Entries tagged with “Global South”.


Yesterday, I took the relief community to task for not spending more time seriously thinking about global environmental change.  To be clear, this is not because that community pays no attention, or is unaware of the trend toward increasing climate variability and extreme weather events in many parts of the world that seems to be driving ever-greater needs for intervention.  That part of the deal is pretty well covered by the humanitarian world, though some folks are a bit late to the party (and it would be good to see a bit more open, informal discussion of this – most of what I have seen is in very formal reports and presentations).  I am more concerned that the humanitarian community gives little or no thought to the environmental implications of its interventions – in the immediate rush to save lives, we are implementing projects and conducting activities that have a long-term impact on the environment at scales ranging from the community to the globe.  We are not, however, measuring these impacts in really meaningful ways, and therefore run the risk of creating future problems through our current interventions.  This is not a desirable outcome for anyone.

But what of the development community, those of us thinking not in terms of immediate, acute needs as much as we are concerned with durable transformations in quality of life that will only be achieved on a generational timescale?  You’d think that this community (of which I count myself a part) would be able to grasp the impact of climate change on people’s long-term well-being, as both global environmental changes (such as climate change and ecosystem collapse) and development gains unfold over multidecadal timescales.  Yet the integration of global environmental change into development programs and research remains preliminary and tentative – and there is great resistance to such integration from many people in this community.

Sometimes people genuinely don’t get it – they either don’t think that things like climate change are real problems, or fail to grasp how it impacts their programs.  These are the folks who would lose at the “six degrees of Kevin Bacon” game – I’ve said it before, and I will say it again: global environmental change is development’s Kevin Bacon: I can link environmental change to any development challenge in three steps or less.  Sometimes the impacts are really indirect, which can make this hard to see.  For example, take education: in some places, climate change will alter growing seasons such that farm productivity will be reduced, forcing families to use more labor to get adequate food and income, which might lead parents to pull their kids from school to get that labor.  Yep, at least some education programs are impacted by climate change, an aspect of global environmental change.

Other times, though, I think that the resistance comes from a very legitimate place: many working in this field are totally overtaxed as it is.  They know that various aspects of global environmental change are problems in the contexts in which they work, but lack the human and financial resources to accomplish most of their existing tasks. Suddenly they hear that they will have to take something like climate change into account as they do their work, which means new responsibilities that will entail new training, but often come without new personnel or money.  It is therefore understandable when these folks, faced with these circumstances, greet the demand for the integration of global environmental change considerations into their programs with massive resistance.

I think the first problem contributes to the second – it is difficult to prioritize people and funding for a challenge that is poorly understood in the development community, and whose impacts on the project or initiative at hand might be difficult to see.  But we must do this – various forms of global environmental change are altering the future world at which we are aiming with our development programs and projects.  While an intervention appropriate to a community’s current needs may result in improvements to human well-being in the short term, the changes brought on by that intervention may be maladaptive in ten or twenty years and end up costing the community much more than it gained initially.

Global environmental change requires us to think about development like a fade route in football (American), or the through ball in soccer (the other football).  In both cases, the key is to put the ball where the target (the receiver of the pass) is going to be, not where they are now.  Those who can do this have great success.  Those that cannot have short careers.  Development needs to start working on its timing routes, and thinking about where our target communities are going to be ten and twenty years from now as we design our programs and projects.

So, how do we start putting our projects through on goal?  One place to start would be by addressing two big barriers: the persistence of treating global environmental change as a development sector like any other, and the failure of economics to properly cost the impacts of these changes.

First, global environmental change is not a sector.  It is not something you can cover in a section of your project plan or report, as it impacts virtually all development sectors.  Climate change alters the range and number of vectors for diseases like malaria.  Overfishing to meet the demands of consumers in the Global North can crush the food security of poor coastal populations in the Global South.  Deforestation can intensify climate change, lead to soil degradation that compromises food security, and even distort economic policy (you can log tropical hardwoods really quickly and temporarily boost GNP in a sort of “timber bubble”, but eventually you run out of trees and those 200-500 year regrowth times means that the bubble will pop and a GNP downturn is the inevitable outcome of such a policy).  If global environmental change is development’s Kevin Bacon, it is pretty much omnipresent in our programs and projects – we need to be accounting for it now.  That, in turn, requires us to start thinking much longer term – we cannot design projects with three to five year horizons – that is really the relief-to-recovery horizon (see part 1 for my discussion of global environmental change in that context).  Global environmental change means thinking about our goals on a much longer timescale, and at a much more general (and perhaps ambitious) scale.  The uncertainty bars on the outcomes of our work get really, really huge on these timescales . . . which to me is another argument for treating development as a catalyst aimed at triggering changes in society by facilitating the efforts of those with innovative, locally-appropriate ideas, as opposed to imposing and managing change in an effort to achieve a narrow set of measurable goals at all costs.  My book lays out the institutional challenges to such a transformation, such as rethinking participation in development, which we will have to address if this is ever to work.

