Tag Archives climate action

Fashion and Beauty in the Tower of Babel: how Brazilian companies made sustainability a common language at COP27

Fashion and Beauty in the Tower of Babel: how Brazilian companies made sustainability a common language at COP27

  Fashion is one of the most polluting industries in the world, plagued by sky-high greenhouse gas emissions, mountains of excess clothing manufactured and cast away each year, and the widespread ...

Connecting academic (air) mobility with carbon inequality: Perspectives from a Global South scholar

Connecting academic (air) mobility with carbon inequality: Perspectives from a Global South scholar

As citizens of the Global South, now immigrants in the Global North, which narrative of climate action should we uphold: the one that we know is unfair back home, or ...

Limits to learning: when climate action contributes to social conflict

REDD+, or Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation, has been one of the holy grails of international efforts to combat climate change for the past 10 years: over 10 billion dollars have been pledged to this cause by donor countries. Although REDD+ aims to reduce deforestation rates while increasing the welfare of landowners, research has shown that it also negatively impacts indigenous communities and has contributed to conflict. While hard work has been done to improve REDD+ programs, there are serious unintended effects of this much needed climate change action program. We wondered if organizations will do something about these unintended effects and would like to stimulate debate on that. We found that there are limits to what they learn: some unintended effects are likely to persist.

The REDD+ programmes, developed by the United Nations, use a payment for environmental services (PES) approach to support developing countries in creating more sustainable land use models. The idea behind this is that landowners move away from traditional land use methods that deplete forests and hence exhaust their capacity to absorb CO2. In turn, they receive monetary and other incentives that make up for loss of income and enable them to work towards more sustainable land use.

However, a disturbing number of “unintended consequences” results from these programmes. Such consequences do not necessarily relate to the initial goals of the programme: it can for example achieve great results in forest preservation and poverty alleviation; yet be only accessible to those who officially own the land. Thereby it excludes the poor residents for whom the programme was initially intended. Importantly, because these effects fall outside the scope of the programmes, they are not always taken into consideration when it comes to measuring impact.

In the past years, researchers found such effects on both the forest preservation and social impact fronts. Now, determining that some bear the brunt of well-intended efforts to tackle climate change is one thing. The next question, however, is crucial: will implementers be able to learn from their mistakes? Are the unintended consequences that have been seen in the past years avoidable, and does REDD+ hence have the potential to be for instance truly inclusive and conflict-sensitive?

Will programme implementers learn from their mistakes?

The answer is, as always: it depends. Reasons for not learning from unintended effects are partly technical: for example, the difficulty to measure the actual deforestation rates or the forests that are “saved” as a direct result from the project (the so-called displacement effect). With better measurement techniques, experts expect that these issues can be overcome in the near future.

However, the unintended consequences of REDD+ that are social in nature are a completely different ball game. These include for example the discrimination of indigenous peoples and their ancestral ways of living and working the land; the exclusion of many rural poor because they do not have official land titles; the exclusion of women for the same reason; or the rising of social tensions in communities, or between communities and authorities.

Organizations which implement REDD+, such as the World Bank and the Green Climate Fund, are aware of these unintended consequences and have put measures in place to anticipate and regulate them. These “social and environmental safeguards” should prevent discrimination as a result from the programmes. Moreover, grievance redress and dispute settlement mechanisms are in place to serve justice to those who have been harmed or disadvantaged regardless.

Despite these systems and regulations, World Bank and GCF employees explain that they are struggling with managing these unintended consequences, and that it is difficult to satisfy everyone’s needs while still achieving results on the deforestation front. The dilemma they face is clear: the more time, effort and money is spent to anticipate all possible unintended consequences, the less money and time is left to use for the implement the climate change programming, and time is ticking.

Ideological limits to learning

Donors who fund the programmes appear sometimes more concerned by just increasing disbursement rates, to show they are active in the fight against climate change, than fully taking note and acting on the collateral social damage. With more pressure from civil society, donors and organizations are likely to also take more of the social factors on board, for example through the safeguard system. However, there appears to be one major blind spot, on which little learning is taking place.

To our surprise, the most encountered unintended effects are the so-called motivational crowding out effects. Time and again, it was found that, while people were initially quite concerned about the forest and finding ways to preserve it, their intrinsic motivation to do so declined when monetary rewards were offered. The neo-liberal model of putting a price on everything might work on the short run, but appears to contribute to an erosion of conservation values in the long run. So, taking stock of collateral damage, this might be one of the most unexpected ones we encountered. And unfortunately, it goes against the very ideological basis of the PES approach. Currently, we also found little action by organizations and donors to deal with this unintended effect. An ideological limit to learning appears to be in place here.

