lines that occurs in such extractive landscapes. These new extractive frontiers also often emerge in places that are already socio-ecologically stressed, such as in the countries that emerged following the fall of the Soviet Union.


This blog is written by Dr Negar Elodie Behzadi is a Lecturer in Human Geography at the School of Geographical Sciences, University of Bristol. She is a feminist political geographer and political ecologist who explores questions of resource extraction and migration in Tajikistan and France. She has also co-directed two ethnographic films on resource extraction in Tajikistan: Komor: Journeys through the Tajik Underground and Nadirah: Coal Woman.

Negar Elodie Behzadi