Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Green Grabs explained: radio interview with Melissa Leach

Last week, our director Melissa Leach was interviewed about green grabs - the appropriation of land for environmental ends - by Brent Bambury of the Canadian station CBC Radio. Here's a direct link to the interview, and you can stream the audio below, after the jump.

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Thursday, 21 June 2012

Harnessing diversity across the global innovation system: a key challenge post Rio+20

By Adrian Ely, Head of Impact and Engagement, STEPS Centre

Technology and innovation feature prominently in what looks likely to be the final outcome document from Rio+20, however the diversity of new ideas that can contribute to sustainable development remains underappreciated.

Mark Stafford-Smith, co-chair of the ‘Planet Under Pressure’ conference that was held in London in March this year called for the world to embrace a ‘global innovation system’ for sustainable development.  Without reference to innovation systems, the outcome text from Rio+20 highlights the role of technology-transfer, finance, capacity-building and intellectual property – all relatively predictable components of an internationally-negotiated text.  But beyond that, there are some passages (in the 19th June text) that relate to the role of more diverse forms of knowledge and action within a global innovation system for sustainable development.

Diversity in Innovation Systems
Innovation scholars who have looked at innovation systems at national and regional levels have noted the importance of diversity.  As one of the earliest theorists of innovation systems has noted, “National and international policies thus confront the need for a sophisticated dual approach to a complex set of problems. Policies for diffusion of standard generic technologies are certainly important and these may sometimes entail the encouragement of inward investment and technology transfer by MNCs. But also important are policies to encourage local originality and diversity” {Freeman, 1995}.

Another pioneer of innovation systems thinking has warned against an excessive focus on dominant and narrow innovation directions – “‘intellectual strip-mining’ indicates a process where moving rapidly ahead on well-established trajectories may imply that too few resources are used to explore alternative ones” {Lundvall, 2002}.
This focus has been re-emphasised by work in the STEPS Centre’s Manifesto on innovation, sustainability and development and also in our recent work that highlights the role of innovation in transforming development pathways so that they remain within planetary boundaries.  ‘Transforming Innovation to Sustainability’, co-authored with colleagues from the Stockholm Resilience Centre and the Tellus Institute, stresses the urgency of shifting global patterns of development in an attempt to keep them within a ‘safe operating space for humanity’.  Beyond a focus on the transfer of cleaner technologies from North to South, the report calls for a radical re-think of innovation that “gives far greater recognition and power to grassroots actors and processes, involving them within an inclusive, multi-scale innovation politics.”

In what ways does the Rio text recognise more diverse forms of innovation?
Beyond the predictable focus on the need to transfer technological solutions from North to South and “close the technological gap between developing and developed countries”, I was surprised by some sections in the Rio+20 text that point to the possibility that diverse forms of innovation are beginning to be increasingly recognised across UN member states.

Paragraph 197, for example, states “We recognize that traditional knowledge, innovations and practices of indigenous peoples and local communities make an important contribution to the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, and their wider application can support social well-being and sustainable livelihoods.”  Innovation is not solely the domain of ‘developed countries,’ therefore.  This sentiment is reinforced in paragraph 268 which stresses the need to “facilitate entrepreneurship and innovation including among women, the poor and the vulnerable.”

In a recent article in the Guardian, my colleague Adrian Smith and I have stressed the role of inclusive innovation at Rio and beyond.  Innovation needs to be inclusive not just in the outcomes that it delivers but also the process of innovation itself – involving users and poorer communities in setting the new pathways for their development, and empowering bottom-up efforts towards shared sustainability goals.

Similar ideas were reflected in civil society inputs to the ‘Rio Dialogues’ process, in which the top 3 recommendations in the theme ‘Sustainable Development for Fighting Poverty’ included a reference to supporting grassroots innovation, and the online forum that informed these went as far as recommending the establishment of an international programme to identify, validate and support the dissemination of grassroots innovation ideas.

Within agriculture, for example, this might mean fostering traditional approaches that have been shown to raise productivity or serve broader sustainable livelihood needs in one part of the world, and facilitating their recombination and hybridisation with different approaches (technological and non-technological) that have been shown to work elsewhere. In paragraph 109, the text recognises “the importance of traditional sustainable agricultural practices, including traditional seed supply systems, including for many indigenous peoples and local communities.”  However, commitments and to supporting and connecting such approaches are absent.

