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“Sustainable Development” Camouflage: The Forced Resettlement of the San in Botswana

Dana Vanthof, currently a first year student at McGill’s Faculty of Law, is an associate editor with the JSDLP. She holds a M.A. in International Affairs from the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs (Carleton University) and a Bachelor of Environmental Studies from the University of Waterloo, where she majored in International Development Studies. In 2011/2012, Dana completed an 8-month internship in Botswana working with indigenous San communities on natural resource management projects. 

Botswana has become well known across the globe for its post-colonial success unknown to many African countries. The country has celebrated monumental achievements such as economic prosperity, absence of conflict, and free and fair elections; successes that have led some commentators to label the now upper-middle income nation as “an African Miracle.” However, Botswana’s impressive track record in these areas stands in stark contrast to the dismal record of social and cultural rights in the country, especially those of Botswana’s indigenous San people.

In Botswana the San, an indigenous minority and marginalized group, face extreme social, economic, and political exclusion due to widespread discrimination. Traditionally, the San have existed as nomadic hunter-gatherers but have in recent times faced incredible barriers to maintaining their traditional culture and lifestyle. Historically in Botswana, the majority of the San people have lived on their ancestral lands in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR). The CKGR was founded in 1961 as a means to protect the traditional lifestyles of the nomadic San people and to provide a refuge for approximately 5000 San in their natural environment.

Unfortunately, three major Government-imposed clearances in 1997, 2002, and 2005, have forces almost all the San out of the reserve. The forced relocation of the San to remote settlements across the country, and the inhumane means employed by the Government to ensure their removal, has resulted in a number of Court actions. Despite a landmark ruling in 2006 by Botswana’s High Court in which the San won the right to return to their ancestral lands and another successful Court of Appeal ruling in 2011 affording the San the right to access water on the Reserve, the Botswana government has continued to restrict access to the reserve. A particularly alarming aspect of the treatment of the San is that their displacement has been justified by the Government using rhetoric of nature conservation and development.

Monong, one of many San settlements located across Botswana | Photo Credits: Dana Vanthof.

Monong, one of many San settlements located across Botswana | Photo Credits: Dana Vanthof.

One central justification for removing the San from the CKGR is in the name of nature conservation. The Government has labeled the San’s hunting practices as “poaching,” viewing their way of life as “incompatible with wildlife conservation.” However, various groups have questioned this reasoning revealing centuries of sustainable coexistence between the San and the natural environment of the CKGR. Critics believe that the true motives for the relocations lie in Government sponsored diamond exploration. Despite the Government’s adamant assurance in 2003 that “there is neither any actual mining or any plan for future mining in the reserve,” in September 2014, a 4.9 billion dollar, 25-year diamond mining project was officially launched in the CKGR. After a visit to Botswana in November 2014, the UN Special Rapporteur on Cultural Rights highlighted this hypocrisy, stating the Government’s attempts to relocate the San outside the CKGR for “wildlife conservation purposes” is at complete odds with allowing mining and tourism activities within the grounds.

A second posited justification for the San’s relocation was that resettlement would better allow the Government to provide health and education services to San populations, ultimately improving their way of life. Former press secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Clifford Maribe commented that the relocations were an encouragement for the San “to move out to give themselves and their children the benefits of development.” However, the reality of resettlement has proven anything but beneficial. The majority of the San in the settlements live in extreme poverty and face extremely high levels of illiteracy, HIV/AIDS, depression and alcoholism. Without the ability to continue their traditional hunting and gathering lifestyles, the San have become almost entirely dependent on government handouts and other social welfare programs. One San man explained “The development the government offers us does not include what we are proud of.” Consequently, they have almost all but lost their traditional culture.

San women in Metismantle, creating traditional craft products as an attempted means of preserving their culture | Dana Vanthof

San women in Metismantle, creating traditional craft products as an attempted means of preserving their culture | Photo Credits: Dana Vanthof

The story of the San in Botswana highlights the complexity of the intersection of traditional cultures and values with the pressures of modern economic development. Botswana is an example of the use of “sustainable development” rhetoric as camouflage for ulterior economic and political ends. Unfortunately, the case of Botswana is not unique. Many other indigenous minorities around the world face similar challenges to cultural survival in the wake of continued economic development efforts. At the end of the day what must be weighed are the costs that accompany the many successes of modernization. For the San of Botswana and many other communities like them, the costs are unfortunately too high.

Using Wetlands for Disaster Risk Reduction

Conrad Flaczyk is a first-year student at McGill University’s Faculty of Law. 

In spite of national and international conservation agreements, wetlands all over the world have been lost or threatened. This trend has caught the attention of the international community because wetlands perform several hydrological functions critical for ecosystem preservation and human sustenance. For instance, wetlands help to maintain stream flow during dry seasons in semi-arid regions. This offers drought protection since wetlands replenish and sustain groundwater resources.

