Checks on global inequity

Next week's conference, Global Social Justice and Environmental Sustainability , will be the biggest in the history of the Royal Geographical Society, with more than 1,000 papers.

Anybody in London visiting the Science Museum or the Victoria and Albert Museum will see 1,300 geographers from around the world heading for the society's HQ in Exhibition Road. The conference is so large that part of next-door Imperial College London has been hired.

Linda McDowell, the conference chair, says it will provide a forum "to think across the human-physical sciences divide and to develop insights into some of the most pressing issues of the millennium". McDowell, professor of human geography at Oxford University, says this year's theme could not be more relevant. "It's about how to reduce the glaring global inequalities in income, living conditions, security, safety and wellbeing.

It's also about recognising that the implications of environmental degradation, careless and excessive use of resources and evidence of climate change must be taken into account for the sake of future generations."

The conference will be opened by Trevor Phillips, chair of the Commission for Racial Equality, who has predicted "fully fledged ghettos" in Britain similar to those exposed in New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina. His plenary address will be a critical assessment of Britain's policy of multiculturalism. It will be followed by two papers based on detailed statistical analysis of the connections between poverty, class, race and geographical segregation - in the US, by Amy Glasmeier of Pennsylvania State University, and in the UK,by Danny Dorling of Sheffield University.

The theme of racial integration in the UK will be further developed by Haleh Afshar, professor of women's studies at York University, who will give a plenary address on the implications for women of covering their hair.

In her opening remarks, McDowell, whose research interests are economic change, gender divisions of labour, migration and feminist theory, will say that it is becoming clear that the world we live in is being torn apart by "poverty, war, disputes over the right to own, control and use resources, as well as by religious, ethnic and racialised conflicts".

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