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The Impact Initiative has closed. This website has now been archived and will no longer be updated.

Rethinking environment and development in an era of global norms: exploring international politics of justice on carbon forestry and hydropower

Research Partners:

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Principal Investigators: Thomas Sikor and Mark Zeitoun. Lead Organisation: University of East Anglia

Co-investigators: Nada Ali; Janet Fisher; Heike Schroeder; Hari Prasad Dhungana; Michael Mason

The research responds to the unprecedented emergence of global environmental norms intended to reconcile natural resource management with poverty alleviation. Prominent examples of such norms are the social safeguards included in global conventions and the human rights-based rulings of international courts. The norms possess the potential to transform development practice in the future, so long as they effectively support poor people's claims on natural resources and rights to sustainable livelihoods.

The increasing significance of global environmental norms challenges research to develop new theory on the dynamics of environment and development that attends to cross-scale relationships between local environmental struggles, environmental mobilizations and global norms. This research employs an environmental justice lens to examine the effects of global environmental norms on poverty alleviation in the Global South through explorations of forests and water.

The proposed research expands the political ecology approach through attention to notions of environmental justice and cross-scale environmental politics. Notions of justice are at the core of many environmental struggles, as they inform people's claims and practices in relation to natural resources. Justice conceptions are also an integral component of international environmental politics and global environmental norms. Thus ideas about justice are an integral element of environmental politics across scales, connecting local struggles to mobilizations at national and international levels as well as the conceptions informing global norms - or causing dissonances between them.

Research in stage 1 proceeded by way of four case studies from Nepal, Sudan and Uganda on how marginalized people's struggles in reaction to carbon forestry and hydropower projects are, or are not taken up in environmental mobilizations, and how this uptake does, or does not contribute to increases in wellbeing.

The particular objectives guiding the research in stage 2 are to:

  1. Generate empirical insights on the resonance of global norms and international mobilisations with environmental struggles by examining international politics of justice on carbon forestry and hydropower.
  2. Combine the empirical insights from stage 1 and 2 to develop new theory on cross-scale dynamics of environment and development.
  3. Support practitioners involved in environmental mobilisations in generating impact in low-income countries through novel forms of engagement.

Research in stage 2 will trace references to the struggles examined in our stage 1 research in negotiations over the so-called Safeguards on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and international court cases dealing with hydropower projects in the South. The research team will synthesize their findings in a theoretical and two case-based journal articles. In addition, the insights from stage 1 and stage 2 will inform the development of a theoretical paper on cross-scale dynamics of environment and development.

The project team will also expand the cooperation with environmental activists on the basis of the insights gained in stage 1 research, using think tanks and workshops to create new forums for engaging activists, professionals and government officials. Such forums facilitate involved actors to develop shared ideas about justice and apply them to the REDD+ Safeguards and international water law.

The research in stage 1 and 2 serves the overarching goal of poverty alleviation in the Global South through supporting the development and application of effective and equitable global environmental norms. This is of wider relevance to hundreds of millions in low-income countries (LICs) who are particularly susceptible to environmental injustice through a combination of natural resource-dependence, poverty and social marginalisation.

Impact activities in stage 1 have laid the foundations for the proposed expansion of engagement in stage 2. Most importantly, we have developed solid partnerships with particular activists and advocacy organizations, including Forest Action in Nepal, Mohamed Jalal Hashim in Sudan and the Uganda Coalition for Sustainable Development (UCSD). See the Interim Report on stage for further information on how the activities have created receptive audiences for us to engage in stage 2.

In stage 2, we will support our partners in the three countries in generating impact on the current development of social safeguards on carbon forestry and hydropower projects. Our pathways to impact seek to engage activists, government officials and professionals in the three countries through novel forms of engagement, in particular the think tanks developed at the UEA Global Environmental Justice Group as forums for the co-production of knowledge by researchers, professionals, activists and government officials. 

Beneficiaries: Poor people in LICs are the ultimate beneficiaries of our research since they will benefit from global environmental norms that influence policies at all scales to simultaneously serve poverty alleviation and sound environmental management. We reach the ultimate beneficiaries through activists, professionals and government officials in Nepal, Uganda and Sudan as key intermediaries. Our partners Forest Action, the Manaseer Council and UCSD will facilitate direct access to these intermediaries in the three countries, which are all World Bank defined LICs. 

Pathways to impact: Our impact will be developed through three linked pathways: 

  1. Impact through national think tanks in Nepal and Uganda organised together with Forest Action and UCSD (see attached letters). The think tanks will be prepared by training two key activists from Nepal and Uganda on global forestry norms in the professional course on 'Forest Governance: Operationalizing Equity and Justice in REDD+, PES and FLEGT' held in Norwich on 24/08-04/09/2015. They will produce short declarations for dissemination in Nepal and Uganda in English, Nepalese and Swahili to inform the ongoing development of social safeguards for REDD+ in both countries. As a result of the think tanks, we expect Nepal and Uganda to develop social safeguards for REDD+ that balance global interests in the conservation of carbon stocks with poverty alleviation. 
  2. Impact through video and stakeholder workshops in Sudan: We will produce a video about affected people's resistance against the Merowe Dam and organize two stakeholder workshops in Khartoum in collaboration with Mohamed Jalal Hashim (see attached letter). The workshops will provide a unique chance for local and national activists to connect with each other and deliberate effective strategies against injustice in the hydropower sector, to be synthesized in two policy briefs. As a result, we hope that resistance against dams in Sudan will become more aware of available sources of international support, and that international mobilizations will be able to address issues specific to hydropower development in Sudan.
  3. We will synthesize 'lessons learned' from this and other projects on how UK researchers can engage activists in the Global South to generate impact. 

Impact budget: We propose a significant expansion of engagement activities in stage 2 in order to maximize impact, accounting for 26% of the total budget.

Primary theme: 
Grant Reference: 
Project Status: 
Grant Category: 
Research Grant
Lead Organisation Department: 
International Development
Fund Start Date: 
January 1st, 2016
Fund End Date: 
November 30th, 2017
Fund Currency Code: 
Fund Value: 
development studies
natural resources
environment and rural development
politics and international relations