REPORT: The Environment - Contested Knowledge of the Commons in Southeast Asia (CRISEA Working Paper 1)

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Publication date:
March 2019

Publication:
The Environment - Contested Knowledge of the Commons in Southeast Asia (CRISEA Working Paper 1)

Authors:
Tomasz Kamiński, Monika Arnez, Carl Middleton, Sally Beckenham, Robert A. Farnan, David Chu, Edyta Roszko, Amnuayvit Thitibordin, Andrea Valente, Michał Zaręba

Download the report here.

Environmental questions are at the heart of many development dilemmas in Southeast Asia. New actors and technologies, changing domestic politics, policies, and economies - as well as shifting geopolitical contexts, are remaking nature-society relations in the region. A failure to address transnational environmental challenges could not only undermine ASEAN’s legitimacy but also have drastic consequences for the region’s security and its political and economic stability.

In addressing these questions in this Working Paper, we are particularly concerned with contested knowledges of “the commons” and competition over resources. We consider the environment as a driver of processes of regional integration, but also of conflicts between various actors in the region. Our research focuses on three environmental contexts namely: sea; rivers; and air. In addressing all three our emphasis is on the transition to a low-carbon economy. Grounded in a multidisciplinary approach, our research shares a common conceptual framework, centred on the co-production of ecological knowledge and ecological governance.

Drawing on the work of Sheila Jasanoff (2004), Shubhra Gururani and Peter Vandergeest (2014), amongst others, we consider the production, circulation, acquisition and assimilation of ecological knowledge at, and across the local, national and global levels and its relationship to ecological governance. Based on macro and micro case studies, we relate this dynamic process of co-production to other concepts, including reterritorialization; feminist political ecology, hydropolitics, and paradiplomacy (international relations conducted by subnational governments on their own). The aim of this paper is to present the theoretical framework of our work as well as the three main strands of our research. In the first section, we explain our understanding of the concept of ecological knowledge. This is followed by a presentation of our methodological approaches, while the last section presents the individual research projects in the WP, arranged in three modules.

Please contact Dr. Carl Middleton for more information.

Citation: Kamiński, T., Arnez, M., Middleton, C., Beckenham, S., Farnan, R.A., Chu, D., Roszko, E., Thitibordin, A., Valente, A., and Zaręba, M. (2019) The Environment - Contested Knowledge of the Commons in Southeast Asia (CRISEA Working Paper 1). Competing Regional Integrations in Southeast Asia (CRISEA) Working Paper No. 1 (March 2019).

This report is part of our project Water governance and knowledge production on the Lancang-Mekong River. You can visit the project page here.

OPINION: What does Chinese ‘reciprocity’ mean for Mekong’s dams?

by Carl Middleton

The Lancang Mekong supports 70 million people living in the basin(Photo: He Daming)

The Lancang Mekong supports 70 million people living in the basin(Photo: He Daming)

It is now two and a half years since the first Lancang Mekong Cooperation (LMC) leaders’ summit was held in Sanya city on Hainan Island, China. The aim of the LMC – a China led multilateral body involving all six Mekong countries – is to deepen economic, cultural and political ties between China and mainland Southeast Asia. Leaders have repeatedly declared the importance of the Lancang-Mekong River to this cooperation. Reflecting this, on 1-2 November, the LMC will host the “1st Lancang-Mekong Water Resources Cooperation Forum” in Kunming, China.

The LMC’s second leaders’ summit in Phnom Penh, Cambodia in January 2018 revealed the swift pace of the initiative. This is reflected in the numerous senior-level meetings between governments, the initiation of almost 200 China-funded projects, and the LMC’s deepening institutionalisation through various LMC secretariats and working groups. Yet, while China has hosted people-to-people exchange programs and university scholarships, the LMC’s state-centric approach has afforded little opportunity for public deliberation about its overall policy principles and direction.

Through the LMC, some government officials and scholars from China have proposed that downstream and upstream countries have both rights and responsibilities towards each other. This concept of ‘reciprocity’ is not yet official LMC policy, but suggests a shift in government position compared to China’s earlier unilateral construction of dams on the Lancang River. Overall, the LMC and its proposition of ‘reciprocity’ appears to be an invitation to negotiate basin-wide water cooperation on the Lancang-Mekong River.

Much, however, remains uncertain. For example, how will the LMC build upon the existing inter-governmental Mekong River Commission, established in 1995 by the four lower basin countries? How will the LMC address concerns of riverside communities and civil society and ensure their meaningful inclusion? And how will countries ensure the river’s ecological health given the strong push for economic growth and associated water infrastructure projects? This article asks whether the LMC and the concept of ‘reciprocity’ is a promising approach to meet these challenges.

For the full article, please click here.

