What Can Nature Withstand? Science, Politics and Discourses in Transboundary Air Pollution Diplomacy

University dissertation from Karin Bäckstrand, Department of Political Science, Lund University, P.O. Box 52, SE–221 00 Lund, Sweden

Abstract: Long-range transboundary air pollution generates pressing environmental problems such as the acidification of lakes and soils, forest decline and loss of biodiversity as well as threats to human health across Europe. The overall aim of this study is to explore the role of scientific expertise in environmental diplomacy by analyzing recent international agreements in the transboundary air pollution (LRTAP) regime. The concept of critical loads, i.e. scientific assessment of ecosystem sensitivity, and the practice of integrated assessment modeling provide a decision framework in the diplomatic effort to counter air pollution. First, a discursive framework for understanding the science–policy interface in environmental policy–making is built by drawing on the post–positivist research agenda in constructivism, discourse analysis, international environmental politics and science studies. The theoretical contributions of the study are the development of a 1) a constructivist account of the science–policy interplay stressing the mutual construction of the scientific and policy agenda as a hybrid endeavor; 2) a discursive framework for analyzing the interplay between discourses, practices and actors as scientific knowledge is framed into policy instruments. Secondly, in applying the framework above this study covers new empirical ground in providing an in–depth analysis of the role of science in the evolution of critical–load–based regional air pollution agreements. The discursive and institutional shift toward an effect–oriented discourse relying on the critical loads approach in the LRTAP regime is traced. The study analyzes the employment of regulatory science in the negotiation of the 1999 Gothenburg Protocol, which incorporates a multipollutant–multieffect approach, has been appraised as the most complex science–policy endeavor hitherto undertaken. The various discourses surrounding the concept of critical loads as it was tailored into a multidisciplinary and multinational research agenda are explored. The competing discourses – effect–oriented, technology–oriened and cost–oriented – in the pre–negotiations and ‘political negotiations are examined. The study investigates role of modelers and scientific experts as knowledge brokers and knowledge translators and scientific practices such as modeling in synthesizing and framing scientific discourses into a comprehensible policy instrument. Thirdly, this study critically reflects upon the rise of regulatory science in transboundary air pollution diplomacy in the light of three green perspectives, namely ecofeminism, reflexive modernization and postmodern cultural critique, which all in different ways examine the link between modernity, science and the environmental crisis. From this perspectives, the effect–oriented discourse is embedded in a larger discourse on ecological modernization paving the way for the scientization of environmental politics.

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