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I Am Nigeria: Is Anybody Listening?

Allison Lee is a 1L at the McGill Faculty of Law. She is a research assistant on the Genome Canada Literature Review project and an associate editor for the McGill International Journal of Sustainable Development Law and Policy. She has a bachelor’s degree in International Development from the University of Ottawa, which spurred her interest in human rights, conflict, and international law.

The extremist attacks on satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris shocked the world last week. Meanwhile, deadly attacks in the town of Baga, Nigeria, in which up to 2,000 may have been killed have gone largely unnoticed. Even Nigeria’s President, Goodluck Jonathan, who has not been very vocal about the issues in his own country, strongly condemned the attacks in Paris. This begs the question: why did the Charlie Hebdo shootings in Paris, which killed 17 people, overshadow terrible attacks in Nigeria that left an estimated 2,000 dead?

Photo Credits: Dillspage

Photo Credits: Dillspage, Tumblr.

Far-Reaching vs. Limited Effects

Experts point to some very important indicators that explain why the Paris shootings were accorded more attention than Nigeria’s violence. According to them, the Charlie Hebdo shootings raise issues of fundamental liberties that transcend France’s borders and extend to all European countries, which is perceived as more important than just another attack in a sequence of ongoing violence that has plagued Nigeria since independence. Furthermore, the far greater western media presence in Paris as opposed to Boko Haram controlled regions meant that coverage of the shootings was easier to obtain. Finally, experts argue that the shootings in France raise serious policy issues related to security, immigration, and the War on Terror, while the events in Nigeria are conceptualized as a domestic issue of angry Nigerians who feel marginalized by corruption and poverty.

This limited view is problematic for several reasons. Not only is it characteristic of a Western, ethnocentric worldview, it also ignores the realities of the situation in Nigeria. Boko Haram is no longer just a problem for Nigeria, but also for neighbouring Cameroon and Niger, who have also endured attacks from this group. Moreover, the increasing strength of such a dangerous group will begin to raise serious policy considerations that could potentially extend past Africa and eventually affect Western countries, much like the Islamic State (IS) has.

Nigeria’s Importance to Sustainable Development

 By virtue of having both the largest economy and population in Africa, Nigeria plays a key role in the continent’s sustainable development efforts. The country is rich in renewable and non-renewable resources. The rainforest produces various food crops, while the oil-rich Niger Delta makes Nigeria one of the largest oil producers in the world.

Nigeria is also a regional leader, extensively participating in organizations such as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which aims to contribute to development efforts in Nigeria and its neighbouring countries.

Creating stability in Nigeria by countering the threat posed by Boko Haram and fostering more stable and sustainable development efforts will undoubtedly have an effect on the countries around it as they continue to become even more regionally integrated through ECOWAS.

Moving Forward

Combatting groups like Boko Haram requires a combination of short- and long-term solutions if peace and development are to be achieved. The following strategies could provide important first steps in achieving more sustainable development and neutralizing the threat Boko Haram poses to both Nigeria and the wider international community.

A key focus should be combatting corruption and fostering good governance. Empowering northern state governments to lead the charge against Boko Haram could mitigate conspiracy theories that the siege is related to the upcoming elections. The federal government could also play a role by establishing a Ministry of Northern Affairs to address grievances in the north.

These short-term goals could potentially foster greater nation building in Nigeria, which is essential for long-term sustainable development.  The sense of alienation many Nigerians feel due to underdevelopment and long-standing inequalities fuels youth to feel affinity for identities that uphold the Nigerian state as the enemy. Cultivating a Nigerian identity that allows citizens to develop a sense of community with one another and with the state could have far-reaching positive impacts on combatting terrorism, ensuring sustainable development, and improving lives.


Photo Credits: Schrankartoons, Tumblr.


Rethinking the ‘Public’ in Public utility

Kathryn is a second year law student at McGill University and holds a B.A in Environmental Studies and Politics from Bishop’s University, Qc. Beyond the classroom, her many weeks spent living out of a canoe continue to inspire her interest in protecting our beautiful planet.

In Quebec, as elsewhere in Canada, the holder of a mining right has the ability to expropriate the surface owner’s land. This broad power, which surpasses those given to other land users, was recently limited in the Act to Amend the Mining Act which came into force in 2013. Notably, expropriation is now only possible at the exploitation stage (once a mining lease is issued) and requires that the holder of a mining right enter into agreement with the surface owner. Yet ultimately if such an agreement is not reached, expropriation may still be granted; the rights of a miner are placed above those of the surface owner. The fact that article 952 of the Civil Code of Quebec, requires that expropriation be for ‘public utility’ implies that mining is in they eyes of the law a public utiliy.

Yann Arthus Bertrand – Oil sands residue landfill, Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada. | Courtesy of Tumblr.


The historical roots of mining legislation make it easier to understand how this assumption reflected societal interests at the onset of mining development in Canada. Grounded primarily in the concept of ‘free entry‘ or ‘free mining’, early mining law gave wide access rights to mineral resources to anyone who wished to explore or develop a claim. This was fuelled by a desire to encourage settlement across the country. However, the realities of modern society have pushed many to wonder to what extent this is an out-dated assumption. Juxtaposed with the law’s current regime for environmental rehabilitation and site restoration, the extent to which these broad rights reflect the interests of the ‘public’ of today and further into the future is dubious.

The lack of foresight within the environmental regulatory framework for mining practices in the past has left the public with a significant environmental, social and economic burden. Historically, many mine sites across Canada were abandoned by their owners, who were either unwilling or unable to pay for rehabilitation projects, leaving governments to foot the bill for over 10,000 sites that required some degree of rehabilitation. The total cost for preventing further proliferation and managing existing abandoned mine site by Canada’s federal, provincial and territorial governments is estimated at 1 billion dollars. In Quebec, approximately 45 sites currently fall within the province’s responsibility. As of 2010, the province had spent an estimated 300 million dollars on site restoration.



