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Reconciling Worldviews: Religion and International Development


Published: Katie Veitch and artwork by Ryan Ward

It is easy to assume that the world is becoming inevitably less religious, to see religion as an outdated set of superstitions which fall away as a country becomes richer, or its population more educated. However, this assumption is based narrowly on Western Europe’s experience of Christianity; looking at the dwindling congregations in English village churches should not translate to an assumption of a universal and inevitable secularisation. Given the ongoing importance of religion in the world, an effective sustainable development approach needs to consider religious actors.

Religion’s relationship with international development is complex. Indeed, even speaking of ‘religion’ acting as any kind of single or independent force can be difficult, given the diversity and multitude of religious people and institutions. Modern development has its roots entwined with such actors; Faith-Based Organisations (FBOs) are some of the most influential aid providers in the world. This includes Tearfund, Islamic Relief and CAFOD, amongst others. Even outside formal FBOs, religious people are central in development initiatives. Global faith leaders have long been powerful voices in championing human rights and development. On a more local level, humanitarian efforts are often picked up by religious actors, with a common theme within religious texts being duty towards those in need.

Arguably, the role of missionaries (especially Christians working in the British Empire) who established their own schools, churches and medical facilities in colonial states, created a certain model of aid which lingers today. The problems often discussed surrounding international aid – white saviourism, debt and difficult power dynamics – are a legacy of this colonial-missionary base. In light of this history, the secular development world can be hesitant about engaging with religion, either through FBOs or local groups. Religion is also avoided because of a perception that it upholds socially conservative norms. In some ways, this is a fair suspicion – clearly, certain religious texts are used to counter the rights of minority groups, and a development worldview based on universal human rights can be hard to reconcile with this.

So far, then, it is easy to see why a secular approach to international development would appeal. Yet when religion is excluded from the development conversation, important factors are disregarded. Religion is clearly an important part of identity, and religious leaders are figureheads in communities. Sustainable development is all about avoiding heavy-handed outsider approaches which ignore local nuances and do not involve relevant leaders. By engaging faith leaders in development projects, it is more likely that the development will be sustainable, that change will reach people in a way which is beneficial and long-lasting.

This has gained recognition in the international development world in recent years. In 2014, the World Bank committed to engage with religious leaders via the Faith Initiative, which bridges World Bank-funded projects and religious groups (1). Similarly, the UN now recognises the role of religious leaders in forming development policy, including consultations around the Sustainable Development Goals (2). Those working in international development need to put the specific needs and goals of a community centrally and listening to religious groups is an important aspect of this.

Whilst we can see this on a global scale, it is also key to consider the local level. Research into local projects, including a 2019 study commissioned by an NGO in Malawi comparing traditional development approaches to ‘church and community mobilisation’ (CCM) (3), show the development benefits of engaging with local religious groups. This particular study found that projects which mobilised through the church had the same benefit to quality of life as traditional approaches, but at a fraction of the cost. CCM emphasises a shift in mindset away from dependency and towards the community engaging in their own problem-solving, via Biblical reflection and participatory exercises. The church, because it is a central, trusted, and permanent presence in the community, promotes long-term and inclusive change. In this way, if we want to promote cost-effective and community-led development which moves away from an external, ‘white-saviour’ approach, engaging local religious groups and leaders is essential.

Ultimately, whilst those in the ‘West’ might assume that to be modern is to be secular, I would suggest this is far from true. Religion is not inevitably declining, and so should be considered and engaged with when we talk about international development and the power dynamics which surround it.

 1 ‘Faith Based and Religious Organizations’ (World Bank) <https://www.worldbank.org/en/about/partners/brief/faith-based-organizations> accessed 10 November 2020.

2 Tomalin E, Haustein J and Kidy S, ‘Religion and the Sustainable Development Goals’ 15.

3 https://jliflc.com/resources/analysing-the-cost-effectiveness-of-church-and-community-mobilisation-in-malawi/

Students Behind Picket Lines: Fighting for Climate Justice


Artwork by Ryan Ward.
Published: Cambridge University International Development.

The street is filled, from six year olds with their parents to seventeen year old sixth formers with their friends. I hear the chanting around me and I see the homemade signs and banners that make me wish I had brought mine. We pass intrigued pedestrians and slightly confused drivers who sit in their cars waiting for us to move. When turning the next corner I get a glimpse of how many people are actually here as I nearly bump into the XR steward. A few hundred? It’s hard to tell from where I am but it seems that the organising has paid off. A roar of encouragement from university students hits us and I see them here to greet us. The person chanting from the megaphone changes the chant and I struggle to keep up. I conclude that this is a good strike.


Following Greta Thumberg’s lead after the first UK strike on the 13th February 2019 we’ve held monthly strikes in which we (the Cambridge Schools Eco Council) decide the theme, timings, route and actions. These strikes have been highly successful, and shining a light on the important issue of climate change that is affecting people now  will affect all of us as one of the most pressing issues of our time.

We, the Eco Councillors have attended meetings with local organisations such as Cambridge Zero Carbon Society and Extinction Rebellion Cambridge. We’ve also managed to get our message out by the local press, being interviewed on local radio, meeting our MP, Daniel Zeichner, and taking our message about the climate emergency to the Secretary of State for the Environment, Michael Gove. After facing our difficult questions and hearing our readings of  emotive poems (including Drew Dillenger’s Hieroglyphic Stairway), Gove released a “landmark statement” on the environment emergency that was widely reported in the press:

 “There is a political need to act – because we cannot leave this planet to the next generation more polluted, more dangerous, denuded of its natural riches and increasingly inhospitable to all life.” 


This is a minute but important step forward as the government needs to take a strong stance immediately to avert Climate Disaster. But of course they are taking too long for the people who are being greatly affected right now in countries like Bangladesh and Sudan . 

We attended meetings with local and global business representatives, as well as with the city council and regional planning & environmental groups on the emergency chalk stream crisis facing Cambridge and the surrounding area; water could soon be scarce in Cambridgeshire. We’re very engaged in this matter and intend to continue to influence the local and national government’s decisions. Being a part of a global movement encourages us.

We will be vigilant about what the Cambridge City Council do from now. We have presented them with our open letter laying out our clear demands to tackle the emergency locally.

Overall we’ve achieved all these actions in just ten months. Unions such as NEU, Cambridge & Districts Trades Council and UCU have joined our Youth Strikes and helped to build them within their organisations. Climate campaigners such as our local Greenpeace group and Artist Unions have been re-energised by us. There is no going back now. We have built up our local movement for Climate Action and we hope to do much more in the future. “This is a crisis,” says Greta Thunberg, and we have to treat it like a crisis.

Our movement has always been led by children in decision making, leading the protests and chants as well as speaking at the Strikes. We would like to, however, thank the adults of Cambridge XR who keep our marches safe on the routes we choose as we march through the city centre by volunteering to steward on the day.

The Wood for the Trees: Seeing the Value in Vulnerable Indigenous Knowledge


By Sam Brown, and artwork by Ryan Ward

The Shipibo-Conibo are an indigenous people situated along the Ucayali River in the Amazon rainforest. Coupling a modern existence with centuries of tradition, the Shipibo-Conibo have retained a shamanic understanding of health that closely ties the individual to a spirit world. Crucially, bodily prosperity is placed in a reciprocal relationship with the surrounding natural environment and its spirits: human health is dependent on its harmonious congruence with nature.

The ayahuasca brew is just one example of how the Shipibo-Conibo medical outlook manifests itself. A powerful psychostimulant made from a unique combination of the ayahuasca vine (Banisteriopsis caapi) and the leaf of the chacruna plant (Psychotria viridis), ayahuasca allows the user to access their inner subconscious landscape and experience cathartic visions. Such ‘spirit-assisted’ healthcare is viewed with scepticism and condescension in the West, yet indigenous medicine like this deserves respect not only for the crucial lessons it teaches us about our relationship with nature, but also for the vast wealth of knowledge that lies imbued in indigenous practice. In line with this, the power of ayahuasca to treat cases of severe depression has started to be investigated by ethnobotanists, with promising early results.

