Tag Archive | "Sutton Colloquium"


Critical Analysis: Energy’s Impact on Millenium Development Goals

On November 9, 2013, panelists of the 45th Annual Sutton Colloqium discussed how energy plays into economic development and sustainability in developing countries, which comes at a time when many doubt the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals (“MDGs”) by the 2015 target date.  The MDGs aim to eliminate extreme poverty and hunger, provide universal primary education, support gender equality, increase maternal health, decrease child mortality, fight devastating diseases like HIV/AIDS, all while promoting sustainable environmental development and worldwide cooperation for development.  As the panel’s moderator Professor Lakshman Guruswamy pointed out, the MDGs do not specifically mention energy, but energy is necessary to accomplishing each goal.  With about 17 percent, or 1.2 billion people, lacking electricity, however, how are these citizens, mainly in Africa and Asia, to access electricity and sustainably develop?

Bangladesh's Solar Home System initiative has been successfully bringing power to rural communities. Image Source: Dhaka Tribune

Bangladesh’s Solar Home System initiative has been successfully bringing power to rural communities. Image Source: Dhaka Tribune

President Barack Obama recently proposed a solution – Power Africa.  It is a U.S. governmental initiative pledging $7 billion to provide electricity to Africa.  As Innovation: Africa demonstrated, “the U.S. government and its private sector partners must invest significantly in renewable off-grid energy solutions.”

One solution with demonstrable results is Output-Based Aid (“OBA”).  OBA programs “link[] the payment of aid to the delivery of ‘outputs’ like connection to electricity grids, water and sanitation systems, or healthcare services.”  Specifically, OBA requires citizens in developing countries who are benefitting from the connection to buy, for example, their own rooftop solar panels to power their homes and businesses.  Thus, OBA is beneficial to the MDGs in two ways:

1. By requiring citizens of developing countries to personally invest in the solar panels from which they benefit on their homes or businesses, OBA lessens the pitfalls of traditional, input-based foreign aid, which Dambisa Moyo has criticized as a disincentive for developing countries to do just that – develop.

2. Because the poor must develop to rise out of poverty, development that inherently implies consuming resources and emitting gases that negatively impact climate change and health, OBA for rooftop solar incentivizes the use of a renewable, emission-free energy source.

Some specific OBA projects can be found in these countries: Philippines, Cape Verde, Sri Lanka, Bolivia, Cambodia, Ghana, Honduras, Indonesia, and Zambia. The Bangladesh scheme is globally revered as “one of the most successful Solar Home Systems (SHS) programs.”  As United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon declared, the UN has a goal of “sustainable energy for all by 2030,” because “[o]ne out of every five people on Earth lives without access to electricity [that provides opportunities] for working, learning, or operating a business.”  Also, about three billion utilize methods of cooking and heating that affect health and emissions that contribute to climate change such as wood, coal, and animal waste.  “[C]ontinu[ing] to burn our way to prosperity” is not an option.  OBA, and hopefully Power Africa, represents a viable solution for how the poor may rise out of poverty through increased access to electricity and sustainable development.


Jaclyn Cook is a 3L and a Staff Editor on the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy

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Let's think more critically about our interactions with the environment.
(National Geographic)

Sustaining Society in the Anthropocene Epoch

We are living in a new geological epoch where humans are the foremost changers of the environmental systems upon which we depend.  Nicholas Robinson, Co-Director of the Center for Environmental Legal Studies at Pace Law School, kicked off the 45th Annual Leonard v.B. Sutton Colloquium in International Law at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law with this idea about sustainability. “Humans are going to have to adapt to a changing planet and climate,” Mr. Robinson said. “We [must] do it or it will happen to us.”  He cited his difficulty in traveling to Denver for the Colloquium due to Hurricane Sandy as one example of climate change “happening to us,” and our already evident challenges in adapting to it.

The focus of the Sutton Colloquium was “Approaching the Limits of Growth in the 21st Century: Sustainable Development vs. Sustainability.”  Mr. Robinson made clear that the climate change and sustainability challenges that human society faces today are based on human behavior. Humans have caused these changes, and moved human society into this new geological epoch known as the Anthropocene epoch. “[T]he true meaning of the Anthropocene is that we have affected nearly every aspect of our environment—from a warming atmosphere to the bottom of an acidifying ocean.

Don’t forget about the glaciers!
(National Geographic)

Mr. Robinson asked the question of whether or not sustainability is a viable model to tackle these challenges.  He questioned whether the sustainability model, as it stands now, is sufficient to allow adaptation to the extreme damage caused in the Northeastern U.S. by Hurricane Sandy or if it adequately repaired the damage by Hurricane Katrina, explaining that 40 percent of New Orleans residents did not return to their city after the hurricane.   A conclusive answer to this question is difficult, and Mr. Robinson stressed that there is no clear vision for the international community’s next steps toward tackling sustainability issues.

Fortunately, Mr. Robinson has a suggestion about how the sustainability debate should be tackled.  If we are truly in this Anthropocene period driven by human impact, “we have to be the stewards of this [epoch].”  Simply put, we must change our behavior. To do this, he suggests three principles to guide our behavior.