Given the consequences of historically lax environmental policy, it is comforting that the obligations imposed on miners vis-a-vis site rehabilitation and restoration have since been bolstered. In Quebec, mining companies are required to submit and have approved a restoration plan before they are granted a mining lease. However, past practice shows that these demands are not always well enforced. In 2010, a report from l’Institut de Recherche et d’Informations Socio-économiques (IRIS) showed that although mining companies were required to submit a restoration plan before beginning mining activities, less than 50% had provided such a report.

Nevertheless, in Quebec, new measures have been put in place to prevent site restoration costs from falling on the public sector. Under the Regulation respecting mineral substances other than petroleum, miners must also provide financial guarantees from 70% to 100% of the total anticipated costs of all rehabilitation work, with the total amount due in three separate instalments over a three year period. One of the most obvious shortfalls of the current legislation, however, is that in the event of a mining operation halting before the three year mark, there will necessarily be insufficient funds put aside. In this case, most often the companies themselves have become insolvent and so pursuing them for the remaining amount is fruitless.

Elsewhere in Canada, the requirements for financial guarantees are sometimes far less stringent. In the Alberta oil sands, for example, mining companies are only required to front their financial guarantees six years before the projected end of the project, and some estimates have suggested that the Alberta’s Mine Financial Security program may be underfunded by 10$ – 15$ billion dollars - a scary thought when one considers that tailing ponds in Alberta, containing toxic waste by-products from mining activity, are projected to grow to more than twice the size of the city of Vancouver by 2020 and remain there ‘indefinitely’.

Garth Lenz. from his touring exhibit: The True Cost of Oil. - Bordering tailing ponds on either side, accumulated toxic waste is leached into the Athabasca River as its winds through the Alberta Tar Sands | Courtesy of Tumblr.

Garth Lenz. from his touring exhibit: The True Cost of Oil. – Bordering tailing ponds on either side, accumulated toxic waste is leached into the Athabasca River as its winds through the Alberta Tar Sands | Courtesy of Tumblr.



Yet, perhaps more worrisome is that, regardless of whether financial security rules were tightened up by, say, requiring the payment of 100% of anticipated costs prior to the commencement of mining operations, in the long run, the burden will likely fall back on the public sector nonetheless. Considering that maintenance of tailing ponds can be expected to last hundreds of year, and as history has shown, projected costs of rehabilitation cannot predict disasters such as the recent Mont Polley spill, it becomes imperative that governments retain the ability to demand financial payment from companies in the future. However, due to the ephemeral character of companies in the 21st century, it can be doubtful whether the companies of today will still exists to pay for the disasters of tomorrow.

Thus, unless current legislative and regulatory practices are drastically altered and reinforced, or we become more precautious about issuing mining leases for increasingly complex and large scale projects, it is almost inevitable that future generations will be left with the burden of attempting to contain and mitigate environmental, social and economic harms. In that sense, although mining in Quebec is presumed to be in line with ‘public utility’, the extent to which this short term vision of cost-benefit analysis mean we are passing on an incredible burden onto ‘the public’ of tomorrow is a pernicious question.

Advancing in the Absence of Rule of Law: Sustainable Development in Pakistan

Mariam Chauhan is a first year student at the McGill Faculty of Law and associate editor for the JSDLP. 


“I have heard that on the day the world was born,

the bird of love was released to fly.

It searched all the three worlds

but could not find a fit resting place.

So it turned and entered the inmost heart,

favoured it and never flew elsewhere.

The three worlds asked it then,

‘Why are you attached to the human heart?’

‘Suffering,” it replied, “is the only hope for humans.

Where there is sorrow, there I dwell.’

Where there is grief in the world, love has its dwelling.”

-Mir Sayyid Manjhan Shattari Rajgiri, Madhumalati: An Indian Sufi Romance

Old Lahore, 1890s.

Old Lahore, 1890s. | Photo courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons.

As writer Mohsin Hamid said, “kings and invaders and viziers and presidents may have been forgotten, but everyone knows the names of our great poets.” From Bulleh Shah to Allama Iqbal, and all the visionaries in between and thereafter, there is no denying that the rich literary heritage of Pakistan and its surrounding regions lives on in many Pakistani households. Though embodying a poignant beauty immune to imitation, this poetry is recited time and again, permitting it to live far longer than any physical incarnation of its stanzas. On the other hand, in light of environmental degradation, rapid urbanization, political corruption, and instability, the nation’s visual culture and natural landscapes face a more pertinent threat of disintegration.

Among the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Pakistan are the ruins at Moenjodaro in the province of Sindh. The 5000 year-old city flourished for over 800 years, paving the way for later urban development in South Asia. The urban planning at Moenjodaro was exceptional for its time, surpassing that of numerous subsequent oriental civilizations.

Today, Pakistan’s urban centers provide a precarious existence for the majority of the millions that live therein. The country is urbanizing at the fastest annual rate in South Asia, with Karachi’s population alone growing 80% between 2000 and 2010. While urbanization can be promising for an ailing economy like that of Pakistan, urban growth  has not been supported by adequate infrastructure. Cities are overburdened, rendering basic services –notably energy, healthcare, water, and adequate housing– severely insufficient. Recourse to alternative political and religious associations to fill these gaps becomes the default for many, with debilitating consequences that have reverberated across the nation and spilled over into surrounding regional conflicts.

The conditions of our physical surroundings are pivotal to a healthy sense of well-being and viable long-term development. Yet, notable historic cities in the world exist in a state of disrepair and neglect despite their rich heritage. The renovation and revitalization of the Azhar Park Project in Darb al-Ahmar, Egypt demonstrates the economic and social benefits that can accrue from mindfulness toward historic cities in the context of sustainable development. Among notable others, the Heritage Foundation of Pakistan and the Aga Khan Historic Cities Programme adopted this holistic approach to cultural conservation. Working from Swat to Sindh, the Heritage Foundation of Pakistan has reconstructed areas ravaged by floods and earthquakes with an eye for green construction intended to withstand the increasing instances of natural disaster. The restorative work of both groups empowers local economies and minority factions.

