Rethinking Environment and Development in an Era of Global Norms: An Exploration of Forests and Water in Nepal, Sudan and Uganda

Lead Research Organisation: University of East Anglia
Department Name: International Development


The research responds to the unprecedented emergence of global environmental norms, particularly those intended to reconcile natural resource management with poverty alleviation in a just manner. Prominent examples of such norms are the REDD+ safeguards under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the recommendations issued by the World Commission on Dams. The norms possess the potential to transform development practice, so long as they effectively support poor people's claims on natural resources and rights to sustainable livelihoods.

The increasing significance of global environmental norms challenges research to develop new theory on the dynamics of environment and development that attends to cross-scale relationships between local environmental struggles, higher-level mobilizations for environmental justice and global norms. This research will examine the effects of global environmental norms on poverty alleviation in the Global South through explorations of forests and water.

The proposed research will employ a political ecology approach expanded through attention to notions of environmental justice and cross-scale environmental politics. Notions of justice are at the core of many environmental struggles, relating to issues of distribution, participation and recognition. They affect what people do, what claims they make on natural resources, how they perceive their own capabilities, and how they develop visions of a good life. Thus justice is an integral element of environmental politics across scales, connecting local struggles to mobilizations at national and international levels as well as the conceptions informing global norms - and causing frictions between those.

The particular objectives guiding the research are to:
- Develop new theory on the dynamics of environment and development by examining when and how local claims and higher-level mobilisations of environmental justice lead to actions which improve marginalized people's access to natural resources for poverty alleviation.
- Generate insights on the reach and poverty impacts of global environmental norms in close interactions with 'impact advisors'.
- Prepare an extension of the research in the second stage (ESRC/DFID) to consider the influence of local environmental struggles on the emergence of global environmental norms.

Building on previous research conducted by the applicants, the research will proceed by way of four comparative case studies from Nepal, Sudan and Uganda. The cases were selected to capture variation along three critical dimensions: resource (forests or water), uptake in higher-level mobilizations and 'success' defined as effected increases in marginalized people's access to resources. The first two case studies are situated in Lamjung district in Nepal, analyzing indigenous people's successful mobilization and resistance to hydropower projects as well as their participation in a REDD+ pilot project. The Merowe hydro-electric dam in Sudan is the third case study, exemplifying a case where local people have been dispossessed from land despite support from exiled community members and international activists. The fourth case comes from Uganda, where the Trees for Global Benefit project has not led to any significant mobilization despite the presence of significant injustices and direct relevance of global norms on socially just carbon forestry projects.

The research team will synthesize their findings in a theoretical and two comparative journal articles. To generate impact beyond academia, they will closely interact with purposively chosen activist advisors in the three countries, organize national-level meetings, hold a public debate at UEA London, produce filmed 'testimonies of justice' with villagers and activists in Nepal and synthesize key recommendations in an impact brief for international agencies and policy-makers working within the environment/development spheres.

Planned Impact

The proposed research serves the overarching goal of promoting poverty alleviation in the Global South by way of effective and equitable application of global environmental norms. It will generate new understanding of local environmental struggles, their uptake in higher-level mobilisations and the effects of global environmental norms on poverty alleviation, specifically in relation to forests and water. This is of relevance to hundreds of millions worldwide who are particularly susceptible to environmental injustice because of natural resource-dependent livelihoods, poverty and social marginalisation.

The research team will use multiple channels to maximize research impact under two specific objectives.
(1) Equip partner organizations and activists in Nepal, Uganda and Sudan with coproduced knowledge and the strategic support they need for pro-poor environmental mobilisations at national and transnational levels.
(2) Raise the profile of environmental justice amongst agencies and policy-makers working within the environment/development spheres, as a lens with which to assess environmental policy and enter into dialogue with activists.

To aid project impact in Nepal, Sudan and Uganda, the researchers will conduct the following activities:
1.1 Engage with named environmental justice activists (as 'impact advisors') in the three countries throughout research process.
1.2 Organize three in-country symposia to disseminate research findings.
1.3 Produce 'testimonies of justice' with villagers and activists for dissemination in Nepal, and more broadly for international audiences.

For the international audience, the researchers will undertake the following:
2.1 Hold symposium for policy agents working in the international sphere at UEA campus in London.
2.2 Write impact brief on global norms of environmental justice and poverty alleviation for internet dissemination.
2.3 Disseminate the 'testimonies of justice' from Nepal with appropriate documentation internationally.

The central pillar of our public impact is deep engagement with environmental justice activists from Nepal, Sudan and Uganda whom we have identified within our expanded networks. These are colleagues with whom we already collaborate, maximizing the potential for knowledge co-production and impact. The activists represent organisations with a more fundamentally grassroots approach to environmental justice, complementing our academic approach (see Pathways to Impact for details). Consistent engagement with these activists at all stages in the research will secure the co-production of knowledge useful to activists, academics and other interested parties. Through these partnerships we will organize national-level symposia to engage wider communities of practice within Uganda, Sudan and Nepal. This facilitates knowledge-exchange and will consolidate existing advocacy communities.

The 'testimonies of justice' will experiment a new, radical way of giving voice to marginalized people by featuring local people's and activists' environmental justice claims in Nepal. They build on the PI's previous video productions, including a video funded by NERC/ESRC/DFID (

Co-I Fisher will be responsible for impact monitoring, harnessing the commitment of the rest of the team. We will monitor impact throughout and beyond the lifetime of the project. For instance, monitoring of downloads of the policy brief from host institution's websites will give an indication of its reach, while tracking references beyond the lifetime of the project will indicate uptake into global and national policy documents. We will also actively consult those with whom we engage in the project, for instance, at the public symposium. Impact monitoring will be undertaken in a timely manner to inform our Stage 2 research proposal.

The project design dedicates 7% of the requested budget to outreach activities, not including the researchers' time.


10 25 50
Description Second International Think Tank on Global Environmental Justice 
Form Of Engagement Activity Scientific meeting (conference/symposium etc.)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Type Of Presentation workshop facilitator
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact co-authored declaration

declaration co-written at think tank was translated in 4 other languages and circulated widely on the internet
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014