SOAS University of London

Prof Peter Mollinga: Our Uncommon Future - A Critical Perspective on Global Environmental Governance

Peter Mollinga


Professor Peter Mollinga

Date: 17 January 2013Time: 6:30 PM

Finishes: 17 January 2013Time: 8:30 PM

Venue: Brunei Gallery Room: Brunei Gallery Lecture Theatre

Type of Event: Inaugural Lecture


This presentation starts from the signatory motto of the project of global environmental governance as it has emerged from the 1970s, and particularly since the 1990s – the WECD’s 1987 report title ‘Our Common Future’. It will be argued that the global future, and its environmental trajectory, is ’uncommon’ in at least three senses.

First, how common, that is how globally and generally experienced, is the problem of environmental degradation and ecological sustainability? Neither causes nor consequences are evenly spread: not in type, not in magnitude, not in time, not in space, and not in their social distribution. Can more profound incorporation of political economy and political ecology approaches to environmental change into theory and practice help us  to move beyond depoliticised metaphors of commonality?

Second, how common, that is how broadly shared and carried, or inclusively democratic, is the global environmental governance discourse? Global asymmetries in knowledge bases and scientific capability are massive, while the diversity of developmental perspectives is poorly (made) visible within the predominantly neoliberal discourse on environment and development of the global policy ‘power bloc’ of the Bretton Woods institutions, as it is in many national policy formations. Does the global research community sufficiently exercise its responsibility to speak truth to power?

Third, how common, that is thinkable within the present paradigm, can the objectives, methods, and practices of future environmental governance be? The ecological history of modern industrial society may be facing a systemic crisis of a new kind because in contrast to earlier crises in capitalist development quantum jumps in energy use and natural resource capture seem to be impossible, while present  technological innovation may only help to delay ‘tipping points’ in time. How can the as yet unpopular pursuit of qualitative rethinking of the agricultural production and water resources governance paradigms of the past decades be promoted?

The presentation concludes by arguing for more contextualised and self-consciously political approaches to environmental and water resources governance.

Professor Mollinga was trained as an irrigation engineer at Wageningen University, the Netherlands; his PhD is on the political economy of irrigation water management in South India. He worked as a Senior Researcher at ZEF from 2004-2010, where he did his Habilitation in Development Sociology, and before that as an Associate Professor at the Irrigation and Water Engineering group, Wageningen University, the Netherlands. He is presently a Professor of Development Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), London, UK. He is one of the three founding editors of Water Alternatives. An interdisciplinary journal on water, politics and development. His research fields are the politics of water (governance), the cultural political economy of agriculture and environmental resources, and boundary work in natural resources management. His geographical focus is Asia, particularly South Asia and Central Asia.

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