Ravi River “All the wonderful booklore in your library is not worth one glorious sunset on the banks of the Ravi.” –Allama Iqbal

Ravi River
“All the wonderful booklore in your library is not worth one glorious sunset on the banks of the Ravi.” –Allama Iqbal | Photo Credits: Pakistan in Focus kufarooq21.wordpress.com.

A dysfunctional democracy severely hampers the possibilities for sustainable development. The lack of rule of law in Pakistan is characterized by an inefficient judicial system accessible largely to the rich and powerful and lacking public confidence. Tensions persist between the inherited common law system and varying forms of Islamic jurisprudence. The inability of the judiciary to meaningfully address the multifold legal issues in Pakistan has led resort to extreme forms of Islamic jurisprudence. Ad-hoc justice has however, at times led to pointed citizen-led initiatives, demonstrating the will of the people of Pakistan to not acquiesce to the forces of moral corruption that often reign supreme in the land of the pure.

While the initiatives of organizations have demonstrated significant advancements in sustainable development in Pakistan, the present status quo does not address long-term challenges such as increasing urbanization and political instability coupled with the effects of climate change. If the destruction of the Buddhas of Bamiyan in neighbouring Afghanistan and the continued devastation from annual flooding are to serve as any lesson, Pakistan needs to be vigilant in ensuring its sites of culture are conserved within the context of sustainable development. The holistic approach of the Heritage Foundation and the Aga Khan Development Network are but the tip of possible successes that await Pakistan.

Harvesting the Commons: Expanding Public Property, Dumpster Diving, and the Law

sasha kovalchuk is an armchair communist who likes cycling and hates winter. He is an MA candidate in Political Science. sofija vrbaški is an anti-militarist, anti-fa, feminist activist and an MA candidate in Dispute Resolution. Both are roommates, dumpster divers, and graduate students in University of Victoria, situated on unceded Coast Salish territories. 

Bread, fruits and vegetables. Attribution: sasha kovalchuk and sofija vrbaški.

Bread, fruits and vegetables. Attribution: sasha kovalchuk and sofija vrbaški.

We waste food at scandalous levels. The proof is in the dumpsters. Although many Canadians struggle to feed themselves daily, 45% of fruits, vegetable, and roots are discarded before ever reaching the dinner table (FAO).  In total, Canada alone wastes $27 billion worth of food annually. In comparison, student debt in Canada, as of 2013, is $15 billion. The value of this trash is a free education nearly twice over for every Canadian student. To belabour the point, the value of wasted food equals to the GDP of the poorest 32 countries of the world combined.  It is not only the food that goes to waste, but also the energy, farmland, and carbon emissions necessary for production and transportation (Statistics Canada).

As dumpster divers, we witness the scale of this waste first-hand. Although R. v. Patrick Sec.B1.8 established that person’s s. 8 privacy rights does not inhibit going through someone’s curbside garbage, we run the risk of being charged with trespassing under s.4 of British Columbia’s Trespass Act. In the case, the court affirmed Justice Ritter J.A.’s remark that: “[a] reasonable perso[n] would not expect that garbage is secure and private, and would conclude that garbage is not obviously private in nature”. So we can deduce that the no reasonable person would think thrown out food as private property. The law, however, only recognizes that trash is public once it leaves private property, i.e. once it is on the curb. Yet the discarded food in the dumpster, which is public in precedent would be denied to us because it is situated on private property. So we ask, since garbage is public and belongs to no one, how is it that we can be stopped (and potentially charged) for taking no one’s food?

The question becomes this: why should abandoned goods receive private protection when they would be more beneficial and less wasteful in the public sphere? In policy terms food wastage is an issue of the commons. Those issues encompass interests that affect everybody, for example air quality, and therefore justify regulating certain private practices like those of coal factories. Food, like air, everybody needs. Along these lines, we submit that the planet is a commons; something that belongs to everybody, including future generations. After all, according to the Federal Sustainability Development Act “‘sustainable development’ means development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet [their own]”.

To illustrate how private property stymies attempts for sustainability, let us examine the policy responses to food wastage without introducing the commons. Sustainability becomes political rhetoric because it omits the social and economic injustices born out of property. For instance, legislators in Belgium and France have passed laws that obligate supermarkets to donate surplus food to food banks. Such measures have led the European Union to investigate on how it can further expand these initiatives. What these types of laws do not address is why we need food banks in the first place? As Maya Angelou said “When I feed the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist”.

Dumpster. Photo attribution: Ricardo Wang. Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons.

Dumpster. Photo attribution: Ricardo Wang. Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons.

Take for instance the homeowners’ (the property-owning class’) approach to sustainability by retrofitting their houses. For a crude counterpoint, homes in slums made out of garbage would be a just as legitimate model of recyclable and reusable (hence sustainable) construction. These examples illustrate that a capitalist version of sustainability, as endorsed by Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, and the Sierra Club, lacks any notions of social justice. So-called ‘eco-movements’ are an ideology that do not confront capitalism head-on, nor do they challenge the inequalities and waste that property produces. Sustainability and capitalism are incompatible because property is the nature of capitalism, and sustainability is the nature of the commons.

To paraphrase and echo Essig (2009) we have no illusion that our dumpster diving will change or subvert global capitalism. We dive for the commons as a cultural means to challenge property, a taboo in capitalist society. Sustainability and food are issues of the commons, and unless society is prepared to restructure property relations and law, both are relegated to the dumps.


Et si les piles étaient consignées?

Emmanuelle D.-Tremblay est étudiante en première année à la faculté de droit de McGill. L’histoire et l’actualité sont ses principaux champs d’intérêt.

Vous pensiez que les piles étaient en voie d’extinction? Que nenni! Les ventes de piles sont plutôt en hausse. Ces piles, de toutes tailles, se cachent partout dans notre quotidien : télécommande, souris, cellulaire, portable… Quoi en faire lorsqu’elles rendent l’âme? Si vous avez pensé à aller les déposer à un point de collecte, vous faites tristement partie de la minorité.

