Conference Abstracts


Environmental governance: from global markets to global security 

Professor Rosaleen Duffy, SOAS, University of London

Emerging forms of Environmental governance are building on neoliberal approaches in ways that advance the agenda of the war on terror. Using the case of biodiversity conservation, this paper sketches out some of these recent conceptual and material shifts in environmental governance; my aim is to start to unravel and understand the dynamics involved. In recent years the debate around the intersection of neoliberalism and the environment has gathered pace. It is clearly discernible in the promotion of the idea of the green economy – linked in with notions of green growth and green jobs. The more general acceptance and promotion of market based approaches. (PES, natured based tourism, TEEB, to name a few) seems ubiquitous. This leaves critics to continuously argue for alternatives, while the UNEP, the World Bank, Conservation International (amongst others) trumpet this as the only way forward. Neoliberal approaches have become normalised because they neatly fit with a dominant capitalist framework. However, the neoliberal stage has arguably laid the foundation stone for the latest phase.

Taking conservation as an example, I argue that we have entered a new phase – environmental governance as global security. Water, energy supply, climate and food production have long been linked with security concerns; but these have been expressed in terms of conflicts over access rights or Malthusian inspired fears of scarcity. Using conservation I argue there is a new phase – borne of the specific security concerns in the post 9/11 world. This has been facilitated by the earlier neoliberal phase coupled with the desire to find new streams of funding and the extension of military technologies into a range of ‘non- military’ uses. This has allowed private military companies to market themselves on green credentials, prompted NGOs to argue that funding for anti-poaching serves a dual purpose of saving wildlife and defeating Al Shabaab, and encouraged governments to authorise the use of drones and other surveillance technologies. This is not confined to protected areas – it extends certain modes of environmental governance out into wider society. This paper seeks to unravel how and why wildlife is being reconfigured to become the latest ‘front line’, such that fortress conservation is being supplanted with war by conservation.


Resource Nationalism? Justice, resistance and the politics of resource extraction in Southern Tanzania

Dr. John Childs, Lancaster University


The governance of both hydrocarbons and minerals drives the economic and social development trajectories of many resource rich countries across the globe. Yet the strategies and discourse produced in governing such resources at global, national and subnational scales are profoundly political in nature and rarely go uncontested, leading to political friction as the imperatives of capitalism come into conflict with political ecologies of place. This paper critically engages with one manifestation of these struggles, namely the articulation of ‘resource nationalism’ and its concomitant production of national identity and imagined geographies by examining recent political contention in Tanzania around recent discoveries of gas. Here, incipient social mobilization and activism is already apparent following predictions that the country will become the world’s third largest exporter of natural gas by 2015. It is argued that erstwhile attempts to conceptually frame resource nationalism are inadequate. In highlighting the importance of hitherto missing theoretical engagements with, for example, new commodity frontiers, space and historical development trajectories, it is concluded that the analysis of resource nationalism must better highlight the politics of recognition at all scales in understanding contemporary struggles over resources.



Towards a political economy of natural resources: historicizing commodity chains through commodity frontiers and the state.


Dr. Elena Baglioni and Dr. Liam Campling, Queen Mary University of London,


Peter Newell (2011) argues that diverse disciplinary biases, the general scepticism surrounding historical materialism, and a reading of capitalism ‘as given’ have weakened much of the academic understanding of capitalism and ecology. Similarly, Clapp and Helleiner (2012) suggest that the interface between political economy and the environment has been approached mainly through causal arrows emphasising how the international political economy affects the environment, or rather (and more rarely) how resource scarcity and the limiting capacity of the earth largely impact on the former. Our contribution seeks to take some early steps to retrieve a complex understanding of contemporary, globalised forms of industrial organisation. It confronts the fuzzy boundary between nature and the world economy by combining the focus of commodity chain analysis on firm-level governance[1] with the more historical, capital-nature emphasis of Jason Moore’s commodity frontier theory. It proposes an historical understanding of natural resource industries as commodity chains and commodity frontiers. It is argued that while the commodity chain perspective explains contemporary industrial organisation and questions of power in extractive industries, framing natural resources as commodity frontiers captures the ecological and historical development of production revealing the inner dialectic between nature and capitalism, the relentless commodification of the former and the constant creation of new frontiers by the latter. Both are needed to understand natural resource industries contingently and historically. This, in turn, demands a thoughtful analysis of the state’s role in the very existence of today’s global commodity chains and production networks. We try to go beyond considering states as an infrastructural and institutional ‘context’ or ‘platform’. Rather, commodity chains should be seen as the historical products of past colonial enterprises, the international division of labour, old and new. While an explicit theorisation of the state in GPNs is gradually emerging (Smith 2014), we seek to grasp and ‘see’ states by historicising commodity chains and looking at concrete state-effects in commodity frontiers.



