Ecosystem services and the blue economy: navigating power and values

Schutter, Marleen (2020) Ecosystem services and the blue economy: navigating power and values. PhD thesis, UNSPECIFIED.

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Reconciling competing interests is a key challenge for environmental governance, especially in marine ecosystems, which are facing a combination of environmental pressures and high levels of human dependence. At the same time, there is increasing interest in oceans as a source of economic growth. Marine ecosystems are often characterised by legal plurality, which adds another challenge for effective governance. Marine ecosystems governance is therefore complex, and it has been proposed that interactive governance that aligns the values and principles of different governance actors is needed to address multiple interlinked, but sometimes also competing, goals and interests. Contemporary governance approaches increasingly emphasise the interlinked interests of humans and nature, as demonstrated the concept of ecosystem services and the recently emerged blue economy. Ecosystem services are defined as “the benefits people obtain from ecosystems” (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment 2005 p. v). The blue economy has various definitions, that commonly emphasise “improvement of human wellbeing and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities” (The Commonwealth 2020 p. 1) Ecosystem services and the blue economy are thought to together offer potential for the alignment of different interests through their emphasis on multiple and interlinked goals for environmental governance. Whilst the blue economy informs wider policy discourse, ecosystem services can be seen as the materialisation of this discourse through capturing preferences and values on the ground. However, aiming for the simultaneous optimisation of different dimensions does not guarantee alignment of values, worldviews and images within or among elements of governance, and across scale. The question remains whether these increasingly dominant approaches to marine environmental governance succeed in demonstrating the importance of biodiversity whilst integrating diverse social, economic, and environmental interests. The ecosystem services concept tends to be directed at the system to be governed (e.g. ecosystems and resource users), whereas the blue economy concept is directed at the governing system (i.e. national governments and decision makers), and although they are related, it is not clear to what extent they are capable of connecting these different scales. In this thesis, I set out to develop a better understanding of the extent to which the evolving landscape of marine environmental governance contributes to aligning the values, worldviews and images of the governing system with those of the system-to-be-governed. To achieve this, I examine the blue economy and ecosystem services using different methods, from different angles, and at different scales. Thus, my aim is to assess the ability of both concepts to engage with a variety of actors in principle (in research and policy discourse), and the shape they take in practice, where they impact resource users. Successes would suggest interaction and negotiation among actors is possible such that the long-term underlying values, which shape governance, can inform and are informed by the short-term preferences, that are time-bound, and shape management on the ground. Specifically, in my thesis I ask whether an ecosystem service approach, which is focused on preferences, adequately captures the full range of peoples’ diverse and plural values, and whether the blue economy is reflective of these values on the ground. Therefore, the contribution of this thesis is the exploration of how values, worldviews and images interact to shape governance at local, national, and international scales. I use bibliometric and network analysis to assess interdisciplinarity in ecosystem services research. My approach focuses on evaluating the extent to which an article’s citations draw on knowledge from across disciplinary boundaries. I find that research on ecosystem services continues to grow exponentially, and that there is an increasing number of disciplines involved. This increase is also reflected in the growing number of social science disciplines that publish on ecosystem services. However, the proportion of social science involvement has remained stable over the years, and ecology-based knowledge, and therefore worldviews, remain the most influential in the field. Interestingly, economics, often highlighted as having a disproportionate influence in ecosystem services, appears marginal in the field’s development and network. Nevertheless, the growth of social science involvement in ecosystem services research points at potential for the inclusion of heterogeneous knowledge and plural worldviews. This could help the concept to return to its goal of connecting ecological functioning with human well-being, thereby raising support for conservation. Next, I apply the ecosystem services concept in a resource user-setting, eliciting preferences for specific ecosystem services through a ranking exercise and exploring the link with underlying values. I find that preferences are associated with underlying values that overall are considered unimportant, and that directly asking people to explain their preferences gives better insight into the reasons why they ranked the services the way they do. In addition, the reasons that people give were more aligned with the general values structure of Seychelles, which prioritises self-transcendence values over self-enhancement. I identify a need for the explicit deliberation of values in environmental governance, in order to align the realities of the system that is being governed with the institutions of the governing system, but also with their underlying values, worldviews, images and principles. Following this, I apply Q-methodology and interviews with people in roles of formal decision-making in environmental governance to explore images of the blue economy as expressed in perspectives on the concept in Seychelles. I find three perspectives on the blue economy in Seychelles: supportive in principle, critical in practice; pragmatic and accepting; and idealistic. These perspectives reflect some of the international critique on the concept, for instance doubts around the reconciliation of environmental and economic interests. However, I find that much of international discourse was not reflected in the perspectives in Seychelles, and very limited attention for the social dimension of the blue economy. Social concerns were only expressed by one of the actors, who was found to be of very low influence in the network of actors involved in the blue economy. Finally, building on interviews and observations from the wider governance landscape, I consider power relations within Seychelles as a part of the increasingly dominant blue economy narrative internationally. I find that internationally, the blue economy is maintained as influential through persuasion and the creation of a ‘common sense’, presenting the possibility of triple wins through rational management. On the ground, despite the sense that there are critical voices as Seychelles is shaping the blue economy, outward discussion is stifled by depoliticised decision-making processes, leading to simmering discontent that is only expressed in private. The internationally hegemonic status of the blue economy concept persists locally. Throughout my thesis, themes of values, power, depoliticization and dissent emerge as critical issues in the alignment of different governance actors. Ecosystem services take place within the system-to-be-governed, whereas the blue economy is a powerful discourse in the governing system. Therefore, both approaches present the possibility of complementing each other to facilitate alignment between the system that is being governed and the governing system and mediate their interactions. However, this alignment is inhibited by a lack of deliberation on values, worldviews and images that underpin governance, and are therefore essential to discuss. This lack of deliberation is facilitated by power dynamics and depoliticization. Power is mediated by the boundary object status of both ecosystem services and the blue economy, which although versatile, also can stifle discussion about incompatible interpretations of both concepts. Boundary objects can become a source of power by creating a ‘common sense’ in which conflicting interests are resolved rhetorically, thereby gaining power through persuasion. The boundary object status of the blue economy also contributes to the depoliticization of discussions, prioritising techno-managerial approaches instead. However, I also found that dissent is emerging both on the ground and in academic critique. This dissent is leading to calls for more deliberative and participatory approaches to the blue economy and ecosystem services, which would allow for exploration of the shared values, worldviews and images that underpin environmental governance. Thereby, pressures on and demands from marine ecosystems could be reconciled through interaction between different elements of society. Comparing people’s attitudes towards these underlying aspects of governance opens up processes of power, giving insight into whose values count, and which images are leading governance visions. Concepts that seek to reconcile competing interests by integrating and optimising their demands offer potential, but need to be applied with explicit recognition of power relations and conflicting values.

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25 Sep 2020 09:25
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25 Oct 2020 00:04