Where now?  Linking diverse contributions
Even despite these encouraging sections in ‘The Future We Want’, the text still remains overly fixated on conventional North-South technology transfer, a focus on hardware and finance and insufficient attention to diverse contributions from communities and civil society across the world.

We can only hope that the implementation efforts that must follow the Rio conference will embrace calls to nurture, empower and connect innovation for sustainable development in communities across the world.  A global system of innovation needs to be inclusive – not only in its outcomes but also in the inputs to the innovation process itself. We have a long way to go in building linkages between the diverse range of actors who can make valuable contributions to a global innovation system for sustainable development.

Freeman, C. (1995). "The National System of Innovation in Historical Perspective." Cambridge Journal of Economics 19: 5-24.

Lundvall, B.-Å., Ed. (2002). Innovation, Growth and Social Cohesion: the Danish Model. Cheltenham, Edward Elgar.
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Opening up Sustainable Development decision-making at the UN?

By Adrian Ely, in Rio de Janeiro

The Rio+20 conference has been enriched by a process to engage civil society  the Rio+20 Dialogues forSustainable Development.  While innovative and pioneering approaches like this should be encouraged, there is much room for improvement in the future.

The Rio Dialogues were initiated in April by the Government of Brazil and carried out with the support of the United Nations.  In each of ten different themes, they involved a multi-stage process including:

  • Online discussion, facilitated by academic organisations from around the world
  • Selection of 10 recommendations from the online discussion
  • Open (online) voting on those ten recommendations
  • Presentation of the online discussions to a panel of 10 experts in Rio
  • Live discussion by this panel at the main Rio+20 venue, Rio Centro
  • Voting by the live audience on the ten recommendations from the online discussion
  • Articulation of a further recommendation by the panel
  • Presentation of three recommendations from each theme to a roundtable of leaders gathered for the high-level segment of the Rio+20 conference

Tens of thousands of participants took part in the online discussions, and the voting process saw more than 63,000 people from 193 countries cast nearly 1.4 million votes.  This is an impressive attempt to open up the intergovernmental process to other actors by the hosts Brazil, who have also provided leadership in other areas of the negotiations.

However, how will the outcomes of the dialogues really contribute to the conference outcome, and how can we best profit from the process – into which so many have dedicated their time and efforts?  These questions deserve serious thought if such efforts to open up to civil society are to be improved into the future.

Even now, writing from Rio, the answer to the first question seems unclear beyond the reporting from roundtables to the plenary at the end of the conference.  There seems never to have been a well-articulated process through which the ‘Rio Dialogues’ outcomes will be introduced into the inter-governmental process, from which they have been isolated from the outset. 

If these kinds of institutional innovations are to play a role in future conferences, the involvement of governments, and a commitment from Member States and the UN - at least to respond in writing to the recommendations – should be a pre-requisite.  More detailed planning and a much longer period of engagement would also be needed for this complex process to be co-ordinated successfully.

With regard to the second issue, the knowledge and ideas captured through the online process is much broader than the recommendations themselves.  In many cases, detailed discussions and considerations around implementation appeared in the online fora. Without attention to the recommendations that have been ‘voted out’ along the way, and the detailed discussions online, the Rio Dialogues risks losing much of the richness of the process as they narrow down to three one line recommendations. 

Colleagues from IDS (Matthew Lockwood, Melissa Leach, Adrian Bannister) and I helped to facilitate the theme ‘Sustainable Development for Fighting Poverty’.  With academics from Brazil and South Korea, I presented the outcomes of the online discussion to the expert panel at Rio Centro.  From the ten recommendations identified, three were finally fed to the roundtables.

Beyond these, however, the dialogues process gathered together a diverse range of views and novel ideas which cannot be communicated in three bullet points.  These are unlikely to be relayed to leaders through the roundtables, and it is unclear whether they will be taken into account as the outcomes from Rio are taken forward.  

Much of the STEPS Centre’s ‘designs’ work and thinking around ‘methods and methodologies’ highlights the need not only to broaden out the inputs to policy appraisal, but also to open up the outcomes of such processes in order to profit from the plurality of views that they contain.
I believe that these kinds of institutional innovations should be encouraged, and that experiments such as the Rio Dialogues should be further developed in future UN processes.  Personally, I hope that the Dialogues – not only in terms of the 3 (or 10) recommendations selected but also the knowledge gathered throughout the process – can be taken forward in the implementation of what is agreed over the final days of the conference. 

