Resource Politics: papers, blogs, pictures, video

This page links to all the materials we’ve made available from the Resource Politics conference on 7-9 September 2015.

Resourcepolprog2Conference papers

A selection of conference papers are already available to download, with more to follow soon.


rocheleauVideo from the conference plenaries (including Betsy Hartmann, Rohan D’Souza, Michael Watts, Johan Rockström and Melissa Leach, and a panel on social justice) and interviews with participants.

Watch the video clips


storify-logoOur conference Storify tells the story of the conference as it unfolded, including words and images taken from participants’ contributions on the Twitter hashtag #resourcepol.

Storify: Resource Politics 2015

Blog posts

What resource politics means now Lyla Mehta
Thinking critically about the green economy, conflict and environmental justice Amber Huff
Neoliberal conservation, REDD+ and ‘inclusive exclusions’ Andreas Scheba
Democratising innovation, data and knowledge John Thompson
Nature can’t pay its own way – so let’s take the market out of conservation Benjamin Neimark
Of tools, discourses and politics: the debate on the Anthropocene and Planetary Boundaries Jonas Torrens
From ‘friendship’ to ‘entanglement’: researchers and transformation Ruth Segal
The politics of Nature in the Anthropocene Kathleen McAfee
Have oil companies learned from the Niger Delta crisis?
Resource Politics: living in the Anthropocene Ian Scoones
Green Economy and the ‘growth fetish’: what are the alternatives? Kathleen McAfee

raquel2Graphic panels

The illustrator Raquel Durán created a series of large pictures during our four plenary sessions, providing a visual record of the discussion.

Gallery: Graphic illustrations (Flickr)


View a set of photos from the conference, taken by Lance Bellers.

Gallery: Resource Politics photos (Flickr)

rp-engagement-275Engagement: participants’ stories

We asked conference participants to tell us where, how and with whom they ‘engaged’ in their research and/or activism around resource politics. We got plenty of contributions to our world map, which we’ve turned into an online version.

Browse the stories

Stay informed

Conference participants will receive updates when these are posted: if you didn’t attend, you can sign up to the STEPS newsletter for updates.

About the conference

The international conference Resource Politics: transforming pathways to sustainability was held at the Institute of Development Studies from 7-9 September 2015. View the conference programme.

The event is the latest conference in a series from the ESRC STEPS Centre.

Stories of ‘engagement’ at Resource Politics

by Vivienne Benson, Institute of Development Studies

The Resource Politics conference aimed to bring together a diverse and international group to discuss the politics of resources and pathways to sustainability.

Engagement map

Underpinning the discussions at the event was the idea that engaging with others, and making alliances is the only way to truly make change happen.

With this in mind, the STEPS Centre and colleagues from the Institute of Development Studies set up the ‘Engagement Matters’ map to gather stories of engagement from participants at the event.

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Thinking critically about the green economy, conflict and environmental justice

by Amber Huff, Institute of Development Studies / STEPS Centre

With this recent adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the announcement of a new international climate agreement not far away, the intersections of environment, economy and development are at the forefront of policy discussions and media commentary.

At such a moment, it is crucial to examine not only the high-level decisions being made, but also to critically explore proposed strategies for mitigating crisis and achieving a more just and sustainable future.

Since the late 2000s, concerns over overlapping crises of food, feed, fuel and finance have been accompanied by growing calls for comprehensive policies to counter climate change, environmental degradation and increasing global inequalities in wealth and access to resources. In response to this, in the lead-up to the 2012 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, or Rio +20, the ‘green economy’ emerged as a dominant, yet politically controversial, policy approach for achieving global transitions toward sustainability.

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Neoliberal conservation, REDD+ and ‘inclusive exclusions’

by Andreas Scheba, Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC)

Neoliberal conservation, generally critiqued for excluding local populations from the governance and use of nature, is often much more inclusive than it has been acknowledged. However, does this mean we need to stop worrying? Unfortunately, I think the answer is “no”. Here is why.

Reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, and enhancement of forest carbon stocks and sustainable forest management (REDD+) is a global mechanism, negotiated under the UNFCCC, which pays forest owners in the Global South for carbon saved or not emitted into the atmosphere.

Critical scholars have depicted REDD+ as a form of neoliberal conservation, which allows private and state capital to accumulate surplus from the commodification of forest carbon, resulting in local exclusions from crucial livelihood activities.

However, it is becoming increasingly clear that REDD+ rarely resembles the simple ‘green grabbing’ or ‘accumulation by dispossession’ logic, as suggested by these critics. While cases of forceful evictions and (il)legal dispossessions in the context of REDD+ have certainly occurred, and should not be taken lightly, they appear to be far less than many had expected to see.

