A post-work economy of robots and machines is a bad Utopia for the left

(This blog was oringially posted at – The Conversation)

By Ana Cecilia Dinerstein, Frederick H. Pitts and Graham Taylor

Picture a world where robots do all the work while humans enjoy life unburdened by labour. This is an old dream of radicals and Marxists. But the post-work imaginary has taken hold in the unlikeliest of quarters, from Labour Party policy seminars to the World Economic Forum in Davos. Continue reading

Impeachment or ‘Soft Coup’?: The Revenge of the Right and the state of democracy in Brazil and Latin America today

By Ana C. Dinerstein

For Latin Americans, hearing the words ‘corruption in the government’ on the radio or TV activates a regional collective memory of economic and political crisis. In the past, these have been underpinned by corruption by political elites and resulted in massive citizen mobilisations that on many occasions have led to the departure of heads of state and ministers before their time. Continue reading

Wilful interpretation the key to making the COP21 Paris Agreement a tipping point in climate policy

By Susan Johnson and Thibault Uytterhaegen

As the formal signing of the COP21 agreement arrived at in Paris in December closes on 22nd April at the UN Headquarters in New York, how is this agreement to be viewed?   Will it go down in history as a tipping point in climate change policy or, as claimed by others, be remembered that yet again ‘by comparison to what it should have been, it’s a disaster’[1].

Claimed as a resounding success for multilateralism with world leaders making unprecedented efforts to achieve an agreement, it offers some apparent breakthroughs.  The inclusion of a 1.5oC aspirational target, and the inclusion of “loss and damage” being perhaps the most notable of these.  However, these came with the country level commitments under Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) which add up to only a 2.7oC, although with mechanisms for ratcheting these up through a five-year review; and with no more finance yet pledged to enable adaptation, and no mechanism to link historic contributions to GHG emissions to any idea of liability and the distribution of future contributions.  Indeed the French hosts diplomatically claimed a typo to adjust “shall” to “should” in order to reject such a potential claim that the US could not have accommodated at the last minute, so saving the agreement from being derailed.

As Catherine Pettengell argued at a recent roundtable of experts on the Paris Agreement held at the University of Bath[2], COP21 offers “words and the framework … the hooks for decisive action”, she argued that it was necessary to go from words to deeds and that we must now “wilfully interpret” the agreement to get the action required.

That the language decisively shifts expectations was endorsed by Janet Strachan of the Overseas Development Institute who argued that the goal of 1.5oC was more of a frame of mind for actors to get behind. That it is ambitious, but it is what is needed in order to catalyse action from governments and organisations all over the world.  Indeed, Peter Newell, Professor of International Relations at the University of Sussex, claimed that the agreement presented the end game for the fossil fuel industry with Green MEP Molly Scott Cato indicating that coal industry executives now see their industry “being hated by the public as much the slave trade”. However, these speakers also recognised that these developments presented new problems in valuing fossil fuel assets that risk the stability of financial markets and pose new challenges to manage these effectively.

Indeed, it was also argued that the goal of 1.5oC by 2050 should also be viewed with a certain degree of wariness – a suggestion that it was too ambitious.  Peter Newell explained that the target could imply the use of potentially deleterious carbon negative strategies, such as geoengineering and carbon capture and storage. Reinforcing this view, Molly Scott pointed out that requirements for land with which to create carbon negative mechanisms may lead to new land grabs and put at risk the livelihoods of some of the poorest people in developing countries.

On the other hand, the recognition of loss and damage was recognised as a significant step forward  – indeed a third phase of understanding of what is required, which first started with mitigation, and then moved on to recognise the role of adaptation. However, while Janet Strachan argued that the sector was not yet ready for new money, others criticised the fact that the funding mechanisms have not been explicitly defined. Molly Scott Cato suggests the international community has a moral obligation to supply the money, proposing green quantitative easing because interest bearing debt funding would necessarily be based on unsustainable growth strategies. In agreeing with this, Jon Date, advocacy officer for climate change policy at ActionAid, proposed a “fairshares” proportionate contribution mechanism which distributes the amounts to be paid towards climate change adaptation for developing countries on the basis of each country’s carbon and pollution emissions.