Yet, we are still hoping that climate justice can be achieved. That green objectives can be combined with social justice objectives. We invite you to share your abstracts with us for the panel we are organizing at the EADI conference in 2020. The deadline is on December 15. If you would like to read more background information on this topic, you are welcome to consult our working paper.

About the authors:

pasfoto DJ Koch

Dirk-Jan Koch is Professor (special appointment) in International Trade and Development Cooperation at the Radboud University in Nijmegen, and Chief Science Officer of the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs. His latest publications include Is it time to ‘decolonise’ the fungibility debate? (2019, Third World Quarterly, with Zunera Rana) and Exaggerating unintended effects? Competing narratives on the impact of conflict minerals regulation (2018, Resources Policy, with Sara Kinsbergen).Pasfoto.jpg


Marloes Verholt is researcher at the Radboud University Nijmegen. She researches the unintended effects of international climate policy. With a background in conflict analysis and human rights work, she views the climate change debate through these lenses.

Whose climate security? Or why we should worry about security language in climate action

Whose climate security? Or why we should worry about security language in climate action

The climate crisis is becoming an international focal point, and budgets for climate change mitigation and adaptation are getting larger. At the same time, debates on ‘climate security’ involving some ...

On the Racist Humanism of Climate Action

On the Racist Humanism of Climate Action

Mainstream climate change mitigation and adaptation policies are imbued with neocolonial discursive constructions of the “other”. Understanding how such constructions work has important implications for how we think about emancipatory ...

Pakistan floods show why adaptation alone won’t help prevent climate disasters

Despite Pakistan’s growing number of adaptive measures, mostly in the form of foreign investments in its water and agriculture sector, recent floods all but destroyed this South Asian country. In light of this, we should critically discuss whether taking adaptative measures can really help Pakistan (or any country) prepare itself for climate change-related disasters that are becoming increasingly unprecedented in magnitude and scale. Radical climate action that moves beyond adaptation is needed to truly protect vulnerable regions and communities from catastrophic events, writes Isbah Hameed.

“A catastrophe of epic scale”

The enormity of the floods that recently swept across Pakistan as a result of abnormally heavy monsoon rains has left the country baffled. Vast swathes of land were submerged, millions of people were displaced, and their belongings and property were destroyed. The devastating floods affected over 33 million people, displaced over half a million people, and claimed a thousand lives, with losses estimated at more than 40 billion euro according to the government of Pakistan. In the wake of the disaster, a state of emergency was declared, and Pakistan’s national climate change minister called the floods “a catastrophe of e­­pic scale“. Right now, massive relief work is being carried out by government organizations, national and international NGOs, and private institutions to help this flood-stricken country recover.

No-one can tell exactly how long it would take for the millions of displaced people to go back to their homes and how long it will take the country to get back on its feet following the social, ecological, and economic losses that it has suffered. Much uncertainty remains, also about what to do next. What’s clear is that any optimism that might have existed about the effectiveness of adaptive measures to increase the country’s resilience to the effects of climate change was swept away by the floods. The sheer magnitude of the floods, which simply washed out the country from Kashmir in the north to Kotri in the south and even beyond, leaving one-third of the country under water, made it clear that adapting was simply not enough to protect it from the floods. So what can be done to better protect it from future climate change-related disasters?


Swept away by the floods

As one of countries most at risk of climate change and its effects, dozens of adaptation strategies have been identified by Pakistan in its Nationally Determined Contributions1 (NDCs) that form part of the Paris Agreement. Most of the adaptation strategies are in the water and agriculture sectors and include water conservation measures, improvements to irrigation systems, the strengthening of risk management systems for agriculture, a move toward climate-smart agriculture, and the improvement  of emergency response systems as adaptation measures. In addition, Pakistan’s National Adaptation Plan (NAP), which focuses on “building resilience to climate change”, is already in the making with the support of UNEP. These plans are helping identify technical, institutional, and financial needs of the country in integrating climate change adaptation into its medium- and long-term national planning and financing.

The measures taken by Pakistan hinge on international investments and funding because it  is already facing many challenges on economic and political fronts; climate adaptation is an additional task to comply with along with already existing developmental constraints. But measures taken or promoted so far to help increase its resilience to floods and climate change in general seem ineffective as the recent massive floods engulfed the country and, with it, all efforts to prevent this from occurring. It simply implies that no adaptative measure at all would practically be commensurate with disasters of this scale, at least in developing countries.


