Tag Archives indigenous communities

Environmental destruction and resistance: a closer look at the violent reoccupation of the DRC’s Kahuzi-Biega National Park

The decision of the indigenous Batwa to reoccupy parts of eastern DRC’s Kahuzi-Biega National Park by force shocked many outside observers. They were further shocked when the Batwa started to ally with rebel groups, traders, and illegal timber cutters in order to exploit part of the ancestral forest they had been forced to leave decades prior. In a recently-published article in the Journal of Peasant Studies, Fergus Simpson and Sara Geenen show why the Batwa’s decision to return to the park should in fact come as anything but a surprise.

Picture taken by the first author

During the 1970s, the Congolese government forcibly displaced the Batwa people, a hunter-gatherer minority group, from eastern DRC’s Kahuzi-Biega National Park[1] (Barume 2000). In the decades following their displacement, the Batwa would secretly re-enter the park to collect firewood and food and to practice customary rituals. But after a 2018 attempt to buy them land outside the park failed, several hundred Batwa violently reoccupied parts of the park’s highland sector. Park authorities were quickly overwhelmed; a series of clashes has since claimed the lives of at least eleven Batwa, two eco-guards, and a government soldier.

Once back in the land of their ancestors, the Batwa formed alliances with armed groups, traders, and Bantu peasants to exploit the park’s natural resources both for personal consumption and for commercial purposes. Interviews conducted with local conservation NGOs has shown that this has led to the loss of hundreds of hectares of forest. In addition, through the abovementioned alliances certain Batwa chiefs have been able to assert strong territorial control over parts of the park and have become wealthy as a result.

The Batwa’s decision to forcibly reoccupy the park should not come as a surprise. Rather, it can be explained by three factors: 1) the failure to secure compensation and access rights to their ancestral lands through formal and legal channels, 2) an increase in threats to the Batwa’s dignity, identity, and livelihoods over recent years, and 3) the emergence of opportunities to forge alliances with more powerful actors in a way that consolidated the group’s power and allowed it to exploit natural resources contained within the forest for commercial purposes.

Slow violence and everyday resistance

The Batwa had been the custodians of Kahuzi-Biega’s forests from time immemorial. Yet in 1970, the Congolese government introduced a decree which would invalidate the Batwa’s customary land rights, transforming their ancestral forests into a place of strict preservation, scientific research, and tourism. During the 1970s, the Congolese conservation agency (at that time the Institut Zaïrois pour la Conservation de la Nature) worked alongside the national army to evacuate people from the area without prior warning; they would simply show up and say ‘this is no longer your home’.

The Batwa fled to live in squatter camps among other communities at the park boundaries and were forced to eke out a meagre existence by stealing from their non-Batwa neighbours. Although there were occasional opportunities to do piecemeal labour on the farms of wealthy landowners, discrimination based on ethnicity hindered the Batwa’s ability to find work. Their living conditions were poor, with substandard medical care, education and inadequate housing, as well as nutritional deficiencies, poor hygiene and a high mortality rate resulting from the lack of a proper diet and the absence of water and sanitation facilities.

The Batwa were not just deprived of their means of subsistence; they were also cut off from their identity as forest dwellers and their spirituality that is linked to nature. When they were separated from the forest, they became separated from themselves. This erosion of their identity and means of livelihood through dispossession can be seen as a process of ‘slow’ violence, which Robert Nixon (2011:2) describes as ‘a violence that occurs gradually and out of sight, a violence of delayed destruction that is dispersed across time and space, an attritional violence that is not viewed as violence at all’.

Unsurprisingly, the act of dispossession and subsequent slow violence did not go uncontested. Due to the presence of armed eco-guards and severe punishments for breaking park regulations, the Batwa mostly opted against risky forms of overt resistance in the decades spent outside the forest. Instead, they engaged in what James Scott (1989) calls covert ‘everyday’ resistance. Often under the cover of nightfall, they would illegally enter the park to collect food and firewood and to practice customary rituals that not only helped them survive, but also to make continued claims of their ancestral rights to the park.

All that changed in October 2018 when the Batwa decided to return to the park en masse, unleashing violent clashes and a wave of environmental destruction in the process. Based on six months of ethnographic fieldwork from August 2019 to February 2020, we tried to understand what led the Batwa to reoccupy their ancestral land.

Peaceful strategies had failed to deliver change

In the decade before the Batwa returned, Minority Rights Group worked with the local NGO Environnement Ressources Naturelles et Développement to create a lawsuit against the Congolese government. A case was brought to Bukavu’s Tribunal de Grande Instance in 2008, after which it was transferred to the Court of Appeal in 2013. It proposed that the Batwa had been expelled from the park illegally and should receive land, financial compensation, and continued access rights to the forest. The case was dismissed on the grounds that it concerned a problem of constitutionality and should therefore be resolved at the national level.

Two more cases were brought to DRC’s Supreme Court in Kinshasa in 2013 and to the African Union in 2015; both remain pending. From 2014, Forest Peoples Programme also facilitated a dialogue process between the Batwa and park authorities to agree upon appropriate compensation and identify sites inside the park for the Batwa to continue cultural and subsistence activities. But negotiations broke down after ICCN repeatedly failed to deliver on its promises.

As a result of these failures, the Batwa came to distrust the NGOs that support them, pushing them a step closer toward violent reoccupation. The level of scepticism is exemplified in the statement of one Batwa chief:

An NGO invited me in several different meetings, but this NGO lies that they are going to plead for our rights and bring projects. They swallow the money and then claim in their reports that they are pleading on behalf of the Batwa!

An increased threat

In August 2017, in a prelude to the mass reoccupation, a Batwa man and his son went into the park to collect medicinal herbs and were shot by park guards on patrol, leaving the father wounded and his son dead. This provocation led to almost instantaneous uprising. The Batwa took the boy’s body to park headquarters in protest. As the hours passed, tensions increased. Some Batwa even started waving sticks and machetes, threatening to reoccupy the park.

In the months after the killing, a representative of the Batwa in Bukavu told me how an international donor attempted to buy land for the Batwa to settle on outside the park. But the director of a local NGO who received the money on behalf of the Batwa then proceeded to buy a house and a car with the cash. It was at this point that the Batwa decided to violently retake the land of their ancestors by force, feeling that they could trust no-one and had to rely on themselves to take back what they saw was rightfully theirs.

