Peace, justice, and strong institutions are the cornerstones of a harmonious and equitable society. Peace fosters an environment of stability, where conflicts are resolved through dialogue and diplomacy, rather than violence. Justice ensures that all individuals are treated fairly, regardless of their background or status, and that their rights are protected. Strong institutions are essential for upholding the rule of law, promoting transparency, and providing access to essential services for all citizens.
Locally and nationally and internationally that really we could have harnessed a few things like for the for the for the time of peak lockdown were able to take everyone off the streets, for example, if we didn't have a home. I mean that's an amazing thing to do and we didn't seem to move heaven and earth to maintain that situation.
Hello and welcome to Rethink What Matters. The podcast dedicated to aligning the economy with the economy and everyone. For improved business performance, stronger families, and a greener, cooler planet.
And today I'm joined by Mark Charlton, associate director of sustainable Development at De Montfort University in Leicester. And we're going to be discussing peace, justice and strong institutions. That's SDG 16. I read that achieving this goal can help reduce inequalities, increase social cohesion and ensure that no one gets left behind. So this sounds like an excellent goal to have.
Perhaps you could tell us a little bit about your role there then, please.
Yeah, sure. So I have a huge focus on SDG16, which is, as you mentioned, peace, justice and strong institutions within my role. De Montfort University is the United Nations academic impact Hub for a SDG 16. We're the only university in the UK that's in SDG impacts HUB for the UN, so it's a real honor and a way for us to have this.
And we're the only one of just 17 in the world which is really nice. We're really proud of that too. Yeah, and my role are, yeah, I've run the Hub for the university and I bring lots of young people into the conversation around the Sustainable Development Goals. Also, I try to encourage researchers to think about their research in the context of sustainable development.
So that's broadly my role for much of the week. I'm also a net zero research theme director, so I try and stimulate new research projects so that a multidisciplinary around sustainable development. So all keeps me busy.
And so just tell us a little bit more about the impact Hub of that being an impact Hub. Helpful the United Nations.
So it's an ongoing dialog really as we try and progress globally as part of a global network of universities who are working towards the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. But we have a relationship with the United Nations in New York around, and it makes it very responsive to global calls to action. All getting involved with new policy and contributing to new policy ideas and demonstrating research around this work.
But it also enables us to learn from other universities around the world and for us to give our models and our research frameworks for other people to copy to. So it's almost like being part of a giant global conversation, but we're right at the front of it because we've got this great relationship with the UN.
And can you tell us a bit more about net zero research theme director, what that role entails?
Yes. So I'm sure many of your listeners will be aware that we really need to curb our carbon emissions between now and 2050, ideally now at we have to develop not only new technologies but also new ways of working and new ways of behaving that will enable us to reduce our carbon emissions. So the global scientific consensus said 98% of science is believe it's carbon that is causing the current changes in temperatures and extreme weather events worldwide.
And the university has put this as part of a strategy to focus its research on working towards some of these global challenges. And net zero is one of five research themes in the university. But very much my research theme and is linked to a social justice research theme in the university, which which both are really focused heavily on sustainable development.
Okay. And could you give us a like a practical example, something that we can, you know, we can identify with perhaps in the research that you're doing and how that might actually become something tangible? We could all feel.
Okay, I've got a really nice one that people really seem to engage with is a piece of work I'm doing with a football team called Leicester Nirvana, who are based in Highfields, in Leicester, and they wrote to me a couple of years ago and said we'd quite like to be Britain's first amateur net zero football team. And I thought this was a really exciting prospect, not least because it was somebody writing to me rather than me having to go and convince someone else to do a piece of research.
They were actually coming to me with the idea. So I thought I was really excited. And then when I met the club, it was a thousand young people living in Highfields, which is really interesting part of Leicester. It has lots of high indices in terms of deprivation as a high propensity of BAME. So black, Asian and minority ethnic communities live in there, which is always interesting to work with.
