Tag Archives climate change

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 ...

Lessons from the COVID-19 crisis for climate change politics

COVID-19 and climate change bear striking – and worrying – similarities and differences. Both are characterized by high uncertainty, but while COVID-19 has been identified as an immediate threat and action has been taken despite the absence of comprehensive knowledge, uncertainty has been touted as impeding concerted efforts to transform energy systems to combat climate change. The global economic system has strongly contributed to our failure to make radical changes. A different system – one that is not so fundamentally focused on maximizing profits over all other concerns – could have been better placed to make the undeniably painful economic adjustments we are forced to make, both before the emergence of COVID-19 and to prevent a catastrophe arising due to climate change. While both crises require dramatic societal transformations, we need to be aware of the potential negative political consequences of declaring them as emergencies.


One thing is certain about COVID-19: we simply do not know enough. Some aspects about it are simply unknown, on others we have conflicting information. Scientists are asked to take shortcuts from their rigorous methods and to offer their ‘best guess’ on hugely consequential questions. Policy makers then take decisions within a fog of uncertainty since experts have also argued that doing nothing is the absolute worst option. This is a terrifying situation for us all, but it is not entirely without precedent.

While the threat of COVID-19 might seem unique, there are some interesting parallels between this threat and that of climate change. At a general level, neither is simply a ‘natural’ phenomenon. This is not to suggest – as some have – that they are a ‘hoax’. Viruses exist, mutate, and infect ‘naturally’. Similarly, the climate of the earth shows variation due to various factors outside of human influence. But what imbues both COVID-19 and contemporary climate change with a catastrophic potential is the political economic context in which they are developing.

More specifically, it is global capitalism that takes what is ‘natural’ and weaponizes it against humanity.

In the case of climate change, the problem is not that humans are extracting natural resources in order to secure their livelihoods. The manner in which this extraction is carried out, its continuous intensification and, most importantly, the extraction of resources not necessarily to meet the human need to exist and to thrive, but rather to fulfil the need of capitalism to continuously expand, is what transforms extraction into a planet-altering force captured in the concept of the Anthropocene.

Similarly, the astonishing spread of COVID-19 could not have been possible without the incredible powers of global capitalism. The virus has spread so quickly and so effectively on the back of a global structure that transports goods, humans and – let us not forget – ideas at almost magical speeds. But it is important to not fall into the trap of blaming connectivity and mobility for the spread of the virus but the underlying economic structures that made combatting it so difficult and painful.

While such a pandemic could also occur under a different global economic order, the precarity of not just individuals or classes but even some of the richest and technologically sophisticated economies is what makes COVID-19 so dangerous. A different system – one that is not so fundamentally focused on maximizing profits over all other concerns – could have been better placed to make the undeniably painful economic adjustments we are forced to make.

The parallels between climate change and coronavirus do not end there. Climate scientists – those in the natural as well as the social sciences – have long been arguing that if drastic changes are not made to the way we produce and consume, in other words to the way we live, we can expect apocalyptic changes to global ecosystems. When these materialize, their impacts are likely to be just as and probably even more colossal than the toll that COVID-19 will have exacted.

Yet scientists’ pleas for radical action have been rebuffed on two grounds – we do not know enough, and dramatic curbs to economic activities are fundamentally against public interest. The effectiveness of these arguments has been far greater in the case of climate change than in COVID-19! As the COVID-19 crisis shows, these two grounds have not prevented governments across the world from acting in response to the COVID-19 threat.

Can we expect a change in attitude to climate change politics once the COVID-19 crisis is over? That is certain though it is possible to expect two dramatically different responses which will depend on how, in the aftermath of COVID-19, societies around the world come to understand the now evolving response. If the response to COVID-19 comes to be seen as an overreaction or a form of mass delusion, this would have massively negative effects on ongoing efforts to respond to climate change.

