Tag Archives climate crisis

Why are we blocking a highway as scientists? It is a justified response to the violence of climate change

How can scientists help engender societal change, and when is it effective to take the road of activism? This question has become increasingly relevant in the face of the urgent need to  address the implications of climate change. In this blog (that first appeared on 1 June 2023 as an op-ed in the Dutch newspaper de Volkskrant), Professors Thea Hilhorst and Klaas Landsman – both recipients of the Spinoza Prize, the highest scientific award in the Netherlands in 2022 – gave a speech during the occupation of the A12 by Extinction Rebellion. Why did they choose to participate in this action as scientists?

On 27 May, an estimated 8,500 activists blocked the A12 highway in The Hague. There was no misunderstanding about the illegal nature of the action. Right from the start, the police shouted through megaphones to demonstrators that there was no legal permission for this demonstration and that those who stayed ran the risk of being arrested. Water cannons were already spraying large quantities of water over the crowd from four military vehicles placed at the head and the rear of the mass of people. Indeed, the demonstration took place without a permit, and blocking a highway is against the law. Nevertheless, we then considered and still consider the action to be legitimate.

The effects of climate change are already being felt all over the world. Rich countries emit most of the greenhouse gases inducing climate change. Poor countries, and in turn the poorest and most vulnerable people in these countries, bear most of the consequences – those people who can hardly afford to eat meat or to buy new clothes at every turn of fashion, who don’t own a car, let alone ever take a plane. They pay the highest price for climate change. They pay with their health, their residence, their livelihoods, their safety, and increasingly with their lives.

Heat waves make places in India reach temperatures above 45 degrees Celsius. People with fragile health in an urban poor area living under a corrugated iron roof may not survive. The shepherd in Kenya who loses his goats due to drought has lost everything; he has no savings to buy new goats. Last summer, large parts of Pakistan flooded, destroying 8,000 kilometers of roads and 105 bridges. Even before these can be repaired, there is likely to be another flood. Increasingly, people lose their land to the river, the sea, or excessive drought. We – residents of rich countries- owe a debt of honor to these vulnerable people in poor countries.

A basic principle of civilization is to take responsibility for harm inflicted on one another. The polluter pays. Rich countries must compensate poor countries. But that is not happening. There are no concrete agreements on compensation yet. The USD 100 billion per year that rich countries have pledged for climate adaptation has not been fully delivered. What is paid partly flows back as profit to Western companies that offer technologies for climate adaptation to poor countries.

Even the most immediate humanitarian aid to mitigate the worst consequences of climate change falls short. On 24 May, a UN summit on the drought in the Sahel failed. Rich countries pledged only USD 2,4 billion of the USD 7 billion needed to address starvation. That is a stark contrast to the estimated USD 30 billion with which Netherlands subsidizes the fossil industry annually, mainly through tax benefits.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres equates climate change to ecocide. This is his statement on Twitter of 5 April 2022: “Climate activists are sometimes depicted as dangerous radicals. But the truly dangerous radicals are the countries that are increasing the production of fossil fuels. Investing in new fossil fuels infrastructure is moral and economic madness.” The occupation of the A12 was aimed at protesting fossil fuel subsidies.

Extinction Rebellion stands for nonviolent civil disobedience in the tradition of Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Bertrand Russell. A non-violent blockade of a highway, with a demand consistent with UN appeals, represents in our eyes a legitimate response to the violence of climate change exerted on defenseless people, animals, and ecosystems. Politicians linger, listen to the lobbying of the fossil industry, and hope for innovation to solve all our problems. But there’s no time to waste anymore.

Listen to science. Listen to the IPCC, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change . More and more scientists are joining Scientist Rebellion – a group of academics linked to Extinction Rebellion. We, too, will join again next time.

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

About the authors:

Dorothea Hilhorst is professor of Humanitarian Studies at the International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University.




Klaas Landsman is the Chair of Mathematical Physics, Institute for Mathematics, Astrophysics, and Particle Physics at Radboud University Nijmegen.

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How can heatwaves be governed more effectively? A look at the Middle East and North Africa

As the FIFA World Cup in Qatar is well under way, the controversy around the exact number of migrant workers’ deaths continues. There is little doubt that illnesses related to the physical and mental strain of working long hours in extreme heat played a significant role in the surge in untimely deaths. How heat is governed in the Middle East and North Africa strongly influences its effects on public health, writes Sylvia I. Bergh, who argues that heat plans and traditional adaptations can help overcome governance deficiencies. 

For centuries, badgirs (wind catchers) have helped Yazd residents stay cool despite desert temperatures that can reach 40 C in summertime (Credit: Shervin Abdolhamidi)

Rising temperatures in the MENA region present serious threats to human health 

Heatwaves are a ‘silent killer’ around the globe, and the MENA region is no exception. Since the 1970s, warm days and nights have almost doubled in frequency.[1] Many cities already experience temperature and humidity maximums that make it difficult to find acceptable levels of comfort outdoors during most of the day in summer, and midday in temperate seasons.[2] Temperatures across the Middle East region are predicted to increase by 3°C by 2050,[3] while the number of people experiencing major heatwaves is predicted to quadruple between 2010 and 2050.[4] Indeed, peak temperatures during future heatwaves could exceed 56°C in some locations in the Middle East.[5]

Urban areas are climate vulnerable hotspots in Middle East and North Africa (MENA) countries, and urban dwellers are expected to make up 68% of populations in Arab countries by 2050.[6] Warming will be felt more in cities because of the urban heat island (UHI) effect that makes cities 2-6°C warmer than their surroundings.[7] The increase of UHI will cause heat-related health problems, including mental and physical fatigue, an increased likelihood of exhaustion, heart attacks, and more deaths.[8] As the immune system weakens due to heat stress, susceptibility to disease will also further increase.[9] Indeed, heat stress from more severe and longer-lasting heatwaves may be the most serious threat to human health caused by climate change in the MENA region.[10]