The political ecology of crop raiding: effects of distal factors on human-wildlife conflict in northern Rwanda

Dr. Shane Mc Guinness, Trinity College Dublin, Ireland


The ambitions of human development and the conservation of endangered biodiversity are often opposing. This is framed, particularly in the developing world, as human-wildlife conflict; the antagonism between ‘vindictive wildlife’ and subsistence communities. However, it is better described by presenting two human groups holding the polar ideals of ecocentric and anthropocentric world views. This paper addresses one such conflict and the wider suite of drivers affecting its nature and magnitude; Volcanoes National Park (VNP), northern Rwanda. Using a mixed methods participatory approach, the proximal and distal factors affecting the political ecology of this conflict were assessed. It was found that, though crop raiding by Mountain Gorilla, Cape Buffalo and Forest Elephant is perpetuating conflict between VNP and poor subsistence farmers, this is being exacerbated by a lack of agricultural autonomy which restricts farmer’s ability to mitigate losses from crop damage. In this way, this conflict was found to be driven as much by international agro-industry and Rwandan national export pressures as by local socioecological factors determining farmers’ exposure to forest fauna. Greater sharing of tourism revenue and heightened agricultural freedom are thus recommended for park-adjacent communities who already forgo use of the natural resources VNP contains.



Natural Protected Areas and the expansion of Neoliberal Capitalism in Europe


Dr. Jose Cortes-Vazquez, University of Manchester


Nature conservation is experiencing profound changes. Growing links with capitalism, in the form of new commodities and new markets associated with the Green Economy, are generating what some authors term a neoliberal turn in conservation. The turn also includes a rollback of State role in conservation policies as well as a growing presence of international corporations, agencies and private interests. In many parts of Europe these new trends combine with the current context of economic crisis, which is marked by the privatisation of public assets and the redefinition of public policies under austerity budgets. Chief among their outcomes are growing pressures on every initiative funded with public money, whose validity is questioned when they do not report significant economic revenue.

How are these combined issues affecting environmental conservation policies and in particular the management of Natural Protected Areas (NPAs) in Europe? I take this as an opportunity to query the multiple intimacies between capitalism and conservation. With a focus on conservation policies in Southern Spain, I will try to demonstrate how and why Natural Protected Areas in Europe could be becoming a key instrument for the expansion of neoliberal capitalism. To this end, I will firstly show how the analysis of new conservation strategies within a context of shrinking budgets can help us unearth the contradictory essence of environmental fixes and their political drivers. Secondly, I will describe how the micropolitics of conservation in day-to-day practices within these NPAs present us with a unique field to empirically explore the role played by neoliberal environmentality in the development of neoliberal conservation. Thirdly, I will explain the way recent changes in conservation management in these Protected Areas feed into a long-lived historical productionist approach, displaying both continuities and differences and helping us further clarify what is new about neoliberal conservation. Finally, I will indicate the reasons why studying current trends in European NPAs permits us to inquire into the ongoing redefinition of the modern ways of understanding the relationship between the State, Nature and Society.