That would mean not only that scientific authorities – not just the epidemiologists or immunologists but the entire enterprise itself – will be discredited, opening the door to an ever-intensifying challenge that will dwarf the anti-vaccination movement. Worse still, such an impression will embolden the Trumps and Bolsanaros of the world (unfortunately not a rare breed!) to challenge and pull back all too necessary measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

However, if the experts as well as politicians and policy makers who follow them are vindicated in making draconian changes (and if those who do not do so are vilified), we can expect a new era in which scientific authority is once again celebrated and valorised (rather than challenged by baseless arguments as has been the case with the anti-vaccination movement). It can also be expected that the spectre of an ecological apocalypse will be taken more seriously, bringing it with it meaningful socio-economic and cultural transformations to adapt to and mitigate climate change.

Authoritarianism creeping in through the back door

Implementation of dramatic societal transformation in response to anticipated catastrophes might at first be seen as an entirely positive outcome. But it is important to remember that all appeals to emergency, such as the declaration of a state of emergency, regardless of how justified they are, contain within them the seed of authoritarianism.

A call to urgent action is almost by definition a call to silence dissent, to short-circuit deliberative democracy and to privilege the opinion of a select few over all others.

While rare, the climate movement has long had an authoritarian streak as demonstrated by this statement by no less than the developer of the Gaia hypothesis, James Lovelock:

“We need a more authoritative world. We’ve become a sort of cheeky, egalitarian world where everyone can have their say. It’s all very well, but there are certain circumstances – a war is a typical example – where you can’t do that. You’ve got to have a few people with authority who you trust who are running it”[1].

A few years ago, such statements could have been considered fringe opinions intended more for provocation than for actual implementation. With countless leaders and scientists comparing COVID-19 to a war, there is genuine reason to be actively worried about ending up in a situation where climate change too becomes securitized in this manner.

This brings us back to the question of uncertainty and authority. While our knowledge of climate change – how it works, what its impacts are and how we can reverse it – are incomparably better than what we know about COVID-19, the socio-economic and ecological decisions that need to be taken are far from obvious if we are to avoid an economic crisis similar to the one brewing at the moment. How can we transition towards a carbon neutral economy? Which fossil fuel reserves need to be designated as ‘unburnable’? Where do we restore ecosystems and to what state? How, if at all, do we prevent flooding of cities and towns? What are the ecological tipping points and how can we prevent them if they remain largely unseen? These and countless other questions require not only authoritative scientific input but genuine deliberative discussion as well.

No society – regardless of how extensive its education and research attainment – is ready for this challenge. This is because the model of economic development that has dominated since World War II has created a relationship with science that Ulrich Beck has brilliantly described as “organized irresponsibility”[2], in which global capitalism has powerfully capitalized on the explosion of productivity enabled by modern science and technology while brushing under the metaphorical carpet its risks and uncertainties. Debates about the safety of genetically modified foods and nuclear power were harbingers of a brewing crisis of how science and technology can be socialized. COVID-19 is a stark reminder that the challenge remains great. If it is not addressed, we can expect many more war-like situations, not least in relation to climate change.


[1] https://www.theguardian.com/environment/blog/2010/mar/29/james-lovelock
[2] https://www.theguardian.com/education/2015/jan/06/ulrich-beck

About the author:

Murat ArselMurat Arsel is Professor of Political Economy of Sustainable Development. His research and teaching focus on the tensions between nature, capitalism, and emancipatory socio-economic development. Additional details of his work can be found at www.marsel.me


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

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 ...

Addressing the deadly impacts of heatwaves in Europe – The European Union Must Do More

Addressing the deadly impacts of heatwaves in Europe – The European Union Must Do More

This year in June and July (and into this month of August), a global heatwave led to an increase in deaths and disasters. Several European countries were largely impacted, including ...