POLICY BRIEF: Reciprocal Transboundary Cooperation on the Lancang-Mekong River: Towards an Inclusive and Ecological Relationship

Publication date:
November 2018

Publication: 
Reciprocal Transboundary Cooperation on the Lancang-Mekong River: Towards an Inclusive and Ecological Relationship

Download the policy brief here.

Visit the Water governance and knowledge production on the Lancang-Mekong River project page here.

Author: 
Carl Middleton
 

Summary
It is now two and a half years since the first Lancang Mekong Cooperation (LMC) leaders’ summit was held in Sanya city in Yunnan Province, China. During this period, the LMC has become increasingly institutionalized. The overarching ambition of the LMC is to deepen economic, cultural and political ties between China and mainland Southeast Asia. This policy brief assesses emerging principles for transboundary water cooperation under the LMC, in particular the concept of reciprocity that expands upon the UN Water Courses Convention. It also assesses the role of the LMC vis-a-vis the Mekong River Commission in transboundary water governance. The analysis concludes that as the LMC becomes a more consolidated institution, a genuine and equal partnership for the Lancang-Mekong River cooperation is needed that could build upon principles of “inclusive reciprocity” between state and non-state actors, and “ecological reciprocity” that recognizes the need for an ecologically healthy Lancang-Mekong River.

Mekong River at Chiang Khong, Northern Thailand (Credit: Carl Middleton)

Mekong River at Chiang Khong, Northern Thailand (Credit: Carl Middleton)

CONFERENCE PAPER: “Sustainable Hydropower” Discourse in the Politics of Climate Change in Southeast Asia

“Sustainable Hydropower” Discourse in the Politics of Climate Change in Southeast Asia

By Carl Middleton[1] and Mira Käkönen[2]

Presented at the European Association for Southeast Asian Studies (EURO-SEA) conference,
University of Oxford, 16-18 August, 2017

In the 1990s, the global hydropower industry faced a growing crisis of legitimacy as its contribution towards development was questioned. Southeast Asia was central to this debate. The World Bank’s exit from large hydropower globally was marked by Thailand’s Pak Mun Dam in 1994, and its return by the Nam Theun 2 in Laos in 2006 accompanied by claims of a new best-practice approach. Meanwhile, the International Hydropower Association developed sustainability guidelines in 2004 and subsequently a Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Protocol launched in 2011. From these and other efforts by large dam proponents emerged the discourse of “sustainable hydropower,” which sought to re-legitimize the industry by reinventing hydropower dams as sustainable development projects, rather than electricity infrastructure alone.
 
With large hydropower dams high on government and business actors’ agendas in Southeast Asia, this paper shows how the region has been a material testing ground of “sustainable hydropower” and central to the production of its discourse. Taking the case of Nam Theun 2 in particular, and the performative role it has played in producing ‘the sustainability’ that is required to make the sustainable hydropower discourse credible, as well as more recent projects and plans in Laos and Myanmar, we assess that the industry has mildly reformed rather than fundamentally transformed. This takes particular salience given that the proponents of “sustainable hydropower” are seeking to take leadership in defining hydropower’s future role within global-level debates on climate mitigation, including seeking to define criteria for eligibility to access Green Climate Funds. Throwing doubt on claims that processes of ecological modernization and “green economy” are actually occurring as claimed by some, we argue that hydropower as a global industry are part of the forces that may inhibit work towards a social-ecological transformation of society.

Download full paper click here.
Download Power Point of this paper click here.

Cite this article as: Middleton, C. and Käkönen, M. (2017) "“Sustainable Hydropower” Discourse in the Politics of Climate Change in Southeast Asia" Paper presented at the European Association for Southeast Asian Studies (EURO-SEA) conference, University of Oxford, 16-18 August, 2017

[1] Center for Social Development Studies, Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University, Thailand. (Carl.Chulalongkorn@gmail.com)
[2] Department of Political and Economic Studies, University of Helsinki, Finland. (mira.kakonen@helsinki.fi)

JOURNAL ARTICLE: Regional Clustering of Chemicals and Waste Multilateral Environmental Agreements to Improve Enforcement

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Publication date: August 2017

Publication: International Environmental Agreements: Politics, Law and Economics

Author: Ning Liu, Carl Middleton

For further details of the article, visit Springer.

 

Abstract:

Illegal trade in chemicals and waste has brought severe negative impacts to human health and the environment. Fragmentation of multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs) has challenged implementation due to disconnects and inconsistencies between regimes that causes inefficiencies, overlapping norms, and duplication. Since the late 1990s, there have been proposals to cluster MEAs organizationally and functionally to create synergies between them. This paper evaluates whether the proposition on clustering of MEAs has worked in practice through an empirical case study of the “MEA Regional Enforcement Network (REN)”. MEA REN sought to cluster at the organizational and functional elements of the Basel Convention, the Rotterdam Convention, the Stockholm Convention, and the Montreal Protocol in South and Southeast Asia. Regarding organizational clustering, through co-organizing regional network meetings cross-MEA learning was enhanced and costs were saved, but co-locating regional offices proved more challenging. For the clustering of functional elements, MEA enforcement was ultimately strengthened through several joint initiatives across MEAs. However, not all functions could be clustered as anticipated, including data reporting due to incompatibility between the conventions and overall workloads. The paper concludes with recommendations for future environmental enforcement.

