Property rights and markets to resolve environmental problems – Sustainability implications and the tragedy of the commons?

November 10, 2009

The degradation of ecosystems and the nearing complete depletion of a variety of resources, such as global fish stocks (Myers & Worm, 2003), have reshaped the way we look at the management of natural resources and the problematique of open access. When Elinor Ostrom received the Nobel Prize in Economic Science for “her analysis of economic governance, especially the commons” it has given new priority to this matter. But, the debate how to effectively govern common resources and open access to those resources is certainly not very recent and has already been contextualized in the 1960’s (Hardin, 1968). However, the issue remains if the privatization of nature can and should contribute to a more sustainable pathway for natural resource management. What do you think?

The relation between theory and practice

November 10, 2009

What is the relevance of theory when it comes to policy-formation and management questions? Take forest management as an example. Do policy makers in forest management pick and choose from a variety of positions or do they adhere strictly to one theory about how the forest should be managed? This is in a way an empirical issue, but could be discussed in a non-empirical way as well. To analyze the issue non-empirically we could proceed in one of the following two ways: either we could hypothetically take one stance and see what follows from that (e.g., say that there is a close relation between theory and practice, how can we account for that and what would be the – theoretical as well as practical – consequences); or we could make it a normative issue (how ought this relation optimally be?). Reflecting upon questions as these, it could be interesting to know that in environmental philosophy there has recently been a strong suggestion that we should minimize the gap between theory and practice. Shifting the focus from value theoretical issues towards practical real-world problems – as these environmental pragmatists has suggested – could look progressive, but what are they sacrificing? Why do we need theory in the first place? These issues could be widely extended (e.g., think about the state of emergence which the global climate change poses and the corollary need for immediate action).

User- vs. government-financed schemes for payments for ecosystem services?

November 10, 2009

The increasing deterioration of the world’s ecosystems and the benefits human society derives from them has led to a search for solutions and policy tools to tackle this crisis (Wunder et al., 2008). In the last years, Payments for Ecosystem Services [PES] schemes have been implemented in developed and developing countries with different outcomes and results. One main distinction of PES schemes are user-financed schemes where buyers are also the users of the ecosystem service, while in government-financed PES schemes the government (or NGO or other international agency) is typically the buyer of the ecosystem service (e.g. provision of clean water) on behalf to the users (Wunder et al., 2008). The key difference is often the efficiency of those two different schemes, where government-financed schemes are said to be less efficient in the actual service provision, but more cost-effective due to economies of scale (Engel et al., 2008). Concerning government financed PES schemes, there is also the problematique of shifting environmental stewardship to governments, eroding the sense of environmental duty of caring for the natural resources (Neely, 2008).

To what extent should the government then act if important ecosystem services are not on the market because the users do not have the financial resources to pay for its protection?

Agriculture on the international scene – with or without the WTO?

November 10, 2009

Of all of the complex, technologically advanced and ‘modern’ sectors of society today, there are very few that are as intensely disputed on the international scene as agriculture. While historical events have shaped the way agriculture has been viewed – from providing livelihoods to securing national food requirements to demonstrating political power and control – as human beings it is the main source of one of our most basic necessities, food. Many people today are dependent on agriculture for their livelihoods, however their concerns are not often considered in the international arenas such as the World Trade Organization (WTO) where one could argue that asymmetrical influences benefit the interests of few at the cost of many.

 

The WTO’s Agreement on Agriculture (AoA) that came into effect in 1995 has sparked controversy among agro-exporting as well as agro-importing countries. The ‘green’, ‘amber’ and ‘blue’ boxes under the AoA are tools to classify domestic support for agriculture in order to remove trade-distorting subsidies and allow the ‘natural’ signals of the market to function. However, power relations among those doing the negotiating has contributed strongly to the impasse of each of the most recent the Ministerial negotiations (ex. Seattle in 1999, Doha in 2001, Cancún in 2003, and Hong Kong in 2005) where harmful subsidies – primarily in the USA and EU – are allowed to continue despite their harmful effects on many farmers and nations.

The question at hand, after more than a decade of stalled negotiations, is on how to proceed in a way that is just and democratic. Should countries continue to work within the framework of the WTO where powerful economic interests can influence outcomes? If not, what other arena could be used instead and how could we make that transition?

Climate change more urgent than politicians realize

May 16, 2009

Climate change is a much more serious and urgent challenge than commonly agreed among policy makers [1, 2]. The combined effects of particularly three factors are responsible for this:

• recent reports on climate impacts from across the world, including disappearing glaciers and sea ice, increasing intensity and frequency of extreme events, the emergence of natural feed-back loops such as methane releases from tundra, as well as increasing rates of warming,
• the rapid rate of increase of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere as well as the slow progress of both setting and meeting emission reduction targets
• the rapid increase of scientific understanding of key elements of the Earth systems including the risk of certain systems reaching tipping points

Perhaps counter intuitively, I argue that the urgency of climate change necessitates a stronger focus on non-climate policies than currently is the case. Profound changes of energy, transport and food systems as well as changes of consumption patterns will not come easily through climate policies only. But by creating and identifying strong synergies between climate change mitigation and other social goals I argue there is a much stronger impetus for change towards a low carbon society. Another strong driver of change is to promote synergies between adaptation and mitigation.

References:
1. Monasterosky, R., A Burden Beoynd Bearing. Nature, 2009. 458(30 April ): p. 1091-1094.
2. Schneider, S., The worst-case scenario. Nature, 2009. 458(30 April): p. 1104-1105.

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May 16, 2009

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