Alliances with more powerful actors

Both before and after the national election in December 2018, the Batwa took advantage of opportunities to form strategic alliances with more powerful actors to consolidate their control over parts of the park and extract its resources. First, they allied with non-state armed groups operating in the park’s highland sector. This provided them with access to weapons and soldiers to assert control over their reoccupied territory. The Mai-Mai Cisayura is reported to have helped a group of Batwa attack a patrol post in Lemera, killing one guard in the process. On the side of these armed groups, they claimed to be ‘helping the Batwa claim their rights’ as a way to legitimate their presence in the park and extract minerals.

Second, the Batwa collaborated with businessmen and politicians from the provincial capital Bukavu who typically control the region’s trade networks. Over several months, trucks filled with bags of charcoal and planks of wood could be seen leaving the villages on the edge of the park for urban centres in Bukavu and Kavumu. These alliances enabled the Batwa to sell the resources that they were extracting from the park and led to significant deforestation, which continues up to this day.

Third, the Batwa deepened their commercial relationships with Bantu peasants to access expertise, financial capital, and technology to exploit resources. One group of Batwa even started working with Bantus who own a chainsaw to cut wood inside the park. This ensured that they had enough power to maintain the occupation and that they could more effectively exploit and sell natural resources extracted from within the park.

Fighting against slow violence

The above observations all reveal that the reoccupation of the park by the Batwa followed decades of slow violence, manifest in the gradual erosion of their group identity and sense of dignity. It also reveals that the event should not be considered surprising, as numerous related events led up to it. The sudden transition of the forest from a protected to an exploited zone raises further questions about whether the exclusion of indigenous groups from protected areas can have the perverse effect of severing their relationship with the land they once conserved, which in the case of Kahuzi-Biega National Park led to both large-scale deforestation and violent clashes.

Based on our research, we argue that a better understanding of the factors which push communities from covert resistance toward overtly violent forms of contestation against conservation could help prevent the social unrest and environmental destruction we have seen in Kahuzi-Biega over recent years from being repeated elsewhere. Such knowledge could also be used to inform a contemporary conservation movement that is more environmentally sustainable and socially just for future generations of indigenous people.

[1] The park, which extends over 600,000 hectares, is home to the endangered eastern lowland gorilla and 13 other species of primate. It became a UNESCO World Heritage Site mainly because of the diverse mammal and bird species it houses.


Barume, Albert Kwokwo. 2000. Heading Towards Extinction?: Indigenous Rights in Africa : The Case of the Twa of the Kahuzi-Biega National Park, Democratic Republic of Congo. IWGIA.

Nixon, Rob. 2011. Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor. Harvard University Press. http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt2jbsgw.

Scott, James C. 1989. ‘Everyday Forms of Resistance’. The Copenhagen Journal of Asian Studies 4 (1): 33. https://doi.org/10.22439/cjas.v4i1.1765.

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

About the author:

Fergus Simpson is a Joint-PhD student at the University of Antwerp’s Institute of Development Policy (IOB) and the ISS funded by FWO.  He is also a member of the Centre d’Expertise en Gestion Minière (CEGEMI) at the Université Catholique de Bukavu, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).  His research focuses on the intricacies between environmental conservation, armed mobilisation and conflicts surrounding natural resources in eastern DRC’s South Kivu Province.

Sara Geenen is assistant professor in International Development, Globalization and Poverty at the Institute of Development Policy (IOB), University of Antwerp, Belgium. She is co-director of the Centre d’Expertise en Gestion Minière (CEGEMI) at the Université Catholique de Bukavu, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Her current research interests lie in the global and local development dimensions of extractivist projects, addressing questions about more socially responsible and inclusive forms of globalization.

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EADI ISS Conference 2021 | Questioning development: What lies ahead?

Development Studies requires “an epistemological and ontological change”, write Elisabetta Basile and Isa Baud in the introduction to the recent EADI volume ‘Building Development Studies for a New Millennium’. The planned sequel of the book will take this analysis one step further and explore viable ways to build on both the critique of development as such and the growing demand to decolonise knowledge production. During a plenary session titled ‘Questioning Development – Towards Solidarity, Decoloniality, Conviviality’ that formed part of EADI’s recent #Solidarity2021 conference, four contributors discussed the upcoming book. Christiane Kliemann summarised the discussion.

The need to critique development has become urgent as global inequalities increase and the need for the decolonisation of knowledge to redress knowledge production asymmetries becomes greater. “We have been much better at critique than at changing things”, quipped Uma Kothari during a panel session titled ‘Questioning Development – Towards Solidarity, Decoloniality, Conviviality’ of EADI’s recent #Solidarity2021 conference that she recently chaired.

Kothari is also one of the editors of a forthcoming book with the working title ‘Questioning Development Studies: Towards Decolonial, Convivial and Solidaristic Approaches’ that will be a sequel to the already-published EADI volume titled ‘Building Development Studies for a New Millennium’. During the panel session she asked four panellists who contributed to the book to discuss their own practices towards challenging the classical ‘development’ paradigm and possible ways forward. Their diverse and insightful arguments are captured below.

Integrating indigenous understandings of relationality

Yvonne Te Ruki-Rangi-O-Tangaroa Underhill-Sem, Associate Professor in Pacific Studies, Te Wānanga o Waipapa, University of Auckland, New Zealand, started the discussion with an interesting example from New Zealand, or Aotearoa, as she calls it by its Maori name, where the Maori concept of Manaakitanga has even influenced the way in which research is done in the whole country. Manaakitanga, as Underhill-Sem explained, is all around caring for the ‘Mana’ of people we relate to – ‘Mana’ itself being understood as anything we relate to, be it other people, land, or whatever is meaningful to us. “We’ve been working very closely between New Zealand Maori and Pacific scholars to begin to infuse and embed this concept in one of the major research policy platforms in Aotearoa that control the funding of research and the definition of what is excellent research”, she explained.

As a very tangible example for encouraging research based on a much broader understanding of knowledge, she referred to the Toksave Research Portal which has drawn its name from one of the languages of Papua New Guinea and started as a “process inviting a whole range of different knowledge-makers around the region and the Pacific to submit their work”, be it a poem, a thesis, or an NGO report.

Lauren Tynan, Trawlwulwuy woman from Tebrakunna country in northeast Tasmania, who is currently doing her PhD on aboriginal burning practices at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, also views the issue of decolonising knowledge and knowledge production through a lens of relationality. She aspires to hold herself accountable to all relations she has; her recent paper ‘Thesis as kin: living relationality with research’ explored how she relates to her research.