Urban heatwaves and senior citizens: Frugal solutions in The Hague

As The Netherlands is currently suffering from extreme heat, it is worth reminding ourselves of the effects of the latest heatwave, which took place from 10-16 August, 2020. Worryingly, the excess mortality was 37% higher among people receiving long-term care than the average in the previous weeks. Especially senior citizens (people aged 65 and above) are vulnerable to the negative health effects of heatwaves. They often do not feel thirsty, and accordingly, they do not drink enough. Due to their reduced mobility, they have difficulties in moving to cooler places such as parks. They also cannot afford to buy air conditioners or sunscreens. Hence, as we, Erwin van Tuijl, Sylvia I. Bergh, and Ashley Richard Longman, argue in this blog, there is a need for frugal solutions to protect seniors against heat. Frugal solutions are both affordable as well as “simple” . We present some frugal solutions we identified in a recent research project in The Hague, The Netherlands. We also discuss challenges that hinder development and usage of these frugal solutions.

Affordable solutions

1. Canopy © by ZONZ

The respondents in our survey ranked sunscreens and air conditioning highly as their preferred options to keep cool, but the purchase and operating costs are significant barriers. Although not many research participants knew about them, we found affordable alternatives. Instead of air conditioning, wet towels in combination with fans are an effective measure to keep cool, just like applying wet sponges or using a (foot)bath. Pragmatic alternatives for sunscreens are bed sheets to create shade, whereas sun sails/canopies (see picture 1), balcony awnings and window foils (picture 2) are more durable alternatives.

2. Window foil © by De Kock Raamfolie

These solutions can be obtained from specialised (online) suppliers, as well as from (low-cost) retailers. Another example is a clamp awning (picture 3), a sun protection device for balconies and terraces that is fastened between the floor and a roof or protrusion, also available at low-cost retailers. These affordable solutions are installed without drilling or other construction measures. The products are therefore a good alternative for sunscreens that are often prohibited by landlords or housing corporations due to aesthetical reasons (i.e., sunscreens may decrease the aesthetical value of buildings) or technical limitations (i.e., some locations might be too windy for sunscreens). Moreover, sun sails and clamp awnings can be taken away quickly when there is no sun, or when seniors move to another house. In this way, seniors do not invest in buildings, but in a product that they can take with them.

3. Clamp awning © by ZONZ

The need for simple solutions

Beyond affordable, solutions need to be simple in terms of easy to use and easy to access. However, not all solutions are easy to use. For example, digital apps and other “smart” solutions, such as a “smart beaker” – a cup with sensors and an app that warns when seniors need to drink – are regarded as too complex for seniors who for the most part still have limited digital skills in comparison to younger generations. And due to the limited mobility of seniors, (non-digital) solutions must be easy to use and to access. For instance, we found that for seniors with health problems (e.g., diseases like Multiple Sclerosis) it is difficult to take a cooling vest on and off without assistance.  Furthermore, cooling vests might be difficult to obtain for seniors as they are only available online or in shops targeted to business customers. Simple alternatives are wet towels and cooling scarfs (that have a cooling effect for four to five hours) (picture 4). Both alternatives are easy to obtain and can be put on and taken off relatively easily.

4. Cobber Cool Shawl © Cobber by Vuursteker

A solution that is put in place in The Hague as well as other cities around the world are so-called cooling centres. These are dedicated cooled rooms (i.e., with air conditioning) in (semi)public buildings, such as schools, or libraries. However, will senior citizens really use such spaces? Even if transport was arranged for them, some of our respondents argued that seniors may prefer to stay at home during a heatwave due their limited mobility, and that they are at an increased risk of dehydration if they would undertake the trip to the cooling centre. Seniors now sometimes “flee” their hot apartments and sit in the hallways, leading to noise and other nuisances. Some of our respondents proposed turning their existing common rooms into a cooling centre instead by equipping it with an air conditioning unit.

 

Challenges ahead

So, while we identified a number of frugal solutions, both in the market and developed by the senior citizens themselves, we also observed demand and supply gaps. Especially smaller entrepreneurs we interviewed struggled to identify their “real” customer – should they talk to homeowners, tenants or representatives of individual retirement home and housing corporations, or rather with those working at the “headquarters” of retirement home chains or housing corporations? Indeed, the same type of organisation might have different ownership and organisational structures. For example, retirement homes can be owned by dedicated elderly care organisations, housing corporations or by real estate investors, and they can be managed in a decentralised way (e.g., per building) or centrally (from a headquarters).