First, we must cooperate globally to stabilize the human relationship with nature.  Principles of cooperation are already enshrined in international law, as laid out in Articles 55 and 56 of the United Nations Charter, for example.  These international law principles can provide a foundation to build upon as the world community comes together to finds solutions for sustainability.

Second, we must build a stronger collective desire to protect our planet.  Mr. Robinson explained the concept of “biophilia,” or the love of living things, to demonstrate that humanity has a natural affinity for the planet.  He suggested that we “need to elevate this concept of love of the planet in order to protect the planet as a principle of law.”  Our concern for the planet must become such that we afford it stronger legal protections.

Third, we must utilize our ability as humans to be resilient. Ecosystems have natural resilience, Mr. Robinson explained.  They either reset or adapt to changes.  Humans also have this type of resilience and we must capitalize on it as we adapt to change our own behavior.

These three traits can be the basis for sustainability. Without coming up with common themes like these to guide our behavior, Mr. Robinson concluded, our planet will not bounce back.

Brianna Evans is the Editor in Chief of the Denver Journal of International Law & Policy and a third year law student at the Sturm College of Law.

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Sutton Colloquium 2012: Sustainable Development v. Sustainability

Join the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy, the Ved Nanda Center for International and Comparative Law, and the International Legal Studies Program for the 45th Annual Leonard v.B. Sutton Colloquium on Saturday, November 10, 2012.  This year, the Colloquium will consider sustainable development v. sustainability as the globe approaches the limits of growth in the 21st century.  This event will consider the impact of the UN sustainability conference in Rio de Janeiro twenty years ago.

In today’s world we aspire to foster economic growth and to achieve sustainability.  But are these two goals compatible?  In light of the shortcomings of the Rio + 20 Earth Summit, which one media syndicate labeled “a failure of epic proportions,” this year’s 45th Annual Sutton Colloquium addresses the current relationship between sustainable development and sustainability.  We are joined by local, national and international legal and environmental experts who will share their perspectives on how “best” to preserve our earth for future generations.

Topics will include the role and effectiveness of the rule of law and rule of law initiatives; the contrasting proposed approaches to the global environmental crisis, focusing on the advantages and shortcomings of each paradigm; and the future direction of international environmental law as we approach the limits of growth in the 21st century.  The panelists, who are practitioners and scholars from across the United States, are experts in their fields and have much to share on the topic.

The Sutton Colloquium has been approved for 8 CLE credits, which includes pending ethics credits.  It will be held on Saturday, November 10, 2012, at the Sturm College of Law.  To register, please click here.

The Leonard v.B. Sutton Colloquium in International Law was named for a former Chief Justice of the Colorado Supreme Court who was a close friend and longtime supporter of the International Legal Studies Program.

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Senator Gary Hart

Sen. Gary Hart Wants a New “Grand Strategy” for the U.S.

Senator Gary Hart

Senator Gary Hart

On Saturday, November 5th former United States Senator Gary Hart spoke at the 44th Annual Sutton Colloquium in International Law.  Hart’s talk, entitled “Strategy, Collective Security, and the Global Commons” focused on the need for a new “grand strategy” in tackling U.S. foreign security threats and global economic concerns.

Hart began by painting the scene in history: the Cold War ended over 20 years ago, yet NATO has yet to define a twenty-first century mission. Hart said that during the Cold War, it was sufficient for the U.S. policy maker to “merely react” to foreign events as they arose, taking protectionist measures such as tightening borders.  But in the last decade, the United States has been met with a wave of new realities that call for a major reformation of national security policy.

These “new realities” are both military an economic.  First, nation-state wars are in decline.  The events of September 11, 2001 forced the U.S. military to recognize non-state actors and engage in irregular, unconventional warfare.  Second, the economy of the United States has fundamentally changed over the past decade.  Hart pointed out that information has replaced manufacturing as the economic base of the nation.  “Globalization and information are eroding the sovereignty of nation states,“ he said.

In light of these new economic and military realities, Hart said that a unilateral approach to foreign security and international economic interests is “no longer possible.” He emphasized that new global threats cannot be adequately addressed by one military or one nation alone.   In crafting a new grand strategy on national security and foreign relations, Hart provided three guiding principles: (1) economic innovation, (2) networked sovereignty, and (3) integrated security.

First, Hart discussed a need for investing public funds and private capital in science, research, and education.  He said that the U.S. will only be able maintain its global position over time through creativity and economic innovation, and that such measures cannot be financed with borrowed money.

Second, Hart discussed the idea of networked sovereignty, emphasizing the need to work with other nations to identify and fight common threats before those threats become toxic.  He suggested networking public health services through common databases to quarantine viral pandemics, and working with other countries to create an enforcement mechanism for an international treaty on green house gas reduction.

Finally, Hart discussed the creation of an integrated security network through which member states could work together to confine local conflicts.  To exemplify how an integrated security network could operate, Hart discussed the creation of a zone of international interest in the Persian Gulf, where importing nations could work together to suppress conflict in the region and ensure a continuous supply of oil.