Then also they were a football team, so I thought that was quite interesting as well. So it had lots of different ingredients that I wanted to get involved and, and fundamentally they wanted to talk about net zero and not enough people are really latching onto this idea that becoming net zero and how we all change our lifestyles is important.
So I've been developing work with them down at their clubhouse in Hamilton and Leicester around how they changed their lifestyles and how they how we apply new science and new developments to their operations to enable them to become net zero. And what I found within this, which hopefully your listeners would find quite interesting, is the actual marginalization of people living in poorer communities.
They don't typically have a full say on what is happening in the realm of net zero and how it would apply to their lives. So currently, if I I'll tell you a funny story, it's was and this funny might sound absolutely tragic to some people, but intriguing story nonetheless. I was working with a group of the players from Leicester, Nirvana, and I said, Well, what are the simple things you could do?
Start riding your bicycles to football matches? And they one of the kids looked at me and said, Oh, well, we can't do that. And I said, Well, it'd be really beneficial. You could, you know, you'll be healthy, won't be emitting any fossil fuel emissions and it will help you prepare for the game and all of this. And then the youngster basically said, I live on floor 13 at this block of flats.
The lift is inevitably out of order. My parents won't let me look my bicycle outside, so I cannot own a bicycle, that's all. Well, that's reality.
That's a bad point. And then in the same breath, my brother in law called me and he said, Oh, I'm thinking about upgrading my Tesla is life well, for himself.
And he said.
A very short space of time. You had both ends of the spectrum that.
Yeah. And it made me realize that actually there are two conversations going on around net zero in the United Kingdom. Well, only one and one is really let's switch to UV vehicles or let's eat vegan food. Two or three days a week or go vegan full time. But actually, if you're living in communities outside of the mainstream or certainly outside of the middle classes, you might your family might be using a food bank, for example.
You probably don't own a car. You know, it's an ambition to own a car, let alone a UV vehicle. So, yeah, these these are things that have really sort of framed my research in recent months around how we understanding how everybody adapts rather than how people who are in the national narrative on net zero and climate change, even people who protest against climate change, have the money means and time to protest.
You know, it is sort of runs all the way through the current narrative of what we know about climate change. And we're that the net result of this is going to be that we will develop solutions for climate change that are ineffective in certain communities if we don't start listening to different groups. And I know you're very keen to talk about SDG 16, but Democratic decision making is right at the heart of 60.
Yes, Yes. Nice little net zero SDG 16 crossover. There it is.
Yeah. You know, I think it can only really work for poorer communities when they benefit from it, even if they want to get involved. I mean, as a great example, they have the football team because they obviously inspired, you know, on the energy side of things anyway, the you know, the energy needs to be cheaper of is green energy, for example.
And I think that's maybe a separate conversation. Yeah. So what what what what are the challenges are you seeing in trying to be the associate director of sustainable development within a within an area that's challenged by lots of different social inequalities and social deprivation and yeah, like I said, lots and lots of challenges that exist there.
Yes. So what you will see in most cities, not just in the United Kingdom, actually, certainly in Westernized countries, is groups of vulnerable people living in communities together. So this is a model that can be seen particularly throughout the US and the UK, but also in Central Europe as well. So you typically have a states where people are living on low incomes with typically they may be of a former migrant communities or have high immigration within those communities, which often means that people have moved from overseas and they were in vulnerable circumstances to start with.
And then they congregate in a community which also has high levels of foreigner ability. Now this in itself creates all kinds of challenges around education attainment and income levels and things like that. But if you put it in the climate context, these when when we start to talk about things like adaptation and how we need to prepare, make our communities more resilient, such communities are already facing significant challenges around how they how they can prosper.
And if they are hit by greater climate impacts, they are going to struggle further. And that's something that's coming up in my research at the moment. I mentioned about the the young man who lived on floor 13 of a block of flats in Leicester. Unfortunately, those flats are also receive two or three degrees more in terms of temperature when it gets hotter in the summer.