The making of Madidi and the nationalizing of the “most biodiverse” protected area on the planet

Anne Toomey, Lancaster University

At the 2012 IUCN conference in Korea, a report was presented with the outstanding claim that a remote protected area in Bolivia – the Madidi National Park and Natural Area of Integrated Management – was likely the most biodiverse on the planet.  This “lost world”, as described by National Geographic, makes up part of a 15,000 square mile conservation landscape that runs across the tropical Andes.  This talk will discuss the different ways in which the Madidi landscape has been imagined and described over the last five centuries, from the Inca Empire to the present day. The focus of this paper is on the role of scientific researchers in shaping this landscape. This will be explained in the context of the economic and political histories of natural resource exploitation and land management in the region (from rubber boom to ecotourism), and shed light on the varying degrees to which local people have been involved in these activities.  I will discuss how a biodiversity research program directly led to the creation of Madidi as a protected area in 1995, and why the Bolivian president Evo Morales was prompted to declare a “nationalization” of the protected area system just ten years later.  Finally, I will explain how increasing land conflicts in Bolivia have led conservation science organizations to team up with lowland indigenous councils for mutual protection against the neo-extractivist “megaproyectos” of the current administration, and how, as a result of these alliances, indigenous organizations have actively been using “technical knowledge”, such as census data and figures on bushmeat harvests, to support their claims to territorial autonomy.


“It is easy to rule a poor man”: The Political Ecology of Land Grabbing and Environmental Change in Uganda’

Dr. Padraig Carmody, Trinity College Dublin, and Professor David Taylor, National University of Singapore


African Development is increasingly defined by a number of meta-trends, including structurally embedded economic growth associated with the global commodity super cycle. Two of the most significant of these are climate restructuring and “land grabbing”, which are interrelated through a variety of channels. However the emergence of these two particular meta-trends appear to be in opposition with each other as climate change will (generally) reduce agricultural productivity in Africa (Toulmin, 2009), at exactly the same time as there is heightened international interest in acquiring or leasing African land for agricultural production (Cotula, 2013). How do we explain this seeming paradox and what implications does it hold for the politics of environmental change in Africa? This paper argues that the seeming contradiction between climate change and land “grabbing” is being partially “fixed” through the possibilities both processes open up for capital accumulation, and also through dispossession.



Negotiating the Isiboro Secure Indigenous Territory and National Park (TIPNIS), Bolivia: mobilisations of indigeneity for territory, conservation and power


Jessica Hope, University of Manchester


This paper uses a case-study approach, focusing on a socio-environmental conflict over an indigenous territory and national park in the Bolivian Amazon. It argues that indigenous identity politics is a key political space, where the meaning and political power of indigeneity and its associated rights are being negotiated by social movements and the state, both seeking to control and access Amazonian natural resources. It explores the new legal frameworks that link indigeneity to promises of collective political autonomy and territorial rights and analyses how social movements are articulating indigeneity firstly, for territory, conservation and power and secondly, to oppose an extractivist state. The paper seeks to compliment literatures that explore the intersection of neoliberalism with nature(s), environments, ecologies and conservation. It does this by researching emerging environmentalisms in a post-neoliberal context, where new political configurations are being negotiated following social movement mobilisations against neoliberal reforms, radical state change and the rejection of both neoliberalism and the green economy. It uses theories of post-neoliberalism and indigeneity to understand this emergent politics and in doing so, it seeks to contribute to political ecology literature by making explicit the politics, power relations and struggles that are reclassifying the Bolivian Amazon.



The political ecology of wastelands


Dr. Jennifer Baka, London School of Economics 


This presentation will analyze how ‘wastelands’ are political constructions, how they have been mobilized for biofuel production and how these processes impact agrarian livelihoods in South India. Despite being framed as empty, unused, marginal spaces in policy documents, wastelands targeted for biofuel production in South India already host dynamic biomass energy economies that serve rural, urban, residential and industrial consumers. This existing biomass economy, itself the result of a previous wasteland development scheme of the 1970s, provides significantly more energy services and development opportunities than would the proposed biofuel economy. Further, the ambiguity as to what constitutes wastelands has facilitated illegal land acquisitions that are dispossessing rural agriculturalists. This presentation will map out these intersections, contradictions and socio-environmental impacts.