The most vulnerable population groups in cities include the elderly, people with chronic conditions such as cardio-vascular diseases and disabilities, those working outdoors (construction workers, street vendors, etc), homeless people, and refugees and IDPs living in camps. On top of that are those who cannot afford air conditioning or any other form of protection.[11] Due to the economic disparities between richer and poorer people, as well as peaceful and conflict-affected MENA countries, there is an ‘adaptation divide’ in which there is a disproportionate impact on vulnerable countries as well as on vulnerable populations within many MENA countries.[12]

Weak policy responses and unhelpful governance practices

While climate awareness and action are increasing across the MENA region, a lack of specific legislation on climate change has been observed. According to Olawuyi,[13] there is no coherent development of climate change principles, norms, and standards across the region. UN-Habitat has drawn particular attention to the potential role of ‘urban law’, whether national laws or local regulations. Unfortunately, city planning and management regimes are still often disconnected from disaster risk and resilience building, while countries lack legislation to integrate city resilience into broader development planning.[14]

Some cities’ Strategic Development Plans do link development, urban renewal and resilience plans under a broader vision. But to implement these plans successfully there is a need for improved coordination between central and local levels and more devolution of responsibilities to local authorities and local budgets for implementation.[15] Indeed, in practice we see overlapping mandates along with limited exchange of information across institutions within and beyond government, hampering multi-hazard risk analysis and forecasting.[16] This also undermines the effectiveness of early warning systems (to the extent that the latter exist at all).[17] As Peters et al. argue,[18] enhancing forecasting (including of heatwaves) to enable timely action is relevant for the MENA region and should be part of an agenda that accelerates and scales up anticipatory action.

It seems so far that cities in the MENA region have failed to respond effectively to the huge challenges posed by heatwaves. Apart from some research and development (R&D) in alternative sources to carbon-based energy, investment has concentrated in high-income real estate and global business competitiveness. In Dubai, for example, one of the hottest climates on the planet, the construction of many high-rise structures of concrete and glass, and black-top roads and car-parks has darkened what was near-white sand, thus absorbing and releasing more heat.[19] Similar trends are visible in Casablanca and Mecca.[20] Yet increasing temperatures mean more demand for air conditioning and cooling systems. For example, due to unbearable heat, Qatar has already begun to air-condition the outdoors.[21]

Possible solutions: traditional building and urban design adaptations 

Green Building Councils across the MENA region provide reports and best practices that support informed policy making on low-carbon, energy-efficient, and environmentally sustainable practices in building design and construction.[22] Scholars and experts also recommend retrofitting buildings by installing reflective and green roofs, window shading, and solar cooling. Jordan is reported to be the first developing country to use solar thermal energy to cool buildings and to reduce cooling power consumption.[23]

Other commonly proposed interventions include both planning and architectural solutions such as tree planting and increases in green or blue spaces,[24] green roofs, window treatments and window placement, architectural materials which are thermally responsive,[25] and lightening roads, roofs, and buildings to increase light reflection.[26]

In this respect, the MENA societies’ centuries-old traditional adaptations to deal with water scarcity and hot climate offer a valuable repository of human knowledge. Examples include the wind catcher or wind tower (known as malqaf in the Arab Gulf countries). These passive cooling towers capture cooler winds aloft, directing them into the living space and displacing warm air. Where possible, these were used in conjunction with the falaj irrigation tunnels, providing an exceptionally effective air conditioning system. Another example is the carved mashrabiya screen. Carved from wood or stone or cast in plaster, often with Islamic geometric patterns, these block and diffuse sunlight, allow fresh air to pass into living space, and provide privacy.[27]

Some of these vernacular bioclimatic designs have been used in contemporary sites, such as Abu Dhabi’s ambitious urban project Masdar City, which started in 2007. Its compact design was inspired by traditional Islamic architecture to maximise passive shading and air circulation in the extreme dry, hot, and windy desert conditions. Short (no longer than 70 m) and narrow streets are blocked off at the end by a building, creating turbulence and a flushing effect. As a result, the temperature in the streets is as low as 20°C, whereas just meters away in the desert sand, the temperature is as high as 35°C.[28] These examples show that if buildings are adapted to the local climate and use passive cooling techniques, they can keep cool naturally. Policies to curb cooling demand often concentrate on promoting the use of efficient cooling technologies and appliances. This is not enough. There is a need to foster (and enforce) improved building designs which take into account the climatic and cultural context.[29]

Policy recommendation: develop comprehensive Local Heat Plans

Although national Heat Health Action Plans (HHAPs) are important frameworks that can guide local action,[30] it is at the local level that such plans can really make a difference for particular vulnerable population groups. A Local Heat Plan is first and foremost a communication plan that activates an early warning system about an impending heatwave. It is directed towards vulnerable population groups and coordinates the actions of various local stakeholders.

As part of a recent research project on the effects of heatwaves on vulnerable populations in The Hague,[31] we developed some policy recommendations that are relevant also for local governments in the MENA region. For example, local governments and their non-governmental partners should run community-awareness campaigns about the heat-related health risks, as well as about low-cost solutions such as cooling scarves. Local governments should amend building regulations that prohibit the installation of awnings for aesthetic reasons (especially in social housing estates), and give subsidies to install such awnings or sunscreens to improve temperature regulation in private residences and care or elderly people’s homes. During a heatwave, they should provide cooling centres (in malls, libraries, and community centers) and telephone helplines for vulnerable people in need of help, treatment and support.[32]

For the cities in the MENA region, stronger national and regional networks of local authorities are key in order to exchange experiences with local adaptation planning and implementation.[33] There is a huge untapped potential for knowledge exchange here to improve the governance of heatwaves in the region.


This piece was originally published by Alternative Policy Solutions (APS), a non-partisan, public policy research project at the American University in Cairo. The original article is available here (English and Arabic).

