Q&A with Honours Fellow Akash Bhattacharjee

Akash chats to us about the Australian climate change policy he’ll be researching.

Akash Bhattacharjee is one of three students to be awarded an Honours Fellowship at the Sydney Environment Institute in 2016. He’s currently studying an International and Global Studies/Law Degree at the University of Sydney. He was recently a Sustainable Energy Advisor to Pollinate Energy, an UNFCCC-recognised Australian social enterprise working to create viable solutions to energy poverty in India. In this work, among other things, he secured a deal to transition 600 people from kerosene and wood-based fuels to the less environmentally-harmful LPG source for cooking. Akash is also the Political Editor of The Amerigo, the student journal of the United States Studies Centre and former Education Director of the Sydney University United Nations Society.

Akash tells us about the research he’ll undertaking into Australian climate change policy and some of the interesting hobbies that he gets up to.


Describe what you plan to research for your Honours.

I’ll be researching Australian climate change policy between 2008 and 2015 to find out the nature of the public policymaking process. Specifically, I’ll be examining how and why climate change policy has been quite a unique species of policy in this time period.

What drew you to this topic?

Whilst studying in the Department of Government and International Relations, I had always been interested in concepts of international relations, globalisation and international organisations. Beyond the pizzazz of it, I was convinced that studying these subjects would enable me to understand the shared characteristics between and strategies to deal with problems as varied as terrorism, environmental degradation as well as refugee and economic crises. Simultaneously in these first few years of University, there were multiple changes in the Federal Government, parliamentary balances of power and the Prime Ministership.

So it recently dawned on me that climate change adaptation and mitigation issues not only have global regimes and networks of governance attempting to solve it, but also a profoundly national dimension operating on it. Moreover, the problem it presents and the strategies required to deal with it cut across all levels of governance and affect each social, economic and cultural sphere of life. Quite naturally, my research interest followed a path to my current thesis topic.

Particular thanks to my supervisor, Associate Professor Susan Park, my academic mentors, and the wonderful people at the Sydney Environment Institute who shaped my thinking and have encouraged me to undertake Honours. At many points, their own passions have fed into my research interests.

What changes do you hope can occur from your research (e.g. policy making, or improvements to the environment)?

If I can make an original contribution to the literature, by adding another pin to the literature chart that sequences climate change policymaking in this country then I will have done myself proud.

This project may lead to further research in the field of climate change policy making in Australia, though it’s entirely possible that it could lead to comparable projects overseas or on a different species of policy altogether such as taxation reform. In fact, my research could lead to nothing or have no effect. The uncertainty of it all is what makes it so fun.

Hopefully my research will lead to more consistent and decisive government action on the environment.

How important is improving the environment for you?

Here’s a story. For years, family, friends and I would look forward to going to Avoca beach [on the NSW Central Coast] for respite from the heat each summer. The dark lagoon provided the warm-up. A leisurely swim and dunk-your-friend-under game. Then the big leagues. Swimming away from the shore into the ocean, in a line with my friends waiting to jump waves. A thin sandbar separated this Bulbararing lagoon and the bay that looked out into the ocean. Gosford City Council has mapped that by the year 2100, king tides, in combination with sea level rise, will erode this coast and wipe out sand banks by anywhere between 55 and 90 centimetres. The environment has got to be important for me.

And that’s just an account of my leisure. People’s homes have already been affected. In just another small glimpse of the long reach of climate change impacts, increasingly frequent and extreme weather events saw 25 metres of coastal erosion in Narrabeen [on Sydney’s northern beaches] in last year’s April storm.

Nature doesn’t care if we think it’s important to improve the environment. The past few centuries have put us on track to such undeniable climate disruption that, in many respects, it is a moral imperative to consider important and dedicate ourselves to improving the environment.

What are your passions & interests beyond researching?

I’ve always been passionate about politics and related topics so a part of my day is always spent checking out articles my friends send me or that are trending on my Facebook newsfeed. But yes beyond the nerdy obsessions, probably the usual catching up with friends and exploring our lovely city.

I like dancing, but I’m yet to actually join a dance company. All I do for now is do the odd performance with friends at birthdays and weddings for fun. I used to do a lot of community theatre, performing in Bengali plays run by associations in NSW. When I get a bit more time, I’ll put myself back into that.

Where can we find you on the weekend?

As is commonplace for people my age, at a 21st.

What are you currently watching or reading?

I’m reading Neuromancer by William Gibson, a great work of fiction. Come to think of it, environmental degradation is a major theme in the cyberpunk genre. A half-read copy of The Prince by Machiavelli lies on the side, waiting to be read by the end of the summer.

Have you only just lived in Sydney?

No. Aged 7, I lived in Kolkata, India for 7 months. That combined with repeat visits throughout my childhood to the region has made me aware of shared threat climate change poses to India and Australia, as well as the particular differences between them in capabilities to manage these challenges.

You can contact Akash on Twitter @MrBhattacharjee, via email akashbglobal@gmail.com and LinkedIn.