Asking the right questions

Adaptation is widely promoted by international institutions as a way in which to mitigate the effects of climate change, and the call for more adaptive measures to be taken has been strengthened in the wake of Pakistan’s recent floods. However, floods in general and these floods in particular due to their destructive potential can lead us to ask whether adaptation alone can really help countries minimize the damage caused by such disasters. The question is not which specific measures should be taken, which sector should be targeted first and most intensely, or in which ways international donors should be persuaded to pledge money for these measures. Rather, it is more plausible to ask to which degree, at which scale, and for how long the undertaken adaptation measures can help climate change-affected countries to remain unyielding in light of extreme weather events that may come to challenge even the most resilient environments.

Unsurprisingly, the idea of adaptation can thus be misleading given the enormity of such disasters, because it’s simply not enough. This suggests us to ask why adaptation is being promoted, if proven to be ineffective, and by whom. Indeed, adaptation and its technical underpinnings have already been criticized by academic scholars2 for being apolitical and for being unable to address the root cause of the climate problem. But the focus here is on what can be done if adaptation doesn’t work, especially given the inherent unpredictability of the scale of future events taking into account the complex feedbacks of the climate system. Is it wise to invest in and engage human and global capital in designing and implementing adaptation strategies that won’t be effective? I don’t seek to answer these questions in this article, but wish to show that we need to start talking about this both as scholars and as policymakers.


A wake-up call

In light of the recent events in Pakistan, one should ask whether adaptation should be considered a way forward at all. The case can help us shift our attention to what international institutions are and should be doing to address the root causes of the problem instead of advocating adaptation. These disasters are a wake-up call to the world that more radical measures are needed; reducing greenhouse gas emission and adapting to soften the blow of climate change is not enough. COP27 is set to take place in Egypt in November in parallel with Pakistan’s post-disaster recovery efforts. It will be significant to see what will be discussed and what future line of action will be proposed at the conference following this devastating event.

  1. A Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) is a climate action plan to cut emissions and adapt to climate impacts. NDCs are at the heart of the Paris Agreement which aims to hold the global average rise in temperature to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, preferably limiting the increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius; thus avoiding the projected rise from 2.9 to 3.4 degrees Celsius by the year 2100. Signatories to the Paris Agreement are required to establish NDCs and update these every five years.
  2. Adaptation strategy as a response to climate change is being criticized by many academic scholars for example, Siri Eriksen et al (2021), Aaron Atteridge &Elise Remling (2018) have discussed that adaptation strategies tend to reinforce existing causes of vulnerability, and also redistribute and create new sources of vulnerability rather than reducing them.

Opinions expressed in Bliss posts reflect solely the views of the author of the post in question.

About the author:


Isbah Hameed is a doctoral candidate in the Political Ecology Research Group at ISS. Her research is focused on studying the socio-political implications of embracing Climate-smart agriculture as an adaptation strategy in Pakistan.

Are you looking for more content about Global Development and Social Justice? Subscribe to Bliss, the official blog of the International Institute of Social Studies, and stay updated about interesting topics our researchers are working on.

“Nothing about us, without us!”: Disability inclusion in community-based climate resilient programs. A case study of Indonesia

“Nothing about us, without us!”: Disability inclusion in community-based climate resilient programs. A case study of Indonesia

In design of climate-resilient programs for community development, there is growing awareness of the benefits of gender assessments, but it is far less common that disability is considered. The meaningful ...

On the Racist Humanism of Climate Action

On the Racist Humanism of Climate Action

Mainstream climate change mitigation and adaptation policies are imbued with neocolonial discursive constructions of the “other”. Understanding how such constructions work has important implications for how we think about emancipatory ...

Whose climate security? Or why we should worry about security language in climate action

The climate crisis is becoming an international focal point, and budgets for climate change mitigation and adaptation are getting larger. At the same time, debates on ‘climate security’ involving some of the most powerful actors globally can be discerned.  We need to ask ourselves, our governments, and corporations some difficult and counterintuitive questions: does much-needed action on climate change have harmful environmental and social effects, especially for marginalised groups living in and of water, land and forests?

Questions of environmental and social justice around climate action are not new: we know that climate mitigation and adaptation measures are not benefiting everyone equally[1]. Essentially, this is caused by climate interventions being built on growth imperatives, assigning (monetary) value to nature, and thereby including it in the neoliberal economic system. This approach overlooks the complex relations that humans have with nature, including spiritual and social bonds, and how nature is linked to livelihoods.

Matters get even more complicated when we add ‘climate security’ to the equation. In recent decades this frame has gained ground among some of the most powerful persons and institutions globally, for example the US Defence Force and Shell. The idea they promote is pretty straightforward: climate change causes erratic weather patterns, making areas less inhabitable due to scarcity of resources that in turn leads to conflict and migration. This would lead to instability locally, at the state level or even internationally, and as such poses security threats – to humans, but also to nation-states and even the international order.