Overall, while recognising these limitations, panellists recognised the importance of moving forward with optimism. Molly Scott Cato particularly exhorted the need for progress which could only be achieved through garnering public pressure, through tireless efforts to convince elected leaders and interested lobbies that humanity depends on the outcomes of each and every contribution: that a positive vision of the future is necessary to enable us to do this together.  As Janet Strachan put it “we are in the policy fight of our lives”.  We must therefore wilfully interpret the agreement in the interests of our collective future.
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[1] http://www.theguardian.com/environment/georgemonbiot/2015/dec/12/paris-climate-deal-governments-fossil-fuels

[2] http://www.bath.ac.uk/cds/documents/CDS_Public_Event.pdf

 

Borderlands, Brokers and War to Peace Transitions in Nepal and Sri Lanka

Line_of_gas_cylinder_2By Oliver Walton (Bath) and Jonathan Goodhand (SOAS, Melbourne)

Last September, violent protests in the Tarai region of Nepal triggered the closure of its southern border with India, leading to a spike in fuel prices and widespread damage to the economy. The blockade from Madhesi groups was a response to concerns that the new federal boundaries agreed in Nepal’s long-awaited constitution reinforced existing political marginalisation. The campaign was widely believed to be complicitly backed by India so as to apply pressure on Nepal’s ruling coalition because of unease at the new constitution. The renewed violence in the Tarai marks a worrying new chapter in a country that is still recovering from a long insurgency from Maoist guerrillas, which was finally ended by a peace agreement in 2006.

At the other end of the Indian subcontinent, in Sri Lanka, peripheral regions have also been at the heart of wrangling over the country’s future following the ending of its long-running civil war in 2009, though a military victory by the Government of Sri Lanka over the separatist rebels, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Conflict-affected regions in the North and East have seen continued military occupation, while in the south, the once economically-marginal district of Hambantota (hometown of the former President Mahinda Rajapaksa) became a key site of infrastructural development and heavy Chinese investment.

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These brief examples show firstly how centre-periphery relations frequently become (or continue to be) a point of contestation in war to peace transitions, and secondly how these dynamics vary greatly in different kinds of state margins. Yet the role of peripheral regions in post war contexts has been little studied.

How does the political and economic salience of peripheral regions shift at war’s end? What are the key points of contention between centre and periphery?  What is the role of political and economic brokers who mediate between the centre and margins and across the border?  Does this brokering role differ where there is a maritime border rather than a land border? How do these dynamics vary when comparing historically marginalised peripheries (like the Karnali region in northern Nepal) with zones of great political or economic salience such as Hambantota and the Tarai? How are post-war transitions experienced by those living in the margins of the state?  How do the interventions of international actors affect centre-periphery relations?

Our new 2-year ESRC-funded research project – ‘Borderlands, Brokers and Peacebuilding in Sri Lanka and Nepal: War to Peace Transitions viewed from the margins’– looks at post-war transitions from the vantage point of such peripheral regions. The project began in December 2015 and will run until November 2017.

In both countries, state margins have been important incubators of political grievance and central to the dynamics of civil war. But relatively little is known about the role these regions play in shaping post-war transitions at the national level and influencing post-war peacebuilding and reconstruction processes. The project challenges traditional approaches to analysing post-war transitions, which have tended to view statebuilding processes as involving the diffusion of political and economic power outwards from centre to periphery.

We see the dynamics of brokerage as central to war to peace transitions. Brokers, including military leaders, local politicians, fixers and businessmen, mediate valued resources and ideas between centre and periphery and across the borderline. They act as intermediaries and gatekeepers, and they are both a point of friction and a lubricant in relations between the centre and periphery.

These individuals draw strength from their ability to inhabit different social and political worlds. During war to peace transitions their roles often shift considerably – military actors might become political party leaders or morph into businessmen. Brokers operating in conflict-affected regions have to remain alert to sudden political ruptures, and develop strategies for dealing with changing patterns of violence, or rapid adjustments in power and resource relations.

A good example of this kind of shift can be seen in the changing role of paramilitary leaders like Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan (Pillayan) and Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan (Karuna) from the Eastern faction of the LTTE in Sri Lanka. This faction broke away from the northern-led command in 2004, and supported the government’s successful campaign to reclaim LTTE territory in the East. Once the military campaign was over, the group entered party politics and sought to convert some of their coercive strength into political power, though with limited success. After holding key government positions, its former leader Karuna and current leader Pillayan are now marginalised from the political mainstream. Pillayan is currently in jail for killing a Tamil parliamentarian.