 

Another issue is that heat health risks are still underestimated by most people in The Netherlands, partly due to the irregular occurrences of heatwaves and their usually short duration. This makes it hard for entrepreneurs to market their products, especially those products that are relatively new on the Dutch market, such as sun sails, cooling scarfs or clamp awnings. And when heatwaves strike, there is a sudden increase in demand, which entrepreneurs have limited capacity to respond to. Therefore, procurement officers in organisations such as senior housing agencies or elderly care centres would be well advised to view heat preparedness as a strategic priority rather than a short term and reactive solution, and prepare for heatwaves in advance. Public agencies could also create more opportunities for entrepreneurs and the “demand side”, i.e., users or those acting on behalf of users, to meet. Likewise, agencies should not only warn seniors and (informal) caregivers about the risks of heatwaves, but also inform them about frugal solutions that can be used to keep cool. Such actions could literally save lives.



Related links:

The project report can be downloaded by clicking here.

More information on the research project is available on the ISSICFI, as well as THUAS websites.

More information in Dutch is available on the Kennisportaal Klimaatadaptie.



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

About the authors:

 

Erwin van Tuijl, Postdoctoral Researcher at the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS), Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR) and at the International Centre for Frugal Innovation (ICFI), and visiting researcher and lecturer at the Division of Geography and Tourism, KU Leuven (Belgium).

 

 

 

 

Sylvia I. Bergh, Associate Professor in Development Management and Governance, International Institute of Social Studies (ISS), Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR), and Senior researcher, Centre of Expertise on Global Governance, The Hague University of Applied Sciences (THUAS).

 

 

 

Ashley Richard Longman, Lecturer, Faculty of Social Sciences, Political Science and Public Administration, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.

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 ...

Low-hanging fruits are sometimes the sweetest: how tree-sourced foods can help transform the global food system

Low-hanging fruits are sometimes the sweetest: how tree-sourced foods can help transform the global food system

The global food system is dominated by a limited number of actors and mainly focusses on the production of only a handful of relatively innutritious foods. The system in its ...

Human development and responsible guardianship of our planet must go hand in hand

The recently published UNDP Human Development Report shows that we’ve come a long way in recognising the damage we’re doing to the planet and how intricately connected natural resource use and poverty are. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated inequalities and poor living conditions, making it clear that we don’t have time to waste in addressing the double challenge of environmental and social injustice. We now have an opportunity to change things for the better – if only we seize this opportunity together, writes Kitty van der Heijden, Director-General for International Cooperation at the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

United Nations Development Programme (2020) ‘Human Development Report 2020. The next frontier. Human Development and the Anthropocene’. United Nations Development Programme. Available at: http://hdr.undp.org/sites/default/files/hdr_2020_overview_english.pdf.

We are ruining the planet. This is the simple, yet scary message that the latest edition of the Human Development Report conveys. The 2020 UNDP Human Development Report titled ‘‘The Next Frontier” was launched in the Netherlands on 12 February 2021 through an online event organised by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and SDG Nederland.

During this event, in my keynote speech I stressed that we are in fact destroying the natural resources on which we depend – be it water, soil or a stable climate. We are entering the sixth mass extinction of species. We are using the atmosphere of this planet as the global sewer for greenhouse gases. And in a period of about 150 years, without intending to do so, we as humankind managed to change the properties of an entire planet’s atmosphere. That is quite an accomplishment for a bunch of fur-free apes.

In so doing, we are not only ruining our own future here in the Netherlands, but more importantly, we are losing the prospect of a life in dignity for the many poor and vulnerable communities worldwide that we have promised a better future. They are least responsible, and least capable of dealing with the impact, and yet this is where we are.

Over the past year, the COVID-19 crisis exacerbated multidimensional inequalities within and between countries that existed prior to the pandemic. But what the report truly shows is that inequalities and environmental degradation are not separate issues. We cannot eradicate poverty if we do not at the same time address the accelerating degradation of natural resources on which we all depend, but poor people even more so. Natural resources like forests, freshwater and fertile soils are often called ‘the only wealth poor people have’. They are essential for their survival.

