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    Founded at UCL’s School of Public Policy, the International Public Policy Review provides a forum for debate, discussion and online networking in the emerging fields of Global Governance and International Public Policy. As a rigorous student-led academic journal, it publishes both original research and innovative commentary from within the School of Public Policy's postgraduate community.
  • “Now for the Long Term”: The Report of the Oxford Martin Commission for Future Generations

    By Lucy Phillips, on 6 April 2014

    By Laetitia Sanchez Incera

    "Now for the Long Term" speakers

    “Now for the Long Term” speakers

    On 26 February, the International Public Policy Review (IPPR) organised an event presenting the report “Now for the Long Term” by the Oxford Martin Commission for Future Generations. This event, which was chaired by Dr Colin Provost, gathered four sustainable development specialists: Professor Ian Goldin, Professor Paul Ekins, Michael Jacobs and Camilla Toulmin.

    The talk began with Ian Goldin’s presentation of the report. He explained that the world today is at a crossroads: it has been experiencing the fastest growth ever over the last 25 years, but this growth is threatened by various accompanying and unintended consequences, such as climate change, soil erosion and increasing inequality. These issues remain a key source of frustration for many policy makers. With regards to the future, for them, the problem is not a lack of knowledge, but rather the gulf between knowledge and action; the difficulty in moving from policy to practice.

    “Now for the Long Term” is composed of three sections. The first section comprises a summary of today’s biggest challenges, whilst the second considers the lessons of history. The report points to the role of crisis in generating change, and the existence of occasions when shared interests led to resolutions, such as in the creation of the European Union or agreements at Bretton Woods. The role of institutions are also emphasised, most particularly with regards their ability to foster international cooperation under common goals (e.g. the Millennium Development Goals). Despite the existence of several success stories, some trends continue to undermine the potential for international co-operation and policy making. Perhaps most importantly, democracy is increasingly “short-term,” limited by election cycles and distorted by powerful lobbies. The large number of institutions has led to disillusionment with their ability to bring about change, whilst the long-term characteristics of many issues means that it is increasingly difficult to identify cause and effect.

    Having presented the major global issues and deliberated what we might learn from the past, the third section of the report looks to the future. It offers up a series of principles and practical recommendations that might just pave the way for the future we so covet. Suggestions include a focus on investment in younger generations, and a shaking up of existing institutions, making them more innovative and transparent. The importance of breaking the monopoly of governments seems particularly pertinent, with calls for the promotion of creative coalitions. A particularly forward-thinking example of such a coalition is the suggested ‘C-20 C-30 C-40’ which brings together countries, companies and cities over the issue of climate change. The final improvement, upon which the success of the above suggestions perhaps rests, is the creation of ‘shared’ global values – a common platform of understanding.

    In response to Ian Goldin’s presentation, Michael Jacobs, Professor Ekins and Camilla Toulmin each made their comments. Michael Jacobs agreed with the assertion that efforts to deal with public goods require collective solutions, but he feared that the importance of public mobilisation had been underplayed.  The mobilisation of the public, he argued, is intrinsic to helping to restore governments’ lost authority, providing them with the leverage they need to act internationally. To support his argument, Jacobs contrasted the success of Gordon Brown’s popular ‘Make Poverty History’ campaign with the UN Copenhagen Summit on climate change, a disappointing Conference undermined by a notable lack of public mobilisation.

    Whilst also a strong advocate of the creation of creative coalitions, Camilla Toulmin was particularly interested in understanding why people are reluctant to consider the “long-term”, and in identifying ways to reward those who do. She stressed that short-term or ‘myopic’ tendencies in banking and finance are particularly problematic. The banking sector remains highly sceptical of the long-term efficacy of carbon cutting policies, which unfortunately, translates into an aversion to change for the common good.

    For Professor Ekins, the current state of politics makes it extremely difficult to promote the wellbeing of future generations. As regional powers have gained traction and influence, the conditions which led to cooperative success in past decades have been eroded. In spite of these difficulties, Ekins pointed to two areas which should be prioritised: the removal of subsidies that distort prices, and the protection of privacy, which is increasingly under threat.

