Rethinking Sustainable Development in terms of Commons
Wouldn't sustainable development initiatives, mechanisms and policies considerably gain in effectiveness if they were planned and assessed in relation to the principles and pr of the commons?
- As object, the commons are the Common Wealth, the assets that we inherit or create, use and change, and that serve our livelihood (our natural, social and cultural resources, genetic and biologic diversity, knowledge, etc), that people pass on to future generations. These assets need to be nutured, (re)generated and to be indiscriminately accessible to the greatest number. They must therefore be protected against capture, over-exploitation, depletion and abuse.
- As pr, the commons are the Common Ethos of which people are an integral part; the culture and the relationships build with each other and with the earth, the ways of being and doing in common (caring, sharing, nurturing, replenishing our with discernment, empathy, equity, justice, mindfulness…). Th critically depend on sustained and adaptive know-how, on increased knowledge flows, and continuous collaboration and learning ways of working together on problem solving.
- As result, the commons are the Common Good, the outcomes of the p (access, capacity, well being, quality of life, prosperity, abundance). They are the life blood of the process, those that make the world thrive, and become in turn assets to nurture…
Commons, open access resources, public domain must be protected
We are here on relatively new territory. Business' endeavors have long been by construction dedicated to making the most profit out of what can be exploited -'supercharging' productivity of human endeavor, or 'drawing nutrients' from the soil, to name a few, as highlighted in the latest UN Global Compact report. This is a revealing vocabulary, and there are fine lines between sustainable practices and over-exploitation to identify and watch. It is crucial that the sustainable endeavors of business or any human activity be conducted in a sustainable way, with a focal point that can connect all issues and efforts, and serve as a 'vetting' system to gage the sustainability of initiatives. The commons can be this connector and vetting system. The fine line has to do with whether and how an activity protects and nurtures the commons and public domain, which as living system give some materiality to the interconnections between the social, the economic and the environment.
Because of inherently fragile and exposed nature and connections to human rights, the commons must be protected. It is important that the principles and provisions for the commons come to mind when creating policy and making tradeoffs in negotiations. Creating institutions to defend the commons to protect the public domain would be ideal.
Non discriminatory access to resources:
People involved directly must their own destiny and the decision making process
e who take from the commons must contribute to the commons.
Economics must concentrate on growing the commons. Growth that depletes the commons must be stopped
Focus on needs, use value and regenerati rather than on exchange value and material flows
Monitoring at the system level: Triple monitoring of status of an asset, usage of a practice AND resulting outcome
Difficulties and precautions in the applications of these principles
- Really empowering those who need it the most, associating people in the decision process, and changing the power distribution from centralized to decentralized, from 'west' to 'south'. This means letting go of some forms of power and control.
- Avoiding potential co-optation and misappropriation of the process if applied in a non systemic manner without associating people/practices with assets and outcomes to their specific contexts. Corporations -or any other type of organization- cannot assume the right to unilaterally govern or manage, and therefore enclose, the commons or what is currently in the public domain.
- Monitoring for unintended consequences and finding the points of limit when something beneficial can become toxic because conditions have changed or because over utilization of a practice or model and reduction of the variety of possible responses affects resilience and can make things brittle.
- Finding the balance between the fair protection against unfair competition and fair compensation of research and initial investments and the enclosure of whole domains of activity and resources, creating artificial scarcities that put the users/consumers/communities at the mercy of 'the markets' and of abuse of dominant positions.
Questions to be asked when making policy recommendations,
In particular as a vetting process and means to identify potential tradeoffs
- How is it linked to the commons as a system?
- What context does it address?
- What people/practices, assets and outcomes does it associate?
- What dimension of the commons does it grow/stop depleting?
- What dimensions of the commons does it put at risk?
- What are the risks of enclosure, abuse, over-exploitation?
- Who has access? How is over-usage and depletion protected?
- How is enclosure, appropriation, abusive exploitation prevented?
- Who are the stakeholders? How are they involved?
- How open and transparent are the decision processes and modes of governance?
- Where does the power lie?
- What are the learning and conflict resolution mechanisms in place?
- How does this contribute to empowering and enabling self-realization and self-healing at the individual and community level?
- What elements or circumstances could make it become detrimental to the commons?
- What are the assessment and correction mechanisms in place?
- How are assets, practices and outcomes assessed in inter-related ways?
- What are the mechanisms in place to avoid misinterpretation and misappropriation of the goal, target and indicator?
This is adapted from a recommendation to the UN-NGLS Civil Society Consultation on SDG's following the release of four UN Reports that will help determine the global post-2015 agenda for sustainable development. It is available as a collaborative document in the Institutionalizing the Commons project group that will further work on framing the commons principles for them to be better embedded in constitution, law and policy at various levels. To pursue the work at the UN, but also at the EU, national, regional and local levels. Please join the group to start collaborating!