Professor Gitanjali Nain Gill was conferred to the Fellowship of the Academy in autumn 2023. She is Professor of Environmental Law at the Faculty of Law, Northumbria University, and her research interests and published work relate to the themes of climate change, access to environmental justice with a focus on India’s National Green Tribunal, land rights, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and sustainability. Specifically, her work helps to build coalitions, trust and confidence between Indian non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and marginalised communities in order to support victims of environmental degradation.
Gitanjali has been awarded the prestigious Global Initiative of Academic Networks in Higher Education Award by the Ministry of Human Resources and Development, Government of India. She is also the recipient of numerous research grants, including from the British Academy for her work on environmental justice in India, and from the National Environment Research Council for her work on climate change and the decarbonisation agenda.
Gitanjali acts as an international expert member to many international organisations including being the Regional Leader for Asia at the Sabin Centre Peer Review Network on Climate Change Litigation, Columbia University; the British Institute of International and Comparative Law, London; and the World Commission on Environmental Law Special Task Force on Rights of Nature, IUCN. She has also provided her expertise by identifying and contributing specialised environmental courts and tribunals best practices, particularly for the global south, to the United Nations Environment Programme and to the United Nations Expert Consultation Group OHCHR Accountability and Remedy Project II.
Why do the social sciences matter?
In the current results-orientated political climate, the social sciences have much to offer society as it seeks to address and answer key questions. Social fragmentation and community reconstruction need social scientists to inform evidence-based pathways, founded on social justice, economic well-being, and environmental stewardship, that lead to increased social equality and more sustainable communities. Developing sustainable and cohesive societies requires adaptability, innovation, and creativity through accurate data, sound policy, effective planning, and practical application.
What inspires you about your work?
I believe and follow the inspiring and empowering words of Mahatma Gandhi – ‘Be the change that you wish to see in the world.’
I come from the global south, specifically India. However, it is the UK that has provided me with a stable academic and intellectual platform that allows me to make a positive contribution and meaningful impact through social value engagement and actionable research.
In India, poor and marginalised people are often victims of environmental and climate degradation and experience violations of human rights due to poverty, unawareness and illiteracy. For them to effectively access environmental justice and human rights protection, the issues of inequality, inequity, recognition and capability need to be addressed. My work, which is associated with many Indian environmental NGOs, advances the practicalities of these communities accessing environmental and climate justice through a specialised environmental tribunal called India’s National Green Tribunal.
Although my research mainly focuses on the global south, the issues of environmental and climate change are complex, transnational and polycentric in nature. Bringing change to the lives of the poor and marginalised is an important role for social scientists everywhere, and for me this is both hugely gratifying and central to my work.
What is the most urgent issue social scientists need to tackle today and within the next three years?
Social scientists, through an interdisciplinary lens, should address societal challenges caused by the climate crisis and the world’s capacity to sustain human wellbeing, both for present and future generations. The future of our inhabitable world will be defined by our response to this. Within my area of research, climate change creates severe risks and uncertainty for human wellbeing and economies. All countries – in particular, the poorest and most vulnerable – are exposed to the adverse impact of climate change, including the critical threats of poverty, food security, health, productivity, and quality of life.
To ensure a safe and prosperous future, there is an urgent need to address how a net zero strategy can be realized within international, national and subnational contexts in order to provide benefits for everyone. The commitment to net zero targets is relatively easy and welcome but ensuring its effective implementation is problematic. Challenging issues include carbon capturing technologies, climate finance, and energy transitions. These challenges are intricately linked with values that include dignity, freedom, fairness, justice, democracy and human rights.
Consequently, there is an urgent need for social scientists to focus on adopting an interdisciplinary approach that will diversify and align with net zero strategies to address climate change. For example, the interdisciplinary integration of law, economics, sociology, environmental engineering and public health will enable interactive conversations that reflect progressive thinking and identify collective and innovative solutions to advance towards net zero. This would generate evidence regarding possible pathways and solutions to adapt and move towards sustainable transitions; and engage with a diverse range of end-users, including policymakers, regulators, judiciary, industry, academics and NGOs, to share learning and build consensus on the path to informed decision-making.
What does being a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences mean to you?
I am delighted to become a Fellow of the Academy and be a member of this esteemed community. For me, the Academy provides a base that ensures solidarity, respect for all and shared responsibility. A changing world, not by choice but by necessity, simultaneously creates the space to broadcast a fresh message that social science offers a pathway to embedding equity and justice into human and societal development that improves and strengthens social cohesions, thereby promoting a sustainable society.