Despite the optimistic message of the talk, audience members expressed concern at Hart’s lack of specifics. Amid the recession and national debt crisis, investment in research and education seems unlikely and impractical.  It also seems unlikely that Department of Defense, faced with massive budget cuts, is capable of spearheading the development of the globally networked security programs Hart so adamantly discussed.  Hart admitted that he didn’t have all the answers but said that the U.S. needs to keep “trying new things” until it makes affirmative progress on these issues.

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Edward Luck

Ed Luck is Wrong When He Says that R2P is Purely Political

Edward C. Luck, United Nations Assistant Secretary General, spoke at the Sutton Colloquium about the responsibility to protect and the effect of the Arab Spring on R2P.  A central theme of Professor Luck’s discourse was that R2P is a political, as opposed to a legal, concept.  With all due respect to Professor Luck, whose work’s value to the international community cannot be overstated, he is both empirically and normatively incorrect when he suggests that R2P is purely political.

Edward Luck

Edward Luck

According to Professor Luck, R2P adds nothing to international law.  It is a political concept with a political following that works not because it is legally binding, but because there is a perception among policymakers that the public cares about it.  This claim is empirically false.  The three components of R2P are: 1) states have the primary responsibility to protect its citizens from atrocities; 2) there is a parallel obligation of third party states to assist states under stress; and 3) any of the tools under Chapter 6 of the UN Charter are available to the international community to remedy failures by states to live up to its obligations.  Taken alone, these three pillars are neither new nor particularly exciting, as state primacy, foreign aid, and humanitarian intervention are already mainstays of the modern human rights regime.  R2P is exciting as a development only to the extent that it is evidence of state practice explicitly suggesting qualified sovereignty.  The concept of sovereignty is an inherently legal one, and changes to the concept of sovereignty are properly seen as legal changes.  R2P is nothing more than a semantic label at the political level.  It is only novel when thought of in the legal context.

In addition to his empirical claim, Professor Luck advances the normative argument that R2P is more effective as a political concept than a legal one.  This normative claim is overly formalistic.  The benefit of R2P as a legal concept is that legal status confers upon the concept definite contents.  An international court could clearly indicate whether or not a legal concept had been properly invoked.  As a political concept, however, R2P becomes little more than a slogan that could be just as easily invoked unilaterally as through the Security Council.  Professor Luck would point out that invocation through the Security Council is an essential element of R2P and unilateral invocation, by definition, would remove any state action from the realm of R2P.  This is where formalism comes in and Professor Luck’s argument falls short.  If R2P is nothing but a political concept, its contents are shaped solely by political actors making political decisions.  In the world of the internet and the twenty-four hour news cycle, the court of public opinion, not the United Nations, is the final arbiter of political decisions.  If it is a purely political norm, R2P is destined to become whatever individual states make of it.

Rather than attempting to fit the square peg of R2P into the round hold of Westphalian sovereignty by writing it off as a purely political concept, we should be using the emergence of the norm to have a forthright legal discussion about the degree to which the international community has changed and the need for the law to change with it.  If R2P is but a political concept, it will be taken over and irreversibly damaged by political actors before it can be introduced as a workable norm of international law.

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The Arab Spring

The Arab Spring: Should Americans Care?

This Saturday, the University of Denver Sturm College of Law will be holding its annual Sutton Colloquium.  This year’s topic is  “Arab Spring and Its Unfinished Business: Law & Policy Issues.”

While the speakers and their academic interests are diverse, I think that all of the speakers should address one underlying and generally unasked question: Why should the audience, and Americans in general, care?  And, if Americans should care—as I imagine all the speakers will argue—is the Arab Spring a good thing for the United States?  Is the “democratization” (if that is what the Arab Spring can be called) of this region a good thing for the United States?

The Arab Spring

The Arab Spring

From my perspective, it is not.  As it relates to international relations, and international law, the Arab Spring has no effect on the United States because it will not affect the underlying balance of power in the region or worldwide, and it likely will not change our relations with those countries who participated in the Arab Spring.

First, the Arab Spring does not affect the United States because it will not change the underlying balance of power in the region—one State is not going to grower larger or more powerful because of this regional unrest.  And, theoretically, while Arab Spring States may engage in bilateral or multilateral agreements, they are unlikely to affect any power balance in the region.

Second, there will likely be no improvement in United State’s relations with the Arab Spring States because there is yet no showing that the Arab Spring will actually bring democracy to these States.  For example, recent news out of Egypt suggest that the military hold on power is tightening, possibly leading a military led dictatorship instead of a military leader led dictatorship (as Mubarak was a military leader prior to becoming president).

And yet, while Tunisia recently held elections shows progress, as the Iranian Revolution shows, electing Islamist parties doesn’t automatically mean peace and democracy.  While some scholars say that the Arab Spring will bring an era of post-Islamic States, implying a reduction in the threat of terrorism, the unrest in the region doesn’t necessarily mean more safety for now.

Therefore, when the Sutton Colloquium begins on Saturday, I hope the speakers take the time to tell us why it matters, because for the United States—as it stands now—it doesn’t seem like it does.

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University of Denver Sturm College of Law