Future approaches for engaging civil society in UN negotiations (outside the major groups architecture) deserve to be supported, but must also be sufficiently resourced and realistically planned, if they are to strengthen what is already a complex and difficult process.

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The slippery nature of 'water grabbing'

Large-scale land acquisitions for agricultural investment, popularly known as 'land grabbing', have recently attracted headline attention.  But the implications of these land grabs for water resources have stayed out of the spotlight until now. 

A special issue of the journal Water Alternatives, with a focus on water grabbing, contains 14 new articles which draw on case studies from around the globe, including Sub-Saharan Africa. One of the editors is Lyla Mehta, who convenes the STEPS Centre's Water & Sanitation domain.
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Video: listening to different views on sustainability

To mark the week of the Rio+20 conference, our funders ESRC have produced a series of short films looking at what social sciences are contributing to environmental research across a range of areas - from consumer habits and employment, to poverty and global development.

"Sustainable world" features STEPS Centre director Melissa Leach, explaining how the 'pathways to sustainability' approach offers a way of understanding and building towards sustainability from multiple viewpoints - not only as rich and powerful nations see it, but also including the values and knowledge of poorer people.

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Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Where is the green economy? Audio interview with Tim Jackson

Here’s a treat for those looking for Rio+20 listening material: an interview with Prof Tim Jackson (author of Prosperity without Growth), talking about the future of the green economy. The interviewer is Adrian Ely, Head of Impact and Engagement at the STEPS Centre.

The interview was recorded after a public lecture by Tim Jackson at the University of Sussex last month, as part of our 2012 Summer School on Pathways to Sustainability. His title was Where is the green economy? Prosperity, work and sustainability ‘after the crisis’. (Thanks to Hannah Corbett of IDS for recording, editing and publishing the interview.) Read more

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Transforming innovation for sustainability

A radical new approach to science and innovation is urgently needed to steer us within planetary boundaries and secure human wellbeing, fostering diverse types of innovation and empowering the grassroots creativity of poorer people.

As the world gears up for the Rio+20 Earth Summit, many are pinning hopes on a set of sustainable development goals (SDGs) that, by 2015, will succeed the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in thinking and action on environment and development.

New research by the STEPS Centre, the Stockholm Resilience Centre and the Tellus Institute argues that SDGs that keep human societies within a 'safe operating space' requires an approach to innovation that gives far greater recognition and power to grassroots actors and processes, involving them within an inclusive, multi-scale innovation politics.

In a jointly-authored paper, Transforming Innovation for Sustainability, current development goals focussing on one-track scientific solutions to global challenges are seen as failing to respond effectively to the uncertainty and shifting dynamics of today's world, and to the diverse needs of the poor.

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Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Influencing the Rio+20 outcome document

By Melissa Leach

The STEPS Centre submitted a position paper to the Rio+20 zero draft preparation process, in which we argued that science, technology and innovation have essential roles to play in sustainability. But science is not enough: A radical new approach to innovation is urgently needed giving far greater recognition and power to poorer people’s own innovations and priorities.

We proposed that a set of underlying principles need to guide innovation for sustainability and poverty reduction, addressing: (a) The specific Direction of change. This means being clear on the particular goals and principles driving policy and innovation, not leaving these open, undiscussed or driven by general imperatives of growth or progress, but actively steering these towards the kinds of transformation needed to meet integrated sustainable development/poverty reduction aims; (b) Diversity: Nurturing more diverse approaches and forms of innovation (social as well as technological) helps respond to the very varied ecological, social and economic contexts in which poorer people live, as well as to cope with uncertainty and surprise, and (c) Distribution: asking about who gains and who loses from particular innovations. Grassroots innovations offer particular value, helping to favour and prioritise more fairly the interests of the most marginal groups.

We argued that Rio+20 should provide a global framework supporting different forms of innovation that address sustainable development challenges at local, national and global levels. Beyond setting targets, this should be about enabling the grassroots and enhancing innovation capabilities for the longer term. We submitted a set of recommendations covering five areas for action: agenda setting; funding; capacity building; organising; and monitoring, evaluation and accountability. Our recommendations included: UNEP/ the proposed new specialized agency on environment adopting the assessment, promotion and co-ordination of innovation for sustainable development as part of its mandate; Transparent corporate reporting on R&D investments which focuses on poverty alleviation, social justice and environmental sustainability.