But this premise of climate security, which has recently been placed on the agenda of the UN Security Council, is highly contested. From a political ecology perspective, it is regarded as Malthusian in the sense that the political choices related to natural resources are ignored. By asking key questions such as who owns what, who does what, and who gets what, the power dynamics around natural resources are thrown into sharp relief. Researchers and activists argue that there is need to be more concerned with how ‘policies to deal with the effects of climate change’ lead to conflict, rather than the effects of climate change itself.

And this climate security framing could mean that security actors – the military or security corporations – also get involved in formulating those policies. That for example may just lead to the militarisation of hydropower dams and forest management. This has also been observed within nature conservation around poaching, now referred to as ‘green wars’. Several authors have warned these matters need much more attention.

The various understandings of conflict

I became engaged in these topics through my professional position at the Dutch Research Council (NWO). I am working on research programmes funded by some of the larger development donors in northwestern Europe, such as one that was indeed concerned with the impact of climate policies on conflict. This programme sought to enhance an understanding of how climate policies may incite conflicts, such that the knowledge could add to more ‘conflict-sensitive climate action’. Seven research projects were funded that focused on conflicts around water, land and forests that were part of climate policies.

The launch of the programme had brought me to a seminar at the Circle National des Armées in Paris, where military actors that focused on security formed the majority.  And I was asked to engage with the Planetary Security Initiative, launched by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, also populated with military and governmental actors and security think tanks who in turn engage with corporations that are seeking stable contexts. These actors tend to see conflicts as (sudden) eruptions of violence that lead to death and injury, and possibly even war.

Throughout the process of implementing the programme, it occurred to me that those actors that I was engaging with had a different understanding of ‘conflict’. The donor representatives were impatient that the research did not seem to contain their idea of what a ‘conflict analysis’ should be and that typically results in a conflict typology to help categorize different conflicts.

The researchers in the programme, however, were speaking of conflicts as elements inherent to society, shaped by dynamics of power – as politics. Conflicts thus are not considered as ‘events’, but rather as a ‘process’ through which conflicting interests occur. According to such an understanding, conflicts are not the domain of the military or security actors, but are rather ‘a clash of interests, values and norms among individuals or groups that leads to antagonism and a struggle for power’.

Militarisation of climate action?

It is evident that these different readings of conflict may have implications for how, and by whom, climate responses are formulated. When considering climate as a security threat, military and security actors could well become part of the formulation of responses to climate change, which would have major implications on the power dynamics around the natural resources involved. It could, for example, lead to militarisation of hydropower dams, wind turbine parks or forest protection.

And that gives us reason to be worried. Experience with militarisation of anti-poaching efforts as part of nature conservation shows that this may lead to the normalisation of violence and has devastating consequences for people living with wildlife. As such, it could become possible for vested interests to dominate, while the interests of marginalised groups living in and of water, land and forests could be sidelined. This blog thus calls on researchers and activists to increase understanding of these matters in the hope and anticipation that collectively we may gain greater understanding of these matters and as such contribute to more environmentally and socially just climate action. Because acting on the climate we must, but not at the cost of marginalised natures and humans


[1] Already in 2012 the term ‘green grabbing’ was coined: appropriation in the name of the environment, including effects of climate interventions. Numerous examples are available, for example on the shift to renewable energies. Windmills, solar panel fields and hydropower dams that were erected have led to land and ocean grabs, with resource users being expelled. In fact, for those energy sources it is not always clear that they are ‘green’ to begin with. Their negative impact on the environment and ecosystems are widely recorded for instance in the  Environmental Justice Atlas. In addition, conservation and regeneration of forests is a common mitigation and adaptation strategy. And it does feel good and tangible to plant or preserve a tree to compensate our consumption-guilt, no? That is essentially the starting point of the UNFCCC’s REDD+ programme. But vast amounts of research document the natural as well as social damage caused by REDD+. It has, for example, led to exclusion of forest dwellers in decisions on how to manage the forest, that are the provision of their livelihoods. They have also often not shared in the benefits that REDD+ projects should bring them. And in some instances areas have actually been deforested, precisely because climate funding has assigned monetary value to the trees and land.

About the author:

Corinne Lamain is a part-time PhD Candidate at ISS, where she studies the interrelations between climate finance mechanisms, climate securities and socio-ecological conflicts in the Eastern Himalayas.

Are you looking for more content about Global Development and Social Justice? Subscribe to Bliss, the official blog of the International Institute of Social Studies, and stay updated about interesting topics our researchers are working on.