The benefits of exploring indigenous medical knowledge can therefore be seen in two broad avenues of understanding: the ecological and ethical education Westerners can obtain by learning about how indigenous populations interact with the environment as an equal entity; and the pharmaceutical potential of study into shamanic practices, as well as the opportunities for drug development that biodiverse indigenous land presents. This potential for learning, however, sits at a tense intersection with other factors for consideration, specifically the human rights of indigenous peoples and the all-encompassing threat of climate change. This intersection needs to be considered if we are to advance a truly inclusive plan that recognises how improving global health and tackling climate change are closely intertwined.

While indigenous populations clearly live in all varieties of ecosystems, those situated in rainforests provide the most obvious example of where medical developmental and sustainability goals misalign. The biodiversity of tropical rainforest is truly astounding. Rainforests covers less than 7% of the Earth’s surface, yet are home to about 50% of all land animal and plant species.[1] Indigenous populations are active agents in the conservation of this biodiversity. The territories of the world’s 370 million indigenous people cover 24% of land worldwide, and contain 80% of the world’s biodiversity.[2] It is perhaps unsurprising then that this fertile land which holds so much pharmaceutical potential is also a target for biofuel producers and farmers, two recent perpetrators of the Brazilian fires.

indigenous knowledge article

Biodiverse land is thus a precious resource that, if utilised sustainably, can be central to our defence against the looming threat of mass antibiotic resistance. Earlier this month, for instance, scientists working in a tropical forest near Los Tuxtlas, Mexico discovered an antibiotic produced by a soil bacterium that may help lead to a ‘plant probiotic’, more robust plants and other antibiotics.[3] Looking beyond antibiotics, rainforests have been at the centre of many of the last century’s key drug developments. The Curare lianas plant, for instance, has been used for centuries by South American indigenous groups to make paralysing poison darts; in Western medicine, an isolated compound derived from the plant is used to treat such diseases as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, and other muscular disorders. As one would expect, the list of world-changing medicines derived from plants in these regions goes on and on.

The pharmaceutical potential of biodiverse areas goes beyond simple extraction, however. The rainforest has all manner of medical tricks up its leaves. Forest organisms often serve as chemical templates from which researchers can synthesize drug compounds. The blueprint for aspirin, for example, was derived from extracts of willow trees. Recent research indicates that birth control medication could similarly be revolutionised by drugs derived from rainforest plants, as could pesticides and cancer treatments. To reiterate, however, this scientific opportunity must always be mediated by a concern for the people who have maintained the very rainforest we see as a resource, and who sustainably obtain their livelihoods from its biodiversity.

The ravages of deforestation therefore materially impact indigenous populations through the destruction of their homes, but also through the loss of the plants used in both traditional and Western medicine. Cassandra Quave, a leading ethnobotanist, emphasises the dual loss that deforestation represents. She argues that we need to “help preserve these areas, and create safe havens for these people before it’s all gone,” for the sake of indigenous peoples but also for the “biological resources” inherent within indigenous medicinal knowledge and biodiverse land. It is as much about preserving indigenous cultural capital as it is maintaining a future source of antibiotics. We may have only screened less than 15% of plant species for their medicinal potential, but the potential of indigenous knowledge presents a far more unquantifiable possibility.

The biodiversity of indigenous land therefore presents an opportunity as much as it poses complex ethical and developmental challenges. According to researcher and writer Rhett Butler, who runs the critically acclaimed website, Mongabay.com, rainforests are “an extensive library of biological and genetic resources.” This “library” metaphor is an apt turn of phrase which has been adopted by others to emphasise the transience of knowledge when we disregard the rights of indigenous peoples. Dr Mark Plotkin, an ethnobotanist at Conservation International, argues that “each time a medicine man dies, it is as if a library has been burned down.” Clearly, to view shamans singularly as simple sources of knowledge is to reduce their humanity, but Dr Plotkin’s point still stands. An anxiety about engaging with traditional medicine on equal and respectful terms is a loss for both ‘sides’, reducing the continuity of knowledge transfer down indigenous generations and wasting a pivotal opportunity for Western researchers.

The reciprocal relationship indigenous peoples have maintained with their environments over vast periods of time has implications that go beyond medical research. Traditional ecological knowledge (or TEK) allows indigenous populations to live in harmony with nature, in complete contrast with the extractive dynamic the Western world has cultivated with its environment. Until the twenty-first century, indigenous peoples were viewed as victims of the effects of climate change, rather than as agents of environmental conservation: with the knowledge they possess of long-term resource management, indigenous groups represent the best possible model for ecological harmony for Westerners to emulate. Indigenous management practices, such as the ritualized burning of vegetation to improve soil productivity, are both culturally and ecologically important.

Indigenous knowledge therefore sits awkwardly at the juncture between being a crucial resource for the future and a fragile entity that necessitates tact in any interaction with it. While the dominant narrative in recent writing about indigenous peoples and climate change has been focused on the industries driving deforestation in the Amazon, for instance, a long-term perspective warrants consideration of this other, existential threat to our shared world: antibiotic resistance and corresponding trends in global health. A crucial step towards a better society is to increase public recognition of the importance of rainforest medicines in our modern pharmacopoeia, while simultaneously elevating the vulnerable position of the very people who lay the groundwork for so much of Western medicine’s advancements.

[1] https://rainforestfoundation.org

[2] Sobrevila C (2008) The role of indigenous peoples in biodiversity conservation: the natural but often forgotten partners. World Bank: Washington, DC.

[3] https://www.nsf.gov/discoveries/disc_summ.jsp?cntn_id=299410&org=NSF&from=news

Digital Green Industrialisation: Reconciling Global Equality and Sustainable Development?


Published: Mateus L. Labrunie, and artwork by Ryan Ward

The environmental issue that I find most disturbing as a development economist is the claim that if developing countries’ consumption levels reached those of the world’s most developed countries, there would be insufficient resources on the planet to sustain it. Diamond calculates that this situation would be similar to having 80 billion people at current average consumption levels. While there can be some discussion as to whether we could sustain the consumption of slightly more than our current 7.7 billion people, it is pretty clear that there simply would not be enough resources, including energy, water, minerals and agricultural products to sustain 10 times more.

If we assume that current rates of resource use will remain constant, the world is either condemned to have a large group of countries in low levels of consumption, with a significant part of their populations in poverty, or bound to head towards an environmental catastrophe. This raises the question of whether it is possible to reconcile global equality between countries with environmental sustainability.

There are two contested ways to reconcile both of these objectives. The first involves a generalized change in mindset away from consumerism, reducing the consumption aspirations in developing countries and current averages in developed ones. This is argued by the authors of the de-growth literature. What is envisaged is a world of simpler lives, with more attention paid to basic human needs and less to what Veblen calls “conspicuous consumption” – goods and services designed for the public display of social status and economic power. The second approach would be a drastic increase in the efficiency of resource use, achieving a similar average output but with a drastically lower throughput, making it possible to sustain our current consumptions. 

The problem with the first option is that a generalized change in mindset is, in addition to being highly unlikely in the short-term, incompatible with capitalism. If one accepts the Keynesian principle of effective demand, it becomes clear that a generalized reduction in consumption in capitalist economies leads to a decrease in economic activity. This, in turn, gives rise to many social issues such as unemployment, wage reductions, less social welfare and financial crisis risk. These could even result in social unrest that would seek to dismiss the environmental agenda as a priority. Capitalist economies need a growth of demand in order to survive. This is not to say that an alternative should not be proposed or discussed, just that it is a much more long-term issue that would require profound systemic changes.

Within capitalism, therefore, the only way of reconciling these two objectives is through a drastic reduction in the rate of resource use, or throughput. That is where technological development comes in. Resource-efficient technologies can reduce the amount of non-renewable materials used to produce outputs. The question then is whether new technologies will be able to lower throughput at a faster rate than the growth of output. There are many reasons to doubt this, and to some extent a revision of our current consumption standards seems inevitable. However, we should not underestimate the power of human ingenuity. Those that have done so in the past have often been embarrassed, such as Malthus with his catastrophic demographic predictions.

