Tag Archives: environment

Sharing the passion to change the world – empowering students to curb climate change

 

 

 

A discussion with the Programme Coordinator of the MDP in Environmental Policy and Law, Tuomas Palosaari, by Mari Moilanen

“The decisions we make today are critical in ensuring a safe and sustainable world for everyone, both now and in the future. The next few years are probably the most important in our history”, said Debra Roberts, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group II, in the press release of the world’s most significant climate report in October, 2018.

In the aftermath, the coordinator of the MDP in Environmental Policy and Law, Tuomas Palosaari, describes the skills that the MDP students develop during their studies to act for a better future.

What do you do, Tuomas?

I’m a lecturer as well as the Coordinator of the Master’s degree programme in Environmental Policy and Law. I take care of many kinds of tasks related to planning, admission, student counselling and lecturing.

I’m also a graduate from the same programme. During my Bachelor’s studies in Finnish environmental law I got more and more interested in global aspects, so I applied to this programme since it fit perfectly my interests and ambitions. And now I’m continuing that path as the coordinator, while at the same time planning my PhD on international environmental law.

What are you passionate about in your field?

I’m interested in the big picture: what is the state of international environmental law, why is it as it is, and where are we going? Climate change plays a central role in every environmental discussion today, making it a natural focus for me. Although I’m from the inland of Finland, I’m also very interested in maritime law. The high seas are kind of a wild west: full of possibilities as well as global risks.

Climate change is a prominent part of the studies – how does it show in practice?

Climate change is interlinked with practically all environmental issues we face today – from biodiversity loss to ozone depletion and air pollution. We offer a variety of courses directly or indirectly related to climate change. We have a specific course on climate change law and policy, but the topic is also addressed in courses on trade and the environment, international forest policy and law, international water law, and so on. Our staff and visiting experts include several professionals working at the centre stage of global climate action, and that knowledge is a valuable asset to pass to new generations of professionals.

However, climate change is not the only focal area. Students have a lot of freedom in planning their studies, and they can choose to focus on, for example, sustainable development, energy policy, natural resources governance or conflict resolution.

What is the current state of our climate? Why do we need more professionals to facilitate quick and drastic action?

We all know the situation is certainly alarming. The recent IPCC report urged the world to take rapid and far-reaching actions to keep the rise of global temperatures under 1.5 degrees Celsius, or else the natural and human systems will face serious consequences. It’s not a very encouraging report, but it makes it clear that we all need to do more than we are currently doing and be more ambitious.

What kind of thoughts do the students have on climate change issues? How is the international political turmoil reflected in the classroom?

I think that the news we have to read today on climate change and its consequences work as a catalyst for many of our students. For instance, the reactions to Trump’s announcement to withdraw from the Paris agreement have been strong in class and many times students wonder why international laws can’t force the States to do more to curb climate change. There’s frustration but, what’s more important, there’s enthusiasm to change things among our students.

However, it is important to place political developments – from the Trump administration to China’s rise in the world – in their context. Therefore our MDP seeks to provide students with the knowledge they need to understand what the true impacts of such political developments can be, what the ongoing value of international law is, and how other countries, non-state actors and subnational authorities can respond in the face of countries threatening to withdraw.

How does the MDP strive to support students’ personal passion to take concrete action in curbing climate change?

Our students are usually already very motivated when they apply for the programme. However, they may not be aware of all the things that are available to them to contribute.

I think that is our main job: to give the right tools and knowledge for the students to pursue their own interests and make a change: whether it’s in governments, the private sector, civil society or through further academic studies. We encourage discussion and the transfer of ideas, and that is why we have a lot of contact teaching and arrange for interactive discussions in our studies.

What can we do as individuals?

Especially with modern technologies and means of communication, I think it is an outdated way of thinking that individuals do not have an impact, and that we are simply passengers in political turmoil. We can all contribute small parts, like cogs in a big machine. But it requires an understanding of the problems and mastering the knowledge and skills to respond to those problems.

E-waste Realities and Legal Utopias: Labourers Lost in Translation

Sabaa A. Khan

Postdoctoral researcher, International Environmental Law, PhD

 

“Does the law exist for the purpose of furthering the ambitions of those who have sworn to uphold the law, or is it seriously to be considered as a moral, unifying force, the health and strength of a nation?” James Baldwin. No Name in the Street. 1972.

