Does deliberative capacity enhance the ability of states to prioritise biodiversity? Comparing France and Australia

  • Pierrick Chalaye

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    The first Global Assessment launched in 2019 by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) offers a reminder of how urgent it is to respond to biodiversity loss. It notably emphasises the striking figure indicating that one million of the Earth’s species are now threatened with extinction. However, it is widely acknowledged that the global response to biodiversity loss is largely incomplete. One of the main reasons for this incomplete response is the lack of commitment from nations worldwide to establish adequate policies on biodiversity and implement them. At the national level, this lack of commitment has been attributed to an absence of principled leadership, transparency and accountability and an absence of productive interaction between competing interests. These are key attributes of democracy and are central in deliberative democratic theories, particularly when it comes to environmental issues.
    The relationship between environmental policy outcomes and democracy has long been analysed in systematic quantitative studies comparing ‘democratic’ and ‘non-democratic’ countries, most of which have concluded that countries that are more democratic achieve better outcomes. However, very few studies have paid attention to the relationship between environmental policy outcomes and democratic practices within so-called democratic countries. Therefore, there is a general lack of understanding as to why democratic countries still fail to prioritise environmental concerns in decision-making. This thesis aims to contribute to this empirical literature.
    To do this, the thesis uses two case studies: France and Australia, between 2009 and 2019. Both countries are western democracies with industrialised economies and a well-developed environmental governance architecture (made up of national level biodiversity policies, institutions and agencies). Examining and comparing these two countries highlights those aspects of their democratic systems that contributes to their valuing (or neglecting) of common assets such as biodiversity.
    The analytical framework of the thesis combines biodiversity prioritisation and systemic deliberative capacity (grounded in the theory of deliberative democracy). The former involves assessing the degree of prioritisation of biodiversity in collective decision-making. The latter focuses the analysis on inclusion, deliberative authenticity and ‘consequentiality’ of deliberation within each country’s biodiversity governance system. As this thesis takes a deliberative systems perspective in which the engagement of discourses is important, I look at the presence and prominence of biodiversity discourses, the way they interact with each other and the extent to which they are transmitted in the system. Data is collected via a range of techniques including document collection (media articles, publications and consultation procedures), stakeholder interviews and participatory event observation.
    The results demonstrate a clear difference between the two countries in terms of both biodiversity prioritisation and deliberative capacity on biodiversity. Compared to Australia, France performs better when it comes to prioritising biodiversity concerns in collective decision-making. The French performance reflects the prominence of three complementary discourses – those of ecological collapse, ecological solidarity and ecological modernisation – and their relatively effective transmission (particularly that of ecological modernisation) to government. In contrast, the Australian performance can partly be attributed to the prominence of two antagonistic discourses – namely, economic development and nature preservation – with only the former being prioritised in government policies.
    Consequently, there is a positive correlation between each country’s deliberative capacity on biodiversity and the extent to which it prioritises biodiversity. Indeed, a plural and inclusive discursive landscape in which biodiversity discourses interact productively and are more easily transmitted in the system contributes to higher biodiversity prioritisation. However, the thesis concludes that while the French discursive landscape and deliberative system on biodiversity are more inclusive, authentic and consequential than those of Australia, this only contributes to moderate results on biodiversity policy, which are insufficient, considering the extent of biodiversity and environmental crises.
    Date of Award2021
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorJohn Dryzek (Supervisor), Jonathan Pickering (Supervisor) & Peter Bridgewater (Supervisor)

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