Value base of water governance in the Upper Paraguay River basin, Mato Grosso, Brazil
Schulz, Paul Christopher
Values have been identified as important factors that guide decision-making and influence preferences in water governance. Comparing the values reflected in water governance decisions with the values held by stakeholders and the general public may inform the debate on the political legitimacy of water governance. The research presented in this PhD thesis draws on multiple research traditions on values, ranging from ecological economics and political ecology to social and environmental psychology, to investigate the value base of water governance in the Upper Paraguay River Basin, in the state of Mato Grosso, Brazil. It first introduces a novel conceptual framework that integrates these various research traditions and suggests that water governance is closely related to the fundamental values, governance-related values, and assigned values of stakeholders and actors in water governance more generally. These different types of values vary in their level of abstractness, as well as in their ‘locus’, i.e. where the valuing person locates them, and are hypothesised to be closely interrelated in a hierarchical structure, with fundamental values being the most abstract type of values. Water governance, in turn, is defined as the synthesis of water policy (the ‘content’ of decisionmaking), water politics (the ‘power play’ between actors) and water polity (the institutional framework). The thesis then proceeds to apply this novel conceptual framework in a case study on stakeholders’ values in the Upper Paraguay River Basin, and investigates the relationship of their values with their preferences regarding the construction of the Paraguay-Paraná Waterway through the Pantanal wetland, in the south of Mato Grosso. This water infrastructure project has a long history of conflict attached to it, as it might impact the hydrology and ecology of the Pantanal, the world’s largest tropical freshwater wetland and UNESCO biosphere reserve, while at the same time benefitting Mato Grosso’s rapidly growing agribusiness sector by lowering the cost of soybean exports. Based on 24 semi-structured interviews with relevant stakeholders, it was found that supporters and opponents possess different, clashing ‘value landscapes’ (i.e. groups of related values), which may explain the protracted nature of the conflict around the construction of the waterway, while at the same time highlighting political legitimacy deficits of the project. This research was followed up by a quantitative study with members of the general public (n=1067), which sought to measure and test the assumption that we can empirically identify such clashing value landscapes, and their relationship with preferences for or against the Paraguay-Paraná Waterway. Using structural equation modelling (SEM), statistically significant links between people’s values and their preferences in water governance could indeed be found, as well as between different types of values, which formed two contrasting value landscapes. This suggests that water governance conflicts may in part be explained by the presence of different value landscapes among involved actors, which may include even the most abstract level of fundamental values. The research presented in this thesis thus contributes to interdisciplinary debates on the role of values for water governance from multiple conceptual, as well as methodological perspectives. Additionally, through its application to a concrete case study, it highlights the policy relevance of such research, as addressing conflicts in water governance and examining alternative policy options may require a more explicit consideration of the values of the actors involved.