Critical Sustainable Development Challenges

We are an interdisciplinary group of scholars who work on sustainable development and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Sao Paulo cityscape

We take a critical stance towards sustainable development challenges and the idea of sustainable development; and we coalesce around the particular SDGs where our research interests overlap, and which need critical attention at the current moment.

Research themes

Global transformations

Our projects mobilise geographical thought to understand contemporary challenges and the impacts of geopolitical and economic processes on natural, built, digital, urban and social environments.

Environmental change

We seek to understand the impacts of environmental change, including climate change and natural hazards, on global populations to inform understanding of how they can adapt to these changes.

Evidence-based innovation

We apply geographical research to understand how diverse stakeholders may address contemporary global environmental challenges through co-designed social, technical, and digital innovations.

Research making an impact

Breathing Infrastructures: Green Fences and Urban Air Quality in Buenos Aires, Argentina 

This project seeks to demonstrate the efficacy of green barriers in filtering air pollution out of schoolyards to reduce environmental risks on children’s health and development, as well as the multiple social and ecological co-benefits that this form of urban greenery can produce when designed effectively and with multipurpose intentionality.

It has been selected as one of 23 projects that the British Academy is supporting through the Urban Infrastructures of Well-being scheme.

Dr Miguel Kanai is the project’s Principal Investigator. He’s working with an interdisciplinary team, including Professor Beverley Inkson from the Department of Materials Science and Engineering and Professor Anna Jorgensen from the Department of Landscape Architecture.

Using ultraviolet camera smartphone technology to build resilience to volcanic hazards in developing countries

Dr Andrew McGonigle and Dr Tom Pering have been awarded a contract to monitor volcanoes including Lascar and Lastarria with gas sensing technology developed within the Sheffield Volcanology Group.

The scientists’ work using the low-cost equipment – which is 10 times cheaper than previously applied camera technology – will help predict volcanic eruptions and protect ‘at risk’ communities.

The units enable imaging of the gas released from volcanoes at safe distances from the source, providing valuable information for volcano monitoring agencies.

The technology has already been used for individual field campaign deployments in Hawaii, Chile, Perú, Ecuador, Vanuatu, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Papua New Guinea and Italy, in partnership with local volcano monitoring agencies – leading to important advances in our understanding of how underground gas flow processes drive activity observed at the surface.

This latest project will enable automation of these devices, so they can gather valuable longer-term monitoring data to track activity trends through time.

Agri-Environmental Governance Post-Brexit

The UK’s decision to leave the EU is seen by the government as an opportunity to reform UK agricultural land policy.

The project sees researchers from the universities of Sheffield and Reading, led by Dr Ruth Little and including Dr Judith Tsouvalis, will work with farmers, land managers, stakeholders and Defra to develop and test a model for co-designing the new post-Brexit ELM system by:

  • Holding workshops with stakeholders and conducting interviews
  • Conducting research on farms involved in the test-, trials- and pilots programme
  • Organising workshops with experts to explore what principles and methods of co-design work best for policymaking
  • Assisting Defra in their efforts to achieving an ELM system based on the knowledge, experience and inputs of farmers, land managers, and other relevant parties


Academics, research associates/fellows and PhD students

Sandra Jazmin Barragan Contreras

Aishwarya Bhuta

Megan Blake

Vanessa Burns

Stephanie Butcher

Ollie Chesworth

Gregory Cooper

James Drennan

Jeremy Ely

Dan Hammett

Miguel Kanai

Dorothea Kleine

Ankit Kumar (group lead)

Sihan Li

Hannah Mottram

Winnie Musivo

Sammia Poveda

Pamela Richardson

Previous events

  • Grant Bigg, "Pursuing interdisciplinarity" talk, Wednesday 24 February 2021
  • Laura Sauls, Leverhulme Early Career Fellow, “Remote Sensing Socio-Political Landscapes: Reflections from Central America” Tuesday 24 November 2020

Centres of excellence

The University's cross-faculty research centres harness our interdisciplinary expertise to solve the world's most pressing challenges.