Yet it is in no small part our production and consumption patterns, particularly from developed economies, that degrade and destroy such resources. Protecting the environment and combatting climate change is not a luxury. It’s not icing on the human development cake. Environmental degradation and poverty are inextricably linked. They are two sides of the same coin and they exacerbate each other. Together they are a truly toxic combination. If we do not change the way we use our planet, we will never be able to reach the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). And meeting these is essential for just, equitable and sustainable development that leaves no-one behind.

When you look at climate statistics, you might feel like pulling a duvet over your head and going back to sleep. Nevertheless, I am still optimistic. There is hope, and I will tell you why:

  1. What is evident now was not so evident ten years ago

In 2012, I was involved in the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. Around that time, the link between environmental degradation and poverty eradication was not recognised. Development experts considered the environment a separate realm. ‘Real’ development – to them – was working on health, education and malnutrition. Countries from the Global South thought that anything ‘green’ was an aid conditionality or a luxury – something you would do after development projects were completed. The environment was seen as a Western agenda.

In less than ten years, a broader understanding has developed that you cannot achieve human development without looking at durable usage of a country’s natural resources. This paradigm shift in thinking happened in a very short time span, which gives me hope for the future.

  1. We are starting to take universality seriously

Development used to be seen as a foreign policy objective, as something you ‘do and deliver elsewhere’. We have come to realise that with global challenges such as water shortages, climate change or soil erosion, none of these challenges can be dealt with through development cooperation alone. In a globally connected world, we are linked through supply chains and terrorism, through climate change and communicable diseases, through the Internet and information systems and through migration and global media. We thus need a whole-of-government approach, because our global environmental footprint impacts people well beyond our borders, our trade policies may impede or enhance people’s ability to achieve a life of dignity, etcetera. And even more so, we need a whole-of-society approach. This means including the private sector, science communities, civil society organisations, and so on, in a holistic effort to bring about global sustainable development.

Solving these issues will require looking at our policies through the lens of policy coherence for sustainable development. Our actions here in the Netherlands as part of the Global North have an impact elsewhere. This realisation will hopefully speed up and accelerate an integrated pathway towards global sustainable development.

All proposals for law in the Netherlands are subject to an SDG test. But research shows that all developed countries can still do (much) better in achieving policy coherence.

  1. The COVID-19 crisis offers an opportunity for change

The COVID-19 pandemic has set back human development tremendously. Decades of progress have been undone by the lockdowns globally, but especially in developing economies where shock resilience is low. Job losses, especially in the informal sector, have led to a steep increase in (extreme) poverty and malnutrition. Children are unable to go to school, and digital education is still a dream for too many. Too many girls will lose the opportunity to proper schooling – as they are married off early or fall in the hands of sex traffickers. Gender-based violence is on the increase. And it’s important to realise that this crisis in fact originated in environmental degradation, zoonotic diseases and rapid biodiversity loss.

Still … it may also be the best opportunity we ever had to address the planetary (or climate/environmental) crisis. Never before in the history of mankind has the public sector globally poured in this much money in relief and recovery programs to combat the impact of COVID-19. Never ‘waste a good crisis’, the old adage goes. If we use these resources well, we can keep global warming within the 1.5˚C limit (compared to pre-industrial levels), as well as the SDGs within reach.

The alternative is simply too horrifying to contemplate. If we do it wrong – if we return to the old, wasteful and polluting economy – the planet and mankind will suffer the consequences. Not just for the next 10 years, but possibly for the next 10,000 years.

Thus, the message of the Human Development Report that we must act now to combat both poverty and environmental degradation is crucial to keep the dream of a life in dignity for all humankind alive. The realisation of that dream depends on all of us.

Opinions do not necessarily reflect the views of the ISS or members of the Bliss team.

