By Dr Justin See, School of Geosciences, and Emma Holland, Sydney Environment Institute
Emma Holland: Can you tell us about your background and your interest in issues of climate justice, vulnerability and adaptation?
Justin See: I was born and raised in the Philippines, a country that gets hit with at least 20 typhoons every year. Despite contributing little to global emissions, countries like the Philippines face some of the worst effects of climate change. Such injustice has sparked my research interest in issues related to climate justice, vulnerability and adaptation in the past several years. There are two aspects to my research. First, I am interested in exploring the complex social, political and economic inequalities and injustices brought about by technocratic and mainstream responses to climate change (for example, refer to: See and Wilmsen, 2020). Second, I endeavour to highlight diverse pathways to climate adaptation that draw upon local communities’ assets, strengths and innovations (refer to See, McKinnon, and Wilmsen, 2022). Ultimately, I see communities not merely as victims of climate change but as agents who possess skills, knowledge, networks, worldviews and access to resources that assist them in adapting to climate change.
You’ve just come back from presenting in Singapore at the Transdisciplinary Perspectives on Climate Change and Coastal Urban Development in the Asia-Pacific Conference at the National University of Singapore. What research were you highlighting, and what have you recently been working on?
My paper for the conference was inspired by the recent turn from incremental towards transformative approaches to climate change adaptation. What might a transformative approach to climate adaptation look like, and how can it be enacted on the ground to ensure climate justice? Together with co-authors from the Philippines, we attempted to answer these questions by operationalising ‘transformative climate justice’ and providing three case studies to illustrate how communities are pursuing initiatives to advance transformative climate justice as part of their adaptation strategies.
Why were you drawn to working for SEI, and what are you most looking forward to in your new role?
First, the research of SEI speaks to what I have been doing and am passionate about. I can relate to the Climate disaster and adaptation cluster’s (CDAC) work that emphasises community engagement and meaningful participation in every stage of climate adaptation projects, from setting agendas, determining priorities, decision-making and initiating actions. Second, I am excited about working with SEI Director David Schlosberg, whose work has inspired my own research on the multiple conceptions of climate justice and the capabilities approach to climate change adaptation. Third, I am thrilled to be part of the University of Sydney, an institution that ranks among the top in the world in terms of addressing the UN Sustainable Development Goals, particularly in making cities safe, resilient and sustainable. I am also excited to have the opportunity to live in a vibrant, dynamic and multicultural city like Sydney throughout the duration of this fellowship.
Can you tell us about your research with SEI Director David Schlosberg on just adaptation?
It is still early days but David and I have discussed a number of potential research projects related to just adaptation. One project that I am excited to work on is re-engaging David’s influential work on capabilities and climate justice. We have talked about exploring an interesting nexus between climate infrastructure projects, capabilities and climate justice. This might involve doing some field work (if we are successful in securing some funding) next year to address important questions such as which capabilities are of value and how do climate interventions related to infrastructure augment or undermine people’s capabilities? I think that this research is very relevant and that it has the potential to feed into policy making and planning towards just adaptation.
In the meantime, as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow for the SEI, I have been supporting a scoping review of bushfire-related research within and across the University of Sydney. This will help inform the creation of a bushfire research network that would allow researchers to connect with each other and engage in multi-disciplinary projects.
Outside of research and work, how do you like to spend your free time?
I mostly spend my free time with my family. I love playing with my two kids – we particularly enjoy going to the park, listening to stories, dancing and singing. They grow up so fast so I want to spend as much time as I can with them. I also enjoy exploring new places to eat with my wife. We consider ourselves as ‘foodies’ and we both love trying out new cuisines from different places!
Justin See is a Postdoctoral Research Associate in Climate Change Adaptation at the Sydney Environment Institute. He helps in the development and management of research projects relevant to climate change adaptation for SEI’s Climate disaster and adaptation cluster. Justin has more than 10 years of research experience in the field of climate change adaptation, vulnerability, and climate justice. Utilising strengths-based, gender sensitive and place-based approaches, his research explores the complex social, political, and economic injustices brought about by various responses to climate change and highlights diverse pathways to climate adaptation. He has published his work in climate change journals such as Global Environmental Change, Climatic Change, Climate and Development, and Journal of Flood Risk Management. Justin completed his PhD in Community Planning and Development at the Department of Social Inquiry at La Trobe University, and was awarded as the 2020 International Student of the Year by the Victorian International Education Awards.
Header image: Rising water levels submerge a house as heavy monsoon rains cause major floods on Mindoro Island, the Philippines via Shutterstock, ID: 2020796807.