    Having deliberated over the various recommendations in the report, the speakers came round to discussing one of the most vexing global issues – climate change. Having taken a back-seat in recent years with the outbreak of the financial crisis, climate change is now back on the political agenda. As states meet to prepare for a Climate change conference in Paris in 2015, debates have arisen over the optimal extent of participation in climate policy.  Should participation be limited to the main polluters – China, the US, the EU and Japan? Or would this grouping erode global legitimacy, instead coming to be seen as a ‘conspiracy of polluters?’ Whilst the speakers might have disagreed over the issues embroiled in this upcoming conference, they were united in their belief that alongside the work of states and NGOs, public mobilization plays a vital role in giving momentum to these causes at such key points in time.

    In all, the Oxford Martin Report marks an important first step in efforts to solve some of the world’s most pressing problems. Though many are aware of such issues, be it climate change or the ongoing proliferation of HIV, this report is devoted to actionable change through innovative and practical solutions. Whilst the speakers pointed to the considerable breadth of the report as a point of weakness, arguably it is this all-encompassing nature which also lends it it’s strength. The report also, quite uniquely, provides a framework for new and innovative multi-scale collaborations, beyond the assumed mantra of government-led change. Whilst its ‘real’ impact remains to be seen, the report has been very well received, providing a much needed shake-up to debates over global governance.

    Whose peace is it anyway? – FARC, Santos and the popular voice

    By Lucy Phillips, on 29 March 2014

    By Lara MacDonald

    Colombian peace protestPerfectly condensed fact files on any range of topics, from unhealthy foods to the Crimea, are easy to find. A recent article in the Guardian has neatly condensed the fifty-year conflict in Colombia, and the ongoing peace process, into a tidy 1333 word count. However, the complexities of the longest running civil war in the Western Hemisphere are difficult to digest.

    The oft-cited figures quickly roll off the tongue: 250,000 deaths and over 5 million displaced persons. However, the protracted nature of the conflict has wreaked unquantifiable damage on Colombia’s land and citizens. This is certainly not the first time the Colombian government has attempted to engage the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias Colombianas (FARC), Colombia’s largest rebel group, in peace talks, but the question begs: why now?

    Journalists and academics have theorized about this question since rumours of the peace talks began in August 2010 (a good synopsis of the main arguments can be found here). The present day has been hailed as a unique window of opportunity. With the killing of the FARC’s notorious leader, Alfonso Cano, by the Colombian army, the FARC have become increasingly directionless and fragmented. Moreover, their indiscriminate approach to kidnapping and killing has distanced them from their traditional rural constituencies.

    However, most remarkable of all is the fact that the Colombian government has begun to strike the FARC where it hurts most – their ideology. President Santos’ response to the FARC’s raison d’étre: the defense of the rural poor against Colombia’s wealthy classes, is best illustrated by the passing of the Victims and Land Restitution Law. The law aims to return stolen and abandoned land to millions of internally displaced Colombians, an issue which had always been at the forefront of the FARC’s political agenda. President Santos has invested a great deal in embarking on a dialogue with the FARC.

    Indeed, the highly politicized history of Colombian peace talks explains why the current peace talks are effectively a life support machine for President Santos’ political future. In 1999, Andres Pastrana sat down at the negotiating table with the FARC. After enduring three years of failed attempts to reach a compromise, he gave in, and in doing so he lost his presidency.

    Subsequently, his successor Alvaro Uribe, responded to the frustrations of Colombians by crushing the rebels over his eight-year presidency. Despite initially pledging to continue Uribe’s hard-hitting policies against the guerillas, Santos has jumped ship and fully embraced negotiations with the FARC. Polls place Santos well ahead of his rivals with 38% of the votes. However, he is by no means a unifying figure, and is considered by many to be an opportunist – taking advantage of the peace talks for his own political agenda.

    It is not only Santos’ sincerity which has come under scrutiny from skeptics. The design of the peace process has been severely criticized for its closed, secretive nature. Interestingly, Santos consulted a delegation of Northern Ireland politicians who recommended that the negotiations show regard for wider society. The use of the Irish model as inspiration for the framework agreement designed for the FARC is indicative of Santos’ approach as a whole: setting the peace talks within the historical context of large-scale conflict resolution.