Piles | Photo: gracieuseté de Flickr CC.

Contenant des métaux lourds, les piles usagées sont autant, sinon plus nocives pour l’environnement que le sont par exemple les bouteilles de verre, qui elles font l’objet d’une consigne. Alors que 94 % des bouteilles de vin et de spiritueux (en usage domestique; chez les restaurateurs ce chiffre plonge) sont recyclées, seules 6 % des piles sont recyclées. Et ce, malgré la gratuité du geste et le fait que 95% des Québécois habitent à moins de 15 kilomètres d’un point de dépôt public. Le reste trouve le chemin de l’enfouissement ou de l’incinérateur. Dans les deux cas, il y a un risque de pollution environnementale. Tout cela, alors les métaux rares se recyclent. D’anciennes piles peuvent même servir à la fabrication de nouvelles piles. Que peut faire la législation pour améliorer ces statistiques?

De toute évidence, le recyclage des piles sur une base volontaire est un échec. Le recyclage des piles dépend surtout pour le moment des initiatives de particuliers qui, soit organisent leur propre collecte (comme IKEA, Mountain Equipment Co-op ou Bureau en gros), soit se munissent d’une boîte d’Appel à Recycler (elle-même une initiative privée).

Pourquoi ne pas reproduire le modèle des bouteilles de bière? Évidemment, ce n’est pas la solution idéale. Après tout, 94 % des bouteilles de vin sont récupérées chez les particuliers sans aucune motivation monétaire. Il y a donc un problème de sensibilisation aux effets nocifs des piles désuètes. Mais outre cela, il y a peut-être aussi l’effet de la paresse. Si les piles pouvaient être déposées dans le bac bleu, nul doute que leur taux de récupération serait bien plus élevé que 6 %. Pour des raisons de contamination, elles ne peuvent l’être. Devoir se déplacer pour se débarrasser de ses encombrantes vieilles piles doit en décourager plus d’un. On pourrait aussi penser à un système de collecte à domicile. Or, cela engendrerait de nouvelles dépenses pour les municipalités qui essaient justement de réduire les coûts du ramassage des déchets. Il faut trouver une motivation suffisante aux citoyens à se déplacer pour recycler les piles.

Certes, en vertu du Règlement sur la récupération et la valorisation de produits par les entreprises, le fabricant « doit mettre en oeuvre [un] programme de récupération et de valorisation ». Cependant, le but final visé de 65 % pourrait être plus ambitieux. Une écotaxe, comme celle prônée le règlement, pourrait financer la revalorisation, mais ne permettrait pas au consommateur de récupérer sa mise. Il n’aurait donc pas davantage de motivation (outre celle de l’écologie) à déposer ses piles usagées à un point de collecte. Un système de consigne pourrait cependant fournir cette motivation.

Bouteille | Photo: gracieuseté de Flickr CC.

En ce moment, le consommateur qui retourne sa bouteille de bière au vendeur se voit rembourser entre 5¢ et 20 ¢ par unité. Les résultats sont concluants : entre 66 % et 95 %, tout dépendant du type de contenant et du montant de la consigne, des produits consignés sont ramenés. Le législateur pourrait assurer un taux similaire de récupération en établissant la consigne à un montant incitatif. La consigne, rappelons-le, ne coûte rien au consommateur, à moins qu’il ne choisisse de ne pas retourner ses piles. Et ce serait l’industrie, comme pour les bouteilles de bière, qui assumerait les coûts de l’acheminement au recycleur. Cela ne serait pas inouï non plus, puisqu’Appel à Recycler, une initiative de l’industrie dont font partie Sony, Energizer et Panasonic, finance déjà la collecte et le recyclage de ces déchets dangereux.

La consigne est donc un puissant outil de développement durable. Pourrait-elle s’appliquer aux piles? L’idée est lancée!

Environmental Law Provisions Better Protect Civilian Rights than Humanitarian Law Provisions Do

Jinnie Liu is a 2L at McGill. In addition to editing for the JSDLP, she also works in a class action firm involved in pro bono environmental law cases (belugas!), manages “Contours: Voices of Women in Law”, and is a business law caseworker for a legal clinic servicing local startup companies. Before studying law, she studied science.

Scholars either focus on the protection of civilians through international humanitarian law (IHL) or on the protection of environment through international environmental law (IEL). However, as Kristen Stefanik explained in her paper and in her talk in Ottawa during the 43rd conference of the Canadian Council on International Law, this dichotomy does not make sense. The protection of civilians and the protection of environment are inextricably linked. Harms to environment during armed conflicts inevitably entail harms to local civilians. As such, IHL proposes to integrate environmental protection principles within its humanitarian framework. However, this still confers inadequate protection because it does not compel countries to consider the long-term consequences of their military decisions. IHL should remedy this deficiency by borrowing principles from IEL, namely the intergenerational equity and the precautionary principle.


During the Vietnam War, US sprayed defoliants on Vietnamese territories. Effects on the environment and the local population persist even four decades later. In addition to causing environmental damage, defoliants are also known to cause cancers, miscarriages, birth defects, and congenital malformations | Photo courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons.

During the Vietnam War, US sprayed defoliants on Vietnamese territories. Effects on the environment and the local population persist even four decades later. In addition to causing environmental damage, defoliants are also known to cause cancers, miscarriages, birth defects, and congenital malformations | Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.


Deficiencies of IHL

IHL already enshrined environmental principles in its framework to confer a broader protection on civilians. However, in practice, this protection is minimally achieved. The principles are ambiguous and flexible, allowing armed forces to cause significant damages to both humans and the environment without being bound by specific guidelines. For instance, IHL does not obligate countries to account for scientific uncertainty, which carries potentially severe consequences when novel technology weapons are involved in armed conflicts. IHL does not obligate countries to account for long-term risks associated with their weapons of choice either. What is the long-term threat that depleted uranium poses to the health of local populations (see Iraq’s case)? To the environment in which they live? Has sufficient scientific research been conducted? These are questions that current IHL does not effectively compel countries to consider when they make their military decisions. The long-term safety of civilians is therefore compromised.

