Critical themes at IIED

IIED’s ‘critical theme’ events are a chance to listen to expert speakers and explore new ideas.

Two women throwing fishing nets at a lake

Women fishing in Bangladesh. IIED's critical theme events explore new ideas from a range of subjects from gender equality, green economies, sustainable markets or environmental justice (Photo: CBFM-Fem Com Bangladesh via FlickrCC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

IIED set up the 'critical theme' discussion series to explore new ideas and to broaden the knowledge of its staff and partners. Events are also open to members of the public. The seminars include IIED’s own specialists alongside visiting experts: researchers, practitioners and activists from around the world.

Each event normally includes a 30-minute presentation and 45 minutes of discussion, followed by informal networking. There is often live Twitter coverage, and some events are live streamed.

This discussion and debate helps IIED to clarify assumptions, create space for controversy and make informed choices as professionals and as an institute. Subjects are chosen that will highlight research, profile the work of partners and address IIED’s strategic priorities.

For example, 2014’s series on economic issues fed into a strategic review of environmental economics. The following year, a discussion on gender equality was pertinent to a gender audit reviewing the way IIED works, and the work it does, in terms of gender equality and equity.

This series of seminars has covered a wide range of subjects since it began in 2013. Since 2019, critical themes have become increasingly external events and are more likely to be held as part of the IIED Debates series.


Critical theme: Can insurance promote human wildlife co-existence?

This event due to discuss the potential role of insurance in mitigating human-wildlife conflict was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. A new date will be publicised when available.


November: How can inclusive finance accelerate universal energy access?

In order to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 7 – universal energy access – by 2030, the enormous public and private energy financing gap must be bridged. This event looked at the role that investors and finance intermediaries can play.

Panellists included Andrew Scott, head of programme, climate and energy, Overseas Development Institute; Emma Colenbrander, head of global distributors collective, Practical Action; and Nico Tyabji, director of strategic partnerships, SunFunder.

August: Can China help build a global eco-civilisation?

China's role in global governance is growing, with important implications for global climate and biodiversity. IIED and chinadialogue hosted a critical theme to discuss China’s institution-building, and the related challenges and opportunities in global green governance.

Panellists included Sam Geall, executive editor of chinadialogue; Dr Yuka Kobayashi, lecturer/assistant professor in China and International Politics at SOAS, University of London; Dr Wei Shen, research fellow at the Institute of Development Studies; and Dr Haisen Zhang, director of the Centre for International Development and Innovation Studies in Beijing.


October: Lessons and ideas for sustainable development in the Amazon

Virgilio Viana, general director of Sustainable Amazon Foundation, discussed the Brazilian NGO’s work to promote sustainable involvement, environmental conservation and quality of life.


October: Conflict, climate and migration in Syria – did the media get it right?

Alex Randall, programme manager at the Climate and Migration Coalition, reviewed how major media outlets in English-speaking countries covered the civil war in Syria during 2015, and the media narrative around the links between climate change, migration and conflict.

April: Tackling inequality and unsustainable consumption

Independent researcher Dario Kenner presented data on the differences in per capita levels of carbon emissions between the wealthiest citizens and the poorest in G20 countries.  How can we encourage the world's richest to reduce their environmental impact?

July: Locally controlled enterprises for forest peoples

This seminar focused on the importance of local control to indigenous people, particularly in relation to forest peoples. Joji Carino, the director of the Forest People's Programme (FPP), presented examples of successful self-determined development.

May: Gender equality in a changing environment

Agnes Otzelberger, an independent expert and trainer on gender integration in the context of climate change and sustainability, led a discussion on gender equality, women's empowerment and environmental change – including the challenges, contradiction and ambiguity involved.


March: China pollution, social media and politics

This event looked at the environmental issues raised by the Chinese documentary film 'Under the Dome', along with the political issues highlighted by the way the film was received and the growing impact of social media. The discussion was led by Sam Geall, executive editor of

February: Climate change and food security

Dr John Ingram, head of the Food Systems Programme at Oxford University's Environmental Change Institute, looked at the links between environmental change and food security and the need to take action now to ensure future food and nutrition security for the most vulnerable.


October: Governing marine protected areas

Peter Jones, senior lecturer in the Department of Geography at University College, London, looked at the governance framework of marine protected areas (MPAs) in and reported the findings of 20 MPA case studies from around the world.

July: The Asian Coalition for Community Action (urban poverty and housing development in Asia)

Somsook Boonyabancha, founder of the Asian Coalition for Housing Rights, gave a  presentation on the Asian Coalition for Community Action, which she also set up and which has supported more than 1,000 community-driven initiatives to improve conditions across 18 nations in Asia.

May: What would business look like in a steady-state economy?

Carina Millstone, visiting research fellow at the Global Development and Environment Institute at Tufts University looked at the possibilities of a private sector focused on sustainable business without the growth imperative.

May: How can the financial system serve a green and inclusive economy?

Nick Robins, co-director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Inquiry into the Design of a Sustainable Financial System, outlined the rationale behind the inquiry and its future policy recommendations.

March: The importance of meaningful stakeholder reporting

Pavan Sukhdev, founder and chief executive officer of GIST Advisory and Special Adviser and Head of the United Nations Environment Programme's Green Economy Initiative, discussed the relevance of existing stakeholder reporting to the private sector, and explored what other factors might be significant.

February: Environmental economics

Sony Kapoor, managing director of international think tank Re-Define, discussed how to best connect the financial and economic policy-making community to the environmental agenda. Eric Beinhocker, Executive Director of the Institute for New Economic Thinking's research programme, focused on emerging research that describes the economy as an evolving complex system.


The critical theme series began with Kate Raworth, senior visiting research associate, Environmental Change Unit, Oxford University, discussing 'Rewriting economics for the 21st century', while Jesper Stage, professor of economics at Mid-Sweden University, addressed the subject: 'Better indicators than GDP? Yes, but better at what?'.