This research was further presented during the #COP27 during an interview: https://www.climate-change.tv/12095, and a roundtable: https://www.climate-change.tv/12064


[1] Lelieveld, J., Proestos, Y., Hadjinicolaou, P., Tanarhte, M., Tyrlis, E., & Zittis, G. (2016). Strongly increasing heat extremes in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) in the 21st century. Climatic Change, 137(1), 245-260. doi:10.1007/s10584-016-1665-6

[2] Skelhorn, C. (2019). Planning and design for sustainable cities in the MENA region. Smart and Sustainable Built Environment, 8(2), 98-102. doi:10.1108/SASBE-05-2019-071

[3] Lelieveld, J., Proestos, Y., Hadjinicolaou, P., Tanarhte, M., Tyrlis, E., & Zittis, G. (2016). Strongly increasing heat extremes in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) in the 21st century. Climatic Change, 137(1), 245-260. doi:10.1007/s10584-016-1665-6

[4] See Lahn and Shapland, 2022 and Varela et al., 2020; see also Namdar et al., 2021.

[5] Zittis, G., Hadjinicolaou, P., Almazroui, M., Bucchignani, E., Driouech, F., El Rhaz, K., . . . Lelieveld, J. (2021). Business-as-usual will lead to super and ultra-extreme heatwaves in the Middle East and North Africa. Npj Climate and Atmospheric Science, 4(1), 20. doi:10.1038/s41612-021-00178-7

[6] Saghir, J. (2021). Adaptation to climate change in the Middle East and North Africa , Joint Commentary Series: Viewpoint.The Payne Institute for Public Policy at the Colorado School of Mines and the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut.

[7] United Nations Development Programme Regional Bureau for Arab States, (UNDP). (2018). The Arab cities resilience report. Retrieved from https://www.undp.org/arab-states/publications/arab-cities-resilience-report

[8] (Kjellstrom et al., 2016; Loughnan et al., 2010; Ross et al., 2018; all cited in Ahmadalipour and Moradkhani, 2018, p. 215)

[9] United Nations Development Programme Regional Bureau for Arab States, (UNDP). (2018). The Arab cities resilience report. Retrieved from https://www.undp.org/arab-states/publications/arab-cities-resilience-report

[10] Zittis, G., Hadjinicolaou, P., Almazroui, M., Bucchignani, E., Driouech, F., El Rhaz, K., . . . Lelieveld, J. (2021). Business-as-usual will lead to super and ultra-extreme heatwaves in the Middle East and North Africa. Npj Climate and Atmospheric Science, 4(1), 20. doi:10.1038/s41612-021-00178-7

[11] See Al-Bouwarthan et al., 2019; Benzie, Davis and Hoff, 2012; Waha et al 2017.

[12] Rabinowitz, 2020, p. 5; Sowers et al., 2011; Sowers, 2019; all cited in Daoudy et al, 2022, p. 7.

[13] Olawuyi, D. S. (2022). Nature and sources of climate change law and policy in the MENA region. In D. S. Olawuyi (Ed.), Climate change law and policy in the Middle East and North Africa region (pp. 3-20). Milton Park, Abingdon: Routledge.

[14] Home, R. (2022). Urban law and resilience challenges of climate change for the MENA region. In D. S. Olawuyi (Ed.), Climate change law and policy in the Middle East and North Africa region (pp. 153-168). Milton Park, Abingdon: Routledge.

[15] Saghir, J. (2019). Urban resilience: The case of the Middle East and North Africa region, Payne Institute Commentary Series: Viewpoint.The Payne Institute for Public Policy at the Colorado School of Mines.

[16] See also Zea-Reyes et al., 2021 for the case of failing climate change adaptation in Beirut.

[17] Peters, K., Weingärtner, L., Mall, P., Balcou, C., & Overseas Development Institute. (2022). Anticipatory action in the MENA region: State of play and accelerating action.World Food Programme Regional Bureau for the Middle East, Northern Africa, and Eastern Europe; Overseas Development Institute. Retrieved from https://www.wfp.org/publications/anticipatory-action-mena-region-state-play-and-accelerating-action

[18] Peters, K., Weingärtner, L., Mall, P., Balcou, C., & Overseas Development Institute. (2022). Anticipatory action in the MENA region: State of play and accelerating action.World Food Programme Regional Bureau for the Middle East, Northern Africa, and Eastern Europe; Overseas Development Institute. Retrieved from https://www.wfp.org/publications/anticipatory-action-mena-region-state-play-and-accelerating-action

[19] Home, R. (2022). Urban law and resilience challenges of climate change for the MENA region. In D. S. Olawuyi (Ed.), Climate change law and policy in the Middle East and North Africa region (pp. 153-168). Milton Park, Abingdon: Routledge.

[20] Home, R. (2022). Urban law and resilience challenges of climate change for the MENA region. In D. S. Olawuyi (Ed.), Climate change law and policy in the Middle East and North Africa region (pp. 153-168). Milton Park, Abingdon: Routledge.

[21] Mufson, S. (2019). Facing Unbearable Heat, Qatar Has Begun to Air-Condition the Out­doors,  Washington Post, October 16,  Retrieved from: https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2019/world/climate-environment/climate-change-qatar-air-conditioning-outdoors/

[22] Olawuyi, D. S. (2022). Nature and sources of climate change law and policy in the MENA region. In D. S. Olawuyi (Ed.), Climate change law and policy in the Middle East and North Africa region (pp. 3-20). Milton Park, Abingdon: Routledge.

[23] Duygu Sever, S. (2022). Climate change and the energy transition in the MENA region. In D. S. Olawuyi (Ed.), Climate change law and policy in the Middle East and North Africa region (pp. 82-105). Milton Park, Abingdon: Routledge.

[24]  See for example Oliveira et al., 2011, Qiu et al., 2017, Upreti et al., 2017.

[25] Santamouris, M., Synnefa, A., & Karlessi, T. (2011). Using advanced cool materials in the urban built environment to mitigate heat islands and improve thermal comfort conditions. Solar Energy, 85(12), 3085-3102. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.solener.2010.12.023

[26] Radhi et al., 2017; Kyriakodis and Santamouris, 2018; all cited in Skelhorn, 2019, p. 99.

[27] Hobbs, 2017, pp. 58-59; Home, 2022, p. 154, see also PEEB, 2020, p. 21.

[28] Home, 2022, p. 159 and UNDP, 2018, p. 78.

