Let’s be Norway (part 2)

So I’m in South Korea this week, and yesterday heard a presentation on ‘Green Growth’ from a senior government official.  Korea wants to stay at at the head of the global agenda on green growth, so what are they doing – only building a whole new ‘green growth park’, with plans to set up a technology centre, a new globlal institution for capacity building on green growth, and even maybe a new international academic centre on green growth too….The confidence, and the resources available, and the speed with which they are put to use, are quite staggering.

And then this morning I look at the newspaper in the hotel and it’s all Eurozone crisis and US election nightmares – and a tittilating little piece in Newsweek saying that at long last it looks as if the USA is going to sign up to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, because they’re more worried about curbing China’s power than about the possible implications for their own freedom of movement on the oceans. This is what the transfer of power from West to East looks like.

Well I’m about to get on the plane and go back to a country that, from here, looks pretty irrelvant.  But it could all turn out for the best.  As Alex suggested here two years ago – let’s be Norway!

The EU says it is “doing nothing” in Kosovo

The EU rule of law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX) is adopting an unusual PR strategy:

“EULEX is doing nothing in the fight against high level corruption” is the slogan of a new campaign that has just been launched on TV stations in Kosovo. The campaign spot is being broadcast on all major TV stations, more than 35,000 flyers with the same message are being distributed around Kosovo and T-shirts and car air fresheners in support of Kosovo’s Anti-Corruption Agency are also being distributed.

The EU isn’t really doing nothing: EULEX’s campaign explains that it is tackling corruption.  But it’s just conceivable that this cunning wheeze could backfire.

Rio +20: ‘involving civil society’ (and squirrels)

They are from a few months’ ago, but I’ve been looking at the consolidated comments from ‘civil society or stakeholder sectors’ to the Rio+ 20 outcome document.

Here’s just one sentence from the already verbose original:

We are convinced that a green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication should contribute to meeting key goals – in particular the priorities of poverty eradication, food security, sound water management, universal access to modern energy services, sustainable cities, management of oceans and improving resilience and disaster preparedness, as well as public health, human resource development and sustained, inclusive and equitable growth that generates employment, including for youth.

Here are the comments:

[Implementing Green economy had to be seen as one of the means for achieving sustainable development, which must remain our overarching goal. – NGOs] [We – NGOs – Delete] [are convinced – Women – Delete] [that a green economy in the context of – Women / NGOs – Delete] [green economies – NGOs] [reaffirm– Women] [Transforming the economy in the context of – NGOs] [sustainable development and poverty eradication –NGOs –Delete / NGOs – Not Delete (Non-agreement between NGOs)] [policies – NGOs] [has the potential – NGOs] [as our overarching goals, and that greening of the economy – Women] [should contribute to meeting – NGOs – Delete] [key – Women/NGOs – Delete] [these – Women] [goals – NGOs – Delete / NGOs – Not Delete(Non-agreement between NGOs)] [This will result in development which brings human well-being, social equity and gender equality whilst remaining within the carrying capacity of the planet and halting irreversible damage to our environment and natural resources. – Women] [ in – Women/NGOs – Delete] [particular – NGOs – Delete] [the – Women/NGOs – Delete] [priorities – NGOs – Delete] [of – Women/NGOs – Delete] [poverty eradication, – NGOs – Delete] [access to voluntary reproductive health services, nutritional security – NGOs] [health, – Women/NGOs] [social inclusion, safeguarding human health, food and nutrition – NGOs] [food security, – NGOs – Delete][food sovereignty, sound resources management – NGOs] [reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, biodiversity conservation, land restoration, – NGOs] [sound water management, universal access to – NGOs – Delete] [modern – Women/NGOs – delete] [sustainable – Women] [energy services, sustainable cities, – NGOs – Delete] [ecosystem resilience, – NGOs] [management of oceans – NGOs – Delete] [and landscapes – NGOs] [and improving resilience and disaster preparedness, as well as public health, human resource development and sustained, inclusive and equitable – NGOs – Delete] [growth – NGOs] [and sustainable use of natural systems – NGOs] [growth – NGOs – Delete] [development – NGOs] [that generates – NGOs – Delete] [that respects traditional livelihoods and occupations and – NGOs] [employment – NGOs/Workers & Trade Unions – Delete] [green and – NGOs] [decent work – Workers & Trade Unions / NGOs], [including – NGOs – Delete] [expanded opportunities for women and – Women] [for youth. – NGOs – Delete] [, while remaining within the carrying capacity of the planet. – NGOs] [, while combating climate change and respecting a range of other critical natural boundaries at relevant scales – NGO]

In total, there are 90 odd pages of this garbage – and that’s just where civil society ‘clusters’ have been able to reach a common position.

