Wouldn’t sustainable development initiatives, mechanisms and policies considerably gain in effectiveness if they were planned and assessed in relation to the principles and pr of the commons?
The commons :
- As object, the commons are the Common Wealth, the assets that we inherit or create, use and change, and that serve our livelihood (our natural, social and cultural resources, genetic and biologic diversity, knowledge, etc), that people pass on to future generations. These assets need to be nutured, (re)generated and to be indiscriminately accessible to the greatest number. They must therefore be protected against capture, over-exploitation, depletion and abuse.
- As pr, the commons are the Common Ethos of which people are an integral part; the culture and the relationships build with each otherand with the earth, the ways of being and doing in common (caring, sharing, nurturing, replenishing our with discernment, empathy, equity, justice, mindfulness…). Th critically depend on sustained and adaptive know-how, on increased knowledge flows, and continuous collaboration and learning ways of working together on problem solving.
- As result, the commons are the Common Good, the outcomes of the p (access, capacity, well being, quality of life, prosperity, abundance). They are the life blood of the process, those that make the world thrive, and become in turn assets to nurture…
Because of the relationships and interactions between these various elements, the commons are generative systems which provide the tangible conditions that empower and enable communities in relation to their purpose and the ecological contexts they find themselves in, at various levels and scales.
From this perspective, commons may serve as a medium for accelerating the adoption of sustainable practices that address social, environmental and economic dimensions in a cohesive and interconnected manner. Thus they help achieve sustainable development goals in a sustainable and robust manner.
Commons, open access resources, public domain must be protected
Today, private sector ha multiple ways of protecting tsel against risks, making provisions for regenerating assets, or measuring and improving intangible outputs…
Some of this has been secured through enclosure and appropriation of the commons or public domain assets as a means to maximize profit and capture value added by transfering part of their risks and costs to society.
The commons for their part, have little means of protection and securing risks, assets and governance. In particular, public domain or open access resources increasingly be privatized in order to have an ‘owner’ rather than be left to ‘mismanagement’ by the public sector or abuse by free riders -aka tragedy of the commons. This has had a devastating effect on access to resources and livelihoods of the poorest.
In particular when corporation start getting involved in the sustainability discussions, we need some criteria for knowing where to go. What could distinguish genuinely effective corporate sustainability
policies and practices from what is regularly been decried as business as usual or greenwashing? What could prevent corporate sustainability initiatives or sustainability goals and policies to be either looked at suspiciously or considered as the silver bullet without any actual way to discriminate between the two?We are here on relatively new territory. Business’ endeavors have long been by construction dedicated to making the most profit out of what can be exploited -’supercharging’ productivity of human endeavor, or ‘drawing nutrients’ from the soil, to name a few, as highlighted in the latest UN Global Compact report. This is a revealing vocabulary, and there are fine lines between sustainable practices and over-exploitation to identify and watch. It is crucial that the sustainable endeavors of business or any human activity be conducted in a sustainable way, with a focal point that can connect all issues and efforts, and serve as a ‘vetting’ system to gage the sustainability of initiatives. The commons can be this connector and vetting system. The fine line has to do with whether and how an activity protects and nurtures the commons and public domain, which as living system give some materiality to the interconnections between the social, the economic and the environment.Because of inherently fragile and exposed nature and connections to human rights, the commons must be protected. It is important that the principles and provisions for the commons come to mind when creating policy and making tradeoffs in negotiations. Creating institutions to defend the commons to protect the public domain would be a necessary step to start the process.
are a few provisions and principles related to the commons that could help design and assess sustainability initiatives, mechanisms and policies. They must be seen as a whole and be monitored in relation to one another.
Non discriminatory access to resources:
History is filled with stories of enclosures and abuses of the commons. Any sustainable development goal should be associated with a non discriminatory access to resources. The around water are the most compelling. , the Bolivian have reclaimed the management of their water utility in bamba in 200. The with a strong majority. Elinor Ostrom nobel prie in econom in 200 for her work on the commons has shown that with adequat governance rules and application of know-how by communities, the tragedy of the commons did not and communities were better off.
People involved directly must their own destiny and the decision making process
Communities must be encouraged and educated to cultivate and produce their own livelihoods and co-govern their utilities, services and resources, in relational dynamics that foster self-realization and adaptation.
When people consciously manage those resources that they and their children depend on for their survival and well-being, they to take good care of them. This is also part of Elinor Ostrom’s findings.
