Edited by Peter Dauvergne
Chapter 34: Knowledge, Power and Global Environmental Policy
Marc Williams At the beginning of the twenty-first century interest in environmental issues commands the attention of governments, business leaders, citizen-based groups, academics, and the wider general public. Knowledge is an important tool in the search for improved environmental governance. Knowledge has a number of dimensions and includes instruction, learning, information, and authorized belief. At base knowledge is concerned with the production of truth and with accurate representations of reality. The policy-making literature focuses attention on the generation, transmission and use of knowledge1 and at each stage of this process knowledge claims can be highly contested. It is widely accepted that modern global environmental challenges are characterized by uncertainty, irreversibility, and uniqueness or non-substitutability.2 And, it is the first of these three features that directs attention to the role of knowledge in environmental policy-making. Whether we are concerned with biodiversity, climate change, hazardous and toxic wastes, or desertification, the role of knowledge becomes an important consideration. There are, of course, many factors that account for the success or failure of international efforts to halt or reverse environmental decline but it is widely accepted that knowledge plays an important role in the policy process. Furthermore, debates in society about how to respond to environmental degradation, for example, what forms of conservation or preservation are required are shaped by conceptions of knowledge. In the absence of a single truth about the human/nature interface3 competing conceptions abound concerning appropriate policy responses. Although knowledge is not the sole factor determining environmental policy this chapter...
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