These remain our ‘wish list’ for Rio+20. new paper by the STEPS Centre, Stockholm Resilience Centre and Tellus Institute on ‘Transforming Innovation for Sustainability’, which we will be showcasing at an event in Rio, connects these arguments firmly with the science of ‘planetary boundaries’ and the urgent need to steer societies within a ‘safe operating space’. New approaches to innovation are vital to meet this challenge.

Looking at the Draft Outcome document of 2nd June, it is disappointing how little, if any, of this new thinking on innovation is represented. On the positive side, there are a number of mentions of the importance of diversity (e.g. para 35 “We acknowledge the natural and cultural diversity of the world and recognize that all cultures and civilizations can contribute to sustainable development”) and of the need for inclusive approaches to sustainable development that recognise the roles of grassroots and community efforts (e.g. para 36 “We further acknowledge efforts and progress made at the local and sub-national levels, and recognize the important role that such authorities and communities can play in implementing sustainable development, including by engaging citizens and stakeholders...”).

There are valuable emphases on broad public participation (e.g. para 37 ‘Sustainable development requires the meaningful involvement and active participation of all Major Groups – women, children and youth, indigenous peoples, non-governmental organizations, local authorities, workers and trade unions’ - as well as business and industry and the scientific community. ...we agree to work more closely with Major Groups and other stakeholders and encourage their active participation, as appropriate, in processes that contribute to decision making, planning and implementation of policies and programmes for sustainable development at all levels including through the contribution of their specific views, knowledge and practical know-how’.)

However, these emphases are nowhere linked specifically to innovation. Instead, recommendations around innovation – largely in the section on ‘green economy’ – largely follow old-style views of one-way ‘technology transfer’

Indeed the term ‘innovation’ is hardly used, let alone attention to its social as well as technical dimensions, or the need for diverse approaches: e.g. para 65. ‘We recognize the critical role of technology as well as the importance of promoting innovation [[in particular/ also – Switzerland] in developing countries – G77; EU reserve]. We invite governments, as appropriate, to create enabling frameworks that foster environmentally sound technology, R&D and innovation [to support green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication – G77 delete; RoK, EU, Switzerland retain pending clean-up of text]. [In this regard, we acknowledge the importance of international sustainability standards, predictable regulation and sustainable procurement. – EU; G77 delete; US, Japan, Mexico, RoK reserve] – Japan supports Chair’s text [We emphasize the importance of technology transfer to developing countries. – Japan, G77; EU, US reserve] We reaffirm the objective to promote, facilitate, and finance as appropriate, the access to and the transfer of environmentally sound technologies and corresponding know-how, in particular to developing countries, on favourable terms, including on concessional and preferential terms [, as mutually agreed, taking into account the need to protect the IPRs as well as the special needs of developing countries for implementation’.

In specific sections (e.g. on food) there is some acknowledgement of the potential contributions of local technical knowledge: e.g. ‘We also recognize the importance of traditional agricultural practices, including seed supply systems, for many indigenous peoples and local communities’.

However there is no commitment evident to the kind of global framework, or approaches to agenda-setting that link grassroots innovation with national and international goals, that we advocated. There are recommendations for global partnerships (e.g. para 49. ‘We commit ourselves to re-invigorating the global partnership for sustainable development that we launched in Rio in 1992. We recognize the need to impart new momentum to our cooperative pursuit of sustainable development, and commit to work together with Major Groups and other stakeholders in addressing implementation gaps’, and there are recommendations to strengthen ECOSOC. But any consideration of innovation is absent from these paragraphs.

In sum then, what I see is a missed opportunity - at this point - to integrate broader thinking about inclusive participation and partnerships for sustainable development (which is present in the document, at least to some extent) with thinking about innovation. The latter - to the extent that it figures at all - is largely driven by outdates notions of one-way technology trasfer.

Can our interventions at Rio help to turn this around? One can but hope.

More on the STEPS Centre's activities at Rio
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Sustainable business in India: challenges for Rio+20

By Ian Scoones
India has seen unprecedented economic growth in recent years; yet with this comes a growing demand for resources and increased pressure on the environment. But how can we combine business success and broad-based economic growth with environmental sustainability? This is a major challenge for fast-growing emerging economies such as India. As the Rio+20 conference approaches, creating sustainable business options in these countries is a high priority.
Earlier in 2012, the Indian Institute of Management in Bangalore together with the STEPS Centre organised a major conference titled “Risk, Competitiveness and Sustainability”. It was hosted by Infosys, one of Bangalore’s information technology success stories, and now a global company with annual revenues of $7bn. The event was supported by the UK-India Education and Research Initiative (UKIERI). Sridhar Pabbisetty, one of the conference organisers and Chief Operating Officer of the Centre for Public Policy at IIM-B, said “the conference challenged companies, academics and not-for-profit organizations to collaborate together and find sustainable business models that would effectively address business, social and environmental risks”.