CONFERENCE PROCEEDINGS: Mekong, Salween and Red Rivers: Sharing Knowledge and Perspectives Across Borders

CONFERENCE PROCEEDINGS: Mekong, Salween and Red Rivers: Sharing Knowledge and Perspectives Across Borders

Water resources are inextricably linked to local livelihoods and wellbeing, agricultural production and food security, and local, national and the regional economies across the Mekong region. The Mekong, Red and Salween Rivers are all transboundary rivers that are subject to the dynamics of rapid change as the region increasingly integrates economically and socially. Whether development is inclusive, informed and accountable, and the rights and entitlements of marginalized communities recognized, remains a key challenge.

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BOOK CHAPTER: Water and Rivers" in the Handbook of the Environment in Southeast Asia

BOOK CHAPTER: Water and Rivers" in the Handbook of the Environment in Southeast Asia

By Carl Middleton

This chapter examines the transition from state-led hydrocracies to increasingly liberalized modes of water resources development in mainland Southeast Asia, with a focus on large hydropower dams on transboundary rivers. Access to, use of and control over water is highly politicized, and an increasingly diverse assemblage of public, private and civil society actors are involved in water governance.

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BOOK CHAPTER: Arenas of Water Justice on Transboundary Rivers: A Case Study of the Xayaburi Dam, Laos

BOOK CHAPTER: Arenas of Water Justice on Transboundary Rivers: A Case Study of the Xayaburi Dam, Laos

By Carl Middleton and Ashley Pritchard

In Southeast Asia, major transboundary rivers such as the Mekong River are central to the food security, livelihoods and culture of millions of people. An increasingly extensive program of large hydropower dam construction is underway in Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar to meet domestic electricity demand and for power export to neighboring Thailand, Vietnam and China. 

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JOURNAL ARTICLE: Watershed or Powershed?: A Critical Hydropolitics of the ‘Lancang-Mekong Cooperation Framework’

JOURNAL ARTICLE: Watershed or Powershed?: A Critical Hydropolitics of the ‘Lancang-Mekong Cooperation Framework’

By Dr. Carl Middleton and Dr. Jeremy Allouche

The countries sharing the Lancang-Mekong River are entering a new era of hydropolitics with a growing number of hydropower dams throughout the basin. Three ‘powersheds’, conceptualised as physical, institutional and political constructs that connect dams to major power markets in China, Thailand and Vietnam, are transforming the nature-society relations of the watershed. 

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JOURNAL ARTICLE: Improvements To Enforcement of Multilateral Environmental Agreements To Control International Shipments of Chemicals And Wastes

JOURNAL ARTICLE: Improvements To Enforcement of Multilateral Environmental Agreements To Control International Shipments of Chemicals And Wastes

By Liu Ning, Vira Somboon, Surichai Wun’gaeo, Carl Middleton, Charit Tingsabadh and Sangchan Limjirakan.

This article discusses how and why law enforcement operations can help countries to implement chemical and waste-related multilateral environmental agreements in a more efficient and effective way. The research explores key barriers and factors for organising law enforcement operations, and recommends methods to improve law enforcement operations to address illegal trade in hazardous waste and harmful chemicals.

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OPINION: How About Accountability Beyond Borders?

OPINION: How About Accountability Beyond Borders?

By Carl Middleton

The arrival of the ASEAN Economic Community in December 2015 marked a major milestone in the ambition of the countries of the region to become closer to one another through economic cooperation. It anticipates economic growth, and with it a growing role for large transnational and domestic corporations, as well as for smaller businesses.

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CONFERENCE PAPER: Arenas of Water Justice on Transboundary Rivers

CONFERENCE PAPER: Arenas of Water Justice on Transboundary Rivers

By Carl Middleton

This paper examines how processes of transboundary river resource dispossession by large hydropower dams have been challenged within “arenas of water justice” in Southeast Asia, conceptualized as politicized spaces of water governance in which a process for claiming and/or defending the Right to Water takes place.

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JOURNAL ARTICLE: Transboundary Water and Electricity Governance in Mainland Southeast Asia: Linkages, Disjunctures and Implications.

JOURNAL ARTICLE: Transboundary Water and Electricity Governance in Mainland Southeast Asia: Linkages, Disjunctures and Implications.

By Carl Middleton and John Dore

In mainland Southeast Asia, plans for extensive hydropower development and regional power trade are increasingly underway with implications for transboundary water governance. This paper maps out the context, drivers, tools and arenas of water and electricity decision making, and examines the linkages and disjunctures between regional electricity and water governance frameworks.

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