1963-2018 - 55 years of Research for Social Change

  • 0
  • 0

Back | Programme Area: Research-Related Activities 2020+

UNRISD Flagship Report 2022 on Inequalities and a New Eco-Social Contract

  • Project from: 2021 to 2022

The flagship report is an UNRISD contribution to the Decade of Action to deliver the Sustainable Development Goals. Action is necessary indeed, along with acceleration and ambition, in these times of multiple global crises—social and ecological crises, political polarization, growing inequalities and set-backs in poverty reduction, all exacerbated by the socio-economic impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic. “Overcoming Inequalities in Times of Crisis—Towards a New Eco-Social Contract” (tentative title) will contribute much-needed new conceptual thinking, empirical evidence, analytical insight, and context-relevant policy recommendations developed by UNRISD and its international network of scholars, practitioners and advocates working on innovative and sustainable solutions to the world’s biggest challenges.


The UNRISD 2022 Flagship report comes seven years into the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, just shy of the half-way point, at a moment when the context for achieving it has never been more daunting: the unprecedented concentration of wealth and income and the elite capture of political processes and institutions; the rise of austerity, nationalism, and right-wing extremism as well as backlash against egalitarian and human rights discourses and movements; evolving technology creating new divides both within and between countries; and the climate crisis and biodiversity loss threatening our very existence. On top of all of this, the Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated the corrosive effects of the current system and the inequality it has wrought, revealing its lack of resilience to shocks. The result is a world in a state of fracture, and at its heart is inequality.


Inequality has been both a root cause and an amplifier of multiple crises—economic, social, political, cultural and ecological. The report posits that the age of neoliberal globalization, and related policy choices, are at the root of the present challenges, having prepared the way for the current model of unsustainable hyper-globalization which creates an inescapable gravity towards inequality and crises. The report breaks down inequality into three interlinked and reinforcing forms: economic, social and political, and analyses their causes, dynamics and impacts.

Analytical insight

Through the lenses of gender, climate crisis, and local lifeworlds, the report will combine structural analysis and case studies to expose the way in which inequalities and the policies and institutions (re-)producing them pose the greatest barriers to achieving a sustainable, inclusive and just future, and will explore ways to combat them at different levels and through a combination of top-down and bottom-up approaches. The report will unpack cumulative disadvantage by taking an intersectional approach; connect past, present and future by applying an intergenerational and life-cycle perspective; and use political economy analysis to shed light on power asymmetries and their consequences for equality outcomes.

Empirical evidence

Drawing on empirical evidence and new conceptual thinking developed by UNRISD and its international network of scholars, activists and practitioners over the past years, the report will then explore ways to overcome inequality, scrutinizing both policies and institutions which address inequalities and exclusions, as well as the political drivers to see them through. It will consider progressive and rights-based citizen-led movements shaping the public discourse, building alliances and pressuring for change; policy makers implementing transformative policies and institutional reforms from local to global levels; and economic actors changing business thinking and practice, creating alternative economic models and reimagining the future of work.

New conceptual thinking

Building on the work of the 2016 UNRISD flagship report, which proposed a new “eco-social contract” as a way forward, this report will take a closer look at how to build such a contract for social and climate justice.

Actors and actions

This will require bringing together all stakeholders, defining rights and obligations, promoting greater equality and solidarity, building crisis resilience, and ensuring legitimacy, credibility and buy-in for much needed reforms for transformative change.

This task is made all the more pressing by the many years of repercussions to be confronted, as the world begins—slowly and unevenly—to emerge from the Covid-19 crisis. Essential to this process is the role not just of formal political institutions, but also social movements and civil society activism, as well as economic actors, together creating the types of alliances and coalitions which support the necessary eco-social turn and a new sustainable development model that is not only more resilient towards crises, but also much more inclusive, egalitarian and in harmony with our planet than previous ones.

Context-relevant policy recommendations

By providing in-depth analysis of inequality in its various forms, policy recommendations supported by case studies, and pathways for building a new eco-social contract, this report will make a key contribution to the debate on how to address inequality and work towards a more equal, just and sustainable future.

Advisory group

  • Rania Antonopoulos
  • Karina Batthyány
  • Chee Yoke Ling
  • Giovanni Andrea Cornia
  • Gabriele Koehler
  • Ben Phillips
  • Frances Stewart
  • Sirjana Subba
  • Dzodzi Tsikata

Funding partners

Work for the UNRISD Flagship Report 2022 is carried out with the support of institutional funding provided by the governments of Sweden, Switzerland and Finland. The report will be launched in early 2022.