People's Stories Advocates

Interview with Nobel prize winner Elinor Ostrom on climate change
by IRIN News, Stockholm Resilience Centre & agencies
April 2012
The governance of natural resources like land, the oceans, rivers and the atmosphere, can affect the impact of some of the world’s biggest crises caused by natural events like droughts and floods. How best to manage those resources has been at the heart of the work by Nobel Prize winner (economics) Elinor Ostrom.
She has been looking at how communities across the world, from developing and rural economies like Nepal and Kenya, manage their commonly shared resources such as fisheries, pasture land and water sustainably.
Ostrom’s faith in the ability of the individual and community to be able to trust each other, take the right course of action and not wait for governments to make the first move is pivotal to her thinking.
Ostrom works with the concept of “polycentrism”, which she developed with her husband Vincent Otsrom. She advocates vesting authority in individuals, communities, local governments, and local NGOs as opposed to concentrating power at global or national levels.
Ostrom recently suggested using this “polycentric approach” to address man-made climate change. She talked to IRIN about “polycentrism”, Rio+20, climate change, trust and the power of local action.
Q: You have suggested a polycentric approach as opposed to single policies at a global level to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Could you explain how that would work? Do you think a similar approach would work to get all countries and their people to believe in, and adopt, sustainable development?
A: I believe that we have modelled the impact of individual actions on climate change incorrectly and need to change the way we think about this problem. When individuals walk a distance rather than driving it, they produce better health for themselves. At the same time that they reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions that they are generating. There are benefits for the individual and small benefits for the globe. When a building owner re-does the way the building is insulated and the heating system, these actions can dramatically change the amount of greenhouse gas emissions made. This has an immediate impact on the neighbourhood of the building as well as on the globe.
When cities and counties decide to rehabilitate their energy systems so as to produce less greenhouse gas emissions, they are reducing the amount of pollution in the local region as well as greenhouse gas emissions on the globe.
In other words, the key point is that there are multiple externalities involved for many actions related to greenhouse gas emissions. While in the past the literature has underplayed the importance of local effects, we need to recognize - as more and more individuals, families, communities, and states are seeing - that they will gain a benefit, as well as the globe, and that cumulatively a difference can be made at the global level if a number of small units start taking action. We have a much greater possibility of impacting global change problems if we start locally.
Q: The earth is our common resource system - yet many countries including China and India feel they also have a right to grow, burn coal to get to where the developed world is - how do you get them out of that frame of mind without compromising the question of equity?
A: We may not be able to convince India and China of all of this. Part of my discouragement with the international negotiations is that we have gotten riveted into battles at the very big level over who caused global change in the first place and who is responsible for correcting it. It will take a long time to resolve some of these conflicts.
Meanwhile, if we do not take action, the increase to greenhouse gas collection at a global level gets larger and larger. While we cannot solve all aspects of this problem by cumulatively taking action at local levels, we can make a difference, and we should.
Q: Do you think sustainable development has had a limited impact because it was directed at governments and a top-down approach? Do you think the world is about to repeat that at Rio+20?
A: Yes, I do think that directing the question of climate change primarily at governments misses the point that actions that reduce greenhouse gas emissions must be taken by individuals, communities, cities, states, residents of entire nations, and the world.
Yet, it is important that public officials recognize that there is a role for an international agreement and that they should be working very hard on getting an agreement that establishes international regimes that has a chance to reduce emissions across countries.
Q: You are a great believer in ordinary people"s ability to organize and use their commonly shared resources wisely, but I take it that does not work all the time? But ultimately collective action at the grassroots can force change at the top?
A: I am a believer of the capabilities of people to organize at a local level. That does not mean that they always do. There are a wide variety of collective action problems that exist at a small scale. The important thing is that people at a small scale, who know what the details of the problems are, organize, rather than calling on officials at a much larger scale.
Officials at a larger scale may have many collective-action problems of their own that they need to address. They do not have the detailed information about problems at a small scale that people who are confronting those every day do have. Thus, the solutions that are evolved by local people have a chance of being more imaginative and better ways of solving these problems than allowing them to go unsolved and eventually asking a much larger scale unit to solve it for them.
Q: This approach probably works better in a rural setting where there is a sense of community and of a shared responsibility to take care of their common resources. But how do you get that sense of ownership of the planet in an urban setting?
A: To solve these problems at any scale requires individuals to trust that others are also going to contribute to their solution. Building trust is not something that can be done overnight. Thus, the crucial thing is that successful efforts at a local scale be advertised and well known throughout a developing country.
Developing associations of local communities, where very serious discussions can be held of the problems they are facing and creative ways that some communities, who have faced these problems, have adopted solutions that work. That does not mean that the solutions that work in one environment in a particular country will work in all others, but posing it as a solution that fits a local environment and that the challenge that everyone faces is to know enough about the social-ecological features of the problems they are facing that they can come up with good solutions that fit that local social-ecological system.
Q: I have been covering the recent drought in Niger - I came across people who were going to pack up and leave their village for good… Would that motivate people, countries, governments to take action to reduce emissions? But how do you make people in Europe, the US or Asia think about the people in Niger as their own?
A: There is no simple answer to this question. It is here that civil society actors, the media, church groups, NGOs can play a particular role in knowing about the problems being faced by villagers in Niger and other developing countries and trying to help. They can highlight stories about these problems in a way that people in Britain, Europe, and the US may understand better.
Q: Do you see the world moving in unison towards sustainability in the next five years? Do you think the world is prepared to take on this question and specially now when we are in a recession?
A: Sadly, I do not see the world moving in unison. I do see some movements around the world that are very encouraging, but they are not the same everywhere. We need to get out of thinking that we have to be moving the same everywhere. We need to be recognizing the complexity of the different problems being faced in a wide diversity of regions of the world. Thus, really great solutions that work in one environment do not always work in others. We need to understand why, and figure out ways of helping to learn from good examples as well as bad examples to move ahead.
Elinor Ostrom''s 8 Principles for Managing A Commons. (On the Commons)
Elinor Ostrom shared the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2009 for her lifetime of scholarly work investigating how communities succeed or fail at managing common pool (finite) resources such as grazing land, forests and irrigation waters.
Ostrom, a political scientist at Indiana University, received the Nobel Prize for her research proving the importance of the commons around the world. Her work investigating how communities co-operate to share resources drives to the heart of debates today about resource use, the public sphere and the future of the planet. She is the first woman to be awarded the Nobel in Economics.
Ostrom’s achievement effectively answers popular theories about the “Tragedy of the Commons”, which has been interpreted to mean that private property is the only means of protecting finite resources from ruin or depletion. She has documented in many places around the world how communities devise ways to govern the commons to assure its survival for their needs and future generations.
A classic example of this was her field research in a Swiss village where farmers tend private plots for crops but share a communal meadow to graze their cows. While this would appear a perfect model to prove the tragedy-of-the-commons theory, Ostrom discovered that in reality there were no problems with overgrazing. That is because of a common agreement among villagers that one is allowed to graze more cows on the meadow than they can care for over the winter—a rule that dates back to 1517. Ostrom has documented similar effective examples of “governing the commons” in her research in Kenya, Guatemala, Nepal, Turkey, and Los Angeles.
Based on her extensive work, Ostrom offers 8 principles for how commons can be governed sustainably and equitably in a community:
1. Define clear group boundaries. 2. Match rules governing use of common goods to local needs and conditions. 3. Ensure that those affected by the rules can participate in modifying the rules. 4. Make sure the rule-making rights of community members are respected by outside authorities. 5. Develop a system, carried out by community members, for monitoring members’ behavior. 6. Use graduated sanctions for rule violators. 7. Provide accessible, low-cost means for dispute resolution. 8. Build responsibility for governing the common resource in nested tiers from the lowest level up to the entire interconnected system.
* See also - Elinor Ostrom: Going beyond the tragedy of commons, by Stockholm Resilience Centre.
The science of cooperation.