‘It’s about that balance sheet’: Intransigence, Offsetting and Ecological Imaginaries


Guy Crawford, Lancaster University


In an era defined by neoliberalism, environmental policy that results in the commodification of aspects of the non-human world has become increasingly commonplace. This raises important questions regarding the manner in which value is attributed to such entities. In recent years, policies that aim to integrate environmental conservation activities into the flow of capital have become more established. In England, the U.K. Government recently piloted a biodiversity offsetting policy at six sites. Biodiversity offsetting has been framed as a means of reconciling development and conservation goals. Proponents argue that ecologically damaging development can be effectively mitigated by establishing a financial incentive for ‘additional’ conservation activities, resulting in ‘no net loss’ to biodiversity.

With an approach grounded in cultural political economy, this paper explores competing discourse surrounding the U.K Government’s proposed policy and distinguishes between conflicting ecological imaginaries. A Government valuation metric is discussed and a sample of text, including contributions made to a public consultation held by the Department for Environment, Food and Agriculture, is analysed. In addition, qualitative data from a series of semi-structured interviews with actors from civil society and the private sector is drawn upon. This paper argues that conflicting ecological imaginaries are manifested in disputes that revolve around fundamentally different conceptions of ‘value’.



REDD+ on the rocks: Conflict over forest and politics of justice in Vietnam


Dr. Thomas Sikor, University of East Anglia, UK, and Cam Hoang, Institute of Cultural Studies, Vietnam 


REDD+ stands for actions to Reduce Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation. It is generally conceived of as a global initiative that seeks to mitigate climate change by decreasing losses of the world’s remaining natural forests or other reductions in forest carbon stocks. At the same time, REDD+ involves international efforts to improve the justice of tropical forest management by protecting forest people’s rights, needs and visions. The so-called REDD+ Safeguards provide unprecedented global recognition of the rights of ‘indigenous peoples and local communities’. International donors channel funding into ‘indigenous REDD+ pilots’ to accord forest people a central role in forest conservation.

Yet, in Vietnam villagers involved in an indigenous REDD+ pilot protect barren rocks instead of rich natural forest. There is barely a tree on the limestone rocks surrounding the villages included in the pilot project funded by Norway’s Agency for Development Cooperation. Moreover, the villagers involved in the pilot project include majority Kinh as well as minority Tay, Nung, and Dao. Even though the proposal specified ethnic minority people as the target group, the project now offers all local households the opportunity to participate in implementation regardless of their ethnicity.

In this paper, we argue that ongoing struggles and conflicts over forest shape the prospects of REDD+ contributing towards more just forest governance. The REDD+ safeguards and indigenous REDD+ pilots may promote such a shift by recognizing indigenous peoples and local communities as subjects of justice and opening up new possibilities for recognizing non-state forms of authority, such as customary arrangements or community governance. Nevertheless, the actual potential to achieve such shifts in forest justice depends on local negotiations over forests taking place within particular political and economic settings. Local negotiations determine the justice outcomes of REDD+ actions, i.e. context-specific answers to the perennial question about who gains what in what way. In addition, local negotiations influence changes in the key parameters of justice as claims on forests always involve statements on the identity of legitimate claimants (i.e. subjects of justice), the kind of claims considered most important (i.e. dimensions of justice), and the kind of authority invoked to sanction claims as legitimate.

These politics of justice produced major discrepancies between international ideas of just forest management and practice in the REDD+ pilot in Vietnam. The pilot project ended up including villagers of all ethnicities because the international focus on indigenous peoples conflict with local and national concerns with equal citizenship. Villagers emphasized distributive demands in form of support for agricultural production and tenure rights to forestland in contrast to the neglect of distributive matters in the REDD+ safeguards. At the same time, the REDD+ pilot brought about an extension of state authority into an area governed by customary regulations previously despite the attention to forest people’s collective rights in the REDD+ safeguards.



