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Addressing Environmental Risk in the Developing World: vulnerability and social activism

Dr Tim Forsyth
Department of Geography and Environment, LSE
Email: t.j.forsyth@lse.ac.uk|

Date: February 2001
Venue: CARR Seminar Room, H615


Debates in environment and development are beginning to highlight an urgent and worrying tension between different approaches to environmental risk management in developing countries. On one hand, the search for effective environmental regulation and management is leading to the implementation of global agreements and codes of practice that seek efficient and fast solutions to growing problems. On the other hand, research into environmental change and local practices of management have indicated that many notions of environmental risk adopted by global agreements are biophysically inaccurate and may even be damaging to local livelihoods if used as the basis for policy. There is a need to integrate these perspectives by seeking both fast and effective environmental policy, as well as a more nuanced and socially flexible basis for understanding the construction of environmental risk in developing countries.

This seminar will discuss this need in the context of two case studies aiming to illustrate different perspectives of the same problem. First, the approach of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concerning vulnerability to climate change will be assessed in relation to alternative approaches coming from development studies and debates in science policy. The aim of this first case study will be to highlight the dangers of approaches to environmental risk that measure (projected) biophysical change alone, and which overlook institutional adaptations to environmental change that relying also on socio-economic factors. The second case study reviews an example from Thailand of local responses to industrial poisoning in electronics factories, and where such historic institutional adaptations at the local level do not exist. The aim of this second case study will be to show how the proposed nature of the risk was subject to a variety of social influences depending on political alliances and the use of scientific knowledge that resulted in a confused approach to the identification of risk. The seminar will conclude by exploring different governance mechanisms that allow both the evolution of biophysical knowledge about the origin of risk, and local participation.