In this regard, there are reasons to be optimistic about the impacts of the so-called Industry 4.0 on the rate of resource use. Industry 4.0 refers to the industrial application of new technologies such as artificial intelligence, internet of things, cyber-physical systems, and additive manufacturing. This enables smart, connected and adaptable production. This may greatly impact sustainability. Firstly, the digitization of supply chains optimizes the matching of supply and demand in real-time, avoiding material losses associated with overproduction, and optimizing the distribution of raw materials. Additive manufacturing can also be used to realize new, complex lightweight structures that can be applied to save materials. Secondly, more efficient energy consumption can be expected with the improvement in capacity utilization and in throughput times in factories. Energy efficiency can also be obtained with the use of the Smart Grid, reducing losses during grid transmissions. Thirdly, with the increasing traceability and monitoring of product usage, Industry 4.0 may support the realization of closed-loop life cycles, such as through the reuse of individual product components, and the facilitation of partnerships between companies and end-of-life stakeholders (e.g. recycling companies), making it easier to integrate the remanufacturing of individual parts into the life cycle. Every product, from electronics to plastic bottles, may be traced from its production to the end of its life cycle, and the state of its components monitored. Of course, this is not enough, but it is a great enabling step towards more resource-efficient production.

Conversely, there are also reasons to doubt the environmental sustainability of Industry 4.0. For example, although 4.0 technologies might lead to higher energy-efficiency, primary energy consumption may rise with the increasing use of data-centres, telecommunication networks, cloud storages, computer equipment, and the constant monitoring and adaptation of production processes. Additive manufacturing processes are currently highly energy-intensive, especially in the production of the starting materials used in these processes. In terms of quantity of materials used, the trend is also not clear. The increasing integration of sensors, actuators and transmission devices in new smart products and equipment will lead to an enormous demand for new and critical raw materials, such as “technology metals” that in general are non-recyclable.

As such, there is no consensus on whether new digital technologies can help create a more sustainable production.  There is uncertainty not only about their direct impacts, but also their indirect ones – the transformations they may induce in firm and consumer behaviour. The key point here is, however, that there is still time to influence the direction in which digital technologies are developing. Instead of asking how 4.0 technologies can impact sustainability, perhaps a more interesting question to ask would be how can sustainability principles orient the development of 4.0 technologies?

In addition to their effects on sustainability, there are reasons to believe that new digital technologies might represent windows of opportunity for some developing countries. Historical records show that technological paradigm changes have often allowed for new entrants to challenge the leadership of established firms and countries. At the firm level, think of Kodak, and its loss of leadership with the introduction of digital cameras. At the country level, think of the emergence of Japan and South Korea as leaders in the highly dynamic electronics industry in the 1980s. Or earlier, think of the US and Germany catching-up to the British leadership at the end of the 19th century by entering new industries such as chemicals and electric equipment, or by adopting new technologies in old industries such as steel production. This is the process of “creative destruction” that Schumpeter described as the central feature of capitalism. 

Taking advantage of the opportunities of Industry 4.0, however, requires a somewhat developed level of technological and production capabilities. Therefore, countries with a more established industrial base, such as some middle-income countries, seem better positioned to address the challenges of digitalization. Contrastingly, for most of the developing world the discussion refers more to the effective absorption and adaptation of these technologies to specific existing productive activities, than to completely overhauling their economies.

An intersection between these two issues of environmental sustainability and economic catch-up lies in the fact that it might be easier for new firms and industries in developing countries to adopt new greener production paradigms, than for established firms in developed countries to convert their old plants. After years of activity and incremental innovation, established firms are already competitive in the old resource-inefficient production paradigms, and therefore could be more resistant to technological and organizational changes. In that sense, jumpstarting processes of digital green industrialization in developing countries can represent an opportunity for tackling both global inequality and environmental sustainability at the same time.

It must be observed, however, that this adoption of greener production paradigms will not derive automatically from the workings of free forces in the market. Development and adoption of new technologies, especially frontier ones, involves committing large capital investments and facing radical uncertainty – situations where it is not even possible to make probabilistic calculations about the future. Consequently, if these processes are left purely to the market, they will most likely never happen. Furthermore, the path of less resistance to non-renewable and resource inefficient technology will mostly be taken. Thus, the crucial role of state in both driving productive development processes and in making sure that they are environmentally sustainable must be discussed. Historically, the state has been fundamental not only in promoting industrial and technological development through many policy instruments such as tariffs, subsidies, public procurement, and technological licensing, but also in giving direction to these developments. The state mission of getting the man on the moon led to the development and adoption of many space-related technologies. The state missions of defeating their opponents in combat led to the development and adoption of many warfare technologies. Why not expect the same with worldwide state missions of sustainable production?

It also doesn’t seem fair to make developing countries bear the full burden of cultivating green industries, given that developed countries did not have the same preoccupations when they were industrializing, and today they remain responsible for most of the world’s resource consumption and environmental issues. Imposing environmental restrictions for developing countries on top of all the restrictions they already have seems just another way of ‘kicking away the ladder’, that is, stopping developing countries from taking the path that developed countries took in their own development processes. This is even more problematic given that many restrictions that developing countries have today are due to their colonial past. A more welcome approach, then, would be a positive one, with financial and non-financial stimuli for developing countries to adopt greener technologies. This would not be aid, but international subsidies and technology transfers, which are closer to the policies that the developed countries of today used in the past. In some way, incentives for green industrialization could be a mutually beneficial opportunity for paying the colonial debt.

I know this is quite a utopian approach. I believe it is unlikely that developed countries will voluntarily facilitate developing countries’ industrialization processes – green or not. In the end, capitalism is a competitive system, and change is only achieved by developing countries through their own policies and efforts, in most cases against various and strong contrary pressures.  Most likely, the environmental issue will be addressed – of course not openly, and often not even consciously – by maintaining a large part of the global population in poverty, and with a much less drastic change in the rate of resource use. 

This might work for a while, and the emerging digital technologies may play a part in buying us some time. But overall, if we do believe in the possibility of a more equal global landscape, at some point we will have to face the daunting question of the compatibility of an ever-growing, ever-accumulating system, with the environmental limits of our planet.

The Guyana-Norway REDD+ Agreement: Has Selling the Rainforest Worked?


Published by Ella Duffy, and artwork by Ryan Ward.

In 2009, an innovative project became the posterchild for the REDD+ programme (the United Nations Collaborative Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries, set up in 2008). Guyana, a country on the Caribbean coast of South America with an estimated 75-85% forest coverage[1], would be funded by Norway to conserve their vast expanses of rainforest. USD$250 million was promised to Guyana, to be paid on a results-led basis and invested in Guyana’s Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS) projects. There were seven original projects in the first years of the project, ranging from improving forest and biodiversity mapping to Amerindian land titling and micro-enterprise grants for rural communities. Ten years on and the agreement, which was only supposed to last five years, has shown little real progress and has had a limited effect on the indigenous communities who were supposed to benefit from the finances.

The REDD schemes are, in theory, a simple and effective way to curb deforestation, keeping rainforests as carbon sinks and reducing the volume of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere. Governments and their forest-dwelling peoples are financially rewarded for not cutting down trees, and this money can be fed back into low-carbon development projects; this ‘peopled’ aspect of REDD schemes is denoted by the ‘+’ in ‘REDD+’. However, what this overview hides is that REDD programmes can alDay 173 - 2.2.15low richer countries to continue on a ‘business as usual’ trajectory domestically, whilst offsetting the emissions through prevented deforestation in the Global South. Another whole article could be written about the neocolonial undertones of this, but even ignoring the narrative behind it, there is surely an obvious problem if REDD is exploited in this way.