[29] Programme for Energy Efficiency in Buildings, (PEEB). (2020). Better design for cool buildings: How improved building design can reduce the massive need for space cooling in hot climates. PEEB Working Paper.

[30] See WHO, 2008.

[31] Bergh, S. I., Longman, A. R., & van Tujil, E. (2022). Heatwaves and vulnerable populations: Mapping their needs in The Hague. Final Report, February 2022. The Hague: Centre of Expertise on Global Governance, The Hague University of Applied Sciences. Retrieved from https://www.thehagueuniversity.com/research/centre-of-expertise/projectdetails/project-launch-understanding-the-effects-of-heatwaves-on-vulnerable-population-groups-in-the-municipality-of-the-hague

[32] See also van Loenhout et al., 2021, p. 11.

[33] Bergh, S. I. (2020). Building a Euro-Mediterranean partnership with, not for, cities. CIDOB briefings nº 24. Barcelona: Barcelona Centre for International Affairs (CIDOB). Retrieved from https://www.cidob.org/en/publications/publication_series/cidob_policy_brief/building_a_euro_mediterranean_partnership_with_not_for_cities

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

About the author:

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).

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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

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.

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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.

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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 and socially-just responses to the climate crisis.

The Atacama salt-flats in Chile are a hotspot of lithium extraction, a major source of conflicts with local indigenous communities over access to water. Credit: Bachelot Pierre J-P. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

In her 2016 “Edward Said Lecture”, Naomi Klein made the case that “othering” is intimately linked to the production of the climate crisis. Borrowing from Said’s Orientalism, Klein defines othering as the “disregarding, essentialising, [and] denuding the humanity of another culture, people or geographical region”. She argues that this is much needed for justifying the sacrifice zones necessary for fossil fuel exploitation, and for refusing to protect climate refugees. In these ways, othering permits letting off the hook the neoliberal and neocolonial structures of domination that are largely responsible for climate injustice.

Constructing people as not-fully-human, not part of “us”, or as threats—internal enemies, foreign agents, terrorists, obstacles to development, and the like—is a common strategy for legitimising repression against those who resist extractivism and dispossession. Indeed, compartmentalising populations into those who need protection and support, and those who can be sacrificed for the sake of the “greater good”, is what theorists from Michel Foucault to Achille Mbembe saw as the fundamental function of racism, originating in European colonialism. Similarly, Frantz Fanon defined racism as a global hierarchy based on the “line of the human”, which created a distinction between the zone of being (the human) and the zone of not being (the sub- or non-human).

At the same time, the workings and reach of othering go beyond what Naomi Klein suggests. Discursive constructions of populations or territories as “other” are also mobilised to include them within the reach of government action and control. This is typically the case with populations or territories that are constructed as “in need of improving” that, as anthropologist Tania Murray Li has shown, have long underpinned colonial and development interventions. These constructions are no less racist and colonial than those justifying the “need to sacrifice”, yet they are intermeshed with a humanitarian or humanist “will to improve” the other, a reactivation of the imperial discourse of the “white man’s burden”.

Image 1. Mural dedicated to Edward Said, Palestine, 2016. Unknown author. Source. Wikimedia Commons

Climate Action and Othering

We claim that this ambivalent mobilisation of othering—oscillating between improvement and sacrifice—also characterises mainstream responses to the climate crisis, imbuing them with a neo-colonial and, at heart, racist ethos. Policies for mitigating climatic changes, adapting to them, or governing climate-induced migration, require prior discursive work to frame targeted populations or territories as problematic or deficient, through narratives that stress vulnerability, underdevelopment, and victimhood. At the same time, these interventions are associated with effects of dispossession, environmental destruction and the production of surplus populations and sacrifice zones, and must therefore rely on othering to justify letting such populations die.

Mitigation and green extractivism

Think of climate change mitigation, and its purported goal of shifting away from fossil fuels by aggressively expanding industrial-scale renewable energies and electric automobility. Environmental movements and researchers have demonstrated abundantly that this strategy is problematic. They denounced the dispossession effects of “transition mineral” extraction and large hydropower projects, and the “land grabbing” associated with wind and solar energy generation and biofuel plantations. Such industrial-scale solutions follow a “green extractivist” logic that aims to appropriate as much resources, energy and profits as fast as possible from a territory, irrespective of the social and ecological impacts. As such, they produce dispossession and sacrifice outcomes similar to those of fossil fuel extraction (and don’t fare a lot better in terms of CO2 emissions, as Alexander Dunlap has shown).

Compared to the old, “grey” extractivism of dirty coal and oil, such projects are cast as necessary not only for the improvement of otherwise “underdeveloped” territories and peoples, but also for saving the planet from catastrophic climate change—as research by activist and writer Daniel Voskoboynik demonstrates in the case of lithium. The more urgent and necessary the improvement, the more acceptable the sacrifice, and the more “selfish and irrational” the resistance.

Adaptation and vulnerability

Climate change adaptation is another case in point. While emanating from ostensibly disinterested concerns with the adverse effects of climatic changes upon “vulnerable” groups, it draws upon and reinforces images of the other as both in danger and potentially dangerous. This manifests itself in adaptation policy documents—for instance, by the EU—which construct Africa as a climatic “heart of darkness” of unruly environments, failed institutions, and backwards populations, ready to flood European borders with unwanted migrants.

This type of representations depoliticise vulnerability. They separate it from colonial histories and previous rounds of capitalist dispossession and neoliberal restructuring that created or exacerbated people’s “lack of adaptive capacities” in the first place; and obfuscate the historical responsibility of colonial states and capitalists in the global North for generating the majority of greenhouse gas emissions. Moreover, adaptation interventions seek to make “target” populations responsible for managing the adverse effects of climatic changes, receiving limited assistance (in the form of debt and corporate investments) conditional on their willingness to go along with a pre-packaged plan.