Ventilation is hard. Families often can't afford to put on the funds for 24 hours a day when we go through hot spells. Yep, the design of these flats often make it very hard for them to cool down at the rate homes do in leafy suburbs. Yeah, and again, it's another demonstration of how people living in different communities face different problems in terms of our challenges when when we're in this in itself is again, it links to our challenges around climate, but it also links to challenges of democracy.
Often people living in these communities don't have a say with their local councils. I mean, they council might argue they do, but I would say that if you look at things like voting rates in those communities and political engagement in those communities are typically lower due to a variety of reasons linked to political knowledge or linked to the they actually ability to take time off work, to go vote perhaps, or or even to register to vote, things like that.
But the there is a huge challenge that we are facing to to bring these communities through and give them appropriate support as we all seek to make adequate changes to our lives to cope with changing temperatures.
So they're more likely to get ill to be unwell. Yeah, means they're more likely not to show up to work. If they've got a job, they are more likely to end up, you know, seeing a doctor in a hospital. So they contribute less to society and they increase the cost on society, if you like. I mean, this is pretty obvious stuff.
Yeah, it would. Does that conversation go anywhere? Copyright change?
No. Well, in my opinion, it doesn't, because we've yet to see adequate social reform in these communities because they such communities are not high on the political agenda. And that might be because the those in charge feel like, well, I'm not going to lose any votes with this particular community anyway.
Know, which is highly like a likely solution. It might be that nobody wants to grasp the particular nettle, which will be, in the short term, a potentially expensive one. It might be a, I would argue, a worthwhile investment. Now for a long term.
Or prosperous solution.
And I guess it very much depends on, you know, how organized these communities can be to represent themselves. And often times that that's a challenge, isn't it, Because they don't, they don't have these community centers. I think there is not as many of them as they used to.
The the infrastructure of community space. And this is something that I learned recently or I learned by chance. I didn't work in with a community group in Belgrade who they were thinking about this idea of mapping spaces in Belgrade where people got together and they started to acknowledge the erosion over the last 30 years of community spaces actually started.
They were saying that there were very few pubs in that area now and that how people socialize that changed like that. Traditions of of pubs, religious venues, community centers, all of these things had been lost. It wasn't by necessarily one individual strategy to close all of these places down, but in for a variety of reasons. The access to such places had been eroded.
Even public spaces like parks, where councils have had to make difficult decisions in times of austerity around maintaining parks or just closing them off to the public to save money that became prevalent, you know, and we need in order to have a functioning society when we talk about governance in the of the idea of strong institutions in 60, we're really talking about how we govern ourselves locally as well as how we govern ourselves nationally and internationally.
So community organizing on the ground and keeping a sense of community is important and ensuring that people within those communities have a say about what is happening. These this this is of utmost importance, but it's something that has been eroded and it's been eroded the most in the most vulnerable communities. So kind of linking back to what I was saying before, that you kind of have these communities of vulnerability to start with and then things become more challenging.
Things have become more challenging to them in the past two decades around how the government decides to spend money for war. But also there's now a greater challenge in terms of they've got to cope with less money or less welfare support going into those areas. But now we've got increased temperatures and impacts from extreme weather.
You think it's important, isn't it, that we engage people in this conversation and understand their situation as much as possible? And I know we spoke previously, we brought up this idea of surveys and the way the index is we used to measure satisfaction and that, you know, a lot of places, a lot of countries are realizing the gross domestic product is probably the best measure of progress and that there is this happiness index.
Now, for example, New Zealand uses this happiness index to measure the happiness of its population as a measure of progress and whether or not we might be able to implement something like that at a local level. And if we if a survey came back from a local community that was very, very low, that would be a good tool to publicize.
Look, this is very low. If it was to be improved, you know, they could contribute more to society.
Well, I'm always open minded to new projects personally, so I will be definitely interested in pursuing this idea. And to be honest, I don't quite, with the exception of surveys solving us as a research community, we do surveys a lot. So that's not not only, you know, it doesn't seem like a huge challenge from that perspective. I'm more thinking, well, what is the survey actually asking and what are they asking the right questions and that kind of thing.