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What resource politics means now

by Lyla Mehta, Institute of Development Studies / ESRC STEPS Centre

The politics of sustainability and resources are high on the global agenda.  Last month, the UN agreed 17 new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and in just over a month’s time the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) takes place in Paris, based on the consensus that tackling climate change is only possible if the SDGs are met and poverty reduction and gender equality are realised.

Apart from these global policy arenas, scientific and popular debates have raised concern about humanity’s survival on the planet, the importance to understand and not overshoot planetary boundaries, and the dangers of a new proposed geological age, the Anthropocene.

It is interesting, though, that most of these debates are taking place at a global or even planetary level. What’s almost forgotten is how important socio-political factors, geopolitics and history and culture are in people’s relationships with the environment.

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Nature can’t pay its own way – so let’s take the market out of conservation

by Benjamin Neimark, Lancaster University

For years, scientists and environmentalists have debated the best ways to conserve and protect natural resources from pollution and over-exploitation.

In the late 19th century, conservation advocates with the help of President Roosevelt succeeded in making Yellowstone the first US national park. Yellowstone’s status sent a strong message against unregulated commercial extraction and the model has since been replicated worldwide. However, the strict exclusionary nature of national parks was extremely burdensome for local and indigenous peoples who remained reliant on natural resources within protected areas.

The policy of “fortress conservation” was intended to give way in the late 20th century to a host of more sustainable alternatives, announced at the first Earth Summit in Rio in 1992. Conservation and development would be better integrated, and rural poverty addressed by bringing the poor into a global marketplace, while simultaneously delivering the market deep into the rainforests.

Since Rio, market-based conservation has gained a lot of traction, and almost all forms of nature have been commodified. Packaged into sleek financialised terminology such as carbon credits, ecosystem services or species banking, the market has become such a supposed panacea for conservation that selling nature has become, for many, the only method of conserving it.
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Of tools, discourses and politics: the debate on the Anthropocene and Planetary Boundaries

by Jonas Torrens, SPRU

Last Tuesday, I attended for the third time a debate between Melissa Leach and Johan Rockström on the Anthropocene and Planetary Boundaries as part of the Resource Politics conference. In a year riddled with high-level policy decisions about global sustainability and climate change, the session covered some of the key arguments of the on-going debates in the global change community.

The two talented speakers articulated the findings of various scientific fields in compelling narratives that are a must-watch for anyone concerned with the state of the environment, development, and global governance.

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Resource Politics: Democratising innovation, data and knowledge

by John Thompson, STEPS Centre/IDS

During the Resource Politics conference I had the privilege of attending sessions addressing different aspects of what could broadly be described as ‘innovation for sustainability’.

Presenters and contributors talked of ‘inclusive innovation’, ‘grassroots innovation’, ‘socio-ecological innovation’, ‘digital innovation outside the system’, ‘open-access innovation’ and ‘transformative innovation’. They also described new forms of social and scientific organisation to foster this innovation – by creating, as Ed Hackett put it, ‘intellectual fusion’ – through ‘synthesis centres’, ‘mobile hubs’, ‘social innovation labs’, ‘change labs’ and ‘public labs’.

As people described it, innovation is about more than technological invention. It involves change of many kinds: cultural, organisational and behavioural, as well as technological. Continue reading

From ‘friendship’ to ‘entanglement’: researchers and transformation

By Ruth Segal, SPRU/STEPS Centre

The STEPS Resource Politics conference brought together people with a wide range of perspectives who approached the conference subtitle – Transforming Pathways to Sustainability – from academic, policy and activist positions.

friendshipAlongside the conference’s official five themes, other topics emerged again and again, both in the plenaries and in the panel discussions. These included notions of friendship, optimism and emotions; the role of academia in activism and the building of communities; and pathways to transformation.
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The politics of Nature in the Anthropocene

by Kathleen McAfee, San Francisco State University

Over the past 40-some years, Nature has entered global politics. In contentious treaty negotiations on climate change and biodiversity, governments are pressed to take action in response to planetary ecological crisis.

In conservationist discourse more broadly, this upper-cased construct is represented as singular Nature under siege by Society.

Nature, we are told, is damaged and becoming dangerously scarce: witness overflowing carbon sinks and imminent climate catastrophe, disappearing species and vanishing ecosystems, and insufficient land, water, and food for a burgeoning Humanity. But for whom, and why, has this Nature become scarce?

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