Norway’s interest in Guyana h therefore been suspected to be an attempt for Norway, the biggest REDD donor worldwide, to maintain its ‘green’ international image whilst remaining a major oil producer. The choice of Guyana as a funding partner is in itself odd. Norway’s two other major funding partners are Brazil and Indonesia, countries with historically incredibly high rates of deforestation where financial incentives could make real difference in willingness to participate in conservation. Guyana, on the other hand, seemed a strange choice, being roughly the size of the UK but home to only 784,000 people, and with an already extremely low annual deforestation rate compared to global figures (0.02% in 2009-2010 compared to the global average of 0.52% in 2005-2009). Norway had no previous bilateral ties with the country, and no previous political or commercial interests. Guyana is classified as lower-middle-income by the World Bank but, at the time of the REDD+ deal, was ranked in the Corruption Perception Index (Transparency International) as 133rd out of 180 countries, meaning it had a similar lack of government transparency and freedom of the press to Russia and Iran. Bade (2013) puts this strange choice down to ‘aid in a rush’. Norway was pushed for time before the Fifteenth session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December 2009, so organised the deal without any kind of risk assessment until ten months after the agreement was signed.

This lack of clarity is characteristic of the project as a whole. The agreement between Guyana and Norway was first heralded as a potential model for REDD+ to be implemented globally and Bharrat Jagdeo, Guyana’s president at the time, was even nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize because of his environmental efforts. Despite the initial excitement over REDD+ in Guyana, however, the project was plagued by misunderstandings and slow progress. Finances have been slow to trickle through from the World Bank fund into which Norway pays, and the political momentum seems not to have been maintained through the 2015 change in presidency. A hydroelectric dam was supposed to be the first large development project funded through the scheme, but plans collapsed due to parliamentary opposition and private sector withdrawal. There is a silver lining: there has been significant progress in one of the seven original projects, and forest monitoring and biodiversity mapping has improved with Norway’s input.

A major player in the program is the indigenous population of Guyana. Roughly 10% of Guyana’s population is indigenous; Guyanese Amerindians are the majority population in all the hinterland regions. It is these hinterland regions with which REDD+ concerns itself, as much of the Guyanese hinterlands are virgin rainforest. Early conversations in the initial agreements were that Amerindian people would be fully communicated with and consulted at all stages of the REDD+ program. In addition, the program’s funds were mainly to be used on projects that benefited local communities, including a long-needed Amerindian land titling program.

An impact assessment from Laing (2018) reveals that nothing has really come of the REDD+ program for forest-dwelling Amerindian people. While there was talk early on in the project about having robust communication between Amerindians and the government, this seems to have been superficial and Amerindian communities were concerned about the lack of information given to them. There has been no significant cost to Amerindian communities through REDD+, but also no significant benefits; all that has materialized are a few grants of USD$25,000 and some solar panels. There were hopes of economic benefits to remote communities from REDD+, but slow implementation coupled with a long history of Amerindian mistrust towards the government has simply resulted in more scepticism about their commitment to Amerindian communities. Laing (2018) says that “it is neither a grand success or a complete failure” but that at least the initial excitement over REDD+ opened up potential political channels for more effective communication between Amerindian village councils and national government in the future.

It would seem, then, that Norway’s funding of Guyana, a country that already had very low levels of deforestation, may have been an ineffective choice in the first place, and that the REDD+ program has amounted to very little human development in the decade that it has been running. While the forest and biodiversity monitoring scheme has been successful, the on-the-ground development projects have not materialised and there has been a noticeable reduction in the commitment to proper communication with Amerindian communities. Aside from these issues with the implementation of the program, there are also conceptual issues with REDD itself. It is not in any way an effective program if the donor country uses it to ‘offset’ their own domestic emissions whilst staying on a ‘business as usual’ trajectory, as this amounts to no net gain in preserving forests at all.

Where does this leave Guyana? The rate of deforestation has risen in the last decade (but not extensively) and ecotourism has boomed. The government continues to pride themselves on backing environmentally focused policy. However, they will have increasingly more environmental issues to deal with in the coming years; not only will the low-lying country be affected by sea level rise with anthropogenic climate change, but also recently discovered offshore oil wells may provide opportunities for extractive industries to threaten Guyana’s ‘green’ reputation. As for REDD, schemes continue to be implemented globally, some with a great deal more success than this early version of the program in Guyana, but the question remains over whether they can provide more than just a carbon offsetting solution for richer nations.

[1] FAO, 2010; Guyana Forestry Commission & Indufor, 2012, 2013; Guyana Forestry Commission & Poyry Forest Industry, 2010.

Climate Change and Individual Responsibility: A Dangerous Narrative


Published: Lottie Elton and artwork by Ryan Ward.

The demand that individuals everywhere ‘do their bit’ to help mitigate the climate crisis is, in many ways, a positive and inspiring one. As Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg declares, “no one is too small to make a difference.” However, the oft-asserted demand that everyone ‘do their bit’ can have insidious implications, suggesting that the predominant agent of change is the individual. By inference, this absolves the governments and corporations who are most responsible for climaGreta-Thunberg-e1576169602969te change and most capable of lessening its impact. It also obscures the variable responsibility that different countries have for the climate catastrophe. Due to their position of historical subjugation, countries in the ‘Global South’ are left vulnerable against a change they themselves did not significantly contribute to. Conversely, the ‘Global North’ will be for a time insulated against the crisis that it has precipitated, as its citizens continue to consume on a level unimaginable elsewhere. The concept of climate justice demands that governments and corporations accept culpability, and so challenges the narrative that places blame on all individuals equally. To suggest that climate justice is focused mainly on ‘individuals everywhere’ is to depoliticise and decontextualize it, and to make it amenable to status quo powers.

The representation of climate justice as demanding a universal reduction in individual emissions is simultaneously too broad and too narrow. Suggesting that ‘individuals everywhere’ decrease their carbon footprint assumes a unified category of individuals, homogenous in their culpability for the climate crisis. Climate justice actively opposes such a perception, challenging the notion that an all-encompassing ‘humankind’ has “generated a single human footprint.”[1] In their book The Shock of the Anthropocene, Christophe Bonneuil and Jean-Baptiste Fressoz criticise this dominant climate-crisis narrative for “presenting an abstract humanity uniformly involved – implying uniformity of blame.” [2] The focus on the ‘individual’ is also too narrow, as climate justice transcends the individual, and places the onus of redistributive fairness on international actors. In This Changes Everything, Naomi Klein articulates such a perspective: “this is a far more expansive vision than the familiar eco-critique that stresses smallness and shrinking humanity’s impact or “footprint.” That is not an option today; we must use our institutions to act.” [3]  Narratives that emphasise individual efforts can contribute to the depoliticization of global warming when they are presented as the only option for fighting climate change.

In suggesting that everyone, everywhere, reduce their carbon footprint, one would have to presume a fairly uniform current level of consumption and emission. However, the variability in per capita consumption around the world is vast, an assertion tellingly borne out by statistics. The average American consumes around 32 times as many resources as the average Kenyan and produces approximately 54.6 times as many metric tonnes of carbon dioxide. [4] Such evidence undermines any descriptions that detail human emissions solely in the aggregate and that imply everyone should reduce their carbon footprint.  Bonneuil and Fressoz argue that the term ‘Anthropocene’ might be better replaced by ‘Oligathropocene.’

The variability in individual responsibility is paralleled by variability in international responsibility. Climate change must be historicised. By 1825, the UK was responsible for 80% of the world’s emissions, with the first evidence of a global increase in temperature emerging around the 1830s. [5] The industrial revolution also provided the impetus for the extension of European imperialism in the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. Between 1850 and 1900, European per capita income increased by 222%, whilst the per capita income in Africa and Asia rose by just 8% and 1% respectively.[6] Famine all but disappeared from Western Europe during this time, but Asia and Africa experienced food shortages of unprecedented scope.[7] By 1914, colonial powers controlled 85% of the world’s surface, and had firmly established a structurally unequal international hierarchy in which the dominance of the imperialist powers was contingent upon the disempowerment of the Global South.[8] The central premise of climate justice hinges upon this iniquitous history and its manifestations in the present day. Global North countries are largely responsible for the climate crisis, yet their poorer counterparts will feel its impact most harshly. Climate justice does not require all individuals everywhere to reduce emissions; it instead obliges powerful western nations to bear the financial burden of protecting their former colonies.