That's why what needs to get to the bottom of it in that kind of context, or whether I would be such an egotistical megalomaniac of a researcher that I'd want to quickly combine the happiness on. The GDP is one thing and and look at it in that framework. That's not to say somebody hasn't already done it.
So just sort of I don't know if it's doing justice to strong institutions, but I think it all feeds into that, doesn't it? Tough justice and strong institutions that we need to have strong communities. Yeah, because then they're needed less and when they work, they work that much better. Just out of curiosity now, what is the what is the measure used within local communities of how well those communities are functioning?
So in terms in an SD 16 sense, so it's really about democratic decision making at all levels. So that if you look at one, if you look at it from one extreme angle, where where that would be failing, for example, in a in a rogue state or country, you could probably think of two or three where no matter how the public votes, 98% of them are going to vote for that particular leader.
And it's essentially a dictatorship. And you could see that democracy is failing, but also you can see how things are when when things are devolved, particularly in well developed countries who can do this stuff quite well. And the United Kingdom is actually one of them. You can devolve decision making to very local levels and engage more people in in those forms of local governance.
And I don't necessarily mean joining a local council, although I you know, I'm an advocate for democracy and councils and politics. But even at a community organizing level, I think that the value of the knowledge we have in our local communities is something that we've never really harnessed or whether we take it for granted. I don't know. But I've I've read studies before where I think when social scientists have gone in to investigate a phenomenon of why some things work, well, it's actually come down to somebody on the ground in that community or a network of people working at a very low level who are just making a difference for their community.
And that is such an important part of governance. It's almost like a new governance that is was a new name for an old idea, perhaps, that people people who live in their communities know best about how that community should be treated.
So if we just bring it back to De Montfort University, then how is this translating into what the students are doing now?
So all of the work that we do is really focused on educating young people. We have around 24,000 students at the university that we're mid-sized university in the UK, and we have put sustainability at the heart of our new university strategy. So young people who come and study with us can expect to learn about sustainability and can hopefully expect to study a module containing a focus on the SDGs.
And that's something that we're working really hard at to make sure that all young people get access to learning about sustainability and the Sustainable Development Goals. That's a big piece of work. Embedding it in that way means that we can generate a lot more graduates who have a grasp of sustainable development. And so I think it's a really exciting moment for the university that we're going in that way.
We also want to hang on to the best of those young people to develop new research and pursue PhDs in in their chosen fields, which which really focus on sustainability. So so we're really pushing this agenda of empowering young people to to go through the process of becoming good undergraduates, then becoming good postgraduates, and then developing PHC level research and sticking with us.
So there's a huge focus on how we teach young people and we know that young people are going to be a big part of finding the solutions to the problems that we face.
And to what extent do you to the university then work with, say, local community leaders, the police, health care, education to join a pool of adults?
De Montfort University is what some people would describe as a modern university. So we are a former polytechnic. We became a university in 1992. But like most universities who have been born out of the polytechnic system, our work is very applied work. So we have policing degrees within our university. We have a maternity and nursing. We provide staff to our local health service, we provide staff to our local policing.
We have a well, I would say this by school to teach all of the modules, but we have a very vibrant politics department which is providing the politicians of tomorrow. In fact, we had some Polish politicians elected recently in the most recent by elections that we're very proud of, that we some of my colleagues took, but also because we provide this education for our local industry and our local authorities, we are in constant negotiation with them over a variety of things, not least how the courses are delivered and how the courses are taught, but also the future direction that we will need to take those courses in them.
And it's a two way conversation in that we need to be predicting to them that the direction of their services will also need to change in line with how the world is changing. Okay.
I know you worked for the United Nations Build back better framework.
Does that relate to your work today as well?
It didn't. It doesn't as much as I would have liked it to, but that's if ever find your own way. As I say, I use the phrase I used the framework during lockdown and we were very pleased with the results of that project and we were able to influence local policy on how we did recover from the pandemic.