At times, this understanding can be quite challenging to the concept of research she had been initially taught, which she finds “quite a colonising way of researching”. For example, it doesn’t take into account her responsibilities as a mother of small children, which prevent her from traveling back and forth for her research: “Part of that relationality is to see that I shouldn’t feel that as a limitation but as part my responsibilities and obligations to my family and my wider family which is also my research relationship”.

Migration as constitutive dimension of human existence

Samid Suliman, Lecturer on Migration and Security in the School of Humanities, Languages and Social Science at Griffith University, Australia, brought in another important, but much-overlooked perspective. As he focuses much of his work on the relationship between migration and development, he started from the point that “mobility has been and continues to be colonised through development”, with the “entrenchment and hegemony of the nation state as the primary organising framework of human existence”. Although we are now living in a ‘hyper-mobile world’, he pointed out that the “state-centred way of understanding human mobility continues to be reproduced”, and migrants are looked at with fear and trepidation. One of his research questions therefore is: “How can we better understand migration and mobility as a constitutive dimension of human existence, rather than just an outcome of human activity?”

As one step forward, Suliman suggested to “think critically about the way in which we normalise certain assumptions and certain normative dispositions about the movement of human beings and resist the impulse to settle everyone in their place”. This would require finding new mechanisms, institutions and possibilities for convivial relations and forms of justice that go “beyond the national as the frame of reference for decision making and action on the governance of the moving of people”.

Hospitality as basic principle for societies beyond development

For Aram Ziai, Heisenberg-Professor of the German Research Foundation (DFG) for Development Policy and Postcolonial Studies at the University of Kassel, Germany, it all starts with questioning the term ‘development’. He considers a simple redefinition of the term insufficient, as this could produce misunderstandings and a “beyond-criticism gambit”. If the term development continues to bear different meanings, from democratic industrial capitalisms to any type of positive social change, he said, “we are in fact obstructing the critique of development organisations by saying, ‘if something bad happened out of a development project, it was not really development’”.

He also made clear that ‘development’ cannot be seen independent of its historical context: “Development came into being as a new programme to legitimise a capitalist world order in the Global South at a time when the colonial ideology was losing credibility and a new framing of North-South relations was needed to maintain access to the raw materials of the South and the corresponding division of labour. So, development thinking was a new frame, but it was still linked to colonialism, to the idea of transforming geo-cultural differences into historical stages, so that the self is the norm, and the other is the deviant, deficient, other”.

How to move on? Less data, more stories!

All panellists agreed that big changes don’t occur overnight and that it takes everyone’s efforts in their specific places and fields to contribute to a systemic change that might still take years or even decades to gain full ground. In Suliman’s words, “We need to do all we can within our various roles and positions to push back on the research monoculture imposed from above”.

As one important step in this direction, Underhill-Sem called on the older and more advanced scholars to be much more audacious in their engagement with policy: “Are we seeing that audacity with obligation? Are we seeing active engagement in these key structural places, in terms of reviewing the way in which we do and fund research, the way in which we build ethics around research? Are we reaching in those spaces and doing the work there, or are we leaving these spaces for others to populate them?” According to Ziai, we are already moving in the right direction by “talking more and more about these issues and less and less about economic growth, productivity and other things that are increasingly questioned”.

Suliman thinks that it all boils down to the question of making ourselves known to each other in ways that don’t colonise, and in creating space for multiple meanings and exchanges between us: “I think we need to keep moving towards other ways of seeing and listening and knowing, so in short: less data, more stories.” And, Tynan observes, these stories are already there: “Wherever we are in the world there are peoples who have story and belonging to the land, it’s about knowing these stories and their full implications on ourselves as individuals and communities”.

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

About the author:

Christiane Kliemann Communications European Association of Development Research and Training Institutes (EADI)

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Green New Deal(s): A Resource List for Political Ecologists

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The Green New Deal has become a central focus of debates around ecosocialist politics; this list brings together diverse resources to foster critical reflection on its potential and limitations.

Credit: Becker1999 on Flickr, CC BY 2.0

The global socioeconomic and climate crises have been accompanied by an expansion of social movements and public debates and proposals for transforming our societies towards just and ecologically sustainable futures. Increasingly, these proposals are coalescing under the banner of a Green New Deal (GND).

The GND concept began circulating in the wake of the 2007-2008 global financial crisis and related discussions about governments’ recovery plans. It seems to have been coined in a 2007 article by economist Thomas Friedman, who called for a government plan which would seed basic research to incentivize corporate ‘green’ innovations. Then-presidential candidate Barack Obama adopted the ideas as part of his campaign with promises of a “green” recovery – one which never really materialized. The US Green Party also made it a focus of its presidential campaign in 2012.

In the UK, the New Economics Foundation published a report in 2008 focused on solving what they described as a “triple crunch” of the credit crisis, climate change and high oil prices. The European Greens published and campaigned around a similar report in 2009, focused on public and private investment for “green modernization” or ‘eco-industries’ in the recovery process, in transport and renewable energies, as well as the worldwide transfer of these technologies. At the international level, the United Nations Environmental Program published a report at the time calling for a “Global Green New Deal”.

Over the last two years, the GND concept has garnered great attention in the political debate in the United States, the United Kingdom, and the European Union. It has also started to be discussed as a strategy from and for the Global South, with analyses from Africa and Latin America, as well as proposals for a global GND. The history of the GND shows the variegated ideological underpinnings which persist to this day. The term is still being partially embraced by neoliberal and liberal neo-Keynesian forces, as seen in the European Union’s call for a European “Green Deal”, focused on a supposedly “green growth”. From this perspective, any techno-“green” or renewable energy initiative could be called a Green New Deal. As noted recently by a journalist, everyone seems to want a seat in the GND bandwagon these days. This risks making it another empty term, like sustainability.

Yet today’s version of the GND comes in a very different context than the original use and has become symbolically associated mainly with left ecosocialist politics, partly related with the growth of Democratic Socialist and radical left tendencies within and outside the US Democratic Party, as well as increasing discussions about the global crisis of inequality and socio-environmental injustices. Radical versions of the GND put forth a more comprehensive strategic vision and programmatic proposal to transition to a carbon-free economy that avoids climate catastrophe, and in turn addresses the economic and inequality crisis.