    The agenda neatly encompasses five main points: land reform, political participation of the FARC, disarmament of the rebels, drug trafficking, and victims’ rights. However, the fact that the negotiations are being held under the motto “Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed” renders each point mutually dependent.

    Yet the recent riots in Venezuela have highlighted the fragility of the peace talks. The Venezuelan government has often acted as a mediator in past negotiations with the FARC, and Santos has again obtained their formal backing for these peace talks. However, Santos has been accused by his main presidential rival for the May elections, Óscar Iván Zuluaga, of adopting a complicit silence in the face of Venezuelan government repression.

    This is only a taster of the dirty politics which have significantly delegitimized the peace talks since their commencement. Last month, the head of the FARC negotiating team, Ivan Márquez, accused Uribe of spying on government negotiators, and joined others in his accusation that “[Uribe] is the No.1 enemy of peace in Colombia”.

    The Colombian public have unequivocally expressed their frustration. At a recent talk, Javier Ciurlizza, Latin America’s programme director for the International Crisis Group, argued that there was a high chance of Colombian voters leaving their ballots blank in order to voice their discontent. The media have even wryly tipped the ‘blank vote’ as the top presidential candidate for the May elections.

    Further, a bastion of Santos’ vision for a peaceful Colombia is the purging of the country’s coca crop, replacing it with legal crops. Colombia has historically been one of the world’s largest exporters of cocaine. Counter-intuitive as this may seem, replacing one with the other would have devastating effects on farmers who rely on the cultivation of coca leaves to make a living. Media reports and government statements, not to mention Nick Clegg, have failed to acknowledge the desperate farmers’ plight.

    Colombian farmers, as other groups in society, are throwing their hats in the ring.  The civil society resistance movement in Colombia, formed of indigenous, Afro-Colombian and women’s groups, has grown in strength over the fifty years of conflict. Tragically, their demands are in no way reflected in the five-point agenda being discussed in Havana.

    The process works also in reverse. Santos has been unable to convince Colombians that the best way of reintegrating the FARC is through politicisation of the group. Without the involvement of voices from the community, there is doubt that this will be possible. A recent poll by the University of the Andes reveals that 76% of surveyed Colombians currently disagree with the government guaranteeing the political participation of demobilized FARC members, which proves there has been little trickle down from the talks.

    At the heart of this are two important words: truth and justice. Deciphering the true narrative of the conflict, and what form of justice serves best as restitution. The path to truth forks between independent truth commissions and the government’s own account of events. Justice can notionally be served through the International Criminal Court (which Thabo Mbeki and Mahmood Mamdani certainly would not argue for) or through restorative mechanisms (as seen in Mozambique).

    Colombians have learnt not to be overly optimistic. While defining truth and justice is hard enough, continued activity from neo-paramilitary criminal gangs (BACRIMs) and the National Liberation Army (ELN) makes peace seem like a distant prospect. To this day the government has failed to engage in formal peace talks with the ELN, the smaller of Colombia’s two insurgencies. Despite being a regionally confined threat, they have proven their capacity to adapt and resist. The ELN grasping their last opportunity to exit gracefully from the armed conflict is a crucial step toward securing lasting and sustainable peace in Colombia.

    This weekend I attended a conference on Corporations, Conflict and Community Resistance hosted by War on Want, in which Colombian human rights activist Berenice Celeyta said the following:

    Solo el pueblo salva al pueblo – Only the people can save the people.

    Local ownership of the peace process could sustain a fruitful outcome, but perhaps Santos and the negotiators in Havana are too far adrift from the Colombian people to enable this currently. And if it is the people who can truly save the people, then there lies the key.

    Ozone: An Update

    By Lucy Phillips, on 28 March 2014

    By Harriet Bradley, IPPR Environment Columnist

    The ozone hole (2006)

    The ozone hole (2006)

    27 years on from when the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer first came into force, it emerges that at least four anthropogenic substances, not banned by the previous treaty, are likely threatening the recovery of the seasonal ozone “hole” over Antarctica. Evidenced in the Oxford Martin School’s October 2013 report ‘Now for the Long Term’ as an exemplar of international problem solving, the Montreal Protocol has been widely heralded as the most successful international environmental treaty. However, this recent revelation, uncovered by scientists at the University of East Anglia, undermines its perceived long-term efficacy. The implied increase in scope of a treaty that bans additional ozone depleting substances (ODS), particularly given their links with greenhouse gases, paves the way for an enlarged economic and political arena of debate.

