Information and (random) thoughts on environmental governance
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Elinor Ostrom’s research can inspire Rio+20






“The late Nobel laureate’s work on handling common resources offers valuable sustainable development lessons”, writes Ruth Meinzen-Dick for the Guardian’s Poverty Matters blog. Meinzen-Dick continues:

Elinor Ostrom’s death on 12 June, just days before the Rio+20 conference, is an enormous loss. But her life’s work offers many lessons for the deliberations, decisions and path to progress at and after Rio.

Many of the most crucial resources for a sustainable future are related, in one way or another, to the commons – the subject of much of Ostrom’s work, which earned her the 2009 Nobel prize in economic sciences and led one academic to describe her as “the mother of field work in development economics”. Water, forests, fisheries, biodiversity, oceans and the atmosphere are all, in important ways, common pool resources; it is difficult to exclude people from using them, but some of that usage depletes their availability to others. To be sustainable, usage must be co-ordinated and regulated – but that does not mean government management or privatisation are the only options. Ostrom’s work demonstrated in meticulous detail that people can and do work together to manage shared resources sustainably, and have been doing so for hundreds of years.

Rather than depending on a single, monolithic governance structure, Ostrom’s work shows the importance of drawing on the strengths of many different institutions working together – government agencies, user groups and private actors – and co-operating at multiple scales. When asked about lack of progress on climate change agreements, she replied that, rather than waiting for a grand global agreement, we need to look for action at all levels, from our own homes to our schools, cities and nations. As she emphasised throughout her career, and in the last piece she published, a solution to the problem of climate change will not arrive in a single-stroke panacea, but will require experimentation at multiple levels and diverse approaches.

Read the full post by clicking this link

June 16, 2012   No Comments

Local Action and Climate Change: Interview with Elinor Ostrom

In a recent interview, Nobel Laureate Elinor Ostrom talks about the need for efforts at multiple levels and the importance of local action in tackling climate change. Here is a sample of the interview:

Q: You have suggested a polycentric approach as opposed to single policies at a global level to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Could you explain how that would work? Do you think a similar approach would work to get all countries and their people to believe in, and adopt, sustainable development?

A: We have modelled the impact of individual actions on climate change incorrectly and need to change the way we think about this problem. When individuals walk a distance rather than driving it, they produce better health for themselves. At the same time that they reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions that they are generating. There are benefits for the individual and small benefits for the globe. When a building owner re-does the way the building is insulated and the heating system, these actions can dramatically change the amount of greenhouse gas emissions made. This has an immediate impact on the neighbourhood of the building as well as on the globe.

When cities and counties decide to rehabilitate their energy systems so as to produce less greenhouse gas emissions, they are reducing the amount of pollution in the local region as well as greenhouse gas emissions on the globe. In other words, the key point is that there are multiple externalities involved for many actions related to greenhouse gas emissions. While in the past the literature has underplayed the importance of local effects, we need to recognize – as more and more individuals, families, communities, and states are seeing – that they will gain a benefit, as well as the globe, and that cumulatively a difference can be made at the global level if a number of small units start taking action. We have a much greater possibility of impacting global change problems if we start locally.

Click this link for the full interview.

May 19, 2012   No Comments

How can climate change scepticism be explained?

The Great Global Warming Swindle

Image via Wikipedia

I have just read this article by Robert Manne, professor of politics at La Trobe University, Australia, where he discusses five plausible hypotheses to explain climate change scepticism: (1) the influence of vested economic interest, (2)  the role played by the mass media, (3) ideological rationalisations, (4) a certain kind of individual who is offended by the conclusions of the climate scientists, and (5) sceptics are telling people what they most wish to hear. All five hypotheses make sense to me; however, number five is the one that very often comes to mind when contemplating the willingness of Western developed societies to take action in the face of climate change on one hand, and the material comfort we became so accustomed to, on the other. Manne explains:

