Is collaboration good for the environment? Or, what’s wrong with the Land and Water Forum?
Collaborative environmental governance is a prominent approach to natural resource governance in New Zealand. It is emerging in the Land and Water Forum, Canterbury Water Management Strategy, and the proposed Resource Legislation Amendment Bill. This article reviews political and economic theory to ask if collaboration is good for the environment in the context of the Land and Water Forum. Interest group and public choice theories offer cogent reasons for pessimism. Elinor Ostrom’s and Guy Salmon’s models offer reasons for optimism. I conclude that the most pertinent parts of Ostrom’s model for New Zealand are her caveats. Her model applies to closed systems, not open systems such as rivers with down-stream effects like nitrate E. coli contamination. In open ecological systems, pessimism about local collaborative environmental governance is warranted unless decisions are shackled to strong and unambiguous national regulation. Without strong regulation, collaborative governance creates systems in which those not invited into the collaborative deliberation do not count. In natural resource governance, this dynamic will favour resource development interests over conservation. I conclude that collaborative environmental governance risks being less than democratic, less than fair, and less than good for the environment. Not surprisingly, optimists and pessimists would view the Land and Water Forum differently. Optimists would say that it is an incomplete application of a promising model. Unfortunately, ecological outcomes data to settle the question are rarely collected internationally and do not exist yet in New Zealand. Pessimists would say it was doomed from the start by power imbalances, displaced and subjugated environmental goals, and a fundamental lack of democracy. Such pessimists might say Fish and Game was wise to pull out in November 2015, but would have been wiser to pull out sooner.... [Show full abstract]