Date of Award

5-13-2011

Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program

Political Science

First Advisor

Peter M. Haas

Second Advisor

Jane Fountain

Third Advisor

James Boyce

Keywords

biodiversity, environment, epistemic communities, knowledge and empowerment, science and policy, transnational advocacy

Subject Categories

Political Science

Abstract

The political economic pressures of development contribute to unsustainable environmental practices in developing countries, and marginalize civil society participation. This dissertation looks at the following countries where policymakers are faced with strong incentives to foster rapid economic growth. In Jamaica, the bauxite industry demands mining rights in sensitive mountainous ecosystems. In Mexico, the tourist industry demands access to construct in vulnerable coastal environments in the southeast. In inland Mexico, unregulated agriculture threatens ecosystems in the Yucatán Peninsula. Finally, tourist and energy industries in Egypt demand access for infrastructure in sensitive ecosystems in the Red Sea region. In all of the cases, the preferences of these sectors threaten to displace local communities, while creating unsustainable pressures on the environment. At the same time, the projected revenues from these sectors justify continued environmental exploitation.

In response, transnational networks of environmental advocates and epistemic communities mobilized throughout the 1990s, lobbying the Global Environment Facility for conservationist projects in each country, and then lobbying governments to effectively implement the projects.

This research finds that three conditions were necessary for transnational networks to influence policies associated with project implementation. First, networks must generate an internal scientific agreement on the dimensions of the environmental problem. By doing so, they can delegitimate competing arguments, strengthening their own claims. Second, networks must build social ties with policymakers in powerful agencies. Social ties increase the likelihood that policymakers will adopt the norms of the network. Third, networks must reframe the discourse on environmental management. At present, policymakers and industry argue that environmental management should be assessed by its contribution to economic development, validating only those policies that lead to sustained revenue generation. By reframing environmental management as an issue impacting the well-being of domestic populations, networks can argue for the greater participation of actors marginalized by the dominance of privileged productive sectors in resource management. Moreover, by linking sustainable resource use to the interests of domestic populations, networks can generate political capital to oppose the most unsustainable environmental practices. This research thus builds on the epistemic communities approach by highlighting the importance of democracy in knowledge building and environmental governance.

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