The fate of the collectors: biodiversity inventories, scientific labour, and conservation commodities


Dr. Ben Neimark, Lancaster University


Building upon a growing literature on green economies, this paper explores the role of scientific labour in the commodification of nature for market-based conservation projects.  Scientists, particularly those who study the world’s biodiversity, seek to discover, identify, classify, collect and (e)valuate new species of flora and fauna.  While such scientific work has historically served as a launch-pad to transform nature into market exchange, over the past thirty years, the relationship between scientists and the commodification of nature has grown ever more complex and contradictory as biodiversity conservation itself. What for many scientists started out as a desire to study biodiversity for purposes of conservation has rather increasingly turned into providing labour for natures’ commodification as the a means to save it. Today neoliberal conservation institutions and their corporate partners increasingly enlist scientists who can translate nature into techno-scientific metrics and divisible qualities that make it more amenable to capital accumulation. Scientists therefore are often on the frontlines of a global project of biodiversity valuation in which the unique and irreplaceable qualities of nature are being framed, differentiated, and turned from use into exchange values. This article focuses on scientists who do the work of flattening biodiversity’s characteristics within the bioprospecting industry in Madagascar, by standardizing its variability, and moreover, de/re-contextualizing its value all in attempts to produce conservation commodities. We conclude with a way forward through an analytic lens of labour and provide a discussion the subordinate position of Malagasy scientific actors in the green economy.



Recognition and responsibility: Ethics and constitutional land reform in Southern Africa


Dr. Saskia Vermeylen, Lancaster University


Recently, a more pluralistic view of environmental justice has been widely embraced by scholars working with indigenous peoples. In this talk I explore the spatial, material, and theoretical currents and their interrelation through the case of the San in Southern Africa and their territorial claims. Through exploring the various forms of value and notions of justice revealed in the San’s pursuit of ‘native title’ claims, I demonstrate the challenges involved in contextualizing environmental justice within the context of constitutional land reform in Namibia and South Africa. The wider remit of this paper is to highlight the importance to study current large scale land acquisition in Africa within the context of socio-legal transformations such as the establishment of a constitutional democracy based on dignity, justice and equality.



Environment, accumulation and labour regimes in Liberian rubber production 


Steffen Mirza Fischer – Queen Mary University of London


This paper looks at how similar environmental conditions of natural rubber production have interacted differently with labour regimes along the rubber commodity chain in Liberia. It focuses on how this interaction has shaped worker’s incomes and bargaining power on large and small-scale rubber farms. The environmental conditions of production in this case describe the labour process of harvesting or tapping rubber and how labour interacts with the rubber tree. Due to the recent civil war in Liberia most of the rubber tree stock is over its ideal production age. As a result the process of tapping the old rubber trees has intensified dramatically.

The paper is informed through more than 200 qualitative interviews carried out across Liberia during a nine-month period as part of my PhD research. The empirical output of my research suggests that the bargaining power on smaller farms has increased for workers due in part to the leverage that aging trees have provided. However a fall in the price of rubber has meant that the increased bargaining power has not led to higher wages. Plantation workers tap old rubber trees to quotas originally set for young trees, which has forced them to employ additional labour in order to meet their quotas. Although it is uncertain whether their bargaining power has changed, it has had the effect of reducing their relatively high incomes to levels similar to workers on small-scale farms.

This paper seeks to explain how the environmental conditions of production in complex interaction with the capital labour relation have led to a conversion of real incomes of workers on small-scale farms and on large plantations. Through this it aims to draw out some possible questions and avenues for future agricultural commodity chain research.

Ethical Mineral Schemes and Poverty Alleviation: Critical Reflections on the Development Diamond Standards

James McQuilken, University of Surry


This paper critically reflects on efforts being made in sub-Saharan Africa to implement the Development Diamond StandardsTM (DDS), pro-poor ethical certification criteria conceived by the international development NGO, the Diamond Development Initiative.  Over the past decade, a number of ethical mineral schemes have been launched across the region improve transparency in global mineral supply chains, largely in response to requirements enshrined in newly-minted ‘conflict-free’ legislation and the changing demands of consumers. But as a growing body of analysis has shown, stringent entry requirements, specifically, challenges with meeting the minimum social and environmental standards for production, reporting and traceability have prevented the majority of people working within what is a poverty-driven and largely informal artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) sector from legitimately accessing these formal supply chains and certification frameworks. The DDSTM, however, seem very different to many of these schemes in their conception in that they seek, explicitly, to engage the poorest ASM groups.  The paper reports findings from a pilot study conducted in Akwatia, Ghana’s principal diamond mining community, providing insight into the challenges with implementing these standards, and potential impact on the livelihoods of poor rural households, in sub-Saharan Africa.  Outside of Sierra Leone, which has one of the region’s largest alluvial diamond mining industries, the DDSTM have not been piloted anywhere.  Whilst Ghana is far from being a world-class diamond producer, there are potentially important lessons to be learned here, which could expedite the launch of DDSTM-certified mines in Sierra Leone and other leading alluvial diamond-producing countries in sub-Saharan Africa, such as Angola, Liberia and the DR Congo.