This entails an energy transition towards a 100% renewable system, along with a guarantee of employment with living wages, other measures to strengthen labor rights, and policies to guarantee social justice towards the working class and historically marginalized communities. Other policies that are being discussed include a universal basic income, a progressive tax reform, suspension of payments or abolition of the external debt, and a national care system. At the international level, the GND is being proposed as a measure of mitigation of the climate debt that rich countries have with the countries of the Global South, and addressing the persistence of stark North-South inequalities.

A crucial difference today is the influence on GND debates from climate movements that have burst into the scene with force over the last five years or so, and which come from decades of building grassroots local and transnational power. This new moment was epitomized by the US-based Sunrise Movement (re)coining the GND in its occupation of the office of Democratic House representative Nancy Pelosi to demand swift climate action in 2018, a demand taken up by Democratic Socialist representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. The Climate Justice Alliance – composed of more than 70 grassroots organizations – deepened the discussions by linking the GND with longer-standing proposals for climate justice and just transitions, and emphasizing that a GND should be led by frontline communities and workers most impacted by climate change, who have been leading climate justice struggles and solutions.

Such a radical turn is accompanied by a lively debate about the limits and potentials of GND to transcend capitalism, its growth imperative and its crises, and about which actors should lead this transition. Crucial issues, like the need for “socializing” means of production and reproduction, such as energy, land or housing – which had been pushed to the margin by three decades of neoliberalism – have been again brought to the center of the political debate (no less than in the US, the belly of the capitalist beast).

Some commentators on the Left remain skeptical, pointing to the intrinsic limitations of the concept, asking important critical questions about whether the GND is ultimately capable of overcoming the “coloniality” and problematic socio-ecological implications of capitalist development. Yet, scholars and activists from different movements are appropriating the concept and making their own variants of it, including an ecological-economic and degrowth GND, a people-led and frontline communities’ GND, a feminist GND, an indigenous (‘Red’) Deal, or an Ecosocial Pact (Pacto Ecosocial del Sur, as it has been labelled in Latin America).

In this moment of struggle over the meaning of the GND as a “master signifier” of eco-socialist politics, we want to offer this reading list as a way of providing an introduction to this diversity of positions and stimulating further debate. The list is structured by type of resource (books, academic journals, blogs and magazines, reports and briefs, audiovisual resources and movement campaigns), with the exception of sources in Spanish, which are grouped in one section following this introduction.

The annex at the bottom collects additional materials that are not directly on the GND, but offer relevant research and reflections on related themes of just transition(s) and energy and sustainability transitions. This is a relatively small sample of sources out of the hundreds we collected and received from friends and colleagues (see the “acknowledgements” at the end of this post), selected mainly on the basis of their relevance to political ecology debates. We hope you find it useful in your political-ecological praxis.

Recursos en Español (in Spanish)

Atienza, Jara (2019). Jeremy Rifkin: Un Green New Deal Global para salvar al mundo. Ethic, 18 de diciembre.

Bertinat, Pablo (2016) Transición energética justa: pensando la democratización energética. Montevideo, Friedrich Ebert Stiftung Uruguay.

Honty, Gerardo y Eduardo Gudynas (2014) Cambio Climático y Transiciones al Buen Vivir: Alternativas al desarrollo para un clima seguro. Lima, Red Peruana por una Globalización con Equidad.

Movement Generation (2016) De los Tanques y Bancos a la Cooperación y el Cuidado: Un Marco Estratégico para la Transición Justa.

Mediavilla, Margarita. (2020). No saldremos de esta crisis con un New Green Deal. El Salto Diario, 30 de abril.

Pollin, Robert (2018) Decrecimiento vs. Nuevo New Deal Verde. New Left Review, 112, 5-25.

Rodríguez, Emmanuel (2019) ¿Un Green New Deal para España?, Ctxt: Contexto y Acción, N. 242, 9 de octubre.

Svampa, Maristella and Enrique Viale (2020) “Nuestro Green New Deal”, Revista Anfibia.

Tena, Alejandro (2019). Green New Deal vs. Decrecentismo. Público, 23 de octubre.

Tejero, Héctor y Emilio Santiago (2019) ¿Qué hacer en caso de incendio? Manifiesto por el Green New Deal. Madrid, Capitán Swing.

Tornel, Carlos (Coord.) (2019) Alternativas para limitar el calentamiento global en 1.5°C. Más allá de la economía verde. Ciudada de México, Heinrich Böll Stiftung México y el Caribe.

Campaña por un Pacto Ecosocial del Sur (página web).

CENSAT Agua Viva: Transiciones.info (página web)

CLACSO: “Por un pacto Social, Ecológico, Económico e Intercultural para América Latina” (webinar). Lanzamiento del Pacto Ecosocial del Sur, 24 de junio 2020.

Fundación Rosa Luxemburgo – Oficina Región Andina: Pacto del Sur – Pacto del Norte? Diálogo entre el “Pacto Ecosocial del Sur” y el “Green New Deal”, 8 de julio 2020.

Books (monographs and edited collections)

Aronoff, Kate, Alyssa Battistoni, Daniel Aldana Cohen, and Thea Riofranco (2019). A Planet to Win: Why we need a Green New Deal. London, Verso.

Cox, Stan (2020) The Green New Deal and Beyond: Ending the Climate Emergency While We Still Can. San Franscisco, City Light Publishers.

Klein, Naomi (2019) On Fire: The Burning case for a Green New Deal. New York, Simon & Schuster (extract in The Guardian).

Pettifor, Anne (2019) The case for the Green New Deal. London, Verso.

Articles in academic journals

Galvin, R., & Healy, N. (2020). The Green New Deal in the United States: What it is and how to pay for it. Energy Research & Social Science, 67, 101529.

Goh, Kian (2020) Planning the Green New Deal: Climate Justice and the Politics of Sites and Scales, Journal of the American Planning Association, in press.

Jacobson, M. Z., Delucchi, M. A., Cameron, M. A., et al. (2019). Impacts of Green New Deal energy plans on grid stability, costs, jobs, health, and climate in 143 countries. One Earth, 1(4), 449–463.

Patel, Raj, and Jim Goodman (2020). The Long New Deal. The Journal of Peasant Studies, 47(3), 431-463.

Pollin, R. (2018). De-Growth vs a Green New Deal. New Left Review, 112, 5-25.