The central focus of climate justice – the call for climate reparations – has undeniable ethical purchase.  However, the climate agreements negotiated thus far explicitly preclude any such compensation. In 2009, for example, the non-binding Copenhagen agreement established a target of limiting warming to 2 degrees Celsius above 19th century levels. [9] Lumumba Di-Aping, the head of the G77 group of 130 nations, castigated the agreement for its lack of legal gravitas and its amenability with the status quo; he decried it as “a suicide pact, an incineration pact in order to maintain the economic dominance of a few countries.” [10] In this vein, the Guardian newspaper described the conference as sounding the ‘death rattle of climate justice.’ [11] Moreover, despite the significance of the 2015 Paris accords, the agreement implicitly repudiates the prospect of potential reparations. It still proved too radical for President Trump, who withdrew the US from the agreement on the grounds that it “handicapped the United States economy in order to win praise from the very foreign capitals and global activists that have long sought to gain wealth at our country’s expense.” [12] According to Klein, climate justice demands a ‘Marshall plan for the world’ where poorer countries could demand financial and technological assistance from their richer counterparts.” [13] The international community seems to emphatically reject this position, and focuses instead on more palatable initiatives such as individual reduction of emissions.

Climate justice requires both an alteration in the actions of western individuals, and a change in how the international system operates. These individual and systemic transformations have failed to eventuate because they run counter to the central tenets of free-market capitalism. Active remedial measures would require the redistribution of wealth, a concept antithetical to neoliberal principles. Market elites make climate action political heresy by espousing the capitalist axiom ‘grow or die.’ The vision sold by globalisation – one in which capitalism enables consumerist, western-style patterns of life to be enjoyed by all – is a fiction. The planet cannot support the profligate consumerism of the West. Mahatma Gandhi observed this, saying – “God forbid that India should ever take to industrialism after the manner of the West … it would strip of the world bare like locusts.” [14] But admitting that western patterns of life cannot be enjoyed by all undermines the very legitimacy of the international order by revealing that it is based on inequity. After such a recognition, Global North countries would necessarily be forced to redistribute wealth to their poorer counterparts. However, this recognition does not seem likely. Richer countries have the luxury to deny the urgency of climate change, possessing, for now, the resources necessary to combat it. The stakes are lower for the Global North, augmenting even further the disparity of power in climate negotiations.

Ultimately, climate change will affect everyone. However, describing global warming as a ‘great equaliser’ is misguided; it implies a uniform threat, experienced by all people on the same terms. This is not the case, and different nations have varying capacities of adaptability with regard to coping with the threats posed by climate change, as well as differing levels of culpability. The demand that individuals recycle, eat less meat, walk to work, and vacation at home focuses solely on the individual, and so obscures this disparity and the urgency of systemic change. To be sure, recycling more, adopting a plant-based diet, and flying less are important and helpful initiatives. However, they cannot be the only response to climate change, or else they serve as redirections of blame, symptomatic of the reluctance of powerful nations to admit responsibility.

[1] Bonneuil, C. and Fressoz, J. (2016). The shock of the Anthropocene. Verso, p.65.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Klein, N. (2015). This changes everything. Penguin, p.385.

[4] Bonneuil and Fressoz. The Shock of the Anthropocene, p.70

[5] Abram, N., McGregor, H., Tierney, J., Evans, M., McKay, N. and Kaufman, D. (2017). Corrigendum: Early onset of industrial-era warming across the oceans and continents. Nature, 545(7653), pp.252-252.

[6] Bonneuil and Fressoz. The Shock of the Anthropocene, p.242

[7] Ibid.

[8] Bonneuil and Fressoz. The Shock of the Anthropocene, p.240

[9] News.bbc.co.uk. (2017). BBC News – Copenhagen deal: Key points. [online] Available at: https://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/8422307.stm [Accessed 24 Nov. 2017].

[10] Mathiesen, K. (2017). Defining moments in climate change: hope and crisis in Copenhagen. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/2014/apr/07/copenhagen-climate-change-paris-talks [Accessed 25 Nov. 2017].

[11] Ibid

[12] whitehouse.gov. (2017). Statement by President Trump on the Paris Climate Accord. [online] Available at: https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2017/06/01/statement-president-trump-paris-climate-accord [Accessed 24 Nov. 2017].

[13] Klein, N. (2015). This changes everything. Penguin, p.4

[14] Ghosh. The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable. p.186

Wales and Climate Change: How Fossil Fuels and Renewables Have Governed Economic Development


Published: Luke Thomas and artwork by Ryan Ward

In the 1960s, as theories surrounding climate change began to emerge, its consequences were already evident across the Welsh Valleys.  At 09:13 on the 21st of October 1966 in Aberfan, 150,000 tonnes of coal waste buried a school.  144 people were killed; 116 of which were children.  The events of that morning wiped out a generation of people from Aberfan.  It was the last day of term and the school was closing early at noon – had the landslide occurred only a few hours later, it would have been empty.  An estimated 6000 people have been killed in Wales as a result of coal mining; for them, the climate crisis began long before now, it began in the coal mines.

Coal has been at the very heart of the Welsh economy for centuries.  It brought employment, opportunities and infrastructure.  By the early 20th century, one in four workers in Wales were coal miners.  The country was renowned worldwide for its slate and was home to one of the world’s largest coalfields. The desire for coal fuelled development across Wales; it became home to the world’s highest railway viaduct, the world’s tallest canal aqueduct as well as the first ever steam train. Railways were built to connect communities to the mines, which in turn allowed communities with one each other.  Wales was even home to the first operational public railway in the UK, which ran from the Gwendraeth valley into my hometown of Llanelli. But, climate change tortured the Welsh economy.  A desire for cleaner energy meant that fuel sources switched from coal to gas and biomass; and as the coal mines closed, so did the quarries, ports, and most importantly, the railways.  When the coal mines and railways closed, communities became economically and socially isolated.  The transport links were only built to exploit Welsh natural resources and not to connect the country; we’re yet to see a railway or a highway connecting the North and South.

Before the mining crisis, Wales’ economy kept up with the rest of the UKs, but the closure of the mines resulted in the Welsh GVA (Gross Value Added) falling to just 77% of the UK average by 1999. Some state that the decline of the Welsh economy is a clear example of Westminster’s mismanagement, not only of the 1980s mining crisis, but also of Wales.  Today, Wales is home to the highest level of child poverty in the UK and is the only place to see child poverty levels rising.  In my home ward, 41.3% of children live in poverty.  Wales continues to suffer socio-economic issues three decades after the mining crisis and there is a clear need to reassess the policies surrounding the economic progression of the country.  In contrast, London is the richest region in northern Europe, but Wales is the poorest.  Adam Price, the leader of the nationalist party in Wales, stated that ‘the solutions to our problems will never come from another country’s capital 150 miles to the East.’ The devolution settlement, however, has meant that Wales now has a significantly greater say in its own affairs.  The Senedd (Welsh Parliament), is responsible for many decisions including the Welsh NHS, education and the environment.  The environment is one of the factors high on the national agenda and in October 2011, Wales was the first country in the UK to introduce a charge for plastic bags.  More importantly, in April of this year, the Senedd was the first national Parliament in the world to declare a climate emergency.

A month after declaring the climate emergency, the Welsh Government controversially axed a scheme to build a £1.6bn M4 relief road.  The relief road was to be built due to congestion around a two-lane tunnel which results in a bottleneck on the motorway.  This was deemed a huge win for environmentalists, since the relief road would have ‘ploughed through the unique, wildlife-rich Gwent Levels, pumped more climate-wrecking emissions into our atmosphere, and ultimately caused even more congestion and air pollution’. Nonetheless,  others claim that this decision could be detrimental to the much-needed investment along the south coast, in particular the Valleys which saw the blunt of the economic hardship after the mining crisis.  Nonetheless, the First Minister of Wales, Mark Drakeford, had the final say in the decision and stressed his concern about the surrounding wildlife and environment and that the project ‘would have an unacceptable impact on our other priorities such as public transport’. After the climate emergency was announced in Wales, the Welsh Government and Cardiff City Council both announced that they were to heavily invest in public transport.  £58m is to be invested in Cardiff Central railway station and £119m has been secured from the EU to develop a South Wales Metro. The city council has also announced a £1bn scheme to transform public transport across the city to reduce car journeys.  This scheme is to integrate with the South Wales Metro and is to include green and electric buses. A new bus station is set to open in Cardiff by 2023 and the scheme is expected to be complete by 2030.