Graph showing the increasing rate of congenital malformations in Iraq, after use of depleted uranium during conflict. | Photo courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons.

Graph showing the increasing rate of congenital malformations in Iraq, after use of depleted uranium during conflict. | Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.


All things considered, IHL cannot achieve the dual environmental-humanitarian protection it contemplates despite enshrining some environmental principles. It needs to do more by borrowing principles directly from IEL, namely intergenerational equity and the precautionary principle. Both principles require nations to assess the long-term consequences before deciding to strike.


Solutions Envisaged

There are many solutions that are currently envisaged. One of them is to ensure intergenerational equity. Mrs. Stefanik posits that it is the “responsibility of current generations to future generations for the protection and preservation of the environment”. As such, each generation has rights and obligations with respect to the environment. Enshrining this principle into humanitarian law not only compels nations to make military decisions in a way accounting for the immediate consequences, but it also compels them to respect their duty to account for the long term, uncertain consequences of their actions on the environment and the human rights of future generations. Another solution is to rely on the precautionary principle, which dictates that we should take precautionary measures to protect the environment even when there is no scientific certainty that environmental harm will occur, since it is usually too late to repair the damage when we do reach certainty.

A more comprehensive solution would be to apply the two principles to close the gap between IHL and IEL and achieve dual protection. In fact, the two principles can be applied in a humanitarian framework. They would compel decision-makers to be sensitive to the long-term impacts of their decisions and manage conflicts in a way that does not compromise the environment and the human rights of future generations. For instance, they would have to ensure not to leave weapon debris on the grounds, even though there is no clear scientific evidence demonstrating that the debris might damage the local ecosystems – because in the event such evidence does become available, it will already be too late to repair the damages. Environmental protection would be achieved. Similarly, decision makers would also have to make sure not to leave debris in order to protect the population in the long term – debris might become land mines likely to injure children who wander on the grounds long after strikes have ended. In turn, humanitarian protection would also be achieved.

If Mrs. Stefanik showed how humanitarian protection and environmental protection go hand in hand in armed conflicts, her insights could resonate elsewhere. Global warming causes ocean levels to increase and populations to displace. As suggested by talks about migrant rights during the same conference that Mrs. Stefanik attended, migration law has practical deficiencies. By analogy, just like importing environmental principles into humanitarian law can confer better dual protection, perhaps doing the same for migration law can confer better protection upon both the planet and the persons susceptible to be displaced because of “climate casualties”. Industries would have to respect the precautionary and the intergenerational principles in managing their polluting industrial activities. They would have to consider the long-term impact of their pollution upon sea levels and upon the maritime populations.

Out of Sight and Out of Reach? Improving the Sustainability of the World’s Data Centres

Étienne F. Lacombe is a first year student at the Faculty of Law. He majored in criminology and political science before beginning his studies at McGill.

When I was growing up, the family movie night involved walking to the store and picking out a film for the evening. Times have changed. Fast forward a few years and I couldn’t rent a movie if I tried. The Blockbuster by my house has long since reinvented itself as a fast food joint and I no longer own a disc drive. The shift away from physical media and toward retrieving data remotely has had an obvious impact on the movie night experience but its significance for the environment is more obscure.

Data from the US draws a clear picture of movie streaming’s scale and energy consumption. In 2011, Americans used enough power to sustain 175,000 households for a year by streaming 3.2 billion hours of video. While the devices with which users view online movies play a large part in terms of energy consumption, it is also worth reflecting on the hidden components that affect the sustainability of movie streaming and remote data retrieval more broadly. I have relied on American statistics below for consistency and due to the accessibility of sources.

 Data Centres: Humming in the shadows

Server racks in a data centre. Photo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons.

Server racks in a data centre. Photo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons.

Data centres big and small contain servers and other equipment that allow data to be stored and accessed remotely. These information warehouses require vast amounts of electricity both to run their equipment and to prevent it from overheating. Data centres use about 100 to 200 times more electricity per square foot than a modern office building. In 2010, American data centres already consumed 2% of that country’s electricity. If that figure does not seem substantial, consider that these data hubs are among the fastest growing electricity consumers in the US. By 2013, American data centres consumed the equivalent annual output of 34 large coal power plants and it is estimated that this consumption will increase to the equivalent output of 50 power plants by 2020.

 An alarming trend?

As the Internet continues to grow, so too does the shift toward video streaming. Earlier this year, Cisco estimated that video on demand traffic will double by the year 2018. This trend is not negative in and of itself. The CO2 emissions associated with streaming movies is still lower than that of watching a DVD once manufacturing, shipping, and driving to the store are taken into account. Of course, the convenience of streaming videos from home means that people will probably watch more movies than if releases were only available on DVD. Nonetheless, since the trend toward remote data retrieval does not appear to be reversible, we are left to ponder the question of how to mitigate its energy impact.

 Regulation and Beyond

Public regulation appears to be stuck at the periphery of the data centre consumption issue. Governments can continue to perform a traditional monitoring role, as some American states have done by regulating the use of backup diesel generators at individual data centres. The key to more meaningful regulation involves gaining knowledge of the operating procedures within each server facility. This may prove a challenge where the private and highly technical nature of data centres makes it difficult to assess their consumption. If the US government could not determine how much power its own data centres use, it is doubtful that it could pinpoint performance issues within private centres.

Indeed, many potential energy efficiencies within data centres can only be identified and applied by the private entities that run them. For smaller companies hosting their own servers, this may mean outsourcing their data storage needs to more efficient large-scale facilities. For larger centres, investing in internal diagnostics to detect comatose servers would be preferable. Comatose servers are those units that continue to operate and consume electricity indefinitely while doing very little, often because the information they contain is no longer relevant. In any case, corporate policies that voluntarily disclose the energy and carbon performance of individual data centres would provide an enticement for their sustainable operation.