The leaders of the denialist campaign are however not whistling in the dark. The message they are selling is popular. The reason is reasonably straightforward. The majority of people in Western countries live now in a state of material comfort beyond the imaginings of all previous generations. Who amongst us would not prefer to believe that there are indeed no limits to the material comforts we may enjoy? Who would not prefer to believe that this level of material comfort will go on expanding forever? To take the conclusions of the climate scientists seriously is to embrace the need for massive economic change and even for possible economic sacrifice. If the influence of the climate change denialists is growing the most important reason is that they are telling people what they most wish to hear. In his book Requiem for a Species, Clive Hamilton makes an entirely unnerving suggestion. Perhaps it is the character type that flourishes under the conditions of consumer capitalism that presents the primary obstacle to taking action on climate change. Faced by an apparent choice between the continuation of our lifestyle and the wellbeing of our planet, perhaps it is the continuation of our lifestyle that in the end we will decide to choose.

In helping us to make this choice, the denialists have played an important role. For they have been able to convince many people that to choose this way is not irresponsible or immoral or insane – a choice for which future generations will curse us – but represents, rather, sweet reason and merest common sense. Recently I read an interesting World Bank survey of international public opinion on the question of climate change. What it revealed, broadly speaking, was that the poorer the country, the more likely are its people to believe in the reality of dangerous human-caused climate change. While 31% of Americans and 38% of Japanese thought climate change was a very serious problem, 75% of Kenyans and 85% of Bangladeshis did. Those who do have reason to fear climate change but have little to lose in the curbing of emissions are the people who believe in what the climate scientists are telling them. Those who do not at present fear climate change but recognise they have a lot to lose by tackling it have simply and conveniently ceased to believe what they hear.

The meaning of all this seems clear. Citizens of the consumer society are unwilling to risk the loss of any of their comforts. However they wish to feel good about themselves. The climate change denialists – the lobbyists and propagandists of the fossil fuel corporations; the right-wing commentariat in the blogosphere and the media; the anti-political correctness and anti-collectivist ideologues in the think tanks and the academy; the angry older generation of engineers and geologists – offer them the alibi for doing nothing they so desperately need.

Read Robert Manne article in full on

December 11, 2011   No Comments

Research on Ocean Circulation and Blue Carbon

Just received the link to the video on the IAI research on how ocean circulation affects blue carbon, which examines the links between biological carbon sequestration, chemical absorption, physical transport and possible re-release to the atmosphere; and what this implies for carbon management options.

For more information on this topic see the post Is continental shelf production mitigating climate change?

December 7, 2011   No Comments

Meeting the Humanities on Climate Change

July 2011

The July issue of Nature Climate Change brings a commentary by Mike Hulmes (Professor of Climate Change at the University of East Anglia, UK) where he argues for greater attention to be paid to the interpretative social sciences and humanities in our attempts to understand the implications of climate change. Nature Climate Change introduces his commentary:

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is hugely influential in setting the tone for wider social and political engagement with climate change. Mike Hulme highlights the limited uptake of social science material into the IPCC assessment reports despite the proliferation of social science research on climate issues. He argues that nature and society are so deeply entangled that research must strive to examine how each is shaping the other, and then outlines the changes needed to close the gap between arts and sciences on issues of climate change and beyond.

Prof. Hulme’s commentary also applies to other pressing contemporary environmental issues, which debate is very often dominated by natural science disciplines.

Related information:

July 4, 2011   No Comments

Climate Scentists Rapping

Climate scientists getting their message across, as rappers; cool… and funny to watch.

And here are the lyrics:

