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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.

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June 16, 2012   No Comments