Grand Challenges Seminars 2020

Seminar 1 - Environmental Defenders: at the forefront of climate justice

Wednesday 4th November, 5.30

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We are excited to announce the first panel discussion of the Grand Challenges Seminar by the NERC DTP about Climate Justice this Wednesday, 4th of November at 5.30 – 7 pm (UK time). We invited a group of experts from diverse backgrounds including representatives from local and international organisations, activists, and academics to talk about “Environmental Defenders: At the Forefront of Climate Justice”. 

Some groups will be disproportionately vulnerable to the consequences of climate change, and this as a direct consequence of inequalities originating from factors such as the level of economic development, food availability, income level and distribution, and the quality and availability of public health care.

Environmental human rights defenders are people who strive to protect and promote human rights relating to the environment. Their work is crucial but often underappreciated, and we look forward to hosting a discussion of the role that environmental defenders are playing in encouraging action on climate change and other intersecting systemic issues.


Chair: Dr Lisa Schipper

Panellists: Tracy Kajumba, Patrick Alley, Aneesa Khan, and Gabriela Baesse


Seminar 2 - How can we manage the high seas? Navigating choppy waters

Wednesday 18 November, 5:30pm

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Our vast oceans are home to incredible biodiversity, much of which is yet undiscovered. However, around two thirds of the ocean (and almost all of the deep ocean) lies within the high seas, beyond zones of national jurisdiction, yet at present there is no framework to protect this common resource. Although remote this part of our planet is not removed from the impacts of human activities that are already causing the degradation of many marine ecosystems. Consequently there has never been a more urgent need to ensure that our oceans can be managed sustainably. In this webinar, forming part of the Oxford Environmental Research Doctoral Training Partnership’s Grand Challenges seminar series, our expert panel and chair will explore the threats facing ecosystems in the high seas and the steps we can take to ensure that this essential commons is preserved for future generations. This webinar is particularly timely given the ongoing negotiations for the UN Convention for the Law of the Sea. 

Chair: Dr Lucy Woodall (Senior Research Fellow, Department of Zoology, University of Oxford & Principal Scientist, Nekton)

The Panel

Professor Kerry Howell (Professor of Deep-Sea Ecology, University of Plymouth) 

Jessica Battle (Senior Expert in Global Ocean Policy and Governance, WWF) 

Alan Simcock (UN Group of Experts of the Regular Process) 

Dr Nirmal Shah (CEO, Nature Seychelles)


More info and register here: :


Seminar 3 - Deep Sea Mining

Wednesday 25th November, 5.30pm

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Several developed countries, including the U.K., have pledged carbon neutrality by 2050. To achieve this aim, there needs to be a significant increase in the adoption of renewable energy and green technologies.

The transition to a greener economy is driving a surge in demand for metals such as nickel, copper and cobalt, which are crucial to green technology. Without an increase in the supply of the required metals, transitioning to a low-carbon economy is impossible.

The United States Geological Survey estimates that the deep sea hosts greater quantities of nickel and cobalt than all land reserves combined. Deep sea mining could therefore provide an answer to the currently predicted supply shortfall of critical metals.

However, deep sea ecosystems remain understudied, resulting in unknown and potentially grave environmental risks. It is also yet unclear under what legal framework deep sea mining operations might take place.

The aim of this seminar is to explore these problems and shine a light on a potentially crucial component to a low-carbon future.


The chair for this seminar will be Ian Coles, partner, and head of the global mining team at Mayer Brown. 


The panel will be made up by the following speakers:

  • Michael Lodge - The Secretary-General of the International Seabed Authority who has extensive knowledge on the international law of the sea.
  • Eleanor Martin - Partner at Norton Rose Fulbright LLP, who’s expertise lies on offshore equipment finance and sustainability
  • Prof. Craig Smith - is currently Professor of Oceanography at the University of Hawai’i, USA, and his research focuses on deep sea ecology including human impacts and conservation in deep-ocean ecosystems
  • Hamish Wallace - Engineer and representative of OSBIT who specialise in offshore and subsea engineering including subsea mineral harvesting.



Seminar 4 - Species Left Behind

Wednesday 2nd December, 5.30pm

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Wildlife on our planet is facing an enormous crisis. International bodies estimate that tens of thousands of species are at risk of extinction, and many groups and individuals across the world are working hard to protect them, and bring them back from the brink.

However, certain species have been more receiving of our attention than others. While the Giant Panda, the poster animal of conservation, has seen an increase in numbers over the last decade, the populations of other species have plummeted. Our discussion seeks to understand how this has come to be, and question whether we approach conservation in the best way?

What factors have typically led animals to be considered deserving of our attention? Is it connection to humans and cultural value? Economic importance or ecological function? Do we, perhaps, simply favour animals that are cute? Our discussion will bring together experts in conservation science, ecology and economics to question the benefits and costs of how we have tackled the conservation of wildlife in the past, and what we can learn for the future

Chair: EJ Milner Gulland - Tasso Leventis Professor of Ecology, Oxford University

EJ Milner Gulland is a leading academic in the field of conservation ecology working in the University of Oxford, where she is the director of the Interdisciplinary Centre for Conservation Science. Her work considers how a range of factors, both ecological and social, affect conservation. She works with numerous conservation organisations including as a trustee for both WWF-UK and Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, and co-founded the Saiga Conservation Alliance for the protection of the Saiga Antelope.


Tony Juniper - Chair of Natural England

Tony Juniper has enjoyed a rich career as a campaigner, writer, adviser and communicator for conservation and environmental causes. Before his current role as the chair of Natural England he has worked as Executive Director for Advocacy and Campaigns at WWF-UK and as president of The Wildlife Trusts. He has also written the books What Has Nature Ever Done For Us? and The Ladybird Guide to Climate Change (co-written with Emily Shuckburgh and the Prince of Wales).

Claudia Gray - Conservation Science Manager, EDGE of Existence

Claudia Gray is a biodiversity conservation researcher and leads the conservation science program at EDGE of Existence, a global initiative focusing on the conservation of evolutionarily unique endangered species. This role sees her supervising both the research EDGE supports and the science underpinning its conservation priorities. Her previous work has analysed the effect of protected areas for conservation and conservation strategies in palm oil cultivation landscapes.

Markku Oksanen - Senior Lecturer in Philosophy, University of Eastern Finland

Markku Oksanen is an environmental philosopher whose work looks at environmental human rights, the rights of the natural world and the philosophy of issues in conservation science and climate change. He has previously been a member of the Animal Experiment Board in Finland and the Council on the Protection of Animals used for Scientific or Educational Purposes.

Kartik Shankar - Associate Professor at the Centre for Ecological Sciences, Indian Institute of Science

Kartik Shankar leads a research group for community ecology and evolution, looking at biodiversity on ecological and evolutionary timescales. He is also a founding trustee of the Dashkin Foundation which focuses on issues in the social context that governs conservation issues. A passionate communicator, he has also established Current Conservation, an interdisciplinary magazine and written several books of children's fiction.