yo….we’re climate scientists.. and there’s no denying this Climate Change Is REEEEALL..
Who’s a climate scientist..
I’m a climate scientist..
Not a cleo finalist
No a climate scientist
Droppin facts all over this wax
While bidness be crying about a carbon tax
Climate change is caused by people
Earth Unlike Alien Has no sequel
We gotta move fast or we’ll be forsaken,
Cause we were too busy suckin things Copenhagen: (Politician)
I said Burn! it’s hot in here..
32% more carbon in the atmosphere.
Oh Eee Ohh Eee oh wee ice ice ice
Raisin’ sea levels twice by twice
We’re scientists, what we speak is True.
Unlike Andrew Bolt our work is Peer Reviewed… ooohhh
Who’s a climate scientist..
I’m a climate scientist..
An Anglican revivalist
No a climate scientist
Feedback is like climate change on crack
The permafrosts subtracts: feedback
Methane release wack : feedback..
Write a letter then burn it: feedback
Denialists deny this in your dreams
Coz climate change means greater extremes,
Heat won’t be the norm
Heatwaves bigger badder storms
The Green house effect is just a theory sucker (Alan Jones)
Yeah so is gravity float away muther floater
Who’s a climate scientist..
I’m a climate scientist..
I’m not a climate Scientist
Who’s Climate Scientists
A Penny Farthing Cyclist
A Fox News Journalist?
A Paleontologist?
A Clean Coal Lobbyist?
A Cashed up Alarmist?
No! a climate scientist! Yo! Preach!

Written and performed by Climate Scientists, Dan Ilic, Duncan Elms and production by Brendan Woithe at Colony NoFi.

May 16, 2011   No Comments

WikiLeaks, Climate Politics and Cancun

Logo used by Wikileaks

Image via Wikipedia

The past few weeks have been “eventful” in the climate change arena. The whistle-blower group WikiLeaks exposed some obscure practices surrounding international climate negotiations (which have been called by some climate bullying, bribery, espionage, blackmail and dirty diplomacy).

The confidential US diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks reveal how US and EU governments used money, threats and espionage to gain support, particularly from developing countries, for their “climate” agenda at the United Nations Climate Summit (COP 16) last year in Copenhagen. The objective of the US diplomatic offensive was to gain political backing for the controversial “Copenhagen Accord”.

The Copenhagen Accord is an unofficial document (that is, not adopted in the UN process), which serves many of the US interests. The accord allows that each nation chooses more amenable targets for greenhouse gas emissions cuts, and cannot guarantee the cuts needed to avoid dangerous effects of climate change. Also, it threatens to circumvent the UN efforts to extend or craft an adequate replacement for the Kyoto protocol, by which developed economies have binding obligations. As a result, strong objection to the Accord mounted among many countries, particularly developing nations and those nations more vulnerable to climate change. The mission of the US were then to overwhelm such opposition – by gaining support of as many countries as possible, it would be more likely that the Accord would be officially adopted.

The leaked diplomatic cables show how nations such as the Maldives, Saudi Arabia and representatives from the Alliance of Small Island States and African Union were “persuaded” to back up the Accord. They also reveal the US determination in forging alliances against their most influential adversaries: Brazil, South Africa, India and China.

Currently, the Copenhagen Accord is backed by 140 countries – which comprise 75% of the countries that are parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and are responsible for over 80% of greenhouse gas emissions.

See some of the US diplomatic cables relating to climate change:

  • On potential financial and technical support to Saudi Arabia in diversifying its economy in the face of climate change
  • On the prospects of US and EU bringing nations to support the Accord
  • On the Dutch government’s ploy to solicit support for the climate Accord from countries receiving development assistance
  • On the Maldives government promise to support the Accord in exchange for US funding
  • Meanwhile, the first major UN meeting on Climate Change after the failed Copenhagen Summit took place in Cancun, Mexico. Expectations were naturally low. None the less, modest progress was made in relation to cutting carbon emissions, climate aid, preventing deforestation, enabling technology transfer and monitoring emissions. These outcomes are far from “saving the planet”; however, for many commentators the Cancun agreements help restoring credibility of UN’s negotiation process.

  • WikiLeaks cables reveal how US manipulated climate accord (
  • Cancun climate agreements at a glance (
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    December 19, 2010   No Comments

    Is Global Action the Only Solution to Climate Change?

    Secretary of UNFCCC Yvo De Boer Opens the Unit...

    Image via Wikipedia

    For many policy analysts reducing the threats of climate change requires an enforceable global treaty. But, global agreements have proven difficult to negotiate. Just remember the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 15) held last year in Copenhagen, which fell short of producing a meaningful outcome. Also, reaching a global agreement on climate change involves dealing with sensitive issues, such as the responsibility of developed countries for the current levels of CO2 in the atmosphere, the “rights” of developing countries to pursue economic growth, and who should bear the costs for solutions. For that reason, an enforceable agreement involving the major emitters of greenhouse gases may take a long time to be reached.