Second, development economics needs to catch up to everyone else on the environment.  There are environmental economists, but not that many – and there are virtually no development economists that are trained in environmental economics.  As a result, most economic efforts to address environmental change in the context of development are based on very limited understandings of the environmental issues at hand – and this, in turn, creates a situation where much work in development economics either ignores or, in its problematic framings of the issue, misrepresents the importance of this challenge to the development project writ large. Until development economists are rewarded for really working on the environment, in all its messiness and uncertainty (and that may be a long way off, given how marginal environmental economists are to the discipline), I seriously doubt we are going to see enough good economic work linking development and the environment to serve as a foundation for a new kind of thinking about development that results in durable, meaningful outcomes for the global poor.  In the meantime, it seems to me that there is a huge space for geographers, anthropologists, sociologists, political scientists, new cultural historians, and others to step up and engage this issue in rich, meaningful ways that both drive how we do work now and slowly force new conversations on both economics and the practice of development.

I do admit, though, that my expanding circle of economics colleagues (many of which I connected to via this blog and twitter) have given me entrée into a community of talented people that give me hope – they are interested and remarkably capable, and I hope they continue to engage me and my projects as they go forward . . . I think there is a mutual benefit there.

Let me be clear: the continuing disconnect between development studies and environmental studies is closing, and there are many, many opportunities to continue building connections between these worlds.  This blog is but one tiny effort in a sea of efforts, which gives me hope – with lots of people at work on this issue, someone is bound to succeed.

In part three, I will take up why global environmental change means that we have to rethink the RCT4D work currently undertaken in development – specifically, why we need much, much better efforts at explanation if this body of work is to give us meaningful, long-term results.



On Global Dashboard Alex Evans discusses a report he wrote for ActionAid on critical uncertainties for development between the present and 2020.  Given Alex got to distill a bunch of futures studies, scenarios and outlooks into this report, I have to say this: I want his job.

The list he produces is quite interesting.  In distilled form, they are:

1. What is the global balance of power in 2020?

2. Will job creation keep pace with demographic change to 2020?

3. Is there serious global monetary reform by 2020?

4. Who will benefit from the projected ‘avalanche of technology’ by 2020?

5. Will the world face up to the equity questions that come with a world of limits by 2020?

6. Is global trade in decline by 2020?

7. How has the nature of political influence changed by 2020?

8. What will the major global shocks be between now and 2020?

All are fair questions.  And, in general, I like his 10 recommendations for addressing these challenges:

1. Be ready (because shocks will be the key drivers of change)

2. Talk about resilience (because the poor are in the firing line)

3. Put your members in charge (because they can bypass you)

4. Talk about fair shares (because limits change everything)

5. Specialise in coalitions (and not just of civil society organisations)

6. Take on the emerging economies (including from within)

7. Brings news from elsewhere (because innovation will come from the edges)

8. Expect failure (and look for the silver lining)

9. Work for poor people, not poor countries (as most of the former are outside the latter)

10. Be a storyteller (because stories create worldviews)

I particularly like #10 here, as it was exactly this idea that motivated me to write Delivering Development.  And #7 is more or less the political challenge I lay out in the last 1/4 of the book.  #9 is a clear reference to Andy Sumner’s work on the New Bottom Billion, which everyone should be looking at right now.  In short, Alex and I are on the same page here.

I have two bits of constructive criticism to offer that I think would strengthen this report – and would be easy edits.  First, I think Alex has made a bit of a mistake in limiting his concern for environmental shocks to climate shocks.  These sorts of shocks are, of course, critical (hell, welcome to my current job), but there are other shocks out there that are perhaps not best captured as climate shocks on such a short timescale.  For example, ecological collapse from overuse/misuse of ecosystem resources (see the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment) may have nothing at all to do with climate change – overfishing is currently crushing most major global fisheries, and the connection between this behavior and climate change is somewhat distant, at best.  We’ve been driving several ecosystems off cliffs for some time now, and one wonders when resilience will fail and a state change will set in.  It is near-impossible to know what the new state of a stressed ecosystem will be after a state change, so this is really a radical uncertainty we need to be thinking about.