Diagram of the Utah Data Center. Photo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons.

Diagram of the Utah Data Center. Photo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons.


The family movie night will never be the same again. The video streaming trend shows no sign of slowing down and, in any case, it is not inherently more harmful than watching the same movies on DVD. What may worry some sustainability advocates is the government’s limited power in controlling the energy use of individual data centres. Even if the government does not scale back its traditional watchdog role, meaningful improvements in consumption efficiency will require an active commitment on the part of private data centre operators.

Reinventing Mining: are cooperatives the answer?

Brodie Noga is in his second year of law school and is interested in everything to do with mining. When not busy studying how rocks are taken out of the earth he enjoys climbing on them as well.

Dry-drilling in Bolivian mining cooperatives.
Photo credit: Brodie Noga, 2011

Outside of war, few other human activities are the site of as much strife as mining. From the mit’a of 16th century Upper Peru, the gold and silver rushes of the 19th century, to the Ok Tedi mine in Papua New Guinea, the history of mining is a tale of human struggle over who will profit, who will be harmed, and who will live with the consequences. This history persists despite the staggering engineering problems we’ve overcome. If there is ore hidden too far away we will literally move mountains to reach it, but a just and equitable system of mining remains elusive.

A solution is needed. With the world’s population rapidly industrializing and the mines that feed the global commodity chain growing rapidly in both number and scale, the question of how we can create an ethical and sustainable practice of mining is among the most pressing we face as a species.

While conducting ethnographic research in Bolivian mining cooperatives, I became convinced that a critical aspect of an answer to this question will depend on re-thinking the fundamental structure of how we do the business of mining. Cooperatives are no silver bullet -we’ll slay no monsters today- but they offer real and tangible means of addressing the root causes of mining conflicts, in particular by giving local communities real power and real stakes within a mine’s operation.

The Mining Cooperative

Mina Rosario cooperative in Potosí, Bolivia.
Photo credit: Brodie Noga, 2011

The earliest Bolivian mining cooperatives emerged in the 1930s out of the blood, dust, and thirst of the Chaco War. The war weakened the power of the ruling elites, allowing men and women to take over abandoned mines in the once famously wealthy city of Potosí. Working independently was a way to escape the exploitative labour practices of private mining companies and provided a steady source of income. Cooperatives provided a simple organizational structure for individual miners to designate who had rights to what section of a mine and to share common costs; though unlike other cooperatives, revenues were not shared among members. However, cooperatives remained relatively small players until the successive failures of the Bolivian state-owned mining company, COMIBOL, through the 1950s–1990s, which forced families dependent on mining to take over recently closed mines on their own.

Today, mining cooperatives represent the majority of the workforce in Bolivia’s mining sector, are represented by a national federation FENCOMIN, have votes on COMIBOL’s board of directors, and operate numerous small to mid scale mines. While the mining cooperative model is strongest in Bolivia, it is not endemic to it, and cooperatives form an important part of the resource sector in countries across the world, including EcuadorMaliGhanaSierra Leone, and Papua New Guinea.

What do cooperatives have to offer?

Even the most modest of modern mining operations require significant high-risk investments and as a result must offer high rates of return to attract financing. Because of this, mining companies are overwhelmingly headquartered in the centres of mining financing (Toronto and Vancouver) where they are able to consolidate global capital flows. This has several implications for communities affected by mining operations. First, the ultimate decision making power is located thousands of miles form where impacts are felt. Corporate structure also provides no formal means of incorporating local political agency outside of voluntary Community Social Responsibility (CSR) policies. The effects of weakened political agency are exacerbated in situations where the community affected is politically marginalized and vulnerable to state violence. Second, while companies can feed profits into communities by ways of revenue sharing, employment and service procurement, by necessity the majority of profits must flow back to investors. The result is that even in Quebec, where there is a sophisticated taxation regime, the economic benefits of mining are negligible. It is these two issues, the lack of control and the lack of benefit, which is at the heart of many, if not most, mining conflicts across the globe.

By granting flexibility over who is allowed to participate in decision-making and who profits from mining activities cooperatives can benefit from greater local legitimacy. In Bolivia, workers run the cooperatives, they annually elect an executive council and representatives in regional and national mining organizations. Each miner has significant discretion over how and when they will work. The cooperative model can be easily modified to include community members within its umbrella. The reality is that by giving individuals formal institutional rights, cooperatives offer far more power, and by extension far more legitimacy, over even the most generous of CSR consultation schemes. Second, cooperatives have greater flexibility in how they distribute profits. While mines in Potosí only provide minimal redistribution of revenues, the cooperative model can easily adapt to distribute revenues evenly among members or develop a more sophisticated scheme of distribution. More importantly, regardless of how revenues are distributed, they remain within the community, as there are no foreign investments that need to be recouped. It is for this reason that a number of international development agencies have funded mining cooperatives as vehicle of local development.

Mining cooperatives also offer a number of potential incidental benefits. First, small-scale mining is a critical source of employment in many developing nations, but as it is largely in the informal economy, it is very difficult to regulate. By providing a consolidated institutional structure, cooperatives make the regulation of small-scale mining far more efficient. Second, cooperatives offer an important way of increasing women’s participation in extraction industries and their benefits from it. In Bolivia, Palliris and other women are important actors within cooperatives—though significant gender disparities persist—and in Sierra Leone, women dominate the artisanal gold mining industry.

What are the challenges to the cooperative model?:

Lack of Capital

While cooperatives have flourished in Bolivia and are increasingly being supported as an alternative model of mining development, they are far from perfect and pose substantial challenges. The most significant of these is the lack of capital. Individual miners have no hope of accessing sufficient security for large investment, and even if they did, small-scale mining activities rarely yield enough profits to pay these loans back in the short-term. In Bolivia this lack of capital is the root cause of a number of serious issues. First, cooperatives are unable to participate in secondary industries, such as milling, transportation and refining. As a result miners are limited to profits from selling raw ore and do not benefit from any added value. More seriously, they are left vulnerable to the predatory practices of private companies who can dictate the rents miners will pay for equipment and services. Lastly, miners are often unable to afford the basic tools to perform their work safely and effectively; in Potosí a large number of miners worked with hand drills, and those with powered drills had no water to cut down on the hazardous clouds of dust. The lack of investment also makes environmental protection initiatives difficult to implement, and tailing runoffs and mercury contamination are serious issues in many mining cooperatives.