The conference, held in Infosys’ prestigious HQ in Bangalore, was opened by Shri. S.D. Shibulal, co-founder and CEO of Infosys Technologies. He outlined how Infosys has been pursuing an integrated approach to evaluate environmental challenges and find sustainable solutions. His vision was for Infosys to be a leader in India and indeed the world in this field.

Around 120 participants attended the event from across diverse companies from Bangalore and beyond. Participants also included engineering and management students, eager to learn about the cutting-edge developments in linking business practices to sustainable solutions. Presentations ranged from conservation and environmental organisations to economists, law and management specialists, but the core was a series of case studies of Indian companies that are grappling with the sustainability challenge at the heart of their business strategy.

For example, Megha Shenoy, Research Director at ROI-India, outlined her team’s work on creating an industrial waste exchange network in the Nanjangud Industrial Area, in Karnataka in southern India. She demonstrated how careful analysis can lead to only 0.5% of solid non-hazardous wastes needing to be disposed of. “This requires a systematic effort to encourage in-house recycling and waste reduction”, she said. “With symbiotic exchanges established with upstream, downstream and other allied industries, as well as strengthening the informal recycling market, major reductions in waste can be achieved”, she added.

Meanwhile, Rohan Parikh, Head of Green Initiatives at Infosys Technologies explained the Integrated Design Approach followed at Infosys in the design of new buildings. Through this approach average energy consumption per employee was brought down by 23% over four years. “This was made possible due to an intense collaboration between external consultants, architect and the construction team with the top management at Infosys closely involved”, he said. With the maximum utilization of daylight, innovative use of radiant cooling and continued expansion of green power sources, this has enabled Infosys to embark on a sustainable energy path, he explained. “We have a target to be 100% carbon neutral by FY 2018 at Infosys”, he added.

Infosys also has a focus on water sustainability. This has borne fruit with the amount of rain water sequestered in Infosys campuses across India estimated at more than 4.3 billion litres every year; about 123% of their annual water consumption. Advanced sewage treatment technology and other technological innovations such as biogas and the chemical reduction initiative all contribute. “These are all steps in the direction of building tomorrow’s enterprise: one centred on sustainability”, he argued.

Whether it is the reduction of waste or the conservation of energy or water, all these efforts are increasingly seen as central to sound business practice. This is not just corporate PR, but a core part of the business model. As Richa Bajpai. co-founder and director of NextGen, argued “tommorow’s climate is today’s challenge”. NextGen is a leader among a rapidly growing group of Indian cleantech firms with operations in sustainability and emission management and linking waste to energy generation.

Sustainable businesses require innovation in technology, organisation and management – and usually all three together, participants argued. As Prashanth Vikram Singh of Price Waterhouse Coopers explained, responding to economic, social and environmental sustainability challenges together is essential for any business if the fundamental challenges of carbon and waste reduction are to be achieved. For many businesses, this involves negotiating what Santhosh Jayaram of DNV Business Assurance called the “jungle of standards”.

Applying new technologies was seen in many of the cases discussed at the conference as central. Indian companies now setting up and growing can leapfrog competitors in North American and Europe who are locked in to more unsustainable practices, it was suggested. This requires some fairly fundamental reimagining of ways of working however. Basic infrastructure, design, architecture and planning must be rethought. Prem Chandavarkar, Managing Partner at CnT Architects described, for example, the challenges of imagining a different Indian city which responded to sustainability imperatives.

Many of the sustainability gains thus require more fundamental organisational shifts, and need to be led from by top-level management. Only with this commitment – from CEOs, Boards and supported by shareholders – will sustainable practices really emerge on a wide scale. The good news is that this is happening already. In a recent blog post, Thomas Lingard, global advocacy director at Unilever (and also a member of the STEPS Centre’s advisory board), explains how new alliances for sustainability are being forged in the private sector. In the lead up to Rio, this is essential, as this constituency must be central to any sustainability transition. As the IIM-B/STEPS Centre conference showed, India is at the forefront of this new movement, with new, innovative technologies and practices to share.

More about: STEPS Centre activities around Rio+20
Steps Centre work on risk, uncertainty and technology in India
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