Despite Wales suffering economic hardship from its over-reliance on mining of fossil fuels, climate change is no longer hindering development in Wales, but is in fact actively encouraging it. Wales currently outdoes the whole of the UK in terms of its renewable energy consumption, where it currently meets 48% of its energy demands by renewable sources compared to just 11% across the whole of the UK. It is also on target to reach 70% by 2030 and an ‘ambitious’ target from the Institute of Welsh Affairs predicts that 20,150 jobs could be created if Wales meets 100% of its energy needs from renewable sources by 2035. Climate change and investment in renewable energy could give the Welsh economy its much-needed boost.  Currently, Wales is the fifth largest electricity exporter in the world, just behind Canada, Germany, Paraguay and France, whereas the British state is not even in the top ten. Wales produces enough extra electricity to almost satisfy the energy consumption of the whole of Scotland, but despite this, Wales pays more for its electricity than the rest of the UK, where the Welsh average is 15.13 p/kWh compared to the UK average of 14.40 p/kWh.  Regulation of energy prices is not a devolved issue and as such the Welsh Government has no control over the effect of price hikes and austerity measures on the poorest region of the UK; meaning that several families in Wales have to choose between heating and eating.

Climate change is not only developing the physical landscape, but also the political landscape of Wales. In 2014, the UK Government announced a £1.3bn Swansea bay tidal lagoon, which could have brought over 2000 jobs and powered 155,000 homes.  Labour, the Lib Dems, Plaid Cymru and even the Welsh Conservatives all supported the project, but in June 2018 the UK Conservative government scrapped it.  On the very same day they voted for the £14bn expansion of Heathrow airport. As Wales was refused investment in green energy production, Westminster greenlit the expansion of the UKs biggest single source of greenhouse gases. This was not only a kick in the teeth to environmentalists, but also to those in Wales, as the promise of jobs and investment was broken. Further to this, the UK Conservative government also broke other environmental development promises including electrification of the South Wales railway lines past Cardiff, electrification of the North Wales railway lines and they failed to reach a deal for a nuclear power plant which would have brought 9000 jobs to Anglesey.  Several political parties are calling for more devolved powers to allow for a greater degree of environmental control and energy production to give the green light to those projects rejected by Westminster. Some argue that this, and the economic hardship that Wales continues to endure proves that Westminster has not been making the correct decisions for them.

Whilst the worst of climate change is yet to come, Wales has already seen the human and environmental cost of fossil fuels over several centuries. Despite providing coal to the rest of the UK and the world for centuries, ironically a third of Welsh people now live in fuel poverty. But what goes around comes around, and as a result of climate change, there is a push for investment in public transport and renewable energy, driving economic development across Wales. Climate change may have resulted in the decline of the Welsh economy – but it could prove responsible for its revival too.

Leapfrogging: Mind the Gap Between the Tech and the People


Published: Melina Mitsotaki and artwork by Ryan Ward.

It is easy for people with a tech background in the developed world to forget about the alternative pathways of technology. This was certainly true for me, with an undergraduate degree in engineering and all my peers pursuing careers in the largest tech hubs in the US and Europe. Things changed when I decided to take on an internship with the UN Environment in Jamaica this past year. That was when I first encountered the notion of leapfrogging development, and realized that tech can, in fact, escape its hubs and diffuse into all corners of the world.


In Jamaica I was able to learn about the internal structure of a country while also experiencing it externally through everyday interactions and observations. On one hand, through the UN I experienced the attitudes of the Caribbean Community to sustainable development through the governmental activity of its various member states. In other words, I read quite a few policy documents: proposals, reports, action plans. These alone provide good insight on countries’ development models and their place in wider global power dynamics. On the other hand, in my daily life outside the UN I was getting a glimpse of what it is actually like to live in a developing country that is following the said models and strategies. This linking of theory to everyday observations allowed me a more critical look at the pragmatism of the strategies employed and the feasibility of the projects proposed. 


My introduction to leapfrogging came through the official channels of the UN which is perhaps an indication of its top-down nature as a development strategy. Leapfrogging is an effort by highly established international organizations to improve living standards of millions of people on the ground and has become something of a buzzword in the world of international development. For anyone lacking the background or a clear idea of what it refers to, here is a handy definition by the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD):

the bypassing of intermediate stages of technology through which countries have historically passed during the development process (2018).

There are various examples of developing countries adopting technologies that have ripened or been mainstreamed in developed countries without having to go through the entire development process themselves. Whether that be mobile telecommunication networks in Western Africa or bank-account-free money transactions through mobile phones in South Asia, the leapfrogging approach has been Picture 1gaining ground and popularity (UNCTAD, 2018)(Chhabra and Das, 2019). And that should be expected. The promise that leapfrogging gives to developing countries for accelerated development has an undeniable appeal, it comes as something like a deus ex machina. Except, in this case, the promise does not materialize magically. Leapfrogging requires extensive calculation and planning. Most importantly, it necessitates in-depth comprehension of the existing sociopolitical conditions of the country at hand. This necessity is precisely what I intend to call attention to.


In Jamaica, I found development to be inextricably linked to political strategy which was a driving force for its implementation. Development was also at the forefront in in-person discussions on environmental and energy aspects of development between stakeholders and government representatives, for Jamaica and the Caribbean as a whole. Some overarching questions were: What is Jamaica’s strategy post-Paris Agreement to achieving its Nationally Determined Contribution as it relates to its carbon emissions? How can we effectively green the energy sector as outlined in Jamaica’s national strategic plan for sustainable development, Vision 2030? What technologies can be successfully adopted and introduced in the Caribbean to facilitate sustainable development? One such facilitating technology that occasionally found its way into forum discussions and stood out to me as a case study subject was electric mobility, more specifically Electric Vehicles (EVs). 


In today’s world, EVs are widely deemed as the paradigm of clean transportation. In the face of a planet that is struggling to keep its CO2 emissions under control, and a road transportation system that is responsible for at least one-tenth of global emissions (C2ES, 2017), EVs are now seen as the promise to revolutionizing road transportation. Within the automotive industry, they have already made a strong market entry. Most large car manufacturers are producing many of their new models with hybrid or purely electric engines. Purely electric cars require no gas at all, bringing their direct emissions down to zero, and operate on rechargeable batteries. They can be charged at home or at public stations that often supply power from renewable sources, such as solar. This transition in the automotive industry has received support from national and international policymakers alike, and already some states are employing financial mechanisms to incentivize the purchase and use of EVs (CSE, 2019).


At one of such events, UNDP’s UNCut Discussions on Climate Change, the co-founder of Barbados-based company MegaPower, Joanna Edghill, was discussing and promoting the commercial success of EVs in Barbados. According to MegaPower, Barbados has made significant progress in e-mobility with 200+ EVs on the road and 50+ publicly accessible charging points (Megapower Barbados, 2019). Edghill, being herself a serious advocate for the suitability of EVs for Caribbean countries, was very encouraging toward Jamaican stakeholders entertaining the idea. Without a doubt, the Caribbean climate has an abundance of sunlight and could support solar-powered charging stations. To add to that, cheap solar-powered charging makes EVs all the more appealing when compared to the forbidding cost of imported gasoline in many Caribbean islands. However, during Edghill’s short presentation I perceived some inertia and maybe a slight hint of skepticism among the Jamaican audience. This triggered my curiosity.