Communities, groups and individuals develop a sense of ownership of the process, a sense of immediacy and transparency, of shared destiny and emotional experience that foster trust and resilience, and a shared ‘commons sense’. Local collaboration and peer to peer (P2P) dependencies are something graspable and immediate, and also expand awareness of what empowers one nother and larger systems.
Non discriminatory access to knowledge and right to share
Know-how and knowledge are critical to managing a commons effectively. Needed know-how is related to practices as well as understanding each other and how to work together as a whole.
e who take from the commons must contribute to the commons.
the commons a medium for development needs to grow, it is important that any actor in the system become aware of how he benefits from the commons and how he may deplete or abuse the commons, so that he can contribut to the commons by restring or regenerating what has been depleted, by sharing in the public domain or common pool some of the know-how or added value generated in the process.
epleting resources and soils, poluting rivers or endangering public health are of taking from the commons
nventors or creators benefit from existing knowledge and capabilities. Isaac Newton wrote: “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants” meaning his discoveries were built on previous discoveries. isney built empire on tales that were in the public domain, but to date gave nothing back to the commons. Copyright laws are regularly being expanded to provide continued exploitation rights for licenes that could have been the public domain long ago.
Depletion or enclosure of the commons is a cost for society, a transfer of a cost from those who reap the benefits of access to the commons to whole. These transfers must cease. Simply applying a tax or opening up rights to deplete fails to produce the awareness and conscience of what is at stake and to validly change the way things are done.
Economics must concentrate on growing the commons. Growth that depletes the commons must be stopped
The commons are both an input to the dynamic interactions mentioned above and output. For progress to materialize for all, or for development to be sustainable, . The commons in all their diversity and all the types of value they create must grow. Ideally each sustainability initiative should be geared towards growing the commons and the of those who can benefit from the livelhood t enablespreventing depletion. Finance must be used to grow the commons
Focus on needs, use value and regenerati rather than on exchange value and material flows
Monitoring at the system level: Triple monitoring of status of an asset, usage of a practice AND resulting outcome
Indicator must be set up to monitor the three dimensions of the commons together to make sure that one of the dimensions does not grow to the detriment of the others. The approach is iterative, to test how things behave on the ground through trial and error, tolerance for mistakes and ongoing reflection.
Difficulties and precautions in the applications of these principles
- Really empowering those who need it the most, associating people in the decision process, and changing the power distribution from centralized to decentralized, from ‘west’ to ‘south’. This means letting go of some forms of power and control.
- Avoiding potential co-optation and misappropriation of the process if applied in a non systemic manner without associating people/practices with assets and outcomes to their specific contexts. Corporations -or any other type of organization- cannot assume the right to unilaterally govern or manage, and therefore enclose, the commons or what is currently in the public domain.
- Monitoring for unintended consequences and finding the points of limit when something beneficial can become toxic because conditions have changed or because over utilization of a practice or model and reduction of the variety of possible responses affects resilience and can make things brittle.
- Finding the balance between the fair protection against unfair competition and fair compensation of research and initial investments and the enclosure of whole domains of activity and resources, creating artificial scarcities that put the users/consumers/communities at the mercy of ‘the markets’ and of abuse of dominant positions.
Questions to be asked when making policy recommendations,
In particular as a vetting process and means to identify potential tradeoffs
- How is it linked to the commons as a system?
- What context does it address?
- What people/practices, assets and outcomes does it associate?
- What dimension of the commons does it grow/stop depleting?
- What dimensions of the commons does it put at risk?
- What are the consequences on other external commons?
- Which are the trade-offs to condider?
- What are the risks of enclosure, abuse, over-exploitation?
- Who has access? How is over-usage and depletion protected?
- How is enclosure, appropriation, abusive exploitation prevented?
- Who are the stakeholders? How are they involved?
- How open and transparent are the decision processes and modes of governance?
- Where does the power lie?
- What are the learning and conflict resolution mechanisms in place?
- How does this contribute to empowering and enabling self-realization and self-healing at the individual and community level?
- What elements or circumstances could make it become detrimental to the commons?
- What are the assessment and correction mechanisms in place?
- How are assets, practices and outcomes assessed in inter-related ways?
- What are the mechanisms in place to avoid misinterpretation and misappropriation of the goal, target and indicator?
This is adapted from a recommendation I posted to the UN-NGLS Civil Society Consultation on SDG’s following the release of four UN Reports that will help determine the global post-2015 agenda for sustainable development. It is available as a collaborative document in the Institutionalizing the Commons project group that will further work on framing the commons principles for them to be better embedded in constitution, law and policy at various levels. To pursue the work at the UN, but also at the EU, national, regional and local institutional levels. Please join the group to start collaborating!