Normative Narratives


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Green News: In The Effort Value Africa’s Ecosystems, Remember Indigenous Peoples

Original Article:

The next wave of investment and innovation in Africa will be driven by the need for new energy resources, wealth generation and job creation, the head of the United Nations environment agency told regional leaders, making a case for the need to place value on natural resources.

As the continent undergoes such unprecedented development, wealth accounting and the valuation of ecosystem services are critical to Africa’s future growth,” Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme, Achim Steiner, told the high-level African ministerial conference on green economy in Oran, Algeria.

Natural accounting and valuation in not a fringe activity, he stressed, but a cornerstone of wealth upon which sustainable, equitable and prosperous societies will be built.

Natural capital, which encompasses resources from trees to water to fish, is a critical asset in low-income countries where it makes up around 36 per cent of wealth, according to recent World Bank estimates.

“An inclusive green economy has the potential to improve human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities,” Mr. Steiner told the political leaders yesterday.

In a green economy, growth in income and employment is driven by public and private investment that reduces carbon emissions and pollution, enhances energy and resource efficiency, and prevents the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services.

The focus of this article is not specifically the transparent and accountable management of natural resource revenues, which has been identified as an important aspect of sustainable development. Rather, it is in reference to “natural accounting”; putting a value on ecosystems and nature that have traditionally been a casualty of economic development.

It is indeed important to place a value on nature, otherwise corporations have the ability to negotiate their own price (often times with governments more concerned with embezzling funds than sustainable human development). In other words, “business as usual leads” to a gross under-valuation of natural resources.

To be an effective tool for sustainable human development, natural accounting must be conducted in an inclusive matter. Specifically, it must be done in consultation with the rural poor and indigenous groups. There are two primary reasons why these groups must be included:

1) Indigenous and rural peoples are historically underrepresented in political processes: This problem is even worse in countries that lack inclusive political institutions for society as a whole; people are underrepresented in general, the indigenous / rural poor are completely unrepresented.

2) Indigenous and rural poor communities rely much more heavily on nature for all aspects of their livelihood: Therefore, these people will likely place a much higher value on nature than other stakeholders: a) governments (who consider the value of marketable resources / other bids on land) b) corporations (who are trying to minimize the value to reduce costs) c) environmental groups (which tend to view indigenous lands more as carbon-sinks than living quarters).

The voices of these people must be heard; indigenous rights and land claims must be protected by governments. People whose lives will be uprooted in the name of “development” must be properly represented in negotiations devoid of power asymmetries (not a predetermined agreement), and properly compensated for any agreed upon losses.

Failure to do so sets the stage for irreversible environmental degradation, loss of culture / livelihood, and violent conflict. Not just wages are lost when ecosystems are destroyed, entire livelihoods are changed. Instead of creating “spoilers” by leaving the most heavily invested groups out of political dialogue, an inclusive approach to natural accounting can lead to an agreeable solution and avoid crossing culturally-sensitive “red-lines”.


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Conflict Watch: The Obama Ultimatum


To say North Korea’s recent actions and rhetoric have been anti-American would be an understatement. Within the past few months Kim Jong-Un has launched a nuclear test strike, cutoff phone lines with the U.S. and South Korea, barred South Korean workers from entering an industrial complex bordering the two Koreas, stepped up its military capacity, suggested countries shut down their North Korean embassies for the safety of their diplomats, and vowed nuclear strikes on the U.S. and its allies.

Much of this is just tough rhetoric, a young leader trying to show he can “rule with an iron fist”, that he is able to rebuff “western interests”, and will not have his national sovereignty challenged.

Experts agree that North Korea could not strike the U.S. mainland with nuclear weapons. More immediately at risk would be South Korea, Japan, and other pacific island allied states. This is alarming for the U.S. as well, who operates a close to 30,000 troop force in South Korea. South Korean has responded with it’s own stern warnings to North Korea, that it will “strike back quickly” if the North attacks. Japan has recently begun ramping up its military capabilities partially in response to North Korean rhetoric. Factor in China’s proposed military expansion, and we have a full blown arms race in Asia.

This is not an issue of China versus Japan, as both sides are essentially on the same side. The Chinese government has recently expressed dismay towards its allies in Pyongyang, agreeing in principle to tougher U.N. sanctions after North Korea’s most recent nuclear test strike.

The U.S., seizing onto this opportunity, has proposed what I call “the Obama ultimatum”:

“The Obama administration, detecting what it sees as a shift in decades of Chinese support for North Korea, is pressuring China’s new president, Xi Jinping, to crack down on the regime in Pyongyang or face a heightened American military presence in its region.”

“’The timing of this is important,’ Tom Donilon, Mr. Obama’s national security adviser, said in an interview. ‘It will be an important early exercise between the United States and China, early in the term of Xi Jinping and early in the second term of President Obama.’”

“In Beijing, officials said Mr. Kerry also wants to reinvigorate the dialogue with China on climate change… A week after Mr. Kerry’s visit, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will spend four days in China to try to improve communication between the American and Chinese militaries.”

“’What we have seen is a subtle change in Chinese thinking,’ Kurt M. Campbell, a former assistant secretary of state for East Asian affairs, said in a speech Thursday at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. The Chinese now believe North Korea’s actions are “antithetical” to their national security interests, he said.”

This article seizes on many issues brought up at Normative Narratives involving U.S. and Chinese cooperation on issues concerning the “global commons” (environmental, security, etc.). It also highlights the potential for closer Washington-Beijing relations as two supposedly progressive leaders take the helm of the first and second largest economies in the world.

But there are some issues holding back U.S.-Chinese relations. Issues of trust between the two superpowers exist; cyber-attack accusations have flown from both governments in recent months. Also, there are factions within China who believe it is in China’s best interest to have an anti-Western power in the Korean Peninsula. Some believe that if China came down hard on North Korea, even so far as to push for a reunification of the Korean Peninsula at some point in the future, this would bolster U.S. influence in the region and diminish Chinese influence.

And it is exactly because of this point that I like “the Obama ultimatum”. If China’s greatest fear is increased American military capacity in the Asian Pacific, Obama has just offered Xi Jinping a surefire way to check U.S. military capacity in the region.

Obama has essentially put the ball in Jinping’s court. The next move belongs to China. Will they rebuff the American offer in an attempt to show solidarity with North Korea and protect the interest of “national sovereignty”?

It makes little sense to think they would; when you consider the growth and development of China, there is no question as to which country, between the U.S. and North Korea, is a more important partner. Factoring in Japan’s stance and it makes little economic or military sense for China not to align itself with “western interests”.

Nothing should be taken for granted; historically nations have been known to do things against their economic interests in the pursuit of strengthening their political ideology. But in today’s globalized economy, where the political economy intersection is so prevalent in mainstream political thinking, it would be very surprising to see China not at least attempt to comply with Obama’s offer.

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