    The revelation is interesting for International Relations (IR) scholars and public policy makers alike. For IR scholars, it is interesting to consider what the discovery of these substances pose for theorists of ‘transnationalism’ and ‘epistemic communities’ – these theorists predict that transnational communities of experts (such as the scientific community) bear an important influence on transnational policy making, increasing the likelihood of cooperation. The revelation provides a potential ‘test case’ to help answer the question as to how far science informs and/or provides the impetus for international agreements, and how long it takes for this influence to manifest itself in policy. For those who contest the formative role of science in such agreements, it could be used to test whether the enlarged scope of these new revelations bears an impact on the political will to deal with the issues at hand. For example, two of the newly identified ‘harmful’ substances are used in insecticides and chemical feedstock (which UNEP is not obliged to report under the protocol), whilst the most highly emitted ODS, nitrous oxide, is widely used in fertilizers – predicted pressure from powerful lobby groups, such as farmers, will perhaps undermine any enthusiasm politicians might have had in confronting the issue.

    For policy makers, the news throws up a number of interesting questions. These include the possible existence of loopholes or violations of the original treaty, as well as the need for policy to remain up to date with scientific developments. To be effective over the long-term, agreements based on science must be constantly and vigilantly monitored. It will be interesting to see whether policy debates surrounding renewed threats to the ozone will be affected by the same lines of division that plague climate change talks. There is a risk that the ozone debate will once again be politicised, undermining the likelihood of generating a simple successor to the Montreal Protocol.

    From a wider political standpoint, the issue begs the question as to whether national governments possess the tools, or indeed the will, to forge a new international agreement? It is possible that the issue will be even more contentious than in the 1970s and 1980s, when the strength of the public environmental movement in the US (along with the American development of alternatives to CFCs), set the US as the natural leader of the Protocol. Considering the widened scope and concomitant interests involved, whether the US has either the ability or desire to continue to lead the movement remains open to debate.

    What is interesting is that some players who were instrumental in their initial support of the Montreal Protocol, such as Canada (where the Protocol was signed), today show signs of reluctance in allowing policy to be influenced by science. The Canadian government under Prime Minister Steven Harper have introduced significant cuts to the funding of environmental science. For example, in 2012, the government cut funding to the Polar Environment Atmospheric Research Laboratory, (PEARL), an organization which provides scientific data on ozone depletion and climate change for scientists around the world. One of its founders, Dr Tom Duck, fears the move could be related to the government’s pursuit of valuable oil and gas resources in the Arctic, as they become increasingly accessible with climate change.  In September 2013, Canadians demonstrated against the cutbacks to science funding, and against the campaign to relax laws on what scientists can reveal to the public.

    Contrary to its presentation in ‘Now for the Long Term’ and elsewhere as a ‘closed chapter’ from which international policy makers can now all learn, this news highlights the real lessons of the issue of ozone depletion: the need for constant vigilance and ongoing adaptation of policy and international accords to keep up with rapid developments in the interlinked areas of technology, the environment and science.

    From Extremism to Climate Change: Studying Political Issues in the Digital Age

    By Lucy Phillips, on 21 March 2014

    Richard Rogers, Professor of New Media and Chair of Media Studies at the University of Amsterdam, spoke at UCL on 13th of March 2014.

    By Lucy Phillips  

    “If you’re interested in chess, your hero is Batman,” states Rogers, after a quick analysis of Facebook group networks.

    Professor Richard Rogers

    Professor Richard Rogers

    On 13 March, Professor Richard Rogers delivered a talk on what he terms Digital Methods, the title of his 2013 bookRogers is the head of Media Studies at the University of Amsterdam, director of Govcom.org, a group responsible for several info-political tools, and director of the Digital Methods Initiative. His research focuses on web epistemology, the idea that the web is a distinct knowledge platform with its own native methods. His talk explored the use of such innately digital methods in political science research.

