India is no longer the place where one can romanticize sleepy villages. It is urbanizing at rapid pace. Out of a billion plus people, 377 million are living in more than 7,000 towns and cities. Over the next fifteen years, more than 200 million people could be added to the urban population. The number of million plus cities in India increased to 53 in 2011 from just 35 in 2001. 40% of the total urban populace reside in these 53 million plus cities. There is nothing unnatural about this spectacular growth as economic growth and urbanization go hand in hand. Despite Indian cities disproportionately contributing to GDP, the quality of life is getting worse by the day. Roads, public transport, traffic regulation, housing, waste management, water distribution networks, sewerage systems, health and education services, and law and order – all in a state of seemingly irretrievable mess. In the 2013 liveability rankings by the Economist Intelligence Unit, Mumbai ranks 116 out of 140 cities. It fares just a notch better than violence-prone Karachi and Damascus.
Ever since the early 1990s the international development consensus has fixed itself to the idea that development can be achieved alongside human rights. For even longer – at least since the Brundtland Commission report in 1987 – the development community has also essentially, though at times uncomfortably, embraced the parallel concept of “sustainable development”.
Unlike human rights, however, quite what sustainable development means in any given context is pretty unclear. Perhaps driven by the perception that human rights don’t need to challenge the prevailing political-economic consensus – while sustainable development could – we have had Millennium Development Goals addressing human rights since 2000 (along with one goal addressing sustainability that has been far from successful). Conversely the international community has only just got round to considering which Sustainable Development Goals it might like to see in writing, for the first time placing sustainability front and centre.
by Antoine Cerisier
Environmental issues have gained salience over the past decades due to greater awareness of ecological degradation and growing scientific research on climate change. The latter issue has been particularly present in the media in the last ten years. Numerous scientific reports on global warming and sea level rise have been made public; a recent World Bank publication observed a 4 degree rise in global temperatures by the end of the century “would push some countries or regions to the brink of collapse”. US politician and activist Al Gore even won the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, along with the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). But environmentalism did not start with Al Gore and his emphatic coverage of climate change: environmental concerns lie far back in time.
Every year, Americans waste between 30-40% of their food. The conservative estimate equates to $48.3 billion. Britons aren’t any better. In 2007, UK consumers threw away 6.7 million tonnes of food: one third of the total purchased, equivalent to £10.2 billion. That’s almost as much as the GDP of the Republic of Congo.
These figures come from an article in the latest Fabian Society Policy Report, Revaluing Food. The report is based largely on the results of a quantitative survey conducted by the Fabian Society into food habits and waste, with further commentary by academics, policy-makers and NGO workers. It makes for some uncomfortable reading about a neglected problem.
The effects of the financial crisis that blew up with the collapse of Lehman Brothers in September 2008 are still with us. Many Western governments pursue harsh austerity policies in a vain attempt to shift the huge overhang of debt that they took on by propping up economies in freefall. But few have had the courage or political imagination to reshape their economies in ways that will place them on a more sustainable, and equitable footing, in order to ensure a similar crisis does not strike again. Certainly, the world economy has not been reformed sufficiently.
This is a pressing concern, argues Philippe Legrain in his excellent book, Aftershock. A return of the status quo ante will lead to another almighty catastrophe, with effects far worse than what we have experienced already, as governments will be less equipped to step in. Bubbles will grow, laissez-faire economic policies will do nothing about them, and financial crises will recur. Governments need to enact major reforms if we are to prevent this from happening.
From time immemorial. That is the phrase used by both the Kenyan Government and James Anaya, UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, to describe the length of time during which the Ogiek, as a distinct socio-cultural entity have lived in East Africa. They were among the first peoples to populate East Africa and are believed to have lived in and around the Mau Forest escarpment (popularly known as one of Kenya’s ‘water towers’) since the 18th century.
If (former Labour MP) Chris Mullin ruled the world… Admittedly, it’s unlikely to happen – and I have no clue what other policies he would, in his autocratic wisdom, decide to enact – but at least one idea made a lot of sense. In a piece (£) published by Prospect Magazine, he makes the case for “a return to that brief golden age when the bicycle was king, when every little town and many villages were connected to the railway network, and when our inner cities were habitable”.
By Sam Hawke
In October 2011, the animal rights organisation People for the Ethical Treatment for Animals (PETA) filed a constitutional lawsuit alleging that the marine entertainment chain Seaworld was violating the Thirteenth Amendment of the US Bill of Rights, the right against slavery and involuntary servitude. The enslaved individuals were five orcas, Tilikum, Katina, Corky, Kasatka and Ulises, bound, like so many others, to a life of performance and spectacle in a marine prison. The case was decided on the 9th February this year, with the District Judge holding that the Thirteenth Amendment applied solely to humans and that the claimants lacked legal standing anyhow.
The latest leak of the Rio+20 draft text doesn’t make for pleasant (or easy) reading. What it does do is really give an insight into the very clear geopolitics being played out in the context of this negotiation—just look for where the US and the G77 (representatives of the global south) disagree—as well as the tedious pedantry of sustainable development talks.
Again Olivier De Schutter, UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, has written in the Guardian advocating the use of human rights as a mechanism for tackling climate change.
This relates closely to my earlier piece about the problems of elitism in the context of environmental protection: bringing in human rights would put the professional lawyers in charge of what remains an environmental phenomenon and would take it out of politics entirely. That is not an obviously desirable development.