Institutional Capacity and Economic Competitiveness

Ultimately, the geographical and resource attributes of developing countries may be more important than political factors in determining their participation in international agreements and the development of domestic measures for climate change mitigation and biodiversity protection. Economically developing countries that export fossil fuels (such as OPEC members and Mexico), and those undergoing rapid transitions to highly industrialized, middle income status (such as China and India), may be expected to resist external pressures and/or demand special consideration under international agreements such as the Kyoto Protocol. But an effectively assertive response to external pressures—whether that response is to cooperate or resist—depends on substantial internal strength.

The existence of trained personnel (including significant local participants in global epistemic communities), bureaucratic structures and resources, budgetary support for the formulation and implementation of regulatory and sustainable development policy, will affect both the recognition of and response to crisis. In the United States, with its extensive and multilayered regulatory mechanisms, advanced research capacity and strong, institutionalized linkages between government agencies and academic researchers, environmental information is readily received and processed by governments. Conflicts between environmental and economic development policy do result in shifting budgetary priorities, as well as significant variations in the style, aggressiveness and targeting of environmental policy enforcement. But regardless of who holds the White House, environmental interests will invariably get a hearing in Congress and the courts, and environmental policy will remain an important part of the mission of several departments, agencies and commissions. Furthermore, shifts in policy and implementation strategies will occasion strong reactions by members of Congress, national and international ENGOs, and other interested publics.

In China, as is typical of many authoritarian states (and especially post-revolutionary regimes) development has taken precedence. In an approach to environmental issues that is ironically close to neoliberalism, radical Maoist development policies followed a strategy of "grow first, clean up later."65 In an effort to stimulate rapid aggregate growth and modernization in the post-Mao period, scarce state resources have favored an environmentally compromising combination of big infrastructural projects (such as the Three Gorges Dam), and reliance on cheap energy (especially soft coal) for rapid industrial expansion. Nevertheless, along with economic reforms has come greater attention to the environmental impacts of development. Still, regulatory and enforcement structures are poorly staffed and have ambiguous or even contradictory mandates. Retaining some of the key limiting factors of an economically developing country, despite its growing wealth and power, China continues to rely on foreign assistance and ENGOs for addressing problems of air and water quality, GHG production, and biodiversity conservation.

For poorer, smaller nation-states compliance with international agreements on biodiversity and climate change depends greatly on external support (grants, low interest loans, technology transfers, training, etc.) from multilateral and bilateral aid agencies and ENGOs. These states must contend with poverty, a paucity of high-value marketable products, limited human resources, and daunting challenges from climate change and species extinction. Government agencies charged with the implementation of the UNFCCC and biodiversity conventions suffer from inadequate budgets and political weakness. Without strong linkages to business interests, and/or powerful political patrons (domestic or foreign) they rarely prevail in their contests for influence with agencies that facilitate industrialization, resource extraction, conventional tourism and similar routes to increased foreign investment and short term economic growth. Where species protection and climate change mitigation policies are effectively implemented it is often as a result of rent-seeking behavior by governments looking for new sources of foreign aid and concessionary loans, rather than sustained commitments to environmental improvement.

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