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Towards green transitions? Some reflections on the politics of water management and technology in Peru from a perspective of global North

Una colaboración de

Doc.Soc.Sc. Tuula Teräväinen (University of Helsinki, Finland)

Under the recent economic turbulences and the global ecological crisis, more and more attention has been given to the capability of national governments to support, develop and utilise innovations that would boost economic development in a more sustainable way. Fuelled by the so-called grand challenges of our time, like climate change, the food crisis, and the distribution of welfare, international organisations such as the UN, the World Bank and the OECD have recently suggested a new, greener development paradigm, varyingly labelled as Green Growth, green economy, or Green New Deal, as a pathway towards sustainable socio-technical and economic transitions. These initiatives have entailed the objective of not only harmonising economic growth and environmental protection as in the idea of sustainable development, but also viewing them as mutually reinforcing policy objectives along the lines of ecological modernisation. A key element in these suggestions has been the promotion of new technological and systemic innovations, which are viewed as crucial factors in economic growth and social well-being. The key difference of the green economy initiatives in comparison to earlier environmental policy concepts has been, however, their inherently global orientation. In political terms, this has had threefold implications.

First, the new initiatives have emphasised global relations of cooperation, power, and governance between the global North and South. Here the focus has shifted from established (Northern) cooperation networks towards seeking possibilities from new geographical areas like Latin America.  Second, new policy measures balancing supply and demand side innovations have been called for. This has entailed promoting new technologies responding to the “grand challenges” accompanied with systemic innovations enhancing better governance, policy coordination, and institutional efficacy. Third, the green initiatives have sought to advance new forms of cooperation within and between national actors and at the global level. This has included reconsidering the roles and responsibilities of national governments in governing green transitions. It has also called for enhancing vertical and horizontal policy coordination among a variety of actors including state authorities, business, NGOs, and interest organisations. At the global level, there has been a shift from earlier developmental aid policies towards increasingly viewing emerging economies such as Peru as active techno-economic cooperation partners. For instance, the Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs (2013) recently introduced an Action Plan for Latin America and Caribbean with an aim to strengthen technological and economic cooperation with Latin American countries, as they are seen to be growingly important trade partners and actors in the international community. As regards to Peru, the action plan identifies a number of potential cooperation areas such as sustainable forestry, energy efficiency, renewable energy, and environmental-friendly technology.

In my research, I have analysed the cooperation potential between the global North and South through an example from a particular technological field, the water sector, and within an emerging techno-economic cooperation area, Latin America. By analysing Finnish experiences of the politics of water and water technology in Peru, my research focuses on stakeholder experiences and expectations concerning the possibilities and hindrances of green innovation policies in particular, and the governance of sustainability in the global context in general. In Peruvian policy documents, the need to strengthen the national knowledge base and the national innovation system has become increasingly visible, and the climate change, innovation, and economic programmes and strategies strongly emphasise the crucial importance of new technologies and innovation in all societal development. At the same time, however, turning strategic guidelines and policy objectives into concrete policies has proved difficult. The relative share of R&D investments has remained strikingly low, in recent years accounting for only about 0.15% of the GDP (UN 2012). Even in comparison to other Latin American countries, Peru seems to be currently facing a substantial policy challenge in this respect. A transition to a green economy as suggested by the OECD and the UN, i.e., integrating environmental and social concerns to the established economic growth paradigm would thus imply profound policy changes throughout the economy and society.

From the Finnish perspective, Peru has been viewed as a potential cooperation partner particularly because of its robust economic growth in the past decade, which has been seen to have not only created new investment opportunities but also supported broader societal development. At the same time, Finnish actors tend to highlight the importance of policy coordination, communication, and “good governance” as crucial factors in developing mutual cooperative relationships. In this respect, the lack of updated knowledge among Finnish actors about the Peruvian context; difficulties in getting involved with large state-steered energy projects; institutional weakness and fragmentation; the relatively low priority of environmental issues in national politics; and in some industrial sectors, the absence of a tradition of corporatist negotiations between the state, industry, and interest groups have been identified as challenges for developing techno-economic cooperation with Peru.

My analysis also points to some urgent policy questions that seem to remain unsolved in the Peruvian context. These include the development of institutional and R&D infrastructure; policy coordination across sectors and levels of policies; policy implementation at the regional and local levels; the distribution of power; the functioning of democracy (and the relative strength of various actors in policy design and implementation); and the access to and control over natural and administrative resources. In the water sector, recent policy developments have included the introduction of the new water law in 2009, which has responded to at least some of these challenges and transformed the institutional and ideological basis of water management in Peru (Oré & Rap, 2009). Evidence indicates, however, that there have been difficulties in policy implementation: according to my interviewees, it has not been able to overcome the inherently sectoral and centralised approach to water management as expected. The law has refined the role of the state and sought to promote a more decentralised approach, but it has remained unclear to what extent this has challenged to established structures of governance and distribution of power – stakeholder experiences point to imbalances between new responsibilities and institutional resources particularly at the regional level and in terms of balancing different demands, stakeholder interests, and uses of water.

At a more general level, my results indicate that the varying emphasis on development, growth, and equity in the OECD and UN formulations of green economy is reflected in the respective policy interpretations in national settings. In the context of Peruvian water management, particularly the social and cultural aspects of technology and innovation become crucial, which highlights the importance of broadening the historically constituted techno-managerialistic view towards including local knowledge and traditional expertise in policymaking and implementation throughout the sector. It seems indeed that the rather generic green economy thesis with its strong reference to the unlimited economic growth paradigm and the prioritisation of global and national levels over local conditions might not fit the Peruvian context as such. It can also be asked to which extent the largely appraised and nearly-universal model of knowledge-based economy is a relevant strategy for emerging economies like Peru, and whether its commitment to technology, growth, and global competition as non-negotiable imperatives  contributes to “sustaining the unsustainable” (Blühdorn 2000) rather than providing sustainable and equitable solutions to contemporary socio-political, economic, and environmental challenges.