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Because social complexity is rarely defined beforehand, social science discussions often default to natural language concepts and synonyms. Assert a large sociotechnical system is complex or “increasingly complex,” and notions of many unknowns, out-of-sight causal processes, and a system difficult to comprehend fully are triggered. These terms, however, also suggest the potential for, if not actuality of, catastrophes and their unmanageability in the sociotechnical systems. It is not uncommon to find increasing social complexity credited for the generation or exacerbation of major crises, such as nuclear reactor accidents and global climate change, and the need to manage them better, albeit the crises are said to be far more difficult to manage because of the complexity. The costs of leaving discussions of “complexity, crisis, and management” to natural language are compared here to the considerable benefits that accrue to analysis from one of the few definitions of social complexity developed and used over the last 40 years, that of political scientist Todd R. La Porte. Understanding that a large sociotechnical system is more or less complex depending on the number of its components, the different functions each component has, and the interdependencies among functions and components underscores key issues that are often missed within the theory and practice of large sociotechnical systems, including society’s critical infrastructures. Over-complexifying the problems and issues of already complex systems, in particular, is just as questionable as oversimplifying that complexity for policy and management purposes.

Article

The socioeconomic and political relationship between Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) with China has become increasingly significant for both since the beginning of the 21st century. This article analyzes proposals by the United States and China in their bilateral relationship and the political effects of their increasing tensions on LAC. Consistent with the proposed framework of analysis of the socioeconomic LAC–China relationship—at least in terms of trade, financing, overseas foreign direct investments, and infrastructure projects—the article examines in detail these conditions, as well as providing an in-depth example of trade. The final part of the article discusses the important potential and challenges of China for LAC’s development and concludes that so far, and based on the in-depth analysis of the trade relationship, the LAC–China relation is closer to a core-periphery than to a South–South or win–win strategy. The document proposes to understand that the political economy within the United States, particularly of its private sector, have shifted substantially against China. In addition, the structure for analysis of the LAC-China relationship in the 21st century with a concrete structure of analysis in terns of trade, financing, Chinese overseas foreign direct investments (OFDI) and infrastructure projects. In light of current discussions, the analysis suggests for the inclusion of a group of new concepts –such as the “the new triangular relationships” and the “globalization process with Chinese characteristics” with a group of effects in LAC. The impact of the increasing China-United States tensions, from this perspective, generates massive challenges in LAC, independently of their diplomatic relationships to China.

Article

China’s economic impact on Africa in the 21st century has been enormous. China became Africa’s largest trading partner in 2009 and has subsequently widened the gap with Africa’s second largest trading partner. China is Africa’s largest bilateral source of loans and an important provider of Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)-equivalent aid, although well behind the European Union and the United States. Annual foreign direct investment flows by Chinese companies are growing and are now in the same league as companies from other major investing nations. Increasingly, African leaders are focusing their economic relationships on China and, because of China’s economic success, some of them are also looking to China as an economic and political model. The future in Africa of China’s Belt and Road Initiative and the use of the renminbi (RMB) as an international currency are less clear. China’s influence on African economies comes with challenges. China has developed a significant trade surplus with Africa. Although resource-rich African countries have sizable trade surpluses with China, most African countries, especially the resource-poor ones, have trade deficits, some of which are huge. The influx of inexpensive Chinese products is also stifling Africa’s ability to produce similar goods. African governments welcome Chinese loans, which are usually used for infrastructure projects, but there are signs these loans are contributing to a debt problem in an increasing number of countries. Most Chinese aid to Africa consists of the concessionary component of these loans. Small Chinese traders have flocked to Africa, competing head-to-head with African counterparts. This has led to growing antagonism with African market traders, although African consumers welcome the competition. While Western countries collectively are much more important to African economies than is China, Beijing has become the single most important bilateral economic partner in a number of countries and is challenging the United States and Europe for economic leadership across the continent. China’s most significant competition in the coming years may be less from the United States and other Western and Western-affiliated countries such as Japan and more from developing countries such as India, Brazil, the Gulf States, Turkey, and Indonesia.

Article

Jale Tosun

Energy policy comprises rules concerning energy sources; energy efficiency; energy prices; energy from abroad; energy infrastructure; and climate and environmental aspects of energy production, utilization, and transit. The main theme in energy policy concerns the trade-offs between affordable, secure, and clean energy. Energy policy is a cross-sectoral—or boundary-spanning—policy area, which means that energy policy has implications for or is affected by decisions taken in adjacent policy areas such as those addressing agriculture, climate, development, economy, environment, external relations, and public health. The cross-sectoral character of energy policy is reflected in how it is proposed, adopted, implemented, and evaluated. Putting an energy policy issue on the political agenda can be attained easily, while the diversity of interests of the actor groups that are potentially affected by the proposal can complicate the policy process. The implementation depends on whether the energy policy measure in question is of a local, national, or international nature; and to what extent the implementation entails joint efforts by state and non-state actors. As with policy instruments adopted in any other policy area, the evaluation of an energy policy’s success is likely to vary across the different actor groups involved. The analytical perspectives on energy policy depend on the energy source of interest. Research concentrating on fossil energy sources (i.e., coal, oil, and natural gas) has traditionally adopted the analytical lens of international relations and international political economy. A similar research interest can be observed for studies of unconventional fossil energy sources (i.e., oil shale, oil sands, and shale gas) and nuclear power, although the centrality of risk and uncertainty in the analytical frameworks adopted help to connect these topics more directly with the public policy literature. The energy policy issue that has been on the research agendas of all political science subfields—including comparative politics—is renewable energy. Questions concerning the supply and management of energy infrastructure have received attention from public administration scholars.