Other Forms of Social Division

Another serious issue is that the effectiveness of mining cooperatives as an alternative model is highly dependent specifically on how the cooperatives are structured. In Bolivia cooperatives have created their own significant forms of social stratification. First, income is not always redistributed; rather individual members are able to keep whatever profits they generate out of their work. Second, cooperative members frequently hire wage labourers who have no institutional power and do not benefit from the social services provided to members. Third, while women can become members of cooperatives, they are more often relegated to low paying and precarious work with minimal institutional power within the cooperatives themselves.

Regulatory Challenges

**Lastly, while many have written about cooperatives as vehicles for formalizing the artisanal mining sector, the Bolivian example demonstrates that cooperatives alone are no solution. There remain numerous environmental concerns about dumping of tailings into rivers; unsafe employment practices that result in frequent collapses, silicosis or gas poisonings; and the practice of hiring children as young as thirteen to work underground. There are laws on all of these practices but they are rarely enforced even though there is a comprehensive institutional structure surrounding the cooperatives.

Adapting the cooperative model:

Alternative financing models

While these problems are all significant, none of them are insurmountable. The problem with capital financing will either need to be dealt with directly by the state or by social financing initiatives. The Bolivian state has financed cooperatives to take over mid sized operations, whose work is facilitated by the higher levels of cooperative organization. Micro-financing is another possible alternative, however even the most basic of mining equipment can be exceptionally expensive and given lower rates of return any loans can only be paid off over a multi-year period, which poses challenges to the traditional micro-finance model. In Bolivia another novel situation has arisen where junior mining companies have begun joint ventures with cooperatives. In these arrangements the cooperatives perform exploration work and once a viable claim has been found the juniors purchase the site in order to develop it.

Changing the cooperative structure

The issues of exclusivity and inequality are more complex and solutions will be affected by existing community dynamics. However, Nicaraguan coffee cooperatives have implemented community wide decision-making processes with mechanisms for wealth redistribution and environmental management. While there may be challenges in translating this model into the other social contexts, it offers important lessons for crafting more equitable cooperative structures.

Creating national cooperative structures

Improving the effectiveness of regulations will be highly dependent on a number of factors. But states can aid the means of managing potentially thousands of cooperatives with the aid of regional and national cooperative organizations. These structures are already in place in Bolivia, with numerous regional bodies and a singular national federation of cooperatives that lobbies and supports the development of cooperative mines. Goverments will also need to implement effective enforcement mechanisms and development policies to address the poverty that underlies many of the issues in small-scale mining.

Repaying our Debts

The miners I worked with in Bolivia believed that to take minerals from the earth meant incurring a debt with la Pachamama (mother-earth). This debt was unavoidable; it was inherent to the nature of mining. This has always stuck with me. We will never sanitize mining, human conflict and environmental damages may always be unavoidable. However, we are all dependent on the products of mining, and as such we are all morally implicated in the harm it causes. An answer to mining conflicts is needed, and it is needed now. Perhaps mining cooperatives will be part of that answer.

Capture et stockage de charbon : une soi-disant solution

Sara Andrade est une étudiante de deuxième année à la Faculté de Droit de McGill. Elle est éditrice associée de la RDPDD et présidente du Club de Droit de l’Environnement de McGill. L’hiver, elle aime tricoter. 

Centrale électrique de Bełchatów, en Pologne. Photo: gracieuseté de Flickr CC.

Centrale électrique de Bełchatów, en Pologne. Photo: gracieuseté de Flickr CC.

Minimiser le changement climatique en éliminant les émissions de gaz à effet de serre à l’échelle globale d’ici 2100 est encore possible, a affirmé le 2 novembre dernier le Groupe d’experts intergouvernemental sur l’évolution du climat (GIEC). Cette réduction complète n’aurait apparemment qu’un maigre effet sur l’économie mondiale. Réitérant l’importance de l’enjeu climatique alarmant, ce rapport synthétique se veut plus direct et ferme sur la question environnementale : il faudra arrêter l’utilisation des combustibles fossiles d’ici la fin du siècle, à moins que des technologies de captage de CO2 ne soient développées.

Étant donné la situation actuelle en Amérique du Nord, impliquant plusieurs projets d’oléoducs, il n’est guère surprenant que l’industrie pétrolière reçoive le plus d’attention médiatique. Pourtant, la combustion de charbon reste aussi une pratique importante au niveau planétaire, étant la deuxième source d’énergie primaire et garantissant 41% de l’électricité mondiale. Il est surprenant qu’une ressource évocatrice d’une autre époque, de la révolution industrielle du 18e siècle, soit toujours aussi exploitée.

Mine de charbon à ciel ouvert Jalai Nur, au nord-ouest de la Chine. Photo: gracieuseté de Flickr CC.

Mine de charbon à ciel ouvert Jalai Nur, au nord-ouest de la Chine. Photo: gracieuseté de Flickr CC.

Non seulement est-elle proéminente dans les pays émergents tels que la Chine et l’Inde, mais certains états progressistes, tels que l’Allemagne, en sont également dépendants. Il est surtout étonnant de constater l’influence du charbon lorsque son impact environnemental est considéré. En effet, 43% des émissions de dioxyde de carbone provenant de l’utilisation de combustibles fossiles, qui comptent pour 87% des émissions de source humaine, découlent de la combustion du charbon. Cela va sans mentionner les effets des mines de charbon sur la santé; par exemple, en Chine, l’exploitation de cette énergie fossile tue environ 5 000 personnes annuellement et causait 600 000 infections pulmonaires individuelles en 2010.

