Thursday, July 29, 2010

"Community Expectations for Sustainable Development in Natural Resources Projects" Short-Course to be Held Aug. 9-13; Course Registration Still Open

The Sturm College of Law has pioneered a cutting-edge series of courses that involve sustainable development in natural resources development projects. The next course in the series will be "Community Expectations for Sustainable Development in Natural Resource Projects."

The "short course" will be held from Aug. 9-13. The daily schedule for the three-credit course calls for class to begin at 8 a.m. and run through 5 p.m. each day with several breaks throughout the day.

For students interested in the intersection of development, international, environmental, natural resources, and sustainability law and policy this will be an excellent opportunity to learn more about this emerging and important field of study. The course will be led by two outstanding practitioners, Luke J. Danielson and Cecilia M. Dalupan. Mr. Danielson is a Gunnison, Colorado, attorney with a great deal of experience in the subject area. Ms. Dalupan, who is a licensed attorney in the Philippines and Colorado, has spent much of her career examining these issues. Together, Mr. Danielson and Ms. Dalupan, who are principals in the Sustainable Development Strategies Group consultancy, combine to form perhaps the world's strongest teaching team on these timely and oftentimes vexing issues.

In the August course, Mr. Danielson and Ms. Dalupan will be joined by Dr. Tony La Vina, who is dean of the Ateneo School of Government in the Philippines. Before taking his current position, Dr. La Vina worked at the World Resources Institute in Washington, D.C. He is the lead negotiator for the Philippines in climate change negotiations, and in 2009 in Copenhagen he chaired the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation negotiation that he led to near agreement.

The following description from the course syllabus offers more details about the upcoming course:
Through much of human history, we were not overly concerned about whether natural resource development was good for local populations, or whether they liked it. Indeed, in some places and times, mining was done by conquered people forced into slavery. The fundamental issues in the industry were geological (finding minerals, timber or oil; and gas), or in the case of dam development, finding good hydroelectric sites; engineering (learning the physical processes to produce and obtain the resources efficiently) and processing (finding more useful products and more diverse and creative ways to use resources). The social, cultural, and environmental dimensions, and the local economic impact, were in the back seat, and whether local people felt they were receiving benefits was rarely considered an issue.

By contrast, we are now at a point where local opinion is extremely important. Whether local people accept and want natural resource development is not at the bottom, but at the top of the list of critical issues in the natural resource industries. Our growing world population and the demand for a higher standard of living have created an unprecedented demand for materials and energy. The different avenues of communication in this internet age make it more and more possible for local developments, voices, and stories to reach a wider and even global audience, which has profoundly changed the way development occurs. And the move from authoritarian regimes to open societies has put a premium on decisions reached by consensus processes rather than imposed by force.

The spread of democracy, the rapid development of open information regimes, and the internet means that it is increasingly important what local communities want, and how they view natural resource production. There has been a movement from coercion to consent as a basis for making these decisions, which is one of the principal themes of this class.

At the same time, the increasing number of people in the world makes it harder to find places that minerals and energy can be produced in the “wide open spaces,” and are forcing us to produce natural resources as more immediate neighbors to local communities.

The natural resource industries have been hit hard by a new challenge, and one they are just starting to understand how to confront: community expectations. This is probably where we seem to have the farthest to go, and the least idea what to do. This is symbolized by the fact that we have not yet fully developed a shared vocabulary to talk about these critical concerns. We talk about the “social license to operate” or “community development” or “community consent,” and use a lot of other words as well, but we are often not entirely clear what we mean. As lawyers, we are struggling with the legal concepts, structures and systems to regulate these processes and encourage peaceful outcomes.

“Globalization” means many things in different contexts. Among them are these: we have reached the point where the decisions of company executives in a boardroom in someplace like London or Toronto have an enormous impact on the future of a traditional community halfway around the world. In turn, the reactions of people in that traditional community now routinely determine whether projects succeed or fail, whether companies survive, and whether executives are promoted, or lose their jobs. The Managing Director in the company boardroom and the village elder in a rural part of Africa thus determine each others’ fate, even though they almost certainly do not speak the same language, share the same religious world view, have the same understanding of what property rights are, or share many cultural values. That is another theme of this course.

In short, while most of us acknowledge that communities need to have some kind of voice in the decisions that affect them, we do not have a clear idea of how to incorporate the desires of communities into the decision making process. That is yet another principal thread of this class.

Industry has a clear idea of what it wants: the ability to develop projects without obstacles risk and delays, and to be appreciated as a positive contributor to the communities in which it works. But we have very little idea in many cases how to achieve that, or of what the other actors want. This is the great visible challenge of the future, and is one we still in most cases do not know how to approach with confidence of success.

If we are just guessing at what local communities want, and we have no rigorous way of measuring what we are in fact delivering, or whether that corresponds to what communities want, we are simply wandering in the dark. Any progress will be an accident.

Perhaps the light that can lead the way is a set of ideas we call “sustainable development.” Sustainable development is a set of concepts that attempts to harmonize a number of seemingly competing goals. These include providing better conditions of life and more opportunity for people, especially the poor. They also include bringing production and consumption within limits that ecosystems can tolerate in the long run.

As governments, companies, researchers, and others attempt to understand what kinds of actions and policies are needed to move us individually and collectively onto such a track, it has become clear that the drive for better conditions of life requires a much broader vision of what constitutes well-being than traditional numerical economic measures. It is also clear that achieving development on a sustainable path requires us to build more effective structures of governance, within which market competition can create greater abundance without damaging the other values we consider important.

Improving the condition of the poor, creating more opportunities, protecting the productivity of the ecosystems on which we all depend, and establishing more accountable and efficient institutions of governance are goals that seem hard to object to. At the same time, they seem to some to be very abstract and far removed from the daily concerns of business and industry.

But on a strategic level, these are the central issues that are likely to determine the industry’s future: whether it has adequate access to the resource base, access to capital, a steady supply of skilled specialists, a sympathetic ear for its policy concerns: in short whether it is a healthy, profitable industry, or one at the margins of the economy, barely able to meet its cost of capital, unsafe to work in, and adding inexorably to the already considerable environmental legacy of past centuries of mining, smelting, oil production and refining, timbering and dam building.

They are also among the key drivers of legislation, regulation, voluntary standards and a host of policies that lawyers working for any kind of clients in the natural resource sector need to understand. Lawyers, legal scholars, and consultants in allied disciplines such as anthropologists, sociologists, and conflict management specialists, have an important role in the dramatic shift that is occurring in how natural resource development is conducted, regulated and governed.

The new legal challenges need to be understood on a variety of levels:

o The emerging set of international standards and requirements governing foreign direct investment;

o Changing national priorities in mineral legislation and the laws governing extraction and use of mineral products; and

o Meeting community expectations for development.

This class is designed to explore the issues of sustainable development at the third of these levels: the community. And it will proceed on these major themes:





Sturm College of Law students may register for the class the same way they register for any JD class, just keep in mind that this is an interterm course (semester code 201065, CRN 1001). The course is also open to other University of Denver students as well as other professionals who are associated with the natural resources industries. For more information on the course, please contact Don Smith at or Lucy Daberkow at

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