About the authors:

Ms. Kitty van der Heijden is Director General for International Cooperation at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Her responsibilities include development cooperation policy, implementation and funding. Central themes are gender, sustainable economic development, and climate policies.

Between 2014 and 2019, Ms. Van der Heijden has served as Vice President and Director Africa and Europe at the World Resources Institute in Washington. She served as the Dutch Ambassador for Sustainable Development from 2010 until 2013 and as Ambassador for the Millennium Development Goals in 2009. Before that she held several other policy and managerial positions at both the United Nations and Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Other positions Ms. van der Heijden has served in include a position as non-executive member of the board at Unilever NL (2014-2019), and Advisory Board positions at ‘Pathways to Sustainability’ at Utrecht University (2018-2019), the Global Commission on Business and SDGS (2016-2017), SIM4NEXUS (2015-2019) and Global ‘Planetary Security’ Conference (2015-2018). She was awarded the Viet Nam Presidential Medal of Friendship in 2009 and the Dutch National ‘Green Ribbon’ of Honor in 2013.

Ms. Van der Heijden (56) holds an MSc degree in Economics from the Erasmus University Rotterdam. She enjoys family time, nature walks and kick-boxing.

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.

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 ...

COVID-19 | Will current travel restrictions help academics change their flying behaviour? by Lara Vincent and Oane Visser

COVID-19 | Will current travel restrictions help academics change their flying behaviour? by Lara Vincent and Oane Visser

With drastic restrictions on mobility due to the COVID-19 pandemic, international academic air travel for research, conferences, and defences has largely come to a halt. The sudden inability to hop ...

COVID-19 | A political ecology of epidemics: why human and other-than-human diseases should push us to rethink our global development model by Fabio Gatti

The recent COVID-19 outbreak has generated an incredible interest around public health in particular and other social issues in general. However, most commentaries have failed to look at the crisis from an environmental and ecological perspective. We need to look at the links between COVID-19 and the global environmental crisis in order to identify and address the structural causes leading to the emergence of the pandemic: increasing urbanization, an exodus from rural areas and the abandonment of peasant farming, the intensification of natural resource extraction, and the industrialization of agriculture.


Different epidemic, similar responses

I started getting familiar with diseases and epidemics last summer when I was looking at an agricultural pest outbreak in Apulia, southern Italy. At that time it was not humans who were considered at risk, but a different species: olive trees. The bacteria Xylella fastidiosa that arrived in Europe for the first time in 2013 endangered the survival of thousands of centuries-old olive trees. These plants in Apulia not only are an important agricultural asset on which many depend for their livelihoods, but also have a strong cultural value that relates to the history, the identity, and the landscape of a whole region.

In my research, with the risk of simplifying a bit, two different interpretations of the bacteria’s role in the desiccation of the trees were apparent on the ground: on the one side, a reductionist position considering the new pathogen as the one and only cause of the disease, and therefore concentrating efforts on ‘eradicating’ the bacteria from the countryside; on the other, a more holistic view stressing the fact that the bacteria was only one of the factors contributing to the trees’ pathology, and thus calling for a much deeper reflection on the structural causes of the outbreak.

For example, the abuse of pesticides and herbicides during the last decades, desertification due to climate change, depletion of water resources linked to the intensification of monoculture plantations, and the lack of traditional mantainance practices (e.g. pruning of ploughing) due to the rural exodus might have all together contributed to the weakening of the immune system of the olive trees and the contamination of the environment they are embedded in. Thus, addressing the wider social, economical and environmental factors which made olive trees especially vulnerable to the spread of the bacteria would have been another strategy to tackle the emergency.

What happened then strongly reminds me of the recent COVID-19 crisis: the Italian government declared a ‘state of emergency’ and the crisis was managed by creating an “infected area” in order to try to isolate the bacteria. Infected trees, after being isolated, had to be eradicated in order to avoid the contagion of neighbouring plants. Pesticides were employed in order to get rid of the insect responsible for carrying the bacteria from one tree to the other. The reductionist paradigm ended up dominating.

