PhD Seminar - Sustainability of what, for whom?

“We envisage a world in which every country enjoys sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth and decent work for all. A world in which consumption and production patterns and use of all natural resources – from air to land, from rivers, lakes and aquifers to oceans and seas - are sustainable.”

 - United Nations, Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable development, United Nations Sustainable Development Summit 2015 - (United Nations, New York, September 2015)

Sustainability as a capability that can be continued at a certain level without comprising the ability of future generations to meet their needs, has been more broadly and frequently used. From 2012, the world witnessed the proliferation of research sustainability transition, which aims for a long-term, multi-dimensional and fundamental transformation of our society to a better-looking future.

However, most discussion of transiting to a more sustainable future is theoretical or niche based. Moreover, the consensus has not been reached on many fundamental transition questions such as what the future after the transition is, how we transit and is the proposed transition desirable for everyone. Many studies end up by underscoring the need for collective actions to tackle complex, dynamic and diverse socio-ecological challenges in sustainability transition.

To fill the gaps outlined above, this seminar aims to focus on China, the pioneer of practising sustainability transition and undergoing structural changes during sustainability transitions. This seminar will uncover the gradual and radical changes in China’s contemporary governance towards sustainability under Xi Jinping’s sustainability ideology, named ecological civilization. The two overall questions considered in this seminar are:

• What ‘sustainability’ is China building?

• Who do China’s sustainability transitions benefit?

Herewith, Hong wants to acknowledge that this seminar will be presented on Indigenous land, land of the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people, also known as Canberra. Hong pays his deepest respects to Elders, past, present and emerging.


About the speaker

 Hongzhang Xu is a researcher, advocate and doer of innovation and transitions. Hong's research considers how our societies approach sustainable development as an intertwined socio-ecological system that can adapt to and benefit from changes based on the underlying power relations and cultural values that are integral to social change and to the institutional dynamics that mediate human-environment relations. His current studies focus on investigating sustainable natural resource management, trade-offs issues between conservation and development, as well as just transitions to achieve net-zero emissions and sustainable development. Hong is also leading research in cutting-edge studies in energy and environment, including green hydrogen, climate policy integration, just transitions, policy analytics and sustainable rural development. To learn more about Hong's research and research interests, please visit

Hong is currently a Research Associate at the ANU Crawford School of Public Policy, a PhD scholar at the ANU Fenner School of Environment and Society and a member of the Australian Centre on China in the World. Hong is also the Principal and Primary Consultant of Brighter Research, an environment and energy consultancy based in Australia. Hong always publishes in top-tier academic journals, e.g., Journal of Cleaner Production, Land Use Policyand Environment Research Letters, and presents at national and international conferences. He also writes reviews, short essays, reports, policy briefs, comments and science communication pieces. Hong’s research has been broadly read and widely cited. Hong also advises academic boards (e.g., Nature Ecology & Evolution), companies, non-profits, media (e.g., BBC Planet Earth) and other organisations working on the environment and energy.

Hong undertook studies in social impact assessment of large dams at The Australian National University and was awarded a Master of Environment (advanced) in September 2018. Also, he undertook studies in environmental engineering at Renmin University of China and was awarded a B.E. (Hons) in June 2016.