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Why Nurses are the Unsung Heroes of Global Health
by Sheila Davis
Partners in Health
We are in the midst of celebrating International Nurses Week, which culminates on May 12 with the birthday of Florence Nightingale. Although our founding mother of modern nursing would be impressed with the health technology of today, I am sure she would be sorely disappointed by the ongoing invisibility of nurses, which she fought so hard to overcome during her lifetime.
Everyone knows someone who is a nurse. In addition to health clinics and hospitals, we work in children"s schools, at workplaces, in many settings. There are more than 3 million registered nurses in the United States alone. But the vast majority of nurses -- over 32 million of them -- work in other parts of the world.
It is in poor countries and communities, where health needs are greatest and physicians are scarce, that nurses take an even greater role in healthcare delivery, often serving as the sole providers in rural villages or urban slums.
For a mother in labor in the mountains of Lesotho in southern Africa or for a child suffering from cholera in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, access to qualified midwives and nurses often means the difference between life and death.
We work with patients at every stage in their lives, from birth to death. We deliver babies safely with few if any resources; and we are often the people who are there to make sure that an individual can die in the most dignified and pain free way possible. We know what our patients and communities need.
But although nurses deliver 90 percent of all healthcare services worldwide, they remain largely invisible at decision-making tables in national capitals and international agencies. Their absence constitutes a global health crisis.
In key meetings where global medical and public health experts and international donors map out global health efforts and priorities in prevention and treatment, nurses who provide the vast majority of care are rarely included.
The International Council of Nurses has highlighted the severe lack of nurses in leadership positions at the World Health Organization. The WHO human resources annual report of 2008 revealed that over 90 percent of its professional staff are medical specialists; less than one percent are nursing specialists, even though nurses make up over 80 percent of the global healthcare workforce.
At Partners In Health (PIH) we are working with partner organizations and national Ministries of Health to strengthen nursing efforts and raise nursing visibility across the board. We have a strong, hard-working, and inspiring group of nurses who serve as colleagues and teachers in their home countries, as well as throughout the global community. These are the experts to whom I turn for answers to global health delivery questions.
In Peru, nurses like Dalia Guerra serve as the cornerstone of a program that has achieved the highest cure rates in the world for patients with multidrug-resistant tuberculosis. In Haiti, nurse Beatrice Romela is creating a community of Haitian nurse leaders, and in Rwanda, nurse Manzi Anatole directs a program that is providing mentoring and supervision for nurses at rural health clinics. And at Mamohau Hospital in rural Lesotho, lead midwife Maphaila Mabathoana works tirelessly to make sure women are able to have safe labor and deliveries.
Many of our partners in the United States and around the world have made substantial commitments to nursing. We need more partners like them. With the investment of the global community in nurse training, mentorship, and leadership, we can make enormous strides in strengthening health systems.
I am proud to be part of a strong community of nurses at Partners In Health. If Florence Nightingale saw our nurses providing compassionate care to millions of people in the poorest parts of the world, I think she would be proud as well.

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