    Elinor Ostrom – who was awarded the 2009 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences for her research on governance – argues that just waiting for a global solution defeats the possibilities of substantial action to prevent dangerous climate change. In a recent paper published in the 20th Anniversary Special Issue of Global Environmental Change(1), she argues that averting climate threats require collective action at diverse levels (local, regional, national and global). By the way, global problems result from cumulative actions of individuals, families, small groups, private firms, and local, regional and national governments.

    While a global agreement is yet to be realised, action is being taken by individuals, community groups, NGOs, and local, state and national governments. The examples are many: individuals cycling to work rather than driving; households replacing conventional light bulbs with more energy efficient ones, or installing solar panels; private firms and government investing in better designed buildings; and local and state governments engaging in programs to reduce their carbon “footprint”. While these actions have yet to make a significant contribution to reducing emissions, they create compound benefits – and these benefits are slowly cumulating. Also, action at multiple scales may enhance innovation, learning and adaptation, and the realisation of more sustainable outcomes.

    For Ostrom there is no question that a global treaty is a major step that needs to be taken in tackling climate change. However, she challenges the assumption that only the global scale is relevant for policies related to global problems. It is important to take into consideration the potential of climate action at multiple scales too. Global efforts need to be backed by national, regional and local efforts to have a chance to work well. “Think globally but act locally”, does the slogan sound familiar?

    (1) Polycentric Systems for Coping with Collective Action and Global Environmental Change. Global Environmental Change, 20: 550–557, doi:10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2010.07.004

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    November 7, 2010   No Comments

    Video – How much could population trends influence climate?

    Just a follow up note on my last post about the implications of population growth for CO2 emissions.  In the video below, Brian O’Neill explains his research, which shows that a slowing of population growth could contribute to significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions. See also the previous post for more information on the research, and link to O’Neil’s paper published in PNAS, last week.

    October 20, 2010   No Comments

    Effects of Population Change on CO2 Emissions

    World population

    Image by Arenamontanus via Flickr

    After being silent for nearly a month, I am back to blogging and now committed to write, at least, a new post every week.  This week’s post is on the link between demographic trends and CO2 emissions. Please feel free to leave your comment below.

    Population growth has been affecting energy use and greenhouse gas emissions growth for the last several decades. The relation between demographics and carbon emissions seems to be obvious. As the human population grows so does the demand for energy; as more energy from fossil fuel is used, more greenhouse gases are produced. Energy demand and emissions can also be affected by a range of demographic dynamics, such as urbanisation, aging and household size, according to a study featured this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS).

    The implications of demographic change for global emissions have been assessed by Brian O’Neil – from the Climate and Global Dynamics Division and Integrated Science Program, National Center for Atmospheric Research – and colleagues. These researchers developed a set of economic growth, energy use, and emissions scenarios using data from 34 countries, representing 61% of the global population, and an energy–economic growth model. The model used – the Population-Environment-Technology (PET) model – accounts for the effect of (i) population growth rates on economic growth rates, (ii) age structure changes on labour supply, (iii) urbanisation on labour productivity, and (iv) anticipated demographic change (and its economic effects) on savings and consumption behaviour.

    O’Neil and colleagues show that both changes in population composition and size can have a significant effect on emissions in certain regions. For example, they estimate that aging can reduce emissions by up to 20% in the long term, particularly in developed country regions. Urbanization, on the other hand, can increase projected emissions by more than 25% in developing country regions. A slow population growth could help to achieve 16-29% of emissions reductions suggested to be needed to avoid dangerous climate change by 2050. By the end of the century the effect of slower population growth could be even greater, accounting for reductions of 37-41% in emissions from fossil fuel use. Given such significant influence of demographics on emissions, the study suggests that family planning policies would have an important role in mitigating climate change.

    Global Demographic Trends and Future Carbon Emissions. O’Neil, B. et al. (2010), PNAS, Vol 107, no. 41,

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    October 17, 2010   No Comments