The “improvement” of populations and territories targeted by adaptation programmes has no room for redressing development-induced dispossession; rather, it is expected to work through the dispossession itself. As Markus Taylor shows in the case of adaptation policies in Mongolia and South Asia, urbanisation and proletarianization of rural populations, which result in poverty, indebtedness and loss of access to their means of production and livelihood, are framed by the institutions like the World Bank precisely as a way of reducing small farmers’ vulnerability to climate change, while also freeing up rural space for more mechanised and capital-intensive agriculture.

Climate-Induced Migration

Discursive constructions of the climate migrant exemplify how the two forms of othering (to “sacrifice” and to “improve”) are deployed in overlapping and contradictory ways. A common way in which othering operates in this context involves the separation between “good” and “bad” migrants. For instance, Andrew Telford has shown how EU and US policy reports on climate-induced migration often represent Muslim and African migrant populations as threats, as racialised others with a potential for radicalization and terrorism.

At the opposite end of the “migrant-as-threat” trope stands the image of climate migrants as victims, which is apparently benign but nonetheless problematic. Victimisation involves representing those vulnerable to the effects of climatic change as powerless and resource-less. This disempowers communities by obscuring the adaptation strategies they already practice. At the same time, it bolsters neo-colonial imaginaries of a silenced other with no agency who, driven by desperation, “easily becomes the unpredictable, wild ‘other’ that threatens ‘us’”—in the words of geographer Kate Manzo.

Image 2. Global Climate Strike in Melbourne, Australia. September 2019. Credit: John Englart. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Othering and the Adaptation of Capital

Despite their stated aim to mitigate and adapt to disastrous climatic changes, mainstream climate policies are explicitly envisioned as avenues for furthering capital accumulation. This is obvious in the case of industrial-scale renewables, dominated by transnational energy corporations seeking to expand their markets and diversify their production. But it also applies to the increasingly privatised and financialised business of adaptation, presented as creating opportunities for profit-making and rent extraction. For instance, a report released in September 2019 by the Global Commission on Adaptation—a private-public partnership led by the UN, World Bank and Gates Foundation—calculated that “investing $1.8 trillion globally” in climate change adaption until 2030 “could generate $7.1 trillion in total net benefits”.

What’s more, climate policies are motivated by a geostrategic concern with security. This points to a continuation of the post-WWII “development project”, which was motivated by the threat that newly decolonised populations might turn to communism or Third World anti-imperialism. While the political coordinates have changed, “climate-related development” functions to a large extent as a way of containing the “excess freedom” of surplus populations: stopping them from becoming unruly, or migrating to rich countries (in larger numbers than capital needs).

Taken together, the current choreography of policies and interventions that make up the “climate action” framework can be seen as a way to preserve global capitalist class power in the face of the ongoing climate catastrophe. Othering in this sense is central to the “post-political” governmentality of climate change, a key tenet of which is, for Erik Swyngedouw, “the perceived inevitability of capitalism and a market economy as the basic organizational structure of the social and economic order, for which there is no alternative.”


A central implication of all this is that plans for radical socio-ecological transformation—including Just Transition or Green New Deal frameworks—should not reproduce a colonial logic whereby peripheries (primarily) in the global South are treated as pools for resource grabbing and carbon dumping, or as sites for salvation-type interventions that dismiss frontline community action and priorities. As climate justice activists advocate, there can be no decarbonisation without decolonization.

Challenging the neocolonial and neoliberal government of climate change entails affirming the ability of the subaltern to “speak”: recognising and reasserting the “pluriversality” of “non-Western” socio-environmental knowledges and praxes should be foundational to climate justice. We must be mindful, however, that—as the Aymara theorist Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui has argued—there is more to decolonization than discursive emancipation.

Recognising ontological multiplicity must go hand in hand with the critique of material power asymmetries and global unequal (ecological) relations. Decolonizing means, primarily, giving back the land to indigenous communities and reasserting the sovereignty of formerly colonized peoples, including access to and control over natural resources and other means of production and reproduction—as part of globally connected struggles attacking the material and ideological bases of racial-patriarchal capitalism and imperialism.

This blog was originally published in Undisciplined Environments, and is based on a longer, open access article published in the journal Political Geography.

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

About the authors:

Diego Andreucci is a postdoctoral researcher at the International Institute of Social Studies, Erasmus University Rotterdam, the Netherlands, and a member of Undisciplined Environments. @diegoandreucci

Christos Zografos is a Ramón y Cajal Senior Research Fellow of the Department of Political and Social Sciences at Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona. He is Vice-Director of GREDS (Research Group on Health Inequalities, Environment, and Employment Conditions), and Executive Board member of the Johns Hopkins University – Pompeu Fabra (JHU-UPF) University Public Policy Centre.

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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.

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Covid-19 | Strengthening alliances in a post-Covid world: green recovery as a new opportunity for EU-China climate cooperation?

As nations turn their attention to fighting the economic crisis resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic, green recovery seems to be a good—and perhaps for the first time, possible—option. As climate change remains the most pressing challenge despite the severity of the global Covid-19 pandemic, a green recovery plan to slow down global warming and meet climate goals becomes imperative. Leaders in the EU are taking the lead in greening the recovery, while China seems to be following suit. A ‘green consciousness’ seems to be emerging. Could these efforts improve EU-China relations and help these two global powerhouses work together to fight climate change? asks Hao Zhang.

Chinese and EU flag
Credit: Friends of Europe on Flickr

As the IMF’s latest report on fiscal policies shows, the Covid-19 crisis won’t change the global climate that is also in crisis, but responses to it might. Even though science hasn’t produced an answer on whether the current economic crisis induced by the pandemic will indeed affect the stock of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, efforts to address it certainly will. It is undeniable that the current health and economic crisis together create a threat to our current development trajectory and that the scope and severity of the issue to some extent make lasting efforts and immediate actions crucial. These decisions on how we will recover from the pandemic and the resulting crisis will shape our society for the next few decades and, even more importantly perhaps, how we deal with our climate and environmental challenges. As the IPCC’s report warned that our current ambition and willingness are far from pushing us to reach our goal of containing global warming, a green recovery plan becomes imperative in a post-Covid-19 world.