    How we perceive and interact with the World Wide Web has changed greatly over time. Whilst in the mid-1990s, the web was seen as “cyberspace,” a virtual realm with its own identity and politics, in the early noughties, as Rogers explains, that changed. Social scientists began to unpack the idea of the web as a different realm, recognizing it instead as being part and parcel of society. Around 2007, a point which David Lazer has coined the “computational” turn in social science, there was yet another gear shift: the internet was now seen as a means through which to study society. It became, in effect, a dataset.

    Rogers makes the distinction between “digitized methods” – methods that are imported to the internet – and “digital methods,” those that are native. Whilst many of us are perhaps familiar with digitized methods such as online surveys or online investigative reporting, essentially the analogues of existing offline research processes, the use of digital methods such as the analysis of Google searches, web histories, or social networks, remains relatively alien to the traditional researcher.

    In the realm of political science, digital methods can be used to reveal the concerns of an electorate, trace the spread of arguments and rumours, or uncover political positions. For example, in 2005, Rogers delivered a paper on the community structure of the American blogosphere.

    The American political blogosphere (2004)

    The American political blogosphere (2004)

    The outcome was a stark visual of the degree of web separation between bloggers on the political left and those on the right, (inset left). The void in the middle speaks volumes as to the level of offline political polarization in the US, and indeed, may have anticipated it, Rogers argued. In another quirk of digital methods,   if the image on the left, or indeed any image online, were a photograph, a simple click would in almost all cases reveal information about the model of the camera. In 2013, Rogers used such embedded photo information to estimate the price of various cameras used to document the 2013 Gezi Park protests in Turkey. This enabled Rogers to distinguish (somewhat crudely) between professional and civilian photography, on the basis that most amateur photographers would not be using top-shelf cameras, and hence make inferences about potential bias in the photographs.

    Rogers went on to give several other examples of digital methods. His research has helped map the effectiveness of internet censorship in both China and Iran through the analysis of hyperlinks. Rogers also argued that inferences about the politics of memory can be made based on differences in the reporting of the 1994 Srebrenica Massacre on various Wikipedia language pages, as the details of the event and even whether it is termed a ‘massacre’ at all vary greatly between languages. Beyond the scouring of webpages, the rise of social media lends huge potential to the proliferation of digital methods. Retweeted content on Twitter can be used to generate a summarized story of the evolution of particular political events, whilst the network created by Facebook can be unpacked to reveal trends of preferences. For instance, whilst President Barack Obama’s Facebook followers – those who have liked his page – while away their time watching The Office, Senator John McCain’s have a soft spot for Desperate Housewives.

    However, the ease with which the internet propagates new and ’invisible’ networks has a more sinister undertone. Part of Rogers’ research has looked into the web-based counter-jihadist group networks. Such work involved joining extremist groups on Facebook and looking up the names of the most connected people on this “new right.” Whilst the publishing of those individuals’ identities might help deter hate crime by making them publicly known, their circulation raises important ethical questions – do digital researchers need consent to publish public, or semi-public data?

    The research potential created by digital methods is exciting. The web is vast, and it is growing. However, if questions over the ethics of covert ethnography trouble the traditional political scientist, questions over access to and the use of online information raise increasingly complex issues for the digital researcher. The use of web data can perhaps be alikened to debates surrounding the creation of a national DNA database – to what extent do the potential benefits, security or otherwise, of the collection and analysis of data outweigh the infringement on privacy? Where do we draw the line? When asked about the issue of ethics, Rogers admitted this question continues to trouble him. It is likely that such questions will play an important role in shaping the future of digital methods.

    For more information, or to enroll in Professor Rogers’ 2014 ‘Digital Methods’ Summer School: http://www.digitalmethods.net

    Software Resources built by Rogers and his team:

    Googlescraper (the Lippmannian device – repurposes Google into a bias-detection machine)

    elfriendo (analyses interest compatibility between individuals or groups)

    netvizz (allows researchers to export data from Facebook)

    For what a grain of rice is worth

    By Claire McNear, on 21 March 2014

    By Alia MD Saleh

    RicePopulist centric policy is not always a wise choice. A case in point is Thailand. The government’s rice guarantee scheme was the brainchild of Thaksin Shinawatra, the former prime minister of Thailand, who was ousted in 2006 on corruption charges and is now in self-exile for fear of retribution. The hugely expensive government programme guarantees payment to farmers for their entire rice crop, a major component of the economy in the world’s largest rice exporter.