I think my take on why I'd focus less on the build back better, and it seemed to be perfect in that moment when we didn't really understand what life was going to be like after the pandemic. But once the pandemic was over, things did change very quickly. And I'm sorry to say, and this is not a criticism of anyone locally, it's just seem to be how the world changed.
The world immediately reverted back into the things it knew and loved rather than said, this is our moment to change. You know, there was probably a hundred things in that bill, but better work not just for Leicester, but for for locally and nationally and internationally, that really we could have harnessed a few things like for that for the time of lockdown, were able to take everyone off the streets, for example, who didn't have a home.
I mean an amazing thing to do and we didn't seem to move heaven and earth to maintain that situation. You know, it almost dissipated, you know, So it seemed like a little opportunity lost. Well, so changes in how we travel and how we do business seem to revert back to, rightly or wrongly, to the same methods. We can't wait to get on planes and do things the way we always did.
You know, Now it's become rather than a thing that we've adapted and made changes that benefited the environment. We more speak about it. Well, in the two years during lockdown, the emissions were low, like it was a good thing and they're not anymore.
And so do you think that having the SDG 16 social justice and strong institutions as a as one of the Sustainable Development Goals as a label, if you like, is that helping to bring a focus to, you know, to what to what that goal is trying to achieve?
Yeah, and I would say my point to that is the peace justice in strong institutions, essentially. It's a sad call to recognize and promote human rights fundamentally and tackle some of the issues that really face society. So fundamentally, it calls for an end to war and violence. You know, I think be hard to disagree with any of that.
And to end corruption and to to stop people committing fraud and fraudulent activity and to use the instruments of strong institutions like democracy, like universities, health systems and so on, to give everyone the chance of an equal and fair. Look. I think these things are fundamentally important, but also they are very valuable in how we understand other things.
And so, for example, given the things that I've just said, if you if you want to tackle climate change and like some of the points I've been making earlier in this podcast, if you want to understand and tackle climate change, you're going to have to fundamentally change the way you support people in order to deliver those changes. So you're going to have to have an element of SDG 16 being achieved in order to achieve SDG 13.
And do you have any other examples or any other any other practical examples you can give us of how this is changing life in Leicester.
In terms of change in life in Leicester? I think Leicester is a very special place to me, not only because I've lived here a long time, but the first time I moved here I was really taken aback at the high levels of people from different places around the world and I think I haven't got the exact data in front of me, but I think we were the first city in Europe to have a minority of British white people living here.
I think that's the correct statistic. And it was just hit around 51%. So half of the city has migrated to Leicester and in the past 40 or 50 years or sooner. So it makes it a very special place. It's quite interesting in terms of how communities get along. It's not it's not like all of these different communities from Eastern Europe and from Asia and through India and from China and from West Africa and so on.
Everyone seems to get along and everyone seems to be behind the idea of Leicester. And I really like that. And I think so in terms of the work that I've done around SDG 16, I still have had the thumbs up from the people living in Leicester anyway because they present quite a good model of how to integrate. I'm not saying is a perfect model, and yet for the examples that give people, there are like clusters of the city which are quite vulnerable, but the main people are living and they are getting along and the city is prospering.
And this might be a controversial thing to say, but Leicester looks a lot different to what it looked like when I moved here the best part of 20 years ago.
That the economically we move forward visually with move forward culturally with move, move forward. And these are in many ways that's that's a really good example of SDG 16 and not do nothing to stop us. But, but the things that I can do they offer are often warmly welcomed in Leicester and I'm able to demonstrate good models of of practice a little bit like when I did the build back better projects with the City Council.
That was of its moment, but so many people from different communities got behind it and we were able to enact it quite quickly.
Mark That's been a great insight into justice and strong institutions. As 16 at Barrett de Montfort University and your role there, as well as the Associate Director of Sustainable Development. I really appreciate your time on this podcast.
You're welcome. Thank you very much for having me.