Spillover

“The real danger of each new outbreak is the failure—or better put—the expedient refusal to grasp that each new Covid-19 is no isolated incident. The increased occurrence of viruses is closely linked to food production and the profitability of multinational corporations”

(Rob Wallace, from this interview)

The current COVID-19 pandemic thus raises some important questions: is this pandemic just the effect of a random event, i.e. the accidental incursion of coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 into human bodies, or are there some structural reasons which we are failing to consider? Is this only a public health crisis, for which the goal should be to make sure that we can eradicate the virus in order to ‘go back to normal’ (e.g. developing a vaccine that makes us immune to it), or is this part of a global socio-ecological crisis that should push us to reconsider our global development model?

Some studies support the latter position. In his book Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic, David Quammen claims that, while zoonotic diseases (infections caused by pathogens who jump from animals to humans—the so-called spillover) are not something new to humankind, what is relatively new is the frequency of such events. In the last 30 years, spillovers have happened at an unprecedented pace due to primarily deforestation and land use change caused by the expansion of agribusinesses, together with uncontrolled and explosive urbanization processes that have greatly increased the occasions of encounters between humans and wild species.

Intensification of animal farming also plays a role. In Big Farms make Big Flu, evolutionary epidemiologist Robert Wallace claims that intensive animal farming is responsible for the recent increase in new pathogens’ creation. More than that, the production of diseases is itself part of companies’ business models. Rather than just an unintended consequence of a genuine effort to ‘feed the world’ or achieve ‘food security’, the logic of agrifood corporations implies the externalization of health and environmental costs (such as the accidental generation of a new pathogen) to the public (animals, humans, local ecosystems, governments) while privatizing the profits resulting from their activity, in the most pure capitalist economic rationality.

And a recent position paper analyzing the spread of the infection in northern Italy claims that atmospheric particulate matter might have played a non-negligible role in the long-range transmission of SARS-CoV-2 virus in the area, and therefore adds another aspect to the relationship between COVID-19 and environmental degradation, in this case air pollution.

We cannot go back to normal, because normality was the problem

What can we do, then? The attempt of this post was to make clear that the biggest mistake we can make is to consider the COVID-19 pandemic as an isolated event unrelated with the global environmental crisis and to miss the connection with global capitalism, the expansion of commodity frontiers, and the intensification in the industrial mode of food production. COVID-19 and climate change are two sides of the same ecological crisis and should be addressed as such[1].

If we realize this, the crisis will open a great space for radical social change to be put in place. In a recent intervention on the Spanish newspaper El País, South Korean philosopher Byung-Chul Han reminds us that “the virus will not defeat capitalism, there will be no viral revolution: no virus is capable of doing the revolution”. It should therefore be us—civil society, progressive governments, development professionals, environmental activists—who gather momentum to foster radical change in what we believe development is, and making it what we want it to be.

[1] In a recent blog post, Murat Arsel looks at some similarities and differences between the COVID-19 crisis and the climate crisis, with the goal of learning something useful for climate change politics. He acknowledges that “the astonishing spread of COVID-19 could not have been possible without the incredible powers of global capitalism”, and calls for a different system “not so fundamentally focused on maximizing profits over all other concerns”. Still, he talks of the pandemic and climate change as two separate crises. My claim here is that, from a structural point of view, COVID-19 and climate change are in fact two sides of the same coin.

The author thanks Oane Visser and Fizza Batool for their comments on an earlier version of the post. This article is part of a series about the coronavirus crisis. Find more articles of this series here.


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About the author:

Fabio Gatti is a graduate from the Agrarian, Food and Environmental Studies (AFES) major at the International Institute for Social Studies (ISS) in The Hague. His current research interests speak to the fields of political ecology, science and technology studies (STS), environmental humanities, and post-development studies.

COVID-19 | Lessons from the COVID-19 crisis for climate change politics by Murat Arsel

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COVID-19 and climate change bear striking – and worrying – similarities and differences. Both are characterized by high uncertainty, but while COVID-19 has been identified as an immediate threat and ...