Wetlands also provide extensive flood protection. For coastal communities, strong wetland ecosystems can help to control flood risk by acting as natural barriers, buffers, and by reducing coastal erosion. Wetlands function as natural ‘sponges’, which trap surface water, rainwater and flood water, and slowly channel these waters into underlying aquifers. Wetlands typically contain surface vegetation, which works to absorb water to below the earth’s surface through its root system. For this reason, healthy wetland ecosystems can help to reduce the negative impacts of storm surge by redirecting surface water into underlying aquifers. Wetlands can also serve to distance human populations can also serve to distance human populations and development from the coastline. New Orleans provides a particularly cogent example of the potential of using wetlands as a natural buffer.

Area map of New Orleans illustrating the city’s high vulnerability to flooding         disasters |

Area map of New Orleans illustrating the city’s high vulnerability to flooding disasters | Source: Adaption to Climate Change Using Green and Blue Infrastructure, June 2010 (pdf).

The City of New Orleans faces major flood risks from three main sources: heavy rains induced by the city’s humid and subtropical climate; flooding along the Mississippi River, and hurricane storm surge from the Gulf of Mexico. The Gulf of Mexico is characterized by the frequent occurrence of hurricanes, with a major hurricane reaching the Gulf Coast every year since 1994.

The city of New Orleans is particularly vulnerable to flood risk because of its low elevation—most of the city’s land area is between 0.6 and 0.5 meters below sea level. As a result, engineered floodwalls and levees were constructed to protect the city from flood hazards. However, climate change related sea level rise threatens to only exacerbate New Orleans’ flood risk.

Hurricane Katrina served to highlight the inadequacy of New Orleans’ disaster risk reduction strategy. It had a devastating impact on the city, which was caused primarily by the failure of city’s floodwalls and levees. Some reports have called the Hurricane Katrina disaster “the worst civil engineering disaster in American history” . As a result of the flooding disaster, it is estimated that roughly 80% of the city was flooded roughly 80% of the city was flooded, resulting in 1,500 people losing their lives  and approximately 900,000 more being displaced from their homes.

In the light of the Hurricane Katrina disaster, researchers and government officials began to explore alternative techniques to reduce flooding risk in the city. Consequently, wetlands were explored for their ability to offset the potential negative impacts of storm surge from hurricanes. In New Orleans, wetlands play a crucial role in reducing the intensity of storm surge. Kazmierczak and Carter argue that wetlands help to reduce the intensity of storm surge in four main ways: first, wetlands decrease the area of “open” water, which is where wind forms waves; second, wetlands increase the friction of the water that passes over them, reducing wave velocity; third, wetlands directly absorb wave energy upon direct contact with surface vegetation; and fourth, wetlands help to absorb surface flood waters following a flood event. In fact, they estimate that every 4.3km of wetland can absorb approximately one foot of surface storm surge. For this reason, protection and restoration of wetlands can be used to reduce the risk of floods from hurricanes.

In order to benefit from the risk reduction services of wetlands, the City of New Orleans has taken initiative to reformulate its building codes. The aim of this strategy is to move away from full reliance on engineered flood protection mechanisms and instead utilize ecosystems for their ecological services.

Illustration depicting the multiple lines of defense against hurricane-induced     storm surge in Louisiana, which can be achieved using wetlands |

Illustration depicting the multiple lines of defense against hurricane-induced storm surge in Louisiana, which can be achieved using wetlands | Source: City of New Orleans Plan for the 21st Century, August 2010 (pdf).

Following the Hurricane Katrina disaster, the State of Louisiana Legislature established the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority. This authority is charged with coordinating local, state and federal agencies in Louisiana to promote the protection and restoration of wetlands. The authority’s “Master Plan” includes residential and commercial building codes along the coast of Louisiana. Restricted buildings along the coast were implemented to benefit from wetland ecology that buffers storm surge. The authority aims to combine engineered flood protection strategies with more natural, ecological systems.

The New Orleans Master Plan was finalized in January of 2010. Nevertheless, the implementation of the Master Plan encountered several challenges. First there was difficulty in raising public awareness environmental hazards. Second, raising funds for Eco-Disaster-Risk-Reduction (Eco-DDR) solutions after almost forty years of reliance on floodwalls and levees. Lastly, there were some jurisdictional issues in implementing planning and regulating build codes.

Building a strong evidence base for Eco-DRR strategies and engaging with key stakeholders from the onset of programs can adequately overcome these difficulties. Building an evidence base requires that projects are routinely evaluated in order to monitor the effectiveness of conservation programs. When coupled with public consultation, a strong evidence base can be effective in promoting Eco-DRR projects.


Exploring the ‘Pivotal Role’ of Women’s Economic Empowerment in Ethiopia

Kathleen McFarland is a first year law student at McGill’s Faculty of Law, and an associate editor for the McGill International Journal of Sustainable Development Law and Policy. She has a Bachelor of Journalism from Carleton University. Her undergraduate degree and her love of travel inspired her interest in international human rights law. 

After a great lunch on-the-go, you hand over your card to pay. Insufficient funds. You try again. Declined. You try another card, glancing around to see if there’s anyone that you know that can help you out. You frantically empty your purse, your pockets, but there’s only a bit of change and you feel just awful, and of course embarrassed. It turns out to be a simple banking error that had cancelled all your cards; annoying but easily fixed the next day. A familiar story.