I later attempted to look closer at this idea of leapfrogging EVs into Jamaica to understand why they have not taken off in Jamaica as they have in Barbados. Not only have they not taken off, but there exists no EV infrastructure in Jamaica whatsoever to support the use of EVs, e.g. charging stations. One obvious factor is that Barbados is significantly wealthier, with a GDP per capita over twice that of Jamaica (Country comparison Barbados vs Jamaica 2019, 2019). This could serve as an explanation for the weak marketability of EVs in Jamaica, both on the consumer end, but also on the end of public or private stakeholders that would have to subsidize the necessary infrastructure. While the economic line of reasoning alone is extremely important and gave me a satisfactory answer to my question, I could also not look away from another, complementary line of reasoning. The cultural line or reasoning became apparent to me when I started thinking about one very specific aspect of car ownership: servicing. 


As had become clear to me through my everyday observations, car servicing very unsurprisingly did not escape Jamaica’s status as a developing country. I had seen the high number of unofficial car service stations and decided to ask some local friends about how Jamaicans typically choose to service their cars, and if they prefer mechanics not affiliated to official retailers. I discovered that unofficial servicing is in fact very common. It is cheap and effective, largely because many of these mechanics never receive official training. They know car parts, engine components and how to troubleshoot most common problems – an adequate skillset to earn them their living. In this given dynamic, I wanted to introduce a thought experiment: assuming EVs went mainstream in Jamaica, what would the implications be for its current car service market?


Things would certainly not look very hopeful for owners and mechanics of these informal service stations. EVs and traditional gasoline vehicles are like apples and pears when it comes to servicing. Aside from the common checks, like tire pressure and braking systems, servicing an EV is very different (Volkswagen UK, no date). In simple terms, an electric engine conveniently comprises fewer components than a traditional gas engine, which is good in principle because there are fewer things to break. At the same time, though, the bulk of its operation depends on electronics and software rather than on mechanical connections between physical parts. Thus, servicing an EV roughly amounts to checking its electronics, and electronics are no layman hobby. Current mechanics in Jamaica could certainly not check for and troubleshoot software problems in an electric car. There is no knowledge and skills for that there yet. Thus my thought experiment yields two main conclusions: 


1)    The mechanics share in the local economy would suffer from an abrupt transition to electric mobility and that would likely result in unemployment for those active in that market.

2)    EV owners would have to visit their official retailers to have their cars serviced -and that is significantly more expensive. 


Naturally that brings up the question: does the much lower cost of recharging an EV make up for the expensive servicing? It is an interesting cost-benefit analysis for end-users, and my personal take is that it also depends on how strong the incentives are for them to abandon that which they are used to.


The implications of introducing any new technology to a country exogenously are not just contained within the economy. Developers have to be sensitive about how this new technology will interact with the country’s social framework as a whole. The right systems, infrastructure, and institutions need to be in place so that the conditions are ripe for any new entry in the market, and in many cases these factors also involve cultural receptiveness. What is suitable for one developing country might well not be for another.


Of course, the wider social implications of leapfrogging a certain technology can never be completely exhausted or exactly predicted. In the case of Jamaica, cultural considerations are yet to be played out in the continuation of the EV relay that Barbados has started. Time will tell as to whether they will indeed be a practical hindrance to its implementation. Regardless, it is crucial for all parties affecting and affected by international development work to have a critical approach. It is true that the benefits of introducing novel technology to developing countries can significantly boost economic growth and people’s living standards, or even improve the environment, but that is only if it is done with great thought and a willingness to understand the existing dynamics within. Leapfrogging is like buying a new outfit; it might look exciting before you try it on, but it is only worth it when it fits. 

Works Cited

C2ES (2017) Global Emissions, Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. Available at: https://www.c2es.org/content/international-emissions/ (Accessed: 29 October 2019).

Chhabra, E. and Das, B. (2019) ‘Mobile Money Spreads to Asia’, IMF Blog, 30 September. Available at: https://blogs.imf.org/2019/09/30/mobile-money-spreads-to-asia/ (Accessed: 17 October 2019).

Country comparison Barbados vs Jamaica 2019 (2019) Country Economy. Available at: https://countryeconomy.com/countries/compare/barbados/jamaica (Accessed: 20 October 2019).

CSE (2019) CVRP Eligible Vehicles, Clean Vehicle Rebate Project. Available at: https://cleanvehiclerebate.org/eng/eligible-vehicles (Accessed: 29 October 2019).

Megapower Barbados (2019) megapower365. Available at: https://www.megapower365.com (Accessed: 21 October 2019).

UNCTAD (2018) ‘Leapfrogging: Look before you leap’. (Policy Brief), 71. Available at: https://unctad.org/en/PublicationsLibrary/presspb2018d8_en.pdf (Accessed: 17 October 2019).

Volkswagen UK (no date) Electric Car Servicing, Maintenance & Repairing, Volkswagen. Available at: /owners/servicing/electric (Accessed: 16 October 2019).


Pursuing Both Climate Mitigation And Energy Access


Published: Olivia Chen and artwork by Ryan Ward.

This year, there remain in the world, by the World Bank’s most recent estimate, 840 million people without access to electricity, and 3 billion people without access to clean cooking. The population without access to electricity is mostly concentrated in Sub-Saharan Africa, whereas the population without clean cooking spans the African, Asian, and Latin American continents. In every part of the world, urban residents tend to receive modern energy solutions well before rural residents.


Lacking access to modern energy is a significant impediment to countries’ economic development. As such, the United Nations has included universal access to energy as one of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. It is numbered goal 7.1: “by 2030 ensure universal access to affordable, reliable, and modern energy services.”  Recently, a Global Commission to End Energy Poverty has been convened to address this very challenge.


Access to electricity, even for the smallest appliances, can significantly alter quality of life. Additional light bulbs can improve security and extend the productive hours of the day beyond sunset. In many cases, having electricity gives children more time to do their homework at night, benefiting their education. Chargers keep mobile phones – which are more ubiquitous than electricity supply in many countries – functioning as sources of information and tools for communication. At a higher level of electricity supply, fans can combat heat and fridges can extend the shelf time of perishables. Surveys conducted by the Global Off-Grid Lighting Association have found that most households report improvements to their quality of life, health, and income thanks to electricity access. 


Beyond the household, electricity can facilitate essential community services in schools, community centres, and hospitals. In particular, lights in hospital operation wards and refrigeration for vaccines are essential for healthcare improvements. At the industrial level, productivity gains from electrifying processes can jump-start economic growth. 


Access to clean cooking, though sometimes less visible an issue on the international political agenda, is similarly fundamental for economic growth. Those without typically rely on burning biomass for heat and light. In households where traditional cookstoves are used, smoke is not typically redirected outside of the house. The World Health Organisation estimates the indoor air pollution to cause 3.8 million premature deaths per year. These health consequences fall disproportionately on women, who are often in charge of cooking, and can exacerbate gender inequality.


Clean cooking is also an issue of productivity. As traditional cookstoves have low efficiency, cooking can take long periods of time. It also takes time, up to 5 hours a day, to gather the necessary fuel. Various solutions can contribute to health, equality, and economic growth. Modern cookstoves that burn biomass can be significantly more efficient and cleaner, even if they use the same traditional fuel. Other improved options are cookstoves that run on liquefied petroleum gas, natural gas, or electricity.



Also included in the same United Nations 2030 development agenda, and increasingly at the forefront of political agendas around the world, is the challenge of climate mitigation. Sustainable Development Goal 13 mandates “[taking] urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.” Climate change is considered by many to be the key challenge of our generation, bound to impact all of humanity, rich and poor.


At face value, the objectives of climate mitigation and energy access seem incompatible. How do we extend electricity and clean cooking fuels or technologies to further populations without increasing the global greenhouse gas footprint? Would commitment to climate mitigation strongly restrict energy access expansions and their resulting development gains? 



