I want to use the occasion of Blog Action Day to reflect a bit on how Elinor Ostrom’s work (this year’s Nobel in Economic Sciences) may help us deal with climate change. In short, many solutions will emerge from collective action at the local level that solve problems according to the different local conditions. One challenge will be to ensure that these local experiments and solutions will learn from each other.
Here are a few points from Lin Ostrom’s work that I think are relevant for the climate change discussions:
- Her work clearly refutes the Tragedy of the Commons as a myth shows that shared resources can be managed collectively.
- State and private property are not the only models of ownership and management for resources; for centuries local communities and small groups of forest dweller, farmers and fishers have been managing resources collectively developing at times very sophisticated management systems.
- The state is not always the best actor to manage shared resources – it is often better to allow for local variations and give autonomy to local groups so these can identify the best solutions for the specific context.
- We have to work together across disciplines and topics to see the right patterns and make the right connections to identify solutions that work.
What does that mean for climate change?
- It is possible to manage our shared resources (the earth’s diverse ecosystems and the atmosphere) that are crucial for our climate system to function without state control or privatizing them.
- New forms of ownership that transcend the private and public realm and that put the responsibility in the hands of the users (all of us) can trigger local action.
- While a general climate treaty will help to galvanize action across the world, governments have to be bolder to allow and support local changes and give people the chance to experiment with different ways of dealing with the challenges posed by climate change.
- The climate change space is still far too fragmented to come up with solutions that will be effective and have the support of a majority of societal actors. Environmental conservation, rights of local people, or business opportunities that carbon trade schemes offer do not have to be competing with one another, but they are in many cases today.
For more on Lin Ostrom’s work go to IU’s Workshop on Political Theory that she founded and still directs and the website of the International Association for the Study of the Commons (IASC), of which she was the founding president.
Dear Sri Stephen
The local cooperation for climate change is a great idea. One such live example is the effort of the local communities in Kodagu, westren ghats of Karnataka where sacred groves are maintained by the village community providing social fencing
However these initiatives have been since time immemorial and I donot think I can link this to climate change, since those early men and women conserved the sacred groves not keeping climate change in view but ecology in view.
I would appreciate if you can give examples from south Asia, India, which you know of reflecting local initiatives for countering climate change.
Thank you for your comment, Prof. Chandrakanth. Good to hear from you (you might remember me from the CAPRi training in Hyderabad).
Unfortunately, I cannot point you to any projects that have been put up to counter climate change in South India, but I believe that the experience you cite can teach us very valuable lessons on how to set up (and maintain) local management regimes that work with nature and conserve resources instead of simply betting on exploration.
Quoting John Nye on the significance of Lin Ostrom’s work: “But as Elinor has demonstrated, ham-fisted reforms that attempt to bring the illusion of modernity to the developing world by a naive adoption of Western best-practice laws without the structures that support and enforce those rules often leads to a destruction of indigenous practice that works reasonably well without substituting a functioning and reliable market of impersonal exchange. Much of the disaster that is foreign aid can be tied to the blunt importation of best-practice rules without understanding how their implementation interacts with existing practice.” – http://www.forbes.com/2009/10/12/economics-nobel-ostrom-williamson-coase-opinions-contributors-john-v-c-nye.html
These days in India institutions are either poorly framed or they are so nicely framed that in practice there are institutional failures. In fact it would be a good study to find out institutional failures in India and their extent. Similarly there can be studies on institutional successes if any. For instance forest conservation act of 1980 has been largely a success, but some opine about failures also. The Land Reforms Rules of 1974, Karnataka has been a success. There is no institutional evaluation. Ofcourse, amendments to laws by themselves are an indicator of evaluation.
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