Mine de charbon North Antelope Rochelle au Wyoming. Photo: gracieuseté de Flickr CC.

Mine de charbon North Antelope Rochelle au Wyoming. Photo: gracieuseté de Flickr CC.

Il est évident que ce combustible fossile est problématique. C’est pour cela que le rapport du GIEC déplore la nécessité de munir toutes les centrales électriques de charbon d’un dispositif de capture et de stockage de CO2 avant la fin du siècle. Cette technique permet essentiellement de capter le CO2, soit avant ou après la combustion, évitant qu’il ne s’échappe dans l’atmosphère, pour ensuite le transporter et le stocker dans le sous-sol terrestre. De même, il n’y aurait aucune émission du gaz à effet de serre. Cependant, plusieurs problèmes technico-économiques sont impliqués dans le processus. Effectivement, à ce jour, le procédé n’a pas été réussi à grande échelle quoique des expérimentations soient en cours dans les pays industrialisés. D’un point de vue économique, le captage de CO2 pourrait entraîner des coûts considérables allant jusqu’à 70% en plus de ceux essentiels pour le fonctionnement d’une centrale électrique, étant donné le besoin d’avoir des infrastructures nécessitant un système d’approvisionnement électrique séparé. De plus, le stockage du gaz consiste une difficulté supplémentaire puisque le CO2 ne peut être emmagasiné que dans des réservoirs aptes à le conserver pendant des centaines d’années à des centaines de mètres sous terre. Tout cela sans oublier que les risques humains et environnementaux associés à l’industrie minière, à l’extraction du charbon, seraient toujours présents. Considérant que les réserves de charbon sont loin d’être épuisées (le pic du charbon n’arriverait que dans 224 ans aux États-Unis), son exploitation est quasi assurée dans le futur.

Bref, quoique le nouveau rapport du GIEC se dise plus net, il ne va pas jusqu’à condamner entièrement les énergies fossiles. En laissant une ouverture, aussi mince qu’elle le soit, les états ne contempleront pas la solution la plus favorable pour un développement durable: le délaissement de l’énergie fossile pour des énergies renouvelables.

Development without dependency: ownership and empowerment in Haiti

Stéphanie Déborah Jules is a second year student at the McGill University’s Faculty of Law and an associate editor for the McGill International Journal of Sustainable Development Law and Policy. She holds a Magna Cum Laude degree in the Criminology Honours program from the University of Ottawa. Born and raised in Haiti, Stéphanie has a particular interest for sustainable development and its capacity to empower communities to create their own wealth by using their local resources.


“One of the final insults experienced by almost any NGO Republic is that its donors decide not only where and how the money will be spent but also when it is no longer needed.” 

The Nation


Organizations across the globe—NGOs, aid agencies, church groups and charities—are increasingly mistaking dependency for “development.” Yet, between the two lies a world. Truly long-term sustainable development is achievable when a community has the opportunity to obtain the organizational skills and financial resources that it needs to direct its own development. Only then, and armed with the necessary tools, can the population begin to develop and achieve the level of strength and independence it both needs and deserves. This is what the landmark definition of sustainable development clearly states: “Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

Strategy for building independent communities.  Attribution: Roots of Development.

Strategy for building independent communities.
Attribution: Roots of Development.

Development, not charity­

Haiti is often considered the “Republic of NGOs”. Since the earthquake that devastated the island in 2010, more than 9 billion dollars were giving in governmental assistance. According to Bill Clinton, the UN special envoy to Haiti, worldwide Haiti ranks second-highest, after India, for the number of NGOs per capita. Yet, the priorities of the population are not the same as those of NGOs, which are the one that end-up being executed. “NGOs come with something, but not with what the population needs” explains Joseph Philippe, a coordinator of the Municipal Civil Protection Committee of Léogâne which was devastated by the earthquake. 

Haitian Women.  Attribution: Roots of Development.

Haitian Women.
Attribution: Roots of Development.

The problem is, when the international community arrives with foreign resources and foreign systems that are believed to address the needs of a community more resourcefully, these communities quickly embrace the new system in disfavor of their own. However, when the foreign resources diminish or when objectives change, these systems abate too. Then, communities are left worse off then they were before. This shows the importance that aid agencies start with the communities’ objectives in order to build a methodology that empowers the population to achieve their goals.


Development without dependency

Roots of Development—a community investment organization that helps impoverished communities in La Gonave in Haiti—fully embraces the concept of development without dependency.  As a matter of fact, Roots of Development “promotes an alternative approach to rural development by facilitating a process in which [they] bring together diverse representatives from a community, listen to their goals, and build on their inherent strengths to complete community-driven projects that foster greater independence”. In so doing, Roots assists the community of Gran Sous in acquiring the financial resources and organizational abilities essential to manage their own development.

Children and the 1st Community Water System. Attribution: Roots of Development.

Children and the 1st Community Water System. Attribution: Roots of Development.

A true partnership is what Haiti and the other 47 nations classified by the United Nations as least developed countries need in their journey to sustainability. The problem is that if the efforts of NGOs and other investment organizations only help a population meet its immediate needs and do not provide the community with the means to address those needs on their own in the future, they are simply doing relief work or charity. Yet, temporary solutions do not equal sustainability.

Roots of development’s vision is “for a world in which the very communities living in poverty are the ones leading the fight against it; a world in which impoverished communities decide their own future and manage their own development”.  To do so they have to come up with a “Blueprint for building independent communities”:

EMPOWERMENT because a community’s long-term sustainable success depends on their capacity building skills: bookkeeping, marketing, leadership, conflict resolution and strategic planning.

 OWNERSHIP because at its roots sustainability requires that the communities choose, build, manage and maintain their own projects.

INFRASTRUCTURE PROJECTS because to be functional, communities must have systems and services they can rely on.

COMMUNITY BUSINESSES because to be independent, communities need to have their own sources of revenue.

Only when international organisations fully embrace this concept of development without dependency, can they truly call themselves friends of Haiti and other less developed countries.

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