Department of Geography

Research Excellence Framework 2014

The Department of Geography at the University of Sussex is among UK’s top research departments. Find out more about how we were rated in the 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF).

Research impact

We were first in the country for 4* research impact. This means that the research we do makes a difference in the real world.

Our impact was evaluated as world-leading in terms of its reach, significance and influence. The outstanding impact case studies on climate change and sustainable development are summarised below.

The REF panel commended the department for embedding impact in much of our research activity. This furthers a long-standing Sussex tradition of combining academic excellence with global outreach to policy-makers and general publics.

World leading research quality

Almost 74 percent of the Geography Department’s research outputs (books and articles) were rated as world-leading in quality (4*) or internationally excellent (3*), placing the Department equal 13th in the UK for this measure.

The panel applauded the strengths of our research outputs in migration, colonialism, global economic development, recent and long-term climate and environmental change.

Details of the books and articles we produced can be found on the research cluster pages – on Geographies of Migration ; Histories, Cultures, Networks ; Geographies of Globalisation and Development and Climate Science and Society. The Department was praised for its interdisciplinary connections.

Overall, Geography at Sussex was ranked 15th in the UK, with our Head of Department expressing his delight at "maintaining our position in the top 15 departments in the UK. We are certainly punching above our weight. Our impact case studies are the best in the country which demonstrates the importance of our research to society."

Impact case study: From ‘climate refugees’ to climate adaptors

Research conducted by the Geography Department at Sussex has contributed to a fundamental shift in public policy on climateinduced migration.

Many reports and analyses have viewed climateinduced migration as an imminent security, health and public order risk (c.f. Stern Review ). Our research has shown that patterns and processes of migration are actually much more complex. This has led to an understanding that migration can be an important adaptive response to climate vulnerability.

The major findings of our research are threefold.

First, that there is a significant overlooked category of people who, far from being vulnerable to migration as a result of global environmental change (including climate change), are actually ‘trapped’ in vulnerable areas, unable to migrate.

Second, that migration – especially from rural areas to vulnerable and often lowlying neighbourhoods in the world’s growing megacities – is already substantial and ongoing, and is taking people towards, rather than away from, places that are vulnerable to global environmental change.

Third, it identifies the ways in which – both practically and theoretically – migration can be a form of adaptation to global environmental change, rather than a negative consequence arising from it.

These important findings have had an impact at the highest international policy level.

Specifically, the UNFCCC of the C ancun Adaptation Framework at COP16 in 2010 recognised for the first time that migration represents a potential adaptation strategy in the face of climate change, reflecting the novel and nuanced Sussex framing.

Through their work with GOScience and DFID, and international organisations including the Global Forum on Migration and Development, UNHCR, IOM and the European Commission, Sussex researchers influenced transformed important international debates.

The research was conducted by staff members Dom Kniveton, and Chris Smith with former colleague Richard Black. For more information see the Climate Science and Society and the Geographies of Migration research cluster pages.

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Impact case study: International climate change policy on low carbon technology transfer to developing countries

Research by staff in Geography and the Sussex Energy Group on low carbon technology transfer to developing countries influenced directly the policies, negotiating positions and funding strategies of a range of national and international governmental organisations, including:

  • DFID
  • DECC
  • United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)
  • OECD Environment Directorate
  • Asian Development Bank
  • African Development Bank
  • the Government of Chile.

In particular this led to a shift in emphasis towards building technological capacities in developing countries as a more effective long term strategy for facilitating technology transfer, and resulted in the adoption by several of these organisations of Climate Innovation Centres and collaborative research and development as specific policy mechanisms.

The work in geography was led by Dave Ockwell. See the Climate Science and Society research cluster pages for more information.

Wind turbines

Impact case study: Poverty Alleviation and Sustainable Regional Development in the EU and China

Findings from Sussex Geography's research on the relative economic performance of regional economies in the EU and China have influenced European and Chinese policy in significant ways.

Recommendations from a  series of field studies contributed to EU Cohesion Policy and were incorporated into the new Chinese Poverty Alleviation Strategy.

The multi-faceted research took place over twenty years.  It developed new statistical disaggregations of regional GDP, distinguished the roles of productivity and employment, connected macro-, meso- and micro-dimensions of industrial and economic change and identified underlying drivers.

It led to the establishment of a Franco-British economic observatory and included studies of EU regional economic performance.

Analyses of trade and regional economic dynamics in the EU and China showed trends towards greater inequality could be reversed by a model that replaced an export-orientation with a focus on domestic markets and closer urban-rural integration.

The European research explored the relationships between growth and inequality, interpreting them through differences in regulatory orders.

During the phase of rapid post-war growth, regional and social disparities decreased and greater equality contributed to faster growth. This was reversed after the early 1980s, and research findings consistently questioned the widely articulated proposition that inequality was good for growth.

The findings highlighted the importance of distribution and welfare, and questioned criticism of European cohesion policy based on inadequate estimates of what would have happened in the absence of this policy.

The China research examined Chinese development and disparities at multiple scales and emphasised the need to connect macro-trends and micro-foundations.

It explained disparities in relation to three key drivers.

  • geographical and environmental factors
  • differential rural-urban dynamics
  • China¹s development strategy choices.

Research in Wenchuan after the 2008 earthquake pointed to the importance of economic livelihood reconstruction and led to proposals to integrate poverty alleviation and regional development, making an important input to the 2011-20 poverty alleviation strategy.

The research was conducted by Emeritus Professor, Mick Dunford. For current research on development, see the Geographies of Globalisation and Development cluster pages.

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