    The policy now looks like something of a catastrophe for the Thai government, but has nonetheless been retained by Thaksin’s sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, the current prime minister, who won the office in 2011 in large part as the result of her promise to continue the scheme. The rice guarantee scheme has resulted in a game of tug of war between Thailand’s rural poor, who are predominantly pro-government and support the policy, and the middle and upper classes, who argue that Yingluck Shinawatra’s governing Pheu Thai party is mismanaging the country’s finances.

    Two-fifths of Thais work in agriculture and most of them are rice farmers. The BBC reported that, prior to the government’s price scheme, rice farmers had long been plagued by low incomes despite high productivity, as dishonest rice millers routinely made allegations that the quality of rice being sold to them was substandard, forcing farmers to accept lower prices than they deserved. The government intervened with its price guarantee scheme for farmers. Eradicating poverty is a worthy cause, especially if it spurs domestic growth – but if the policy was enacted in good conscience, what went wrong?

    The Shinawatra government’s mistake seems to have been twofold: it improperly gauged global rice demand, and it failed to anticipate the result the policy would have on farmers. The government offered a price guarantee 50 to 60 percent higher than the market price at 15,000 baht (about $500) per tonne, which prompted farmers to increase their production – and this ignores whether there was any justification for government intervention in a large and robust industry in the first place.

    Who was meant to benefit from the policy? It’s not a stretch to think that the outcome intended here by the governing party was future votes for the Pheu Thai party. It’s these votes that lofted Thaksin’s party back into power in 2007 after being ousted by the Thai army the year before, and it’s these votes that paved the way for Yingluck to come into office. Critics were swift to point out early on that the programme would be costly, but advocates in the Prime Minister’s circle assured the public that they would have leverage in bringing down global prices by virtue of being the world’s biggest rice exporter.

    It was simple enough, they thought. Reduce the supply of rice in the global market, keep those supplies in stockpiles, and sit back and wait for a spike in the price of rice before selling the surplus to make a profit, which would in turn offset the cost of the scheme. Unfortunately, it turns out to have been more complicated than they thought. The Thai government seems to have overlooked India and Vietnam in the global scheme of rice production: The Economist reported recently that amidst the debacle, India and Vietnam have surpassed Thailand as the biggest international rice exporters, leaving Thailand with a still-accumulating rice stockpile it has not been able to sell.

    Exacerbating the dire situation is the collapse of various deals to sell portions of the rice surplus, most recently with China’s withdrawal from a plan that would have seen 1.2 million tonnes sold. The Thai government has been forced to stockpile more than 18 million tonnes of rice, which is equivalent to half the annual global trade, and the amount is increasing. The rice guarantee scheme cost the Thai government $12.5 billion in the first year alone, and is expected to rise to 4% of the annual GDP. Bear in mind that the payments to farmers are not the only cost the government incurs, as stockpiling comes with administrative and logistical costs, including the need for new warehouses for storage. It would seem that the Thai government might have to sell the rice at a loss if it is looking to reduce its immense stockpile. But doing so would also dent its burgeoning public debt and would not bode well for its economic growth.

    What the government seems so far to have ignored is the darker side of welfare support: its tendency to breed dependency. Massive upheaval occurred when Prime Minister Shinawatra tried to reduce the price guarantee from 15,000 to 13,500 baht in her effort to curb government spending on the scheme. The Pheu Thai party, whose base supporters have been built through populist measures, had to backpedal on its plan. It seems the government is increasingly hard-pressed to come up with the funds to pay off the farmers, who are disgruntled over the lack of the promised payment for their crops. The policy is now at the centre of a battle between the current government and the opposition over who might best govern Thailand, with intermittent violence as tensions in the nation rise.

    So is the rice guarantee policy worth maintaining? The answer seems to be obviously not, particularly given that the issue is only escalating as the stockpiles and government expenditures grow: the Prime Minister was summoned last month by the National Anti-Corruption Commission for questioning over charges of negligence and corruption stemming from the scheme.