Article

Anna Herranz-Surrallés

Energy policy has been considered as a “special case of Europeanization,” due to its tardy and patchy development as a domain of EU activity as well as its important but highly contested external dimension. Divergent energy pathways across Member States and the sensitivity of this policy domain have militated against a unified European Energy Policy. And yet, since the mid-2000s cooperation in this policy area has picked up speed, leading to the adoption of the Energy Union, presented by the European Commission as the most ambitious energy initiative since the European Coal and Steel Community. This dynamism has attracted growing scholarly attention, seeking to determine whether, why and how European Energy Policy has consolidated against all odds during a particularly critical moment for European integration. The underlying question that emerges in this context is whether the Energy Union represents a step forward towards a more homogenous and joined-up energy policy or, rather a strategy to manage heterogeneity through greater flexibility and differentiated integration. Given the multilevel and multisectoral characteristics of energy policy, answering these questions requires a three-fold analysis of (1) the degree of centralization of European Energy Policy (vertical integration), (2) the coherence between energy sub-sectors (cross-sectoral integration), and (3) the territorial extension of the energy acquis beyond the EU Member States (horizontal integration). Taken together, the Energy Union has catalyzed integration on the three dimensions. First, EU institutions are formally involved in almost every aspect of energy policy, including sensitive areas such as ensuring energy supplies. Second, the Energy Union, with its new governance regulation, brings under one policy framework energy sub-sectors that had developed in silos. And finally, energy policy is the only sector that has generated a multilateral process dedicated to the integration of non-members into the EU energy market. However, this integrationist dynamic has also been accompanied by an increase in internal and external differentiation. Although structural forms of differentiation based on sectoral opt-outs and enhanced cooperation have been averted, European Energy Policy is an example of so-called “micro-differentiation,” characterized by flexible implementation, soft governance and tailor-made exemptions and derogations.

Article

Managing critical infrastructures presents a specific set of challenges to crisis managers. These systems include electrical power; communications; transportation; and water, wastewater, and gas line distribution systems. Such infrastructures undergird the continued operation of communities in a modern society. Designed for efficiency, these technical systems operate interdependently, which makes them vulnerable to the stress of extreme events. Changes in population, demographics, land use, and economic and social conditions of communities exposed to hazards have significantly increased the number of people dependent on critical infrastructures in regions at risk. Although advances in science, technology, and engineering have introduced new possibilities for the redesign, maintenance, and retrofit of built infrastructure to withstand extreme events, the complexity of the task has exceeded the capacity of most public and private agencies to anticipate the potential risk and make investments needed to upgrade infrastructures before damage occurs. A mix of public and private ownership of infrastructure systems further complicates the task of ensuring public safety and security in crisis. Public agencies cannot protect communities alone. FEMA has developed a “whole of nation” approach to strengthen cross-jurisdictional linkages with state, county, and municipal emergency managers as well as private and nonprofit organizations. Computational modeling facilitates the exploration of alternative approaches to managing risk generated among a range of actors, interdependent infrastructures, and types of hazard events. Advanced uses of sensors, telemetry, and graphic display of changing performance for critical infrastructure provide timely, accurate information to reduce uncertainty in crisis events. Such technologies enable crisis managers to track more accurately the impact of extreme events on the populations and infrastructures of communities at risk, and to anticipate more reliably the likely consequences of future hazardous events. A basic shift has occurred in the assessment of risk. The focus is no longer on calculating the damage from past events, but on anticipating and reducing the consequences of future hazards, based on sound, scientific evidence as well as local experience and knowledge. Recognizing communities as complex, adaptive systems, crisis managers strive to create a continual learning process that enables residents to monitor their changing environment, use systematically collected data as the basis for analysis and change, and modify policies and practice based on valid evidence from actual environments at risk. Visualization constitutes a key component of collective learning. In complex settings, people comprehend visual images more readily than written or aural directions. Using graphic technologies to display emerging risk at multiple levels simultaneously provides an effective means to guide particular decisions at intermediate (meso) and local levels of operation. For communities seeking to reduce risk, investment in information technologies to enable rapid, community-wide access to interactive communication constitutes a major step toward building capacity not only for managing risk to critical infrastructure but also in maintaining continuity of operations for the whole community in extreme events.