Stoner, A. M. (2020). Critical Reflections on America’s Green New Deal: Capital, Labor, and the Dynamics of Contemporary Social Change. Capitalism Nature Socialism (online).

Tarus, L., Hufford, M., & Taylor, B. (2017). A Green New Deal for Appalachia: Economic transition, coal reclamation costs, bottom-up policymaking (Part 2). Journal of Appalachian Studies, 23(2), 151-169.

Taylor, B., Hufford, M., & Bilbrey, K. (2017). A Green New Deal for Appalachia: Economic transition, coal reclamation costs, bottom-up policymaking (Part 1). Journal of Appalachian Studies, 23(1), 8-28.

White, D. (2020). Just transitions/design for transitions: Preliminary notes on a design politics for a Green New Deal. Capitalism Nature Socialism, 31(2), 20-39.

Magazine and Blog Special Series/Issues

In These Times, Special Issue on “Getting to Zero Carbon” (edited by Winona LaDuke, May 2019):

Jacobin, ongoing series on the GND:

NACLA Report on the Americas, Special Issue “A Green New Deal for the Americas: Mobilizing for Climate Justice from Above and Below” (edited by Daniel Aldana Cohen and Thea Rionfrancos, 2020):

Public Administration Review, Bully Pulpit Symposium The Green New Deal: Pathways to a Low Carbon Economy (edited Nives Dolsak and Aseem Prakash, July 16, 2019)

The Conversation, section on the Green New Deal:

The Shoestring, Imagining a Just Transition in Western Mass (5-part essay by Sarah Field, September 2019).

Uneven Earth, blog GND Series (edited by Leah Temper and Sam Bliss, 2019)

Short essays and blogs

Ajl, Max (2018) Beyond the Green New Deal. The Brooklynrail, November.

Aronoff, Kate (2018) With a Green New Deal, Here’s What the World Could Look Like for the Next Generation. The Intercept, December 5.

Barca, Stefania (2020) Within and beyond the pandemic. Demanding a Care Income and a feminist Green New Deal for Europe. Undisciplined Environments, April 7.

Bernes, Jasper (2019) Between the devil and the Green New Deal. Commune, April 25.

Beuret, Nicholas (2019) A Green New Deal Between Whom and For What? Viewpoint Magazine, October 24.

Cooke, Shamus (2019) Will A Green New Deal Save the Climate, or Save Capitalism? CounterPunch, May 8.

Dale, Gareth (2019). Degrowth and the Green New Deal. The Ecologist

Dunlap, Alexander (2019) Preliminary comments on the Green New Deal Part I: Congressional Resolution. 25 September. Green New Deal Part II: Good, Bad & the Ugly, 11 November. Terra Nullius

Dyne, Bryan and Barry Grey (2019) The fallacies and evasions of the Green New Deal. World Socialist Web Site, 5 March.

Gebrial, Dalia (2019). As the left wakes up to climate injustice, we must not fall into ‘green colonialism’. The Guardian, May 8.

Gilio-Whitaker, Dina (2019) How to Indigenize the Green New Deal and environmental justice. High Country News, July 10.

Goodrich, Mathew Miles (2019) The Climate Movement’s Decades-Long Path to the Green New Deal. Dissent Magazine, February 15.

Heron, Kai (2019) Capitalists fear the Green New Deal — and for good reason. ROAR Magazine, May 8.

Gray-Arnold, David (2019) How will we pay for a just transition? Briarpatch, April 29.

Hickel, Jason (2019) Climate breakdown is coming. The UK needs a Greener New Deal. The Guardian, March 5.

Hill, Zack (2019) Nine Ways Scientists Can Support a People’s Green New Deal. Science for the People, 22(1), Spring.

Huber, Matt (2018) Building a “Green New Deal”: Lessons From the Original New Deal. Verso blog, 19 November.

Jordana, Rufus (2019) False hopes for a Green New Deal. OpenDemocracy, August 29.

Kallis, Giorgos (2019) A Green New Deal Must Not Be Tied to Economic Growth. Truthout. March 10.

Klein, N. (2019) Only a green new deal can douse the fires of eco-fascism. The Intercept, September 16.

Kolinjivadi, Vijay (2019). Why a “Green New Deal” must be decolonial. Al Jazeera, December 7.

Kolinjivadi, Vijay and Ashish Kothari (2020) How new is the Green New Deal for the Global South? Undisciplined Environments, May 26.

Lazare, Sarah (2019) What It Will Take to Build Union Support for the Green New Deal—Despite the AFL-CIO. In These Times, March 18.

Levitz, Eric (2018) Is a Green New Deal Possible Without a Revolution? New York Magazine, December 13.

Levy-Uyeda, Ray (2019) The Red Deal Is an Indigenous Climate Plan That Builds on the Green New Deal. Teen Vogue, November 1.

Marsili, Lorenzo and Anne Pettifor (2020) Investing in the Future: Why Europe Needs a Green New Deal. Green European Journal, March 2.

Mastini, Riccardo (2019). Funding the Green New Deal: The evocation of Keynes. The Money Question, August 5.

Mastini, Riccardo, Giorgos Kallis and Jason Hickel (2020) Europe’s Green Deal is a tepid response to the climate crisis. New Statesman, December 3.

Powers, Nicholas (2019). The Green New Deal Can Help Us Fight White Supremacy. Truthout, September 22.

Reese, April (2019). Public Lands Are Critical to Any Green New Deal. Outside Online,  April 8.

Riofrancos, Thea (2019) Plan, Mood, Battlefield – Reflections on the Green New Deal. Viewpoint Magazine, May 16.

Saltmarsh, Chris (2019) How to win a socialist Green New Deal. The Ecologist, September 27.

Slobodian, Quinn (2020) When the Green New Deal Goes Global. Foreign Policy, January 11.

Táíwò, Olúfẹ́mi O. (2019) How the Green New Deal can avoid climate colonialism. Pacific Standard, February 25.

Vansintjan, Aaron (2019) Degrowth vs. the Green New Deal. Briarpatch, April 29.

Varoufakis, Yanis and  David Adler (2019) It’s time for nations to unite around an International Green New Deal. The Guardian, April 23.

Van Sant, Levi (2019) Land Reform and the Green New Deal, Dissent Magazine, Fall.

Wilt, James (2020) “Either you are fighting to eliminate exploitation or not”: A leftist critique of the Green New Deal (Interview with Max Ajl). Canadian Dimension, June 14.

