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Is there a role for social and environmental safeguards? Hydropolitics and discourses of hydropower in Lao PDR
Stockholm University, Faculty of Science, Stockholm Resilience Centre.ORCID iD: 0000-0001-7657-3102
Stockholm University, Faculty of Science, Stockholm Resilience Centre.ORCID iD: 0000-0003-2924-2188
Stockholm University, Faculty of Science, Stockholm Resilience Centre.ORCID iD: 0000-0002-6649-5232
(English)Manuscript (preprint) (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Hydropower development is booming along the Mekong river, with Lao PDR producing and exporting electricity to its neighbouring countries. The Nam Theun 2 dam in Laos is an influential case of applying safeguards, being used to justify support for other large dams. We unpack the narratives used by various stakeholders to frame hydropower development and their social-environmental impacts. We explore how different stakeholders perceive the role of safeguards in mitigating social and environmental impacts from development projects. Based on a review of policy documents and grey literature, as well as interviews from key stakeholders, we conduct a discourse analysis of the narratives around hydropower and safeguards. Our findings suggested four main narratives were used by various constellations of stakeholders: Green Neoliberalism and Green Governmentality to legitimize, Ecological Modernization to operationalize, and Green Radicalism to criticize hydropower policies. Whereas green radicalism is often associated with over-consumption, this study suggests that green radicalism in lower-income countries highlights the marginalisation of local communities and inadequacy of conventional development models. We also demonstrated the influence of dominant discourses such as ecological modernization and green neoliberalism on shaping societal perspectives on hydropower in Laos. 

Keywords [en]
governance, discourses, dams, compensation, Mekong, Southeast Asia
National Category
Social Sciences Interdisciplinary
Research subject
Sustainability Science
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-200664OAI: oai:DiVA.org:su-200664DiVA, id: diva2:1625896
Funder
Swedish Research Council Formas, 2016-01556, 2019-01078Available from: 2022-01-10 Created: 2022-01-10 Last updated: 2022-01-25Bibliographically approved
In thesis
1. Safeguarding nature and people: Integrating economics, politics, and human rights to transform biodiversity policies and governance
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Safeguarding nature and people: Integrating economics, politics, and human rights to transform biodiversity policies and governance
2022 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

None of the world’s biodiversity goals from the last decade were fully met, as biodiversity losses are occurring at an unprecedented rate. Policies are not always effective; their use may have adverse effects on people and nature. Biodiversity offsets are an example of a policy that can be used to protect and restore biodiversity loss from economic development. Yet, offsets have been criticized for poor ecological outcomes, commodifying nature, and creating social inequality. To address this challenge, we need to learn from the shortcomings of biodiversity policies and governance as new goals are being drafted under the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework.

This thesis examines how biodiversity policies can be designed and implemented for effective and equitable outcomes for people and biodiversity. I focus on the design (Paper I) and implementation (Paper II) by examining economic instruments in conservation. I then broaden to the governance landscape by analysing the implementation of policies in national (Paper III) and international regulatory contexts (Paper IV).

The 4 papers cover a diversity of cases across the globe at different governance levels. Paper I conducted a policy analysis of offsets from six countries (Australia, England, Germany, Madagascar, South Africa, and the US), through an economic framing of biodiversity trading and institutional arrangements. Paper II reviewed market instruments for conservation, ecotourism and sport hunting in eastern and southern Africa, to analyse whether these instruments can be compatible with new ideas for conservation such as conviviality. Paper III investigated the politics around Mekong hydropower development, through multi-stakeholder interviews and a discourse analysis of the social and environmental impacts of a dam in Laos. Paper IV examined the implementation of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and how review mechanisms of human rights law can improve compliance.

This thesis highlights that a human rights-based approach provides important conceptual and political support for biodiversity governance. It contributes to the science-policy interface with these insights. First, the institutional design and implementation are as important for the outcomes as the type of policy. In economic policies such as offsets, a high involvement of the market does not influence the level of commensurability, but increases the degree of commodification. Second, the contextual factors (politics and power relations) of policies should be acknowledged to address inequality. An institutional design and implementation that ensures meaningful participation and a balance of power is crucial for effective and equitable outcomes. Review mechanisms used in human rights help to navigate power inequities, by ensuring that all rights-holders have a substantial voice.

Third, offsets can be designed with different institutional arrangements (state, market, voluntary). If a market approach is chosen with biodiversity trading, effective monitoring and regulation is needed to safeguard biodiversity. Lastly, to foster compliance with policies, management and enforcement approaches can be used in a complementary manner through positive incentives, sunshine methods, and negative incentives. Overall, this thesis provides insights of how to meet our global goals for protecting and restoring biodiversity, while safeguarding people and nature.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Stockholm: Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University, 2022. p. 53
Keywords
global environmental governance, human rights review mechanisms, biodiversity offsets, commensurability, commodification, economic instruments, transformations, Convention on Biological Diversity, compliance, safeguards
National Category
Social Sciences Interdisciplinary Environmental Sciences
Research subject
Sustainability Science
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:su:diva-200666 (URN)978-91-7911-752-8 (ISBN)978-91-7911-753-5 (ISBN)
Public defence
2022-02-24, Vivi Täckholmsalen (Q-salen), NPQ-huset, Svante Arrhenius väg 20 and online via Zoom, public link is available at the department website, Stockholm, 09:00 (English)
Opponent
Supervisors
Funder
Swedish Research Council Formas, 2016-01556
Available from: 2022-02-01 Created: 2022-01-11 Last updated: 2022-02-25Bibliographically approved

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Koh, Niak SianWong, GraceHahn, Thomas

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