Individual organisations then flog their own hobby horse half to death for a further 200 pages. My favourite comes from the International Organization for the Protection and Welfare of Squirrels, which suggests additions such as these:

…many Species of wild animals that inhabit the mountains, some of them of a vital importance and value for the life of mountains – such as Squirrels, which are credited with maintaining and developing the forests for millions of years by burying the nuts and planting the trees.

Beyond parody.

The triumph of the commons – RIP Elinor Ostrom

Apart from being the first (and only) woman to win the Nobel Prize for economics, Elinor Ostrom will be remembered as a towering intellect for another reason too: fundamentally changing the way people think about commons and the environment.

Back in the 1970s, when environmental issues first rose to the top of the global agenda, the word ‘commons’ was usually prefixed by three other words: “tragedy of the”. This was thanks to another economist, Garrett Hardin, who famously argued that (here in a 1968 edition of Science magazine):

The tragedy of the commons develops in this way. Picture a pasture open to all. It is to be expected that each herdsman will try to keep as many cattle as possible on the commons … As a rational being, each herdsman seeks to maximize his gain. Explicitly or implicitly, more or less consciously, he asks, “What is the utility to me of adding one more animal to my herd?” … the rational herdsman concludes that the only sensible course for him to pursue is to add another animal to his herd. And another; and another… But this is the conclusion reached by each and every rational herdsman sharing a commons.

“Therein is the tragedy. Each man is locked into a system that compels him to increase his herd without limit–in a world that is limited. Ruin is the destination toward which all men rush, each pursuing his own best interest in a society that believes in the freedom of the commons. Freedom in a commons brings ruin to all.”

As a story about how humans behave and interact with their environment, this was powerful stuff, brutal in its determinism. We were all stuck in a death spiral in which the pursuit of our individual self-interest would remorselessly undermine our collective self-interests – and there was nothing any of us could do about it.

Elinor Ostrom’s research turned all this on its head. Rubbish, she said in work throughout her career. There are plenty of examples of people cooperating effectively to manage ‘common pool resources’, as she called them, effectively. In her seminal book Governing the Commons, she set out examples from all over the world: irrigation systems in Spain and the Philippines, fisheries in Nova Scotia and Sri Lanka.

Across all of these examples, she identified common threads: key principles that made it possible for shared resources to be managed successfully and sustainabily. Institutional design was everything. Decision-making had to be inclusive. Effective monitoring was essential. So too were sanctions for offenders – but graduated sanctions, that created incentives for wrongdoers to amend their ways and return to the fold. Solid mechanisms for conflict resolution. And so on.

Ostrom’s work was invaluable in research terms. But it was perhaps even more important in presenting an alternative, far more hopeful, narrative to Garrett Hardin’s tragedy of the commons, at a time when more upbeat stories about humans and their relationship with their environment are sorely needed. It’s in no small part thanks to her that there’s today such a flourishing community of interest in commons as a way of managing shared resources.

As it happens, her last article, looking ahead to Rio+20, was published on Project Syndicate yesterday – here it is.

Majority of Chinese people rank environment higher than economy – Gallup

From Gallup’s website:

Fifty-seven percent of Chinese adults surveyed in 2011 — before the country’s economic slowdown grabbed headlines — prioritized protecting the environment, even at the risk of curbing economic growth. About one in five believed economic growth is more important. Chinese attitudes are typical of those in other emerging-market economies, where residents sided with the environment over the economy in earlier surveys.

Similarly, Americans historically prioritized environment protection over economic growth from 1985 to 2008. However, economic growth has taken priority since the economic recession deepened in 2009. If China’s economic troubles worsen, residents’ attitudes could change too.

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