The question then arises: How do we green our recovery? As the IMF suggests, fiscal policymakers should take the lead in making policies that support climate goals without undermining the purpose of boosting the economy. Then, finance ministries should be able to set up concrete and practical projects to implement these policies. In addition, public support for the green policies with the rationale that curbing emissions would likely reduce the risk of respiratory diseases is indispensable. In a post-Covid-19 world, this might sway the public in support of green measures in a way it never has before.

The EU seems to be taking the lead in employing green measures to recover its lockdown-hit economies. As policymakers tend to believe that a green plan can better help revive the economy, concrete actions can be witnessed. In May this year, the European Commission proposed a €750 billion recovery fund with green conditions, 25% of which is to be set aside for climate action, meaning that one-quarter of expenditure with a ‘do-no-harm’ clause can potentially rule out environmentally damaging investments.[1] In addition, the Commission also issued a €1.85 trillion, seven-year budget and pandemic recovery package. This EU green recovery package could be introduced elsewhere to stimulate the economy while fighting climate change.

In addition, the EU launched the world’s largest programs for innovative low-carbon technologies under the fund from the EU’s emissions trading system. This innovation fund is created to finance breakthrough technologies for renewable energy, energy-intensive industries, carbon capture, use and storage, etc. These could help create local job opportunities, lead the economy to a climate-neutral place, and also help the EU maintain its technological leadership in climate change. It is obvious that the EU pays great attention to the future of clean technologies, yet it allows member states and the market space to decide how the money is spent. The member states will be allowed to use their allocations from the EU’s Recovery and Resilience Facility for a wide range of green projects detailed in their national energy climate plans, and their proposals will be reviewed by the Commission; at the same time, private capital will be encouraged to invest in clean energy technologies.

On the other side of the world, in China, residents also survived the first wave of the pandemic, and the government is now also making recovery plans. This May, in the report on the work of the government, the development of renewable energy and efforts toward the clean and efficient use of coal were emphasized.[2] At the same time, this year for the first time Beijing has decided not to set an economic growth target, which is interpreted as a way to help China shift away from energy-intensive infrastructure projects.[3] This indeed has sent out a very positive signal; however, given that China still hasn’t submitted its Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) for the next reporting round, it also raises concerns about a lack of practical assurance.

Nevertheless, the cooperation between the EU and China in regard to green recovery seems promising. At the recent 22nd China-EU Summit on September 14 this year, President Xi Jinping stated that

China is interested in forging a green partnership with the EU and constructively participating in the global process of tackling climate change and preserving biodiversity. We are researching on reaching our long-term vision in the mid-century,[4] which includes carbon-peaking and carbon-neutrality.[5]

It is thus obvious that economic recovery after the Covid-19 pandemic is considered a top priority for leaders of both the EU and China, and it becomes increasingly clear that both parties are interested in a recovery package that aligns with their green transition goals.

Looking ahead, the EU and China can cooperate with each other in a few fields. First, the EU’s experiences could help China transition more rigorously to the use of green energy, especially in cutting the number of carbon-powered plants and subsidizing new energy vehicles. Second, the EU and China could agree to channel public and private funds to low-carbon investments both at home and abroad. Both parties are big investors of overseas development projects; they can thus work together to invest in projects subject to green terms. Going a step further, the EU and China could also work on developing international standards for sustainable finance[6], and China could learn from the EU’s experience in committing to more ambitious climate targets, specifically making ‘decarbonization’ a top priority in its next five-year plan.[7] Hopes are high for future cooperation between the EU and China in leading the world toward a green recovery, yet key decisions need to be made by both parties.

[1] Refer to Climate Home News, “EU €750 billion Covid recovery fund comes with green conditions”, May 27, 2020.

[2] Refer to ccchina.org.cn, 一图读懂2020政府工作报告, May 29, 2020.

[3] Refer to Climate Home News, “China prioritises employment over GDP growth in coronavirus recovery”, May 22, 2020.

[4] President Xi confirmed that China will try to reach carbon-neutrality before 2060 in his speech at a high-level meeting to mark the UN’s 75th anniversary on September 22nd, 2020.

[5] Refer to Global Times, “推动疫后全球经济复苏 中欧领导人视频会晤定目标”, September 15, 2020.

[6] Refer to China Dialogue, “Hopes for EU-China climate deal centre on a green recovery”, June 17, 2020.

[7] Refer to China Dialogue, “中欧气候协议前景如何?”, September 14, 2020.

About the author:

Hao ZhangHao Zhang is a PhD candidate at the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS), Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR). Before joining ISS, she was a master’s student majoring international affairs at School of Global Policy and Strategy at University of California, San Diego. Her current research focus on policy advocacy of Chinese NGOs in global climate governance. Her research interests lie in Chinese politics, global climate politics and diplomacy.

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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 on a plane and fly away makes us even more aware of how mobile academics have become over the past decades. The COVID-19 pandemic may provide the perfect opportunity to reassess and alter our travel behaviour now that we are forced to stay put, write Lara Vincent and Oane Visser.

Hypermobility is widely viewed as a cornerstone of contemporary globalised academics and a sine qua non for professional success in the increasingly competitive environment of higher education that requires the showcasing of research at academic conferences and elsewhere. Academics are pressured to be innovative and utilise travel to undertake and present distinguishable research (Nursey et al. 2019: 1). Data collection, conference attendance, and networking opportunities are three of the main reasons for international (short-term) mobility, all which are described by academics as essential for one’s visibility—and success—in the academia. This is consistent with the profession’s ranking as one of the three most mobile jobs in the world, with business executives and politicians filling up the other two spots (Mahroum 2000: 26).

Frequent air travel is gradually becoming an issue of debate in academia. Several European universities have introduced policies to reduce (the impact of) academic travel. In the Netherlands, a ‘climate letter’ drafted end 2018 by a group of prominent academics pushed for a progressive climate agenda to be adopted by Dutch universities, with strong support from the Association of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU). In Belgium, Ghent University is one of the pioneers, with a travel policy that distinguishes ‘green destinations’ (with a travel time by train or bus below six hours) and ‘orange destinations (up to eight hours). For green destinations like Oxford, Frankfurt and Montpellier, flights are not offered anymore; for ‘orange destinations’, such as Geneva and Hamburg, train and bus are the preferred options.

