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21st Century Challenges: Policy Forum

The second phase of the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG)'s 21st Century Challenges programme ran from 2015 to March 2017. 21st Century Challenges aimed to engage people with some of the biggest issues and key challenges facing the UK. The programme recognised that geography is at the heart of many of these challenges and integral to tackling them.

About 21st Century Challenges

21st Century Challenges consisted of a series of high profile live discussions in London and across the UK, designed to encourage reflection, promote critical thinking and build networks of expertise. At the core of the programme, the Society acted as an independent and respected facilitator for informed dialogue.

Parallel events were delivered for public and policy-making audiences, paired on the same topic.

Find out more about the 21CC public events.

Policy Forum

The 21st Century: Policy Forum discussions ran from 2015 to March 2017. These discussions delved deeper into the 'big issues', than the public dialogues. These events were aimed at an audience with a professional interest in the topic.

The discussions:

  • Promoted knowledge exchange between the geographical community, practitioners, policy-makers and other interested parties
  • Provided an opportunity to deepen expertise
  • Allowed attendees to build professional networks
  • Encouraged critical thinking and informed debate. 

Policy Forum events

A 'United' Kingdom?
Thursday 16 March 2017: 5.30pm – 9.00pm (including networking drinks)

In June 2016, the UK voted by a narrow margin to ‘Leave’ the European Union (EU) (52 per cent to leave and 48 per cent to remain). Analysis revealed significant differences in voting behaviour between geographical areas, and within different groups of society.

Whilst also reflecting a long-standing ‘Eurosceptic’ culture amongst a sizeable proportion of the population, the vote shone a lens on underlying divisions in British society; on disparities in income, education and opportunity.

How can these long-standing inequalities be addressed effectively? How can we become a more 'united' kingdom?

Full details are available from the 21st Century Challenges website.

Rescaling the UK energy system
Tuesday 29 November, 5.30pm - 7.30pm (with networking drinks until 9.00pm)

The UK Government’s overriding priorities with regards to energy policy are to deliver secure, reliable, clean, affordable energy. This presents policy-makers in Government with a ‘trilemma’: how can the UK decarbonise its energy system to meet the legally binding targets under the Climate Change Act and international commitments, whilst ensuring both security of supply and that energy is affordable for consumers? Panellists at the Policy Forum event considered the dimensions of this ‘trilemma’, how this can be delivered upon in the context of the UK’s vote to leave the EU (‘Brexit’) and the importance of scale when designing energy policy.

This knowledge exchange event was organised in partnership with the UK Energy Research Centre.

Full details are available from the 21st Century Challenges website.

Achieving sustainable flood-risk management in the UK
Tuesday 8 November, 6.00pm- 7.45pm (with networking drinks until 9.00pm) (Originally scheduled for 18 October)

How can the UK move towards a comprehensive strategy for sustainable flood risk management for the next 25-years, tackling effectively one of the greatest 21st Century challenges for our society, environment and economy?

Full details are available from the 21st Century Challenges website.

The Society launched a set of policy recommendations at the event, the outcome of an expert round-table meeting held at the RGS-IBG in May 2016.

Seeking common ground?
Monday 20 June, 5.30pm - 7.15pm (followed by networking drinks)

The UK Government's Housing and Planning Act and current Greater London Authority initiatives will, arguably, only partially address the substantial need for genuinely affordable, timely and sustainable housing – for rent and for purchase – for London’s workforce now, and in the future. The Mayor of London, Local Authorities and the government will continue to face significant challenges for many years.

The expert panel considered the realistic potential to accommodate affordable and sustainable growth in housing. Panellists discussed the capacity to build at the required volume; where housing could be located and how the construction and design sector could create homes that people wished to live in.

Full details are available on the 21st Century Challenges website.

Europe’s migration crisis?
Tuesday 22 March 2016 5.30pm – 9.30pm

Net migration has exceeded 100,000 a year, every year, since 1998. With the number of migrants entering the UK unlikely to decrease, at least in the short to medium term, how can the UK adjust to the new reality of high net migration, ensuring the best possible outcomes for the UK’s economy, society and for migrants themselves?

Resilience to climate change: who pays (and who benefits)?
Tuesday 17 November 2015, 5.30pm - 9.30pm

A seminar, panel discussion and opportunity to stay to dinner to explore community resilience and adaptation to climate change.
In association with the Joseph Rowntree Foundation
The event marked the launch by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation of 'Community resilience to climate change: An evidence review' (led by Dr Clare Twigger-Ross, Collingwood Environmental Planning Ltd.). 

Cities, growth and rebalancing the UK economy
Wednesday 21 October 2015, 5.30pm - 8.30pm

A respected panel of experts discussed with an audience of policy-makers, influencers, practitioners, academics and business leads the UK Government's plans to rebalance the UK economy. Panellists reflected upon the Government's flagship 'Northern Powerhouse' policy, discussing whether this is likely to achieve the stated aims of shifting employment and growth away from the dominance of London and the South East, towards towns and cities in the North of England.

Find out more on the 21st Century Challenges website.


Between 2015 - 2017 the 21st Century Challenges series concentrated on seven theme areas. These were:

  • Cities and Regional Economic Growth
  • The Resilience of Communities to Shocks and Stressors
  • Migration
  • Housing
  • Flooding 
  • UK Energy Futures
  • Social and Demographic Change: the forces shaping the UK in the 21st Century


Access the dedicated 21st Century Challenges website for details of past events (2007 - 2015) and for: 

  • Policy briefings
  • Recordings of discussions
  • Video interviews with speakers
  • Infographics to explain key theme areas
  • Links to further resources for each theme

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