I can well imagine that feeling, that panic. In the past few years as a student, I have grown accustomed to experiencing minor panic attacks whenever I visit my bank – whether it is to pay tuition, balance my credit or simply check my debit account.

Luckily, my parents trained me to manage finances from a young age. For countless women around the world, however, such guidance is unimaginable. Worse still, there is often no opportunity for an education to spend it on anyway; in 2012, 126 million youth worldwide lacked basic reading and writing skills. Young girls accounted for over 60 percent of this number.

The problem is especially pronounced in certain areas of Africa, where issues of gender inequality are obstacles to women’s economic empowerment. Despite calls from UN agencies, NGOs and African governments for initiatives that support women in business, women remain an untapped resource for sustainable economic development. In the past 50 years, economies in Sub-Saharan Africa have seen significant legislative reform in allowing women to access and own property and resources. Nonetheless, a 2014 survey by The World Bank revealed that many restrictions remain. Over 90 percent of 143 countries surveyed have at least one legal barrier to equal economic opportunities for women. In 15 different economies, husbands can prevent their wives from accepting jobs; in 79, there are legal restraints on the types of jobs women can perform.

Perhaps that is why the 2015 Summit of the African Union, held in Addis Ababa at the end of January, chose Women’s Empowerment for this year’s theme. Women comprise 50 percent of the world’s population, 40 percent of its workforce and yet own merely 1 percent of its wealth. They also remain disproportionately affected by poverty, discrimination and exploitation, frequently working insecure and low-wage jobs, including child labour and prostitution. In Northern Africa, 55 percent of working women are in vulnerable employment and unprotected by labour legislation, compared to 32 percent of men. In sub-Saharan Africa, this number rises to 85 percent.

Luckily, high-ranking officials across the continent are taking action – especially in Ethiopia, where the AU is based. Last November, African Ministers for Gender and Women’s Affairs met with the International Labour Organization in Addis Ababa to strategize for gender equality by 2030. The resulting Addis Ababa Declaration calls on governments to bolster initiatives that give women more access and control over land, labour, finance, credit and markets.

A female coffee farmer in Ethiopia | Photo courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons.

A female coffee farmer in Ethiopia | Photo courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons.

It also encourages more female entrepreneurship, especially in agribusiness. Whether in business, on farms, or as entrepreneurs, women make important contributions to their economies. Research shows that women reinvest 90 percent of their earnings in their families and local communities. According to ITC executive director Arancha González, women invest primarily in social services such as education, nutrition, household expenditure, and caring for children and elderly people. Globally, companies with female managers turn a 34 percent higher profit; if female farmers had equal access to the same tools and credit as their male counterparts, there would be 150 million fewer hungry people in the world.

“In some places [in Africa], women are not part of the economy; they are considered to be a non-asset,” González said in September 2014, while in Rwanda to launch a database of government procurement contracts aimed at improving women’s access to business opportunities. “It’s almost like you have a plane with two engines but you only fly with one. You need to have both engines running if you want to generate the maximum amount of growth.”

This is certainly not news to Nigest Haile. In 2004, Ms. Haile founded the Center for Accelerated Women’s Economic Empowerment (CAWEE), the only NGO in Ethiopia that works specifically to support women in business. Haile serves on countless boards for women’s networks, and founded Africa’s first commercial women’s bank. She received the 2012 Pan-African Award from UN Women and the International Labour Organization, and was recognized by the U.S. Department of State for her tireless efforts to encourage women to enter and thrive in the world of business. Last October, CAWEE signed an agreement with DFATD, in which the Ethio-Canada Development Cooperation contributed $260,000 CAD to a project that trains 1,500 women and girls in trades like basketry and dyeing, and then connects them with export markets.

The joint project is owned by Ethiopia’s first lady, Roman Tesfaye, herself a strong advocate for women’s economic empowerment in Ethiopia. During her husband’s time in office, she has taken action through local and international initiatives to combat the inequality and discrimination faced by female entrepreneurs.

“[Their] reproductive role, high workload and unpaid labour, lack of decision-making in the household and subordination has kept most Ethiopian women trapped in poverty,” said Ms. Tesfaye at an ITC conference in Rwanda last September.

‘Economic empowerment of women plays a pivotal role in ensuring their right to equality and to an adequate standard of living, and it should be the prime agenda in every development discourse.’

Despite the occasional panic attack, my own economic independence has allowed me to invest in my future. Thanks to trailblazing women like Ms. Haile and Ms. Tesfaye, such opportunities may become a reality for many more women the world over.


Ms. Roman Tesfaye, second from right, in the White House with the Obamas and her husband, the Prime Minister of the Federal Republic of Ethiopia Hailemariam Desalegn | Photo Courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons, Office of the White House (Amanda Lucidon).

Ms. Roman Tesfaye, second from right, in the White House with the Obamas and her husband, the Prime Minister of the Federal Republic of Ethiopia Hailemariam Desalegn | Photo courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons, Office of the White House (Amanda Lucidon).

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 Hansen 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.

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