THE MASSIVE amount of electronic waste that is produced from the global use of digitized commodities is one of the most pressing social and environmental challenges of the 21st century. Global flows of e-waste are particularly problematic for the many developing countries where informal, dangerous e-waste recycling work has proliferated. While providing a poverty alleviation strategy for some of the most marginalized communities in countries such as Ghana and India, informal e-waste recycling work is dangerous, presenting substantial risks to human and environmental health.

Dismantling and smelting at Agbogbloshie. Photo: Sabaa A. Khan

REGULATORY RESPONSES to curtail the pollution emanating from these informal ‘urban mining’ industries are on the rise but the economic and social prospects they carry for informal waste workers are uncertain.

WASTE GOVERNANCE regimes can be entirely ineffective when designed without meaningful consideration of the socioeconomic realities of e-waste recycling. This is evidenced by India’s e-waste law adopted in 2012, despite international human rights concerns linked to its negative impact on the 80,000 people working in India’s informal e-waste recycling sector and their families.

REGRETTABLY IT seems Ghana is pursuing a similar, highly exclusionary legal path.  A look at Ghana’s newly adopted Hazardous and Electronic Waste Control Management Bill (2016) reveals that this ‘sustainable’ e-waste regime lacks any coherent linkage to the existing waste management system, in which 95% of the e-waste generated is collected by the informal sector.

Agbogbloshie e-waste worksite. Photo: Sabaa A. Khan

IN GENERAL, the legal framework maintains the informal e-waste sector in invisible and insecure arrangements along the e-waste value chain. It establishes a State-led e-waste collection and recycling system that is totally delinked from the current reality of the e-waste chain in which e-waste generating households and businesses sell e-waste to informal sector collectors.

EXISTING SOCIAL arrangements surrounding e-waste that involve exchanges between formal and informal actors on local and transnational scales are buried underneath this new, top-down, state-centered legal vision for the social and economic ordering of e-waste management. Rather than incentivizing manufacturers and importers to develop efficient closed-loop systems and foster sustainable relationships with informal waste collectors, the legislation gives the government immense discretion and control over e-waste management. It advocates a state-managed chain from collection to processing, providing no clarity on potential opportunities for the legal recognition of small-scale informal collectors who currently dominate the system.

GHANA’S NEW e-waste law appears to create an imaginary space in which the informal sector simply does not exist. Moreover, it is a space under the strict command of governmental authorities who are empowered to order the “sealing up” of any “area, site or premises” suspected to be a place for hazardous waste disposal. Law enforcement officers are also granted a “power of search, seizure and arrest” over any person or place suspected of keeping or transporting hazardous wastes. Spaces that fall under the scope of these governmental powers include vehicles, lagoons, ponds, landfills, buildings, structures, storage containers and ditches. Evidently, this vaguely configured broad authority further legitimizes the persecution of informal waste collectors who are already subject to constant harassment, hostility and seizure by municipal authorities.

THE NEWLY adopted legislation reflects the State’s distorted vision of what constitutes the e-waste economy. It is entirely removed from the spatial reality of actual e-waste flows and is likely to further drive the informal sector into places of invisibility that are characterized by environmental and social risk. Hence, law as embodied within the new e-waste legislation presents new threats to the livelihood of informal workers, rather than clarifying their engagement as stakeholders in a sustainable e-waste economy.

95 percent of e-waste is collected by the informal sector. Photo: Sabaa A. Khan

IN ESSENCE, the laws of e-waste, at all scales, have originated from an artificial perspective of what constitutes sustainable waste governance, and have thus fostered the invisibility and precarious growth of the informal workforce.

AS TO international environmental law, the evolving dynamics of the Basel Convention show that the Convention works together with the international trade regime to legitimize the e-waste trade.  It does so by retaining its primary focus on removing barriers on transnational movements of used e-products. Global objectives in relation to human health protection remain mostly symbolic and unactionable, trapping the social and labour hardships of the global waste economy within the realm of national sovereignty. The possibility for certain transnational actors to play a role in international waste trading without engaging any form of accountability, and sometimes even preserving their anonymity, inevitably expands opportunities for transnational environmental crime in the global e-waste value chain and facilitates the proliferation of exploitative working conditions within the informal economy.

GHANA HAS certainly taken a critical step forward in introducing national e-waste legislation. However, the social and environmental success of the new law is far from imminent and will entirely depend on how inclusively the new regime will be operationalized with respect to the most marginalized social groups whose livelihoods have come to depend on their participation in the urban waste economy.

This post has also been published at CCEEL Blog at CCEEL website.