We will look at the role of such borderland brokers through detailed life histories. We believe that careful study of the lives of these brokers will reveal how processes of change are shaped, understood and negotiated by individuals and communities in the periphery.

The project is led by Professor Jonathan Goodhand (SOAS and Melbourne). The core research team includes researchers from the Centre for Poverty Analysis in Sri Lanka (led by Vagisha Gunasekera), Martin Chautari in Nepal (led by Pratyoush Onta and Bhaskar Gautam), the University of Bath (Oliver Walton) and the School of Oriental and African Studies in the UK (Patrick Meehan and Sharri Plonski). International Alert (Markus Mayer) leads the project’s engagement with policymakers and practitioners. See this two-page flyer and the project website for further details.

 

Jonathan Goodhand is a Professor of Conflict and Development Studies at the SOAS Department of Development Studies.   His research focuses on the political economy of conflict, war to peace transitions and increasingly on the role of borderlands, with a particular focus on South and Central Asia.

Oliver Walton is a Lecturer in International Development at the University of Bath in the Department of Social and Policy Sciences. His research focuses on civil society, NGOs and the political economy of peace and conflict, with a focus on South Asia.

 

On Ghana’s cocoa farms, Fairtrade is not yet working for women

(This blog was oringially posted at – The Guardian)

By Roy Maconachie

Fairtrade Fortnight brings us some inspirational images of smiling farmers in Africa. Smiling female farmers. But although European cocoa consumption contributes €9.8m (£7.6m) to the Fairtrade premium received by farmers, women are yet to reap the rewards. Continue reading

Transformative global development: what role for civil society?

By James Copestake

A seminar at the University of Bath’s Centre for Development Studies on 28th January, brought together a group of post-doctoral researchers to consider the role of civil society in transforming global development. Continue reading

Book review: Sustainability and wellbeing. Human-scale development in practice. By Mònica Guillen-Royo.

By James Copestake

Sustainability and wellbeing. Human-scale development in practiceBy Mònica Guillen-Royo. 2016. Abingdon and New York: Routledge. xiii+187 pages.

Addis, New York, Paris – 2015 may best be remembered for efforts to build an integrated global vision of sustainable development. But what next? One answer is to revisit approaches that start with small, participatory and practical local steps. What role do they have, and what prospects for synergy in a world that is more inter-connected than ever, but also experiencing renewed fragmentation? Continue reading

Relational Wellbeing: Linking Personal, Societal and Environmental Wellbeing

By Sarah White

(This blog was orginally posted at The Network of Wellbeing)

The build up to Christmas often evokes mixed emotions. Excitement and anxiety, pleasure and obligation, anticipation and dread. Hope that this time it will all be perfect and fear that somehow it won’t be.

This year, though, the contrasts have been more than usually stark. Thousands of refugees re-live on our screens the Christmas story of a young family forced to move by an occupying power. Hands outstretched in welcome are slapped back, as doors slam and border walls erupt like long livid scars across the landscape. At home the clamour of our Christmas shuttles on, the images of warmth and sparkle wrapping the need for a sale in the treasures of our love, transformed and pre-packaged into the dreams which the market dreams for us.   Continue reading

Is Bangladesh descending into lawlessness?

By Palash Kamruzzaman

(This blog was originally posted at the Conversation)

An Italian priest has been wounded by gunmen in Bangladesh, the latest in a wave of attacks on foreigners there. Only weeks before, an Italian citizen working with a development organisation was shot in Dhaka’s diplomatic zone – one of the most heavily guarded places in the country. A few days later, a Japanese citizen was murdered in northern Bangladesh in a similar style. Continue reading

Global conflict and the sustainable development goals (SDGs)

By James Copestake

The decision of the international ‘community’ to come up with a new set of development goals to take over from the MDGs in 2015 and to see us through to 2030 was not one that readily filled me with excitement. Even their formal approval at the UN General Assembly in New York in September largely passed me by. And when I discovered they comprised no fewer than 17 goals and 169 targets then, yes, it did occur to me that this might be a hugely costly bureaucratic exercise: a fable of synergy, partnership and rationality jarring against a global reality of sharp trade-offs, conflict and insanity… Continue reading