[1] Especially the global commodity chain (GCC), global value chain (GVC) and global production network (GPN) frameworks. The term ‘commodity chain’ is used here to refer descriptively to actual production-consumption linkages (or segments therein) as opposed to specifying a preference for one of the three previously noted frameworks.


The ‘informalization’ of artisanal mining in Ghana: Underpinnings, impacts and policy implications

 Professor Gavin Hilson, University of Surrey

This presentation provides fresh perspectives on the informality of artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) – low-tech, labour intensive mineral extraction and processing activity – in rural sub-Saharan Africa. Focusing on the case of Ghana, the location of one of the region’s largest ASM sectors, it argues that most individuals choose to operate without the requisite permits because of the excessive costs and bureaucratic procedures associated with legalization, along with a general shortage of productive land, most of which is in the hands of foreign multinational mineral exploration and extraction companies. The lack of progress made with the licensing of ASM in the country and the wider sub-region in recent years has led policymakers, donors and host governments to shift their attention to the sector’s negative aspects, including environmental impacts and mounting health and safety concerns. At the same time, they have failed to recognize that these are not problems on their own but rather ‘expressions’ of the sector’s informality. This dialogue has quickly overshadowed the day-to-day struggles of prospective permit holders, and the inappropriateness of the licensing process for ASM in sub-Saharan Africa on the whole.

In Ghana, ASM is largely poverty-driven, absorbing tens of thousands of people made redundant in other sectors of the economy or who have few options for alternative employment. Desperate for assistance, thousands of the country’s ASM operators, in an attempt to secure support, have lured and partnered with Chinese nationals. Whilst not an ideal strategy and certainly unconventional, given the constraints and circumstances faced by the typical Ghanaian small-scale miner, Chinese intervention has likely reconfigured artisanal mineral production and supply chains for the better. The government and the media have been chiefly preoccupied with how these Chinese gold seekers have arrived to Ghana’s shores, how they have managed to evade the authorities for such a long period of time, and how attempts to removed them have been ineffective. Further analysis reveals, however, that their rapid integration is simply the latest – albeit, largely anticipated – nuance of the sector’s informality.


Between presumed mandate and implied inevitability: The management of consent for UK shale gas exploration

Alan Webster, Lancaster University

Little more than two months after the British general election of 2010, drilling began in earnest at what was to be the UK’s first venture to recover natural gas from shale rocks through the technique of hydraulic fracturing. Soon after, ill fortune or not, events conspired to make ‘fracking’ a byword for controversy in the UK just as it was set to be enrolled by the coalition government as part of a broader narrative of national renewal. Such high stakes subsequently drew attention back to the absence of shale gas in all party manifestos (including that of the Greens) leading up to the election and called into question the processes of democratic scrutiny and the presumed mandate that proponents of shale gas use to legitimise a ‘new dash for gas’ in a variety of arenas across a number of scales.

This paper will initially highlight those practices and spaces where ‘upstream’ appraisals of, and commitments to, hydraulic fracturing for shale gas were being made. It will then analyse the iteration of an official discourse that has attempted to frame the national public debate to facilitate the roll out of shale gas exploration and production. This will be parsed with an account of how both the roll out of shale gas and the push back against this has played out through the procedures, practices and channels that constitute democratic participation and oversight at the local level. Finally a discussion will focus on the polarisation of the debate, its regional diversity and the prospects of a differentiated or ‘social’ regulation to shape distinct local political ecologies of shale gas extraction.



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