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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.
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.
Continue reading

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?

Continue reading

Who writes international climate change reports?

Guest blog by Esteve Corbera (ICTA-UAB, Spain)

This week in the journal Nature Climate Change, colleagues and I published an analysis of who has participated in the latest 5AR mitigation report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). We analyse North-South representation, institutional pathways, co-authorship patterns and disciplinary backgrounds, using Social Network Analysis of authors’ CVs.


The US and UK are the countries where most participating authors got their training – although they are formally listed as representing a more diverse set of countries.

Continue reading

Have oil companies learned from the Niger Delta crisis?

In this Q&A from The Conversation, Celeste Hicks, former BBC journalist and author of ‘Africa’s New Oil: Power, Pipelines and Future Fortunes’, shares her insights into the impacts and outcomes of oil finds for Africa’s rural communities. The interview was conducted by IDS research fellow Jeremy Lind, who introduces the piece.

Over the past decade, oil and gas exploration operations have multiplied across sub-Saharan Africa, often in remote areas far from political and commercial capitals. Wooed by surging prices in global markets, at least 90% of African countries now explore for oil and gas.

Until recently, when oil and gas prices remained high, foreign investors were willing to accept the risk on establishing operations in areas where there was little infrastructure and, sometimes, local opposition and resistance to states’ efforts to develop resources.

A villager shows a bucket of of crude oil spill at the banks of a river, after a Shell pipeline leaked, in the Oloma community in Nigeria's delta region (Reuters/Tife Owolabi)

A villager shows a bucket of of crude oil spill at the banks of a river, after a Shell pipeline leaked, in the Oloma community in Nigeria’s delta region November 27, 2014.

Invariably, African governments trumpet the potential of oil and gas finds to transform economies and improve lives and livelihoods. But the economic, social and security benefits of oil and gas operations for rural populations are unclear.

Also, they may actually heighten local tensions. Investments in extracting resources in these areas are welcome, but they take place against a background of considerable marginalisation and violence. Continue reading

Resource politics: living in the Anthropocene

By Ian Scoones, Director of the ESRC STEPS Centre

This week we are hosting a major conference at the STEPS Centre at Sussex on resource politics. There are panels looking at everything from mining to wildlife to carbon to water, with big themes cross-cutting on: Scarcity, politics and securitization; Resource grabbing; Governance, elites, citizenship and democracy; Financialisation and markets; Growth, waste and consumption and Gender, race, class and sustainability

Why is this important? As resources become more contested and incorporated as part of a globalised economy, politics take on a new form. We have seen this in the land, water and green grabbing debates, which provide the backdrop to the conference. The resource grabbing debates have each raised important issues around who gains from what resources, and how resources are constructed, regulated and shared, as we discuss in our ‘narratives of scarcity’ paper that will be presented at the conference.

Also at the conference, we will be debating the much talked about concept of the Anthropecene, and the notion of ‘planetary boundaries’, with Johan Rockstrom and Melissa Leach taking the stage to present their perspectives. These ideas have put the politics of resources at the centre of the debate, and the controversy generated has not been seen since the discussions around the Club of Rome’s Limits to Growth report.

Continue reading