Reports, briefs, position papers

Agroecology Research Action Collective (2019) The Need for a Food and Agriculture Platform in the Green New Deal.

Cohen, Maev and Sheryl McGregor (2020) Towards a feminist Green New Deal for the UK (A paper for the WBG Commission on a Gender-equal economy). Women’s Budget Group & Women’s Environmental Network (Briefing here).

Data for Progress (2019) A Green New Deal: A Progressive Vision For Environmental Sustainability and Economic Stability. Washington, DC, Data for Progress (DFP has an ongoing series of “memos” on the GND, including one on transportation and two on housing).

Diem25- Europe (2019) The Green New Deal for Europe: Blueprint for a Just Transition.

Droz, Pennelys (2019) Position paper: Mobilizing an Indigenous Green New Deal. NDN Collective. 

Harris, Jonathan M. (2019) Ecological Economics of the Green New Deal. Climate Policy Brief No. 11, Global Development and Environment Institute, Tufts University.

Indigenous Environmental Network (2019). Green New Deal Must Be Rooted in a Just Transition

Lawrence, Mathew (2019) Road Map to a Green New Deal: From Extraction to Stewardship, Common Wealth.

New Economics Foundation (Powell, D., Krebel, L. & Van Lerven, F.) (2019) Five ways to fund a Green New Deal.

The Red Nation (2020) The Red Deal. Indigenous Action to Save Our Earth. Part 1: End the Occupation. Part 2: Heal our Bodies. Part 3: Heal our Planet.

Podcasts, webinars and other audiovisual resources

Change Everything (moderated by Maya Menezes and Avi Lewis).

DiEM25, A Green New Deal for Europe (series of  podcasts).

Everlein, Sven (2019) The Art of the Green New Deal — A Next Generation Journal of Creative Culture Shift. Medium, April 22 (essay + art)

Feminist Green New Deal Coalition – Earth Week 2020 Online Dialogue: Resilience and a Just Recovery through a Feminist Green New Deal, April 24, 2020.

Kahn, Brian (2019) These Posters Show What a Green New Deal Could Look Like. Gizmodo – Earther, December 25. (essay + art)

New Economics Foundation – Weekly Economics Podcast (moderated by Ayeisha Thomas-Smith), What’s the deal with the Green New Deal? (with Ann Pettifor, Miatta Fahnbulleh, and Waleed Shahid). February 26, 2019.

Novara#FM (moderated by James Butler), Paying for the Planet? Ann Pettifor on the Green New Deal, November 15, 2019.

The Dig (series of podcasts, moderated by Daniel Denvir).

The Intercept, A message from the future with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (illustrated video) Naomi Klein and Molly Crabapple, April 17, 2019.

The Intercept, The Right to a Future, Naomi Klein with Greta Thunberg, Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, Xiye Bastida, Vic Barrett, and Tuntiak Katan, September 10, 2019.

The Leap, 3-part webinar series on Naomi Klein’s book On Fire: The Burning Case for a Green New Deal (moderated by Avi Lewis), october-november, 2019.

The Years Project, 5 Myths About The Green New Deal (Rhiana Gunn-Wright) (Videos), August 21, 2019.

Women’s March, Resilience and a Just Recovery Through a Feminist Green New Deal (webinar), April 29, 2020 (different speakers from the Feminist GND Coalition webinar).

Movement campaigns and resources

Climate Justice Alliance (USA) CJA and the Green New Deal: Centering Frontline Communities in the Just Transition.

Coalition of women’s rights and climate justice organizations (USA/Global) Feminist Agenda for a Green New Deal.

Creative Action Network – Green New Deal Art

Democratic Socialists of America Ecosocialist Working Group (USA)  An Ecosocialist Green New Deal.

DiEM25 (Europe) Green New Deal for Europe.

Indigenous Environmental Network (USA) Green New Deal.

New Economics Foundation (UK) Blue New Deal for coastal communities.

Science for the People (USA) People’s Green New Deal.

Sunrise Movement (USA) Green New Deal

The Leap (Canada) Green New Deal.

The Leap and War on Want (Canada/UK/Global) Global Green New Deal.

Annex: Resources on just transitions, energy transitions, and critiques of green growth

Books (monographs and edited volumes)

Fairchild, Denise and Al Weinrub, eds. (2019) Energy Democracy: Advancing Equity in Clean Energy Solutions. Washington, DC, Island Press. (chapter on just transition by Michelle Mascarenhas-Swan here.)

Morena, Edouard, Dunja Krause and Dimitris Stevis (eds) (2019) Just Transitions: Social Justice in the Shift Towards a Low-Carbon World. London, Pluto Press.

Mulvaney, Dustin (2019) Solar power: Innovation, sustainability, and environmental justice. Oakland, CA, University of California Press.

Pai, Sandeep and Savannah Carr-Wilson (2018) Total Transition: The Human Side of the Renewable Energy Revolution. Rocky Mountain Books.

Articles in academic journals 

Abraham, Judson (2017) Just Transitions for the Miners: Labor Environmentalism in the Ruhr and Appalachian Coalfields. New Political Science, 39(2), 218–40.

Avila-Calero, Sofia (2017). Contesting energy transitions: wind power and conflicts in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. Journal of Political Ecology, 24(1), 992-1012.

Brand, Ulrich and Mag Kathrin Niedermoser (2019) The role of trade unions in social-ecological transformation: Overcoming the impasse of the current growth model and the imperial mode of living. Journal of Cleaner Production, 225, 173-180.

Brown, Benjamin and Samuel J. Spiegel (2019) Coal, Climate Justice, and the Cultural Politics of Energy Transition. Global Environmental Politics, 19(2), 149–168.

Evans, Geoff and Liam Phelan (2016) Transition to a Post-Carbon Society: Linking Environmental Justice and Just Transition Discourses. Energy Policy, 99, 329–39.

Healy, Noel and John Barry (2020) Politicizing energy justice and energy system transitions: Fossil fuel divestment and a “just transition” Energy Policy, 108, 451-459.

Heffron, Raphael J. and Darren McCauley (2018) What is the ‘Just Transition’? Geoforum, 88, 74–77.

Hickel, J., & Kallis, G. (2020). Is green growth possible?. New Political Economy, 25(4), 469-486.

Jasanoff, Sheila (2018) Just transitions: A humble approach to global energy futures. Energy Research & Social Science, 35, 11–14.

