Report of Liberals, Property and the Environment Workshop in IAF
Last October, I had the opportunity to attend the workshop on Liberals, Property and the Environment organized by International Academy for Leadership (IAF). The international workshop was held between 15 – 27 October 2017 at Theodor Heuss Academy in Gummersbach, Germany. Apart from me, the workshop was attended by 22 other participants from 18 countries worldwide with background ranging from student activist, national consultant, lawyer, political party and civil society organizations.
International Academy for Leadership was established by Friedrich Naumann Stiftung (FNF), a political foundation for liberal politics related to the Free Democratic Party (FDP) of Germany. It was founded as a forum and venue for international political dialogue at Sintra, Portugal in the early 1990s and at Theodor Heuss Academy in 1995. In the events organized throughout the years, participants from all over the world were able to find an opportunity to share political experiences, address cultural issues and jointly seek liberal solutions to current problems. At the academy we were greeted by Ms. Bettina Solinger, who are the Director of IAF. She also explained to us about the history, political situations and the demography of Germany for better understanding throughout the workshop.
Germany is the fourth largest country in the European Union (EU) after France, Spain, and Sweden. Forests cover almost a third of its total surface area. Lakes, rivers, and other inland waters account for more than two percent. Since the 1970s many people in Germany have been actively involved in environmental groups, citizen’s movements, and non-governmental organizations. With half a million members, Friends of the Earth Germany (BUND) is a largest environmental association. Besides, Germany is the driving force in the EU, which since the 1992 United Nations summit in Rio de Janeiro has been a pioneer in international climate policy. It supports the objective of limiting global warming to a maximum of two degrees Celsius.
The aim of the workshop is to explore how the concept of private property might conceivably be the solutions to major environmental problems around the world such as pollutions, waste disposal, deforestation, global warming, climate change and loss of biodiversity. In doing so, we observed the policies and measures liberals have promoted over the past years to overcome those problems. For liberals, property right is the defining characteristics that distinguish a liberal society from that of communist or socialist ideals. It is also the important factor in ensuring environmental sustainability based on incentives from property ownership. But unfortunately, the concept is yet well received by considerable number of people including politicians, scientists, journalist, and activists.
The workshop also took us to some places around Germany to learn on how property management can contribute to preserving the nature. Some well-known expert and personalities from various fields were also invited to share their knowledge and works on the topic.
At the start of the training, we discussed the meaning of property, the universality and the concept of ‘common vs. property’. In addition, we were also briefed about the history of liberal thought on property by Sascha Tamm from FNF. It is quite interesting to see how the discussion on property rights have progressed from the debate between Plato and Aristotle to recent intellectuals like Hernando de Soto and David Friedman.
In general, property refers to the right of the owner, formerly acknowledged by public authority, both to exploit assets to the exclusion of everyone else and to dispose of them by sale or otherwise. Property rights include control of the use of property, benefit from the property, transfer or sale of the property and excluding others from the property.
Why do liberals emphasize that property rights-based is the solution to wide range of environmental problems? The answer relies on the incentives offered by owning the property.
Incentives are often a better way of solving environmental problems than laws and regulations. Individuals will take better care of things they own and actively involve themselves if they are stakeholders. Besides, only if property is guaranteed will people invest with a long term perspective. For example, if you own certain part of the forest, you tend to practice sustainable management to preserve the resources. Based on the 2012 Environmental Performance Index (EPI) published by Yale University, they are 0.6 correlation between property rights and environmental protection. The EPI also indicates that nations with more economic freedom take better care of the environment.
On the second week of the workshop, we traveled to Hamburg for site visit. Along the way, we stopped near Oldenburg to visit local farm which practiced eco-farming. We met with the facility owner and manager to learn the success and challenges that they faced.
After that, we visited the Wadden Sea National Park. It was placed on UNESCO World Heritage List in 2009. The sea spanning across three countries shoreline which are Denmark, Germany and Netherlands. It has the largest continuous tidal flats in the world and one of the last areas in Europe
where nature can still develop to a great extent without human influence. Besides that, dykes were built along the shoreline to prevent flooding. Dr. Ingrid Austen, our National Park tour guide for the day explained to us about coastline protection in line with farming and other commercial interests.
We also visited the Port of Hamburg, Germany’s largest seaport. With its dense network of around 120 worldwide liner services, the Port of Hamburg performs an essential role for the foreign trade of Germany and the neighboring countries of Europe. Mr. Daniel Jahn, the coordinator for visitor’s groups from Hamburg Port Authority (HPA), briefed to us on the maintenance of high environmental standards of the port. The HPA gradually replaced its shipping fleet with new, low-emissions vessels as part of its sustainable fleet management.
From the excursion to Hamburg, we discussed many issues relating to liberal policy, environmental protection, economic sustainability and technological innovation. Various problems and challenges arose in real situations that make it difficult to draft and implement suitable policy. Moreover, given the constant threat of pandemics, reoccurring disasters, environmental degradation in many parts of the world, there is an urgency in finding and implementing solutions.
As a conclusion, the workshop really gave me an opportunity to discover and explore new things in environmental sustainability. It also deepens my understanding on how the property and other basic rights connected and their role in environmental protection. I would like to thank IAF as the organizer, FNF and my organizations, Institute for Leadership and Development Studies (LEAD) for the chance given.