Long-term modelling has shown one way that we can balance both of these urgent and important objectives. The International Energy Agency has mapped out the Sustainable Development Scenario, which is a future in which both Sustainable Development Goals in discussion (as well as air pollution improvements) are achieved globally by 2030. In this pathway, energy access is achieved in a way that is not only net neutral for climate mitigation, but even helpful in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Leaders of governments and the energy sector can adhere to elements of this Utopian scenario:


First of all, renewable energy is incorporated heavily into the portfolio of energy access solutions. Solar photo-voltaic panels and hydro-power for electricity generation, as well as biomass in more efficient cookstoves [IS1] are considered cost-effective low-carbon solutions. For a point of reference, in the Sustainable Development Scenario, over three-quarters of new electricity connections are provided by renewable sources.


Renewable energy sources can pose limitations on the end-user if not installed thoughtfully. For example, to ensure that solar energy can provide adequate levels of energy services, solar panels can be combined with battery packs to ensure lighting at night, etc. Companies selling solar home systems typically include batteries for this purpose and allow houses to access electricity off-grid. These solutions are particularly cost-effective in places with lower population density, where it might not be justifiable to expand expensive grid infrastructure. 


Second, energy access solutions can maximise the added-value of any unavoidable greenhouse gases by selling efficient end use appliances. Efficient appliances provide necessary energy services – lighting, heating, cooling, washing, etc. – with a lower electricity supply. This not only limits the associated greenhouse gas emissions of power usage, but also reduces electricity bills, and makes battery capacity last longer hours for off-grid households.


Third, it turns out that the goal of clean cooking is quite compatible with climate mitigation. When using traditional cookstoves, the incomplete combustion of biomass fuel can lead to significant methane emissions. This methane can be reduced significantly by replacing traditional cookstoves with more efficient, modern cookstoves. Even though modern stoves may directly burn fossil fuels or rely on power generated from fossil fuels – the methane avoided typically outweighs newly emitted greenhouse gases. This is because methane is a powerful greenhouse gas with 25 times the warming potential of carbon dioxide over a 100-year period. The more inefficient cookstoves are replaced, the more of the greenhouse effect can be avoided. While clean cooking is inherently important, for health and socioeconomic reasons, this finding provides additional motivation to prioritise this goal.



Energy access is only the first rung of a ladder of increasing energy consumption that facilitates economic development. In recent years, several advanced economies have finally decoupled their economic growth from energy consumption. This happens especially in countries where the economy shifts away from manufacturing to lower-carbon activities such as service sector office jobs. However, the historic trajectory of economic development has been closely tied to increasing energy consumption.  


Sustainable Development Goal 7.1 focuses on the household as a starting point. This paints a relatively complete picture for cooking, but electricity usage is far more ubiquitous in our societies. A household’s electricity consumption approximately triples from simple task lighting and phone charging to water heating, cooling, and air circulation. As analysis published by the United Nations has demonstrated, scenarios based on different levels of household electricity consumption yield very different greenhouse gas footprints. 


Electricity is also necessary beyond the household. For commerce to develop, more kilowatt-hours of electricity and litres of fuel are needed to run shops and restaurants, propel sewing machines, power computers, etc. Some argue that industry is the essential starting point for combating poverty: by electrifying industry, we can enable a greater jump in revenue than at the household level. Industry can provide a sufficient anchor load of electricity demand to justify investment in power infrastructure. 


When considering the likely future increases in energy consumption from the populations first receiving access now, we find all the more justification to support renewable energy and efficient technologies, for the sake of the climate.  Building power systems based on clean energy today, especially in all contexts where low-carbon sources are the most cost-effective options, will also keep the door open for future generations of the developing world to increase their energy consumption without fear of climate consequences. 

Renewable Energy: Who Benefits and Who Decides? Wind Power in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec


Published: Paola Velasco and artwork by Ryan Ward.

Promoting common interest in sustainable development and environmental problems would be more effective if solutions resulted in all stakeholders being better off. However, this is rarely the case since strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions usually result in winners and losers (WCED, 1987), and renewable energy technologies (RETs) have not proven to be the exception. The adoption of ambitious renewable energy targets has had profound social, economic, and environmental implications that operate at scales ranging from local to global and has raised questions about social justice in capitalist societies. Therefore, identifying key social justice issues related to energy has become hugely important in advancing the proliferation of clean energy.

Wind power has largely improved from a technical point of view, becoming a relatively cheap and exploitable renewable resource that is now at the core of many strategies for climate change and the energy transition. It has been successfully implemented mainly in Asia (203,643 MW), Europe (161,330 MW), and North America (97,611 MW), becoming the world’s fastest-growing source of power generation in the last decade, and growing at 8 per cent to reach 486,749 MW in 2016 (GWEC 2016).  Nevertheless, its development has been marked by local social opposition that can be found in developed and developing countries alike. 

One example of adverse social implications is the development of wind energy in indigenous communities in Southern Mexico. Given the saturation of the energy markets in developed countries, the wind energy industry has turned their attention to emerging economies with significant wind resources. Mexico is considered to be an ideal location for large scale wind energy production, particularly the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, a region that has been identified as one of the best areas in the world to establish wind farms. The average wind speed exceeds 10 m/s, while in the world 6.5 m/s is the average for energy generation. Moreover, wind in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec is relatively stable, with a high percentage of wind hours per year, marking its energy potential standing as excellent. 

Following a major energy reform in 2008 that facilitated international private capital investments, large international utility companies started to operate in the region, producing up to 3,527MW in 2016. Nevertheless, these installations have faced levels of local social opposition. For instance, in 2012, a 396MW development that was planned to be the largest in Latin America was cancelled due to conflicts linked to land speculation and ethnic tensions between Zapotecs and Huaves. This caused an approximate loss of $7 million for the main investors (the global investment bank Macquarie, based in Australia, Mitsubishi Corporation, and Dutch pension investment group PGGM). While the establishment of wind farms was a good opportunity for the region in theory, the lack of social acceptance put further investments and the well-being of the local population at risk. 

One main concern raised by indigenous communities in the region is the unequal distribution of benefits and ills derived from wind energy developments. The Isthmus of Tehuantepec crosses the state of Oaxaca, a region shaped by an indigenous identity in the legacy of colonialism, with high levels of poverty. 56% of the Oaxaca population consider themselves indigenous, and it is one of three states with the highest indigenous population percentage in Mexico (INEGI 2015). It is also one of the most marginalised. 84% of the municipalities face a ‘moderate’, ‘high’ or ‘very high’ grade of marginalisation, according to the National Population Council’s (2015) marginalisation index, which considers deficiencies in basic education and housing, residence in small, dispersed and isolated localities, and low monetary income. 

Given the poverty situation, communities initially welcomed wind energy developments as a way of generating external income paid through land lease agreements and employment. However, members of the community argue that contrary to their initial expectations, only a small fraction of the population has benefited economically, resulting in the emergence of social inequalities that did not exist before the establishment of wind farms in the region. For instance, only 6.2% of the population has been a creditor to a land lease and 1.6% has a job in the local wind energy industry. 

Furthermore, wind energy developers in the region are not formally obliged to provide benefits to local communities. The lack of institutionalisation of benefit-sharing has led to the development of corporate practices that are implemented on an ad hoc basis and at the developer’s discretion. Consequently, developers view their contributions as altruistic, not as part of indigenous communities’ right to profit from their land and resources. Often, developers only offer benefits in exchange for acceptance of new windfarms or enlargement of existing ones. Moreover, these benefits are only received by a few, yet ills are spread throughout the region. Environmental impacts on the local wildlife – particularly birds and bats – as well as noise pollution, are felt by similarly by everyone within neighbouring communities.3 Thus, this unequal distribution of benefits and ills has caused a number of local conflicts that ultimately derive from different levels of resistance to new wind energy developments. 

Therefore, the development of wind energy infrastructure in Mexico has demonstrated that sustainable solutions are not necessarily paired with socially equitable outcomes. For development to sustainably evolve to tackle inequalities, adequate bottom-up processes to establish a more equal distribution of benefits and ills should be put in place. This is the holy grail of all development activities, and renewable energy projects are no exception. This is easier said than done, and the quest for the tools to make this happen in practice continues, well beyond the Isthmus of Tehuantepec.