But at most universities, it still seems business as usual regarding air travel. Unlike business executives and politicians, academics are deemed knowledge producers. The paradox between the abundant knowledge produced and circulated in academic settings about the far-reaching negative repercussions of climate change and continued frequent air travel by academics raises the question why the profession fails to move to more pro-environmental mobility.

Research by Tom Storme of Ghent University on the contradictory nature of knowledge and action regarding air mobility stimulated Lara to conduct her ISS Research Paper on this topic. She found that many of the 20 academics interviewed about how they view their academic travel behaviour mentioned psychological discomfort due to the inconsistencies between their knowledge and behaviour. This can be characterised as cognitive dissonance and can only be relieved with a change in attitudes or actions to match the other (Festinger 1957: 7).

The academics interviewed at the ISS stated that not travelling was viewed negatively in the ever-changing world of academia where transnational connections enhance the ability to be socially and professionally visible. As a result, the interviewees dismissed their dissonance by predominately adapting their attitudes to match their flight patterns, such as by comparing academic flight emissions favourably to other industries, emphasising the lack of control over their actions, compensating emissions by becoming more environmentally conscious in their personal lives, or highlighting the essential societal value of the research that the travelling enabled. Changing travel behaviour by reducing flying was seen as impossible when you want to build an academic career.

Ironically, it seems that 2020 has forced academics to re-evaluate their reliance on cross-border travel. The grounding of aeroplanes due to COVID-19 has forced academics to review their reliance on air travel, behaviour that was previously imagined as virtually impossible. PhD defences are now suddenly done online, part of planned conferences are being shifted online, and some face-to-face research is being substituted by online and phone interviews. Will these trends stick when the airspace is opened, or will we divert to our old habits?

The move to confine individuals to their houses and limit travel to contain the coronavirus has also drastically reduced the carbon emissions produced by air travel. The world has seen a reduction in pollution levels with satellites images showing clear skies over cities that were previously impossible to view from space (Collins 2020: 1). The pandemic has unexpectedly unleashed or accelerated pro-environmental mobility policies in various cities. Mostly notably, Milan is drastically reducing car use to rapidly make space for laying out cycling infrastructure in order to stimulate people to avoid public transport where it is difficult to keep enough distance to prevent the proliferation of the coronavirus.

While air traffic is likely to rebound substantially after the pandemic has been contained, it seems that the global lockdown has enabled academics to re-evaluate their need for hypermobility in a world where the repercussions of climate change are acutely experienced—a change that was deemed almost impossible until early 2020. The pandemic has shown that it is possible to go back to ‘normal’ levels of mobility when compared to today’s hypermobility, but the academia that demands air travel as way to ensure success may also have to be fundamentally transformed to allow for academics to conduct and showcase their research  differently. More online conferences, conferences with a mixture of online and offline presentations, and organising (or selecting) conferences based on their accessibility by ground transport may be some of the ways to go.

Acknowledgments: A word of thanks to the ISS academics who shared their views in the interviews.

This article is part of a series about the coronavirus crisis. Read all articles of this series here.

About the authors:

Lara VincentLara Vincent was part of the 2018/2019 Masters students who graduated in December 2019. While at ISS she majored in Agrarian, Food and Environmental Studies, with a specialisation in Environment and Sustainable Development.


Oane Visser (associate professor, Political Ecology research group, ISS) leads an international Toyota Foundation funded research project on the socio-economic and environmental effects of -and responses to- big data and digitalisation in agriculture. He is an ISRF fellow for 2020-21.


Resisting environmental and social injustice through commoning

Lize Swartz in conversation with Dr Gustavo García-López, 2019-2021 Prince Claus Chair

Social and environmental injustice are increasing globally as neoliberalism tightens its grip. Crisis upon crisis are hitting especially vulnerable populations, interacting to create precarious and untenable living conditions. These issues become more pressing in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has made more visible to the world the environmentally destructive and socially unjust patterns of our societies. The recovery of more equitable and sustainable ways of life based on communality and interconnectedness is needed to address the hypercomplex global crisis generated by globalized neoliberal capitalism, argues Dr Gustavo García-López, current Prince Claus Chair holder at the ISS. Lize Swartz spoke to him about his work and how commoning can transform the world we live in.

The ISS is one of two research institutes hosting Prince Claus Chair holders—researchers who are selected to spend a period of two years at the institute (or at Utrecht University on alternate years) to conduct research aligning to the position’s theme of ‘development and equity’. Dr Gustavo García-López started his tenure as Prince Claus Chair holder at the ISS in September 2019, focusing on ‘sustainable development, equity and environmental justice’, and regularly visits the Institute, where he spends time working on his research and interacting with other researchers.

Having done his PhD on community forestry initiatives under Nobel Prize winner Elinor Ostrom at Indiana University Bloomington, during his tenure at the ISS Dr García-López will continue to focus on commoning initiatives and community-based natural resources governance, in particular initiatives to recover the commons. To this end he is developing two projects. One of them is comparing initiatives in Portugal (Baldios) and in Galicia, Spain (Montes Vecinales) that are attempting to recover a rural commons and sustain rural livelihoods that are in crisis. He will work with organizations to facilitate collaborative learning processes and the co-production of knowledge to find out what is working and how it is working so people can recover their ties to the land, culturally and economically. While these two study areas have many cultural commonalities, they have different political and legal systems, and García-López with other colleagues hopes to look at the type of policy reforms needed to facilitate the recovery of the commons for each of the contexts.

The second project he is currently engaged in is centered in the Caribbean and focuses on the climate crisis, in particular just transitions to a system that is not based on fossil fuel, extraction and private profit, but rather is based on the commons and is more sustainable and equitable. His interest in this area is based on his personal ties to the area, as a Puerto Rican, but also his observations as a political and environmental activist of growing disaster capitalism following the historic damages caused by Hurricane Maria in September 2018.

