LIDC’s latest Featured Member is Izabela Delabre. Izabela is a Lecturer in Environmental Geography & Programme Director, MSc Global Environment and Sustainability at Birkbeck, University of London. We’re delighted she found time to tell us about her route into her current career, and why she finds her work rewarding despite its challenges. We enjoyed finding out about her work: we think her passion for her work really comes across in this 'Featured Members' piece, and we hope you find it as inspiring as we did. Meet her here:
What are the factors in your background that led you to embark on a career in academia?
My career in academia has been driven by a concern for environmental degradation and the different ways in which environmental problems are understood and addressed, by whom and with what effects. I started off studying environmental science at undergraduate level, then through working in environmental consultancy and a conservation organisation became increasingly concerned about the effects of apparently ‘sustainable’ solutions to deforestation and global value chains on communities in the Global South. Academia is an exciting place to be – you get an opportunity to research topics that you really care about, work in collaboration with other organisations and inform policy and practice, and connect this work with students’ learning, which call all be challenging but also really rewarding.
What considerations influenced your decision to stay in this field?
I have worked within and outside academia but have always focused on environmental sustainability, from different perspectives. Despite growing attention to biodiversity loss and climate change in sustainable development research and practice, the urgency of these issues is still underappreciated, and the equity and justice consequences of political interventions require more focused attention. On a more personal level, having the opportunity to work with inspiring colleagues on forest governance, the persistence of plantation economies, and land-use change and policy issues motivates me to continue to work in this area and push forward on research that makes connections across disciplines and with practitioners.
What are your academic and research priorities, and why?
I think there is a lot of work still to be done to interrogate the problematic myths or narratives in sustainable development discourse that remain dominant in decision-making related to the environment – these distract from transformative change and support “business as usual”. Working with colleagues to highlight these to policymakers and practitioners is a priority, as well as working with a global cohort of students on the MSc Global Environment and Sustainability to think critically about sustainability problems and their solutions and inform their current and future practice.
How can researchers/academics ensure that partnerships with those we work with in the global south are equitable?
We need to think really carefully about the nature of partnerships and about power in partnerships. Although it is always important to bring everyone to the table, ‘giving a voice’ to partners still implies that power is granted by one actor to another. So I think that when working in partnerships with those in the Global South, there is a need to acknowledge this, grant explicit attention to where power inequalities may be reproduced, and engage in open and honest discussions about how to redress power – focusing on the interests of partners in the Global South and the communities they represent (and also consider what power dynamics may be at work in that very process of representation).
What do you hope the impact of your work will be?
It is my hope that the work we are doing influences sustainable development policy and practice. For example, this may involve thinking through problematic assumptions about what the causes of an environmental issue (such as the tendency to blame small-scale farmers or poor actors for deforestation), adding more nuanced perspectives on the full range of ecosystem services associated with land-use change, and placing ecological problems in their broader historical contexts to support more holistic and reparative ideas of how to address these concerns. It is my hope that environmental policy interventions will consider the needs of previously marginalised communities in a more meaningful way, beyond the tokenistic participation currently experienced in a range of sustainability governance mechanisms.