EADI/ISS Series | Resource Grabbing in a Changing Environment

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EADI/ISS Series | Limits to learning: when climate action contributes to social conflict

By Dirk Jan Koch and Marloes Verholt

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.


This article is part of a series launched by the EADI (European Association of Development Research and Training Institutes) and the ISS in preparation for the 2020 EADI/ISS General Conference “Solidarity, Peace and Social Justice”. It was also published on the EADI blog.


Image Credit: Peg Hunter


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.

 

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Food security, agricultural policies and economic growth through the eyes of Niek Koning by Dorothea Hilhorst

One of the pleasures of summertime is that I get to read some of the books that have piled up over the years and this is how I came to read Niek Koning’s monumental monograph on: ‘Food security, agricultural policies and economic growth: Long-term dynamics in the past, present and future’. For someone like me, who usually finds herself working around the immediacy of crises, disaster and displacement, the book gives me a solid reminder of how the critical moments of emergencies are interlinked with each other and emerge from global histories and contexts.


Food security is today increasingly linked to climate change but this book spells out how throughout history it is especially interlinked with agricultural policies and economic growth. If there is one lesson the book brings out, it is that policy matters! Good or bad policies make a crucial difference for whether people have or have not enough to eat to sustain themselves. Economics – to say it once more – is not a value-free science and requires clear policy goals and values behind them.

Niek Koning is driven by some pertinent questions, such as “Why has Asia surpassed Africa in economic development? Why have social reform experiments failed in Latin America? Why has communist China achieved miracle growth whereas the Soviet Union collapsed?” Unlike most authors that focus on such big questions, Koning does not provide a monocausal explanation (such as the absence or presence of a ‘Protestant’ ethic, the inclusivity of institutions or different leadership styles), but he puts together a framework that covers several aspects of world history. He starts with secular cycles and techno-institutional change. Looking through that lens, he zooms in on the fossil fuel revolution that has enabled modern economic growth and has entailed a demographic transition. He analyses how the socio-political fabric of societies, international power relations and changing political tides have induced different policy responses to the problems that were involved in modern growth, with vast consequences for both the fate of nations and global population growth. And yes, he also talks about what may happen when fossil fuels will be exhausted. A major message of the book is that agricultural policies have failed to ‘use’ the springboard that was created with the fossil fuel revolution to transform the global economy for a sustainable future.

This is not a book review and I am skipping some major parts of the book, showing how different ideologies and histories have created different outcomes. They are a good read – often more like a novel than an economic textbook – with among other a long conversation between Thomas Malthus and Karl Marx. Browsing through the chapters, one realises that indeed politics matter, and the political views of the author shine clearly through. In his view, supporting self-employed farmers are indispensable for obtaining and maintaining food security. Agricultural and industrial development going hand in hand would be an effective approach, coupled to more explicit pro-poor politics, including social safety nets. He is clearly opposing the neo-liberal trade models and analyzes how these are driven by self-interest of strong countries.

The book is not just an amazingly resourced piece of scholarly work, it is also in many ways a long essay. In the eyes of Koning, the impending exhaustion of fossil fuel create major risks to forge global food scarcity that will exacerbate the food insecurity of the poor. In his view, several things are needed to mitigate this threat. Claims on farmland for luxury foods and urbanization should be limited. New breakthroughs should make the economy less carbon-dependent to prevent a dramatic increase in the demand of the affluent for bio-energy and bio-materials. Biological and ICT-based innovations should overcome limits in land productivity. However, a vital overall condition is that global food and energy markets are stabilized to enable timely investment in innovations that enable poor countries to protect their farmers while securing economic growth. The propositions coming from the book may be agreeable or disagreeable, but coming from decades of deep scholarly work, they merit a lot of discussion.


Koning, N. (2017). Food security, agricultural policies and economic growth: Long-term dynamics in the past, present and future. Routledge.

 


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About the author:

Dorothea Hilhorst is Professor of Humanitarian Aid and Reconstruction at the International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University Rotterdam.

She is a regular author for Bliss. Read all her posts here