Second, I am concerned that Stevens’ claim about the collapse of globalization bringing about “savage” negative impacts on the developing world.  Such a claim strikes me as overgeneralized and therefore missing the complexity of the challenge such a collapse might bring – and it is a bit ironic, given his admonition to “talk about resilience” above.  I think that some people (urban dwellers in particular) would likely be very hard hit – indeed, the term savage might actually apply to those who are heavily integrated into global markets simply by the fact they are living in large cities whose economies are driven by global linkages.  And certainly those in marginal rural environments who are already subject to crop failure and other challenges will likely suffer greatly from the loss of market opportunities and perhaps humanitarian assistance (look at contemporary inland Somalia for an illustration of what I am talking about here).  However, others (the bulk of rural farmers with significant subsistence components to their agricultural activities, or the option to convert activities to subsistence) have the option to pull back from market engagement and still make a stable living.  Opportunity will certainly dry up for these people, at least for a while, as this is usually a strategy for managing temporary economic fluctuations.  This is certainly a negative impact, for if development does nothing else, it must provide opportunities for people.  However, this sort of negative impact doesn’t rise to “savage” – which to me implies famine, infant mortality, etc.  I think we make all-to-easy connections between the failure of globalization/development (I’m not sure they are all that different, really, a point I discuss in Delivering Development).  Indeed, a sustained loss of global connection might, in the long run, create a space for local innovations and market development that could lead to a more robust future.

So to “be ready” requires, I think, a bit of a broadening of our environmental concerns, and a major effort to engage the complexity of engagement with the global economy among the rural poor in the world.  Both are quite doable – and are really minor edits to a very nice report (which I still wish I wrote).

One of the many barriers to a global climate deal is the standoff between the Global North (aka the wealthy countries) and the Global South (aka everyone else) over emissions cuts.  Basically, most of the Global South wants to avoid any caps on their emissions, or to have very limited caps, so they can develop as quickly as possible.  The Global North wants emissions caps across the board, rich or poor – ostensibly because most future emissions growth is projected to take place in the Global South.  This is a bit disingenuous, for while the majority of emissions growth will come from the Global South, these emissions will still be a tiny fraction of those emitted by the Global North . . . so in many ways, cuts in the Global North are more important to CO2 concentrations than cuts in the Global South.  Further, as several countries have pointed out, when countries like the US demand that everyone cut their emissions equally, we more or less ignore our own history of pollution.  This was the point of the funds committed to these developing countries in Copenhagen – to recognize that we will need to create new development pathways for these countries if we close off the old ones – so, once again Senators Barasso, Inhofe, Vitter and Voinovich, these funds are not a “climate bailout“.

However, there is a question that the Global South ought to be asking right now – is any global climate deal better than no deal, and a set of bilateral negotiations on climate going forward?  A global deal creates a uniform set of rules for everyone – no more room for negotiation or pressure.  Bilateral negotiations, on the other hand, can get much more heavy-handed.  For example, the United States (or any other OECD country) could, if it chose, make very stringent demands (much stiffer than proposed in the current negotiations) of countries, and compel compliance by threatening some or all of a given country’s foreign aid.  This world would expose small, poor countries to pressure that larger developing countries (i.e. India, China, and Brazil) or countries that have natural resources we want/need (hello oil-rich Nigeria) might avoid.  This would create an even more inequitable outcome, where some developing countries are able to occupy dirty, lower cost development pathways while others are consigned to high-cost pathways with no guarantees of funding to offset these costs.

So, which is more dangerous – a less than ideal or fair global deal, or the risk of bilateral negotiations with rich countries that can use their foreign aid as a stick to compel compliance?  It seems to me the latter is a huge gamble that rests on the assessment of whether or not the rich countries will, indeed, force compliance in a relatively uniform manner via bilateral negotiations.  If they do, it seems to me that the Global South is screwed, and will wish that they had signed a global deal.  However, the Global North is hardly monolithic – the Scandinavians tend to put far fewer conditions on aid than other countries, the US and Great Britain have disagreed on fundamental philosophical issues like the value of markets and strategic food reserves, etc.  So a uniform policy coming out of the Global North seems unlikely.  As a result, each country in the Global South has to ask themselves if they will have enough sources of aid to avoid pressure on emissions caps in a world of bilateral negotiations.

Thank you, xkcd.  Thank you.