How the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) can engage with religion

(This blog is based on the report ‘CAFOD workshops on Laudato Si’: Contribution to a global dialogue on progress’; and a paper presented at the 2016 UK Development Studies Association conference entitled ‘Engaging development and religion: Conceptual and methodological groundings’. It was originally posted at LSE Religion and Public Sphere)

By Séverine Deneulin and Augusto Zampini-Davies

One year ago, the world state leaders gathered in New York to adopt the Sustainable Development GoalsIndicators to measure progress towards achieving the goals have now been agreed. The SDGs, in contrast to the Millennium Development Goals, are underpinned by a holistic understanding of development, and are the results of global participatory processes which reflect people’s values. With 84% of the world’s population estimated to be affiliated to a religion, international and local institutions are increasingly acknowledging the importance of religion in their work. DFIDUNICEFUNFPAUNDP, to name a few, have established clear partnership guidelines with faith communities. However, what engaging development and religion means, and how it should be done, remains unclear. Continue reading


(This blog was originally posted at Borderlands Asia)

By Jonathan Goodhand and Oliver Walton

Sri Lanka and Nepal may have turned their backs on protracted and bloody conflicts, but the fault lines that fuelled these wars have not gone away.  Instead they continually resurface and shape contentious politics in the two countries.  The crucial challenge facing political elites now is that of constitutional reform. What is the basis of power sharing?  To what extent should power and finance be decentralised? Where should new administrative boundaries be drawn?  How can minority rights be protected?  And how can majority community buy in be assured?

Turbulent post-war politics and constitution building

In Sri Lanka, President Rajapaksa’s ten years in office came to a sudden end last year with a defeat in Presidential and parliamentary elections. In Nepal, Prime Minister Oli’s CPN (UML)-led government was forced out in May 2016 and replaced by the Maoist leader Prachanda, who heads a new coalition with the Nepali Congress and Madhesi parties from the Madhesi plains on the southern border with India. These newly elected governments are struggling to craft new constitutional agreements. In Nepal, Prachanda is seeking to amend the 2015 constitution to appease Madhesi demands. In Sri Lanka, the government is hurriedly drawing up a new constitution, which it plans to finalise before the end of the year and put to a public vote in 2017.

This is a high stakes game, with the future character of the state and its administrative arrangements up for grabs.  At one level this is a struggle involving elected politicians and lawyers, to ensure a fair and legal division of powers and representation.  At the same time, below the formal structures and official debates is a multi-layered struggle involving networks of actors animated by the drive to capture, control, and distribute power and resources. Whilst some see this as a battle for a new kind of politics, others view it as a very old game in which new political elites jostle with older established elites in order to gain access to power and resources – in other words it is as much to do with extending patronage networks as democratizing the state.

Patronage and new forms of claim-making

These tensions have a strong spatial dimension, as claim making from the periphery intersects with patronage politics at the centre. For the political parties that emerged from the states’ peripheries and were part of, or aligned with, the Maoists or LTTE, entering mainstream party politics at the centre  has been a disorientating experience; the clear cut narratives and friend-foe distinctions of ‘justice-seeking rebels’, are replaced by the murky worlds of political coalitions, alliance making and ‘dirty’ patronage politics. Maoists and ex LTTE-aligned nationalists, have found that by renouncing violence and entering ostensibly high-minded debates on constitutional reforms, they have unavoidably been sucked into ‘normal politics’ and deal making.

This new cartography of power is much harder to navigate than the old war-time landscape.  The new politics involves indeterminacies, blurred zones, surprising alliances, and hybrid institutional arrangements – all of which creates a promising environment for middle-men or brokers, who are able to navigate, find new pathways and make new connections, during periods of rupture or flux. These fixers can jump the synapses between political networks and parties leading to surprising alliances and policy positions. Muslim politicians in Eastern Sri Lanka, for example, have sought to balance the demands of their constituents in the periphery against the need to form coalitions with and extract resources from the centre. Madhesi political leaders in Nepal have both engaged with and challenged the central government, tapping into state power by joining mainstream parties then switching allegiances and orchestrating violent protests at the border.

New patterns of claim-making are emerging from the margins. In Nepal, since the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2006, marginalised tribal groups (the janajati) and Madhesi parties have played a decisive role in politics at the centre. In Eastern Sri Lanka, the leading Muslim party – the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) – is being confronted by a more assertive regional identity movement called ‘the Rise of the East’. In Northern Sri Lanka, new groups such as the Tamil People’s Council (TPC) are drawing attention to a range of issues they feel are neglected in public debate about the new constitution such as ongoing state-sponsored ‘colonisation’ of the North, war crimes, and the need for a federal solution.


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Stateless refugees and avoiding a future ‘crisis of statelessness’ in Europe

By Jason Tucker

Over the last decade, slow and steady progress has been made in Europe towards the goal of preventing and addressing statelessness. However, the failure of states and regional and international organisations to respond to the rise in the number of stateless refugees entering Europe threatens to derail these efforts. Most European states do not have the legal or policy frameworks in place to identify, prevent or address statelessness. For this reason, many states already had several thousand stateless people residing in their territory before the current migration crisis, some of whom were born in these states. Continue reading

How do social movements present evidence for policy change? Insights from Kenya, Bangladesh and Latin America.

This is a blog on a session from ‘Evidence and the Politics of Policymaking: Where next?’, a Symposium from the Institute for Policy Research and Centre for Development Studies (CDS) at the University of Bath, September 14-15 2016. Highlights and recordings from the Symposium can be found here.

By Silvia Storchi

A panel of the recent CDS/IPR Symposium on “Evidence and the politics of policy making: where next?” addressed the role of social movements in influencing policy change by bringing together very different experiences of this process.

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Social protection and extreme poverty- thinking about evidence and influence

This is a blog on a session from ‘Evidence and the Politics of Policymaking: Where next?’, a Symposium from the Institute for Policy Research and Centre for Development Studies (CDS) at the University of Bath, September 14-15 2016. Highlights and recordings from the Symposium can be found here.

By Daniel Wroe

Social protection programmes have been one of the policy arenas in which randomised control trials have been extensively used to present evidence of impact. The Social Protection and Extreme Poverty panel at the recent Symposium, “Evidence and the Politics of Policymaking: what next?” at the University of Bath questioned the role this evidence plays in policy change. Continue reading

Evidence and the politics of the UK migration debate – is there hope?

This is a blog on a session from ‘Evidence and the Politics of Policymaking: Where next?’, a Symposium from the Institute for Policy Research and Centre for Development Studies (CDS) at the University of Bath, September 14-15 2016. Highlights and recordings from the Symposium can be found here.

By Britta K. Matthes

Migration has been at the centre of the recent EU referendum and the so-called refugee crisis and it has led to critical (self-)reflection among academics and others working in the field. The migration panel at the recent CDS and IPR Symposium on “Evidence and the Politics of Policy making: what next?” brought together three migration experts to share their insights. Continue reading

Industrial accidents in Bangladesh are another symptom of an unequal society

(This blog was originally posted at – The Conversation)

By Palash Kamruzzaman

Bangladesh, once dismissed as a “basket case” for development, has made remarkable progress in many aspects of human and economic development in the last couple of decades.

The people of Bangladesh are a key element in this remarkable advancement. They work hard on scarce farming land, risk their lives in ready-made garment factories and other labour-intensive industries, and take on low-skilled jobs abroad to send money home.

But as well as being one of the key drivers for making Bangladesh an emerging success story, the general population is the group that often pay the heaviest price for development. Continue reading

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.