Jenkins, Kirsten E.H., Benjamin K. Sovacool, Andrzej Błachowicz and Adrián Lauer (2020) Politicising the Just Transition: Linking global climate policy, Nationally Determined Contributions and targeted research agendas. Geoforum, in press.

Kenfack, Chrislain E. (2019) Just Transition at the Intersection of Labour and Climate Justice Movements: Lessons from the Portuguese Climate Jobs Campaign. Global Labour Journal, 10(3), 224–239.

Lennon, Myles (2017) Decolonizing energy: Black Lives Matter and technoscientific expertise amid solar transitions. Energy Research & Social Science, 30, 18-27.

Lawhon, Mary and Tyler McCreary (2020) Beyond Jobs vs Environment: On the Potential of Universal Basic Income to Reconfigure Environmental Politics. Antipode, 52, 452-474.

McCarthy, James (2015) A socioecological fix to capitalist crisis and climate change? The possibilities and limits of renewable energy. Environment and Planning: A 47(12), 2485-2502.

Mookerjea, Sourayan (2019) Renewable energy transition under multiple colonialisms: Passive revolution, fascism redux and utopian praxes. Cultural Studies, 33(3), 570–593.

Routledge, Paul, Andrew Cumbers and Kate Driscoll Derickson (2018) States of just transition: Realising climate justice through and against the state. Geoforum, 88, 78–86.

Snell, Darryn (2018) ‘Just transition’? Conceptual challenges meet stark reality in a ‘transitioning’ coal region in Australia. Globalizations, 15(4), 550–564.

Stevis, Dimitris, David Uzzell and Nora Räthzel (2018) “The Labour-Nature Relationship: Varieties of Labour Environmentalism” (Introduction to Special Issue). Globalizations 15(4):439–53.

Temper, Leah, Federico Demaria, Arnim Scheidel, Daniela Del Bene and Joan Martinez-Alier (2018) Special Feature: The EJAtlas: Ecological Distribution Conflicts as Forces for Sustainability. Sustainability Science, 13(3).

Short essays and blogs

Choy, Ellen (2017) Transition Is Inevitable, Justice Is Not: A Critical Framework For Just Recovery. Movement Generation blog, December 17.

Foster, John Bellamy (2019) Ecosocialism and Just Transition. The Bullet, September 2.

Just Transition Research Collaborative (2018-2020) Just Transition(s) Online Forum. Series of short essays.

Mendez, Michael (2020) Climate change street fighters. Yale University Press Blog, January 14.

Reports, briefs, position papers

Hirsch, Thomas, Manuela Matthess, and Joachim Funfgelt (eds) (2017) Guiding Principles & Lessons Learnt For a Just Energy Transition in the Global South. Berlin, Friedrich Ebert Stiftung.

Just Transition Research Collaborative – JRTC (2018) Mapping Just Transition(s) to a Low-Carbon World. JRTC, United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD) and Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung.

Just Transition Research Collaborative – JRTC (2019) Climate Justice from Below

Local Struggles for Just Transition(s). JRTC, United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD) and Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung.

Mertins-Kirkwood, Hadrian and Zaee Deshpande (2019) Who is included in a Just Transition? Ottawa: Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

Movement Generation (2016) From Banks and Tanks to Cooperation and Caring: A Strategic Framework for a Just Transition. 

Sweeney, Sean, and John Treat (2018) Trade Unions and Just Transition:  The Search for a Transformative Politics. New York, Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, Murphy Institute at CUNY and Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung.

Podcasts, webinars and other audiovisual resources

Climate Justice Alliance – Stories from Home: Living the Just Transition Podcast.

Edge Funders Alliance- Just Transition Collaborative Webinars (series).

Labor Network for Sustainability – Just Transition Listening Project (webinar series).

Reinvest in our Power, From Divest to Reinvest Webinar, May 19 2017.

The North Pole (climate justice themed fiction series) – produced by Movement Generation.

Movement campaigns and resources

Indigenous Environmental Network (USA) Indigenous Principles of Just Transition.

Just Transition Alliance (USA) What is Just Transition?.

Just Transition platform and blog (Eastern European focus).

Just Transition Research Collaborative (Global).

Movement Generation – Justice & Ecology Project (USA) – Curriculum Tools and articles & speeches.

Rapid Transition Alliance (UK).


We want to thank the following people for sharing suggestions for this list, including some who sent entire lists of their own: Joseph Nevins, Jevgeniy Bluwstein, Levi Van Sant, Camille Laurent, Luis Gutiérrez, Steven A. Wolf, Mary Lawhon, Daniela Sánchez López, Fletcher Chmara-Huff, Dimitris Stevis, Daniel Gabaldón-Estevan, Rachel Slocum, Susan Paulson, Erik Kojola, Nathan J. Bennett, Riccardo Mastini, Sam Bliss, Stephan Lorenz, Jeremy Sorgen, Betsy Taylor, Kathryn Anderson, Mattias Borg Rasmussen, Elise Remling, Christos Zografos, Stefania Barca, Martí Orta Martínez, Sofía Ávila Calero, and Michael Méndez.

This blog was originally published on Undisciplined Environments and has been republished with permission of the authors.

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. Starting the 1st of September 2019, Dr Gustavo García López will hold the Prince Claus Chair for two years at the International Institute of Social Studies with the focus on ‘Sustainable Development, Inequalities and Environmental Justice’. His research and practice centers on grassroots collective commoning initiatives that advance transformations towards socially-just and sustainable worlds.

Diego Andreucci is a postdoctoral researcher with the 2019-2021 Prince Clauss Chair at the ISS, and a member of the Undisciplined Environments Collective. Previously he was a postdoctoral researcher at the Department of Social and Political Sciences, Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona. He holds a PhD from Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (2016). Prior to that, he studied philosophy and anthropology in Rome (Università La Sapienza) and received a master’s in human geography from the National University of Ireland, Galway. His recent investigation has examined political processes and indigenous-campesino mobilisations around natural resource extraction in the Andes, particularly Bolivia. Over the years he’s been involved in various environmentalist and anticapitalist organisations. Twitter: @diegoandreucci.

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

COVID-19 | Remembering the ongoing assassination of human rights defenders in Colombia

When a peace agreement was signed in 2016 in Colombia between the government and armed forces (FARC), citizens and activists seized the opportunity to make longstanding grievances heard and press for change. But between September 2016 and March 2020, 442 social leaders were assassinated. As death becomes part of the daily discourse, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, we should look beyond these shocking numbers and understand that the massive killing of social leaders is not only a humanitarian crisis, but also a threat to the process of social transformation and local empowerment.