“[Hurricane Maria] was a moment of dramatic change,” he said. “Many people had to self-organize to survive, so many community kitchens called Centres of Mutual Aid emerged. Those centres also became spaces for discussing how we can change our society. People discussed how resilient they were, but also the economic crisis, the housing crisis in Puerto Rico, the education crisis, or the food crisis.” According to García-López, one of the biggest issues in Puerto Rico is that 85% or 90% of Puerto Rico’s food is imported “because our agriculture was killed historically to give way to industrialization”.

García-López is also involved in JunteGente, an organization started by a group of friends following Hurricane Maria that focuses on building a collective of professors at the Universidad de Puerto Rico (University of Puerto Rico) to intervene in debates on the economic crisis, the debt crisis, etc. and shape the conversation on this, but also to provide a space for encounters among organizations and academics working on issues of energy, health, environmental justice, urban issues, education, and so forth to develop ways to strengthen cross-sector solidarity.

The loss and recovery of rural livelihoods

The loss of rural livelihoods due to the commercialization of agriculture and rapid, ongoing urbanization, reduced government support for peasant farming, the privatization of land, as well as ecological problems all contribute to what García-López refers to as a rural crisis. In Spain and Portugal, as in many other parts of the world, however, communities are resisting the crisis by attempting to recover the rural commons through various initiatives.

For his PhD, García-López studied community forest management initiatives in Mexico, where similar initiatives were taking place. “Community-based natural resource management is globally recognized as one strategy to integrate proverty reduction, inequality and sustainable livelihood agendas,” García-López says. In Mexico, communities had their own forest enterprises—small, cooperative businesses operating at the community level—that controlled the land and sold timber as an income. But beyond that, forests were recognized as being complex ecosystems with multiple benefits that can be derived from them. Allowing communities to control the land and financially benefit from forests ensured that they were protected by the communities dependent on them. But, García-López highlights, forests are also protected because the value of conserving them—their tangible and intangible benefits beyond source of income are recognized by communities. “There is a conservation mentality in some of the communities.” In Oaxaca, for example, communities created their own community conservation areas, where forests were conserved for other reasons as well: “It’s also an identitarian issue—they are also proud that they have this beautiful forest that they conserve.”

While communities in the Global South are focused strongly on conservation, García-López notes that the Global North is seeing the reversal of trends related to natural resources overexploitation and deforestation. “Centuries ago, the idea of private property owernship did not even exist. In Europe, common lands were given to peasants to enjoy… there was a global shift, and now especially after 2009, after Elinor Ostrom received the Nobel Prize for Economics for the study of the commons… the global discussion started to change, and nowadays in urban cities you see a lot of initiatives to recover urban commons—to recover urban gardens, or housing as a commons, a cooperative—as a reaction to the expansion of private property.” Reconceptualizing natural resource use would change how we think about our relationships and with nature: “Everything that you do to a commons happens to everybody.”

The notion of a commons also can be applied to understand our human interconnectedness globally, remarks García-López. “Everything we do in life is affecting others and is benefiting others in positive and negative ways because of our interconnections. And I think climate change demonstrates that the whole planet is a commons. Anything you do is going to affect the whole world. Climate change changed everything because it shows that everything is interconnected… so we should manage it collectively.”

One of the big problems we have today is the equality issue associated with private property, class and power, where a few people have too much and many are excluded, says García-López. “The commons invites us to think about redistribution, about equality, about the problem of democratic governance—how we make decisions collectively instead of privately. It has a great potential while always recognizing that there will always be challenges. Politics has to remain self-reflective and critical and we have to keep in mind who is excluded.”

Besides this tendency to exclude that has to be kept in check, he mentions an additional, ideological challenge. “Our mindsets, our imaginaries have been so distorted by the idea of private property or self-interest, ownership… if you look at other cosmovisions or ontologies they recognize that precisely because of interconnectedness, ownership doesn’t make so much sense, but it’s difficult to get out of it when you’ve spent your whole life in that system… self-interest is a reality. Ostrom showed us that you could have self-interest, but that you could transcend it by recognizing that acting together would be in everybody’s interest.”

García-López remarks that we’re currently a short-term society, which impedes the ability to envision sustainable futures. Individualism is a major challenge to transformations to collectivity, he says. “It’s hard to do it when you’re overexploited in your work and you don’t have time to do things, because the style of our society is the compartementalization of life. To do things collectively becomes harder when your everyday patterns are individual. That’s why these discussions are linked to discussions about rethinking work—how we do everything. Some commons scholars talk about social reproduction needs that we require for basics of life.”

What García-López stressed throughout the conversation is that academics should be engaged in collective efforts and commoning initiatives that can start within academe as an effort to collectivize and share knowledge and co-create knowledge, reaching out beyond academia to engage with commoning initiatives that are visible in urban and rural contexts around us. While García-López’s research focuses on studying commoning initiatives—the recovery and reimagination of way of life in which things are communal, shared—anyone can create commoning initiatives in their own neighbourhoods or work space to help shape a new society based on degrowth and post-development.

Watch Gustavo García-López in a recorded webinar by JunteGente with the topic “How can we build a counter-hegemonic, supportive and ecological political power from below that challenges the lethal virus of the colony?”

About the authors:

Gustavo Garcia-LopezGustavo García-López is an engaged scholar-activist with a transdisciplinary training, building on institutional analysis, environmental policy and planning, and political ecology approaches. His research and practice centers on grassroots collective commoning initiatives that advance transformations towards socially-just and sustainable worlds. He is currently Assistant Researcher at the Center for Social Studies, University of Coimbra, and Associate Professor at the Graduate School of Planning, University of Puerto Rico- Rio Piedras (on leave). He is co-founding member of the editorial collective of the Undisciplined Environments blog, and of the JunteGente collective, a space of encounters between organizations fighting for a more socially-just, ecological and decolonized Puerto Rico.  

Lize SwartzLize Swartz is a PhD researcher at the ISS focusing on water user interactions with sustainability-climate crises in the water sector, in particular the role of water scarcity politics on crisis responses and adaptation processes. She is also the editor of the ISS Blog Bliss.