Illustrations of Temistocles Machado, María Yolanda Maturana, Mario Jacanamijoy Matumbajoi, Maria Efigenia Vásquez Astudillo, Sandra Yaneth Luna, Luis Hernán Bedoya Úzuga, Diana Patricia Mejía Fonseca, and José Abraham García. They are part of the group of 442 social leaders from the list.
Illustrations of Temistocles Machado, María Yolanda Maturana, Mario Jacanamijoy Matumbajoi, Maria Efigenia Vásquez Astudillo, Sandra Yaneth Luna, Luis Hernán Bedoya Úzuga, Diana Patricia Mejía Fonseca, and José Abraham García. They are part of the group of 442 social leaders from the list. Illustrations taken from the website of the project PostalesParaLaMemoria.com

Hope for change

The peace agreement signed in 2016 in Colombia signaled change. Since the political exclusion of government dissidents and others critical of the political regime is considered to have been one of the root causes of the conflict, the agreement sought to create spaces to promote the organization and participation of diverse actors with diverse voices and included a series of provisions to strengthen the presence of the state in marginalized areas to address issues such as poverty, inequality, and unequal distribution of land. In this context, the signature of the peace agreement opened a window of opportunity for activists and citizens to present to the state their long overdue demands for changes related to such issues, which had taken the back seat during the conflict.

The persistence of violent repression

In the period shortly before the peace agreement was signed in 2016, a reduction in homicidal violence and conflict-related deaths following the de-escalation of violence seemed to signify the end of an era characterized by violence. This reduction in violent acts provided space for activists and citizens to present their demands to the state in a way that was not possible in the preceding years, when violence made mobilization riskier. However, sectors within the country not interested in peace talks started to exert violence on citizens, continuing a growing trend since 2016. Consequently, during the post-agreement period, Colombia has experienced a dramatic increase in the cases of murders and threats against social leaders. According to figures from the NGO Somos Defensores, between September 2016 and March 2020, 442 social leaders had been killed. According to a recent report of the U.N., which we analyzed in a previous article, these worrying figures situate Colombia as the country with most killings of human right defenders in Latin America.

Assassinated activists and human rights defenders were individuals linked to organizations attempting to mobilize society for the implementation of the peace accords and strengthening of statehood. Those maimed were peasant leaders, environmentalists, land defenders, women, indigenous leaders, and afro-descendants representing marginalised communities.

COVID-19: obscuring intensified killings

This trend has worsened in Colombia during the COVID-19 pandemic, as illustrated by a sharp increase in assassinations of social leaders by 53% between January and April this year[1]. However, as the attention of political leaders and citizens is focused on the response of the government to address the crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic, civil society groups fear that the assassination of community leaders will go unnoticed and unpunished. As the attention of political leaders and citizens is focused on the response of the government to protect and ensure the health of their citizens from COVID-19, groups often resorting to violence in Colombia (right-wing paramilitary groups, drug traffickers, dissident guerrilla members, and other armed organizations) are taking advantage of the pandemic to divert attention from violence that would otherwise be observed.

As people are getting used to seeing figures of death daily, it is critical to remember that we need to see beyond the numbers and understand that the massive killing of social leaders is a humanitarian crisis with different impacts. At the individual level, the right to life of the leader is violated, and at the social level, the assassinations affect the representation of collective interests, becoming a threat to the process of social change and local empowerment.

Social leaders are the voice of the communities that have been historically forgotten. Hence, when they are threatened, there is a further weakening in the social fabric of these groups. According to the testimonies of several social leaders who were interviewed in a recent study by CNC, CODHES and USAID, after an attack, the members of the community became afraid to participate, to organize, and the formation of new leaders was also obstructed. That is how the killing of social leaders has a long-term effect that impacts the deepening of democracy in Colombia, benefiting the interests of those who want to maintain the status quo and continue to use violence to do so.

The effect of the COVID-19 response on social organization

Whereas civil society has improved its capacity to hold the government accountable with regards to the assassination of social leaders, their capacity to pressure the government has been diminished due to the restrictions on gatherings due to the pandemic, and due to the focus of public opinion on the risk of COVID-19. This makes it more difficult for organizations to centre the defence of the lives of social activists in public discourse and increases the likelihood of the assassination of community leaders being obscured.

In this context, we want to contribute to an ongoing campaign started by civil society groups in Colombia to use opinion articles and other spaces of communication to raise awareness about the severity of this situation and to tell the stories of those who are at risk. As part of this initiative, the newspaper El Espectador on its front page of June 14th 2020 published a list with the names of the 442 people who have been killed with the title “Let’s not forget them” (“No los olvidemos” in Spanish). Let this become the start of a movement to continue highlighting mass killings of social leaders and to problematize them. It is not okay, and we will not accept it. #NoLosOlviDemos.

Front page of El Espectador newspaper which listed in four pages the names of all the assassinated social leaders in Colombia since the signature of the peace agreement with the FARC EP. Source: https://twitter.com/EEColombia2020/status/1272185768363069441/photo/1
Front page of El Espectador newspaper which listed in four pages the names of all the assassinated social leaders in Colombia since the signature of the peace agreement with the FARC EP. Source: https://twitter.com/EEColombia2020/status/1272185768363069441/photo/1

[1] In comparison with the number of assassinations taking place between January and April 2019.

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

About the authors:

Fabio Andrés Díaz PabónFabio Andres Diaz Pabon is a Colombian political scientist. He is a research associate at the Department of Political and International Studies at Rhodes University in South Africa and a researcher at the ISS. Fabio works at the intersection between theory and practice, and his research interests are related to state strength, civil war, conflict and protests in the midst of globalisation.


Ana María Arbeláez Trujillo

Ana María Arbeláez Trujillo is a lawyer, specialist in Environmental Law and holds an Erasmus Mundus Master in Public Policy. She works as a legal consultant in Climate Focus, where she focuses on climate change policies and forest governance. Her research interests are the political economy of extractivist industries, environmental conflicts, and rural development. 

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

By Dirk Jan Koch and Marloes Verholt

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

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

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

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

Will programme implementers learn from their mistakes?

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

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

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

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

Ideological limits to learning

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

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

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

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

Image Credit: Peg Hunter

About the authors:

pasfoto DJ Koch

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


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