The Power of Participative Preparation – Investigating the Effect on International Organizations’ Policy Ambition and Comprehensiveness in Biodiversity Governance

by Lara Breitmoser

Provenance of the research:

  • Title of thesis/research question: The Power of Participative Preparation – Investigating the Effect on International Organizations’ Policy Ambition and Comprehensiveness in Biodiversity Governance
  • Type of thesis: Master’s
  • University affiliation: Central European University (CEU), Vienna
  • Research timeframe: February-May 2023

1. Abstract/Summary:

The international community has so far failed to halt the loss of biodiversity including falling short of all Aichi targets the UN had set for 2020. Drawing the lessons from the previous defeat, the parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity decided to change to a party-led, participatory approach for preparing the new Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF). This thesis investigates what impact such a party-led process has on the policy ambition and comprehensiveness in biodiversity governance. Drawing on the literature on technocratic versus participatory governance, it is hypothesized that party-led preparations like the GBF produce less ambitious yet more comprehensive outcomes than expert-led developments such as the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030. Ambition hereby captures depth and strictness while comprehensiveness refers to broadness, scope, and the inclusion of different stakeholders. The processes and outcomes of the two strategies’ development are compared by combining document analysis and expert interviews in a qualitative multi-method design. The results show that while the GBF is indeed more comprehensive, it is only slightly less ambitious. This implies that participative processes might be more powerful than theoretically expected. The research thereby contributes to the understanding of how to design strategy preparation in order to most effectively tackle global issues in the environmental realm and beyond.
Read the full paper here.

2. What were the most important or surprising findings of your work?

In my thesis, I found that the UN Biodiversity Strategy which was prepared in a participative way by all parties was more comprehensive and slightly less ambitious than the EU Biodiversity Strategy. While I expected results on comprehensiveness, the findings about ambition were surprising. Based on theory, I hypothesized that the participative mode and involvement of more actors would only allow for the least common denominator to be passed. But this didn’t happen – the UN strategy ended up only slightly less ambitious than the EU, at least regarding nature protection and restoration. The interviews gave some interesting hints that the participative process might have increased awareness about the biodiversity crisis and heightened ownership of the parties. This relationship, however, requires further investigation in another research project. 

3. What did you struggle with during the research and/or writing process, and how did you overcome these issues?

My biggest challenge was to narrow down and pick a precise research question. I knew I wanted to write about how international organizations deal with the issue of biodiversity quite early in my research journey. I then chose to focus on the UN Biodiversity Strategy, the so-called Global Biodiversity Framework, as it was only recently passed in December 2022 when I started my research and thought of a comparison with the EU strategy as it covers the same time frame. However, finding a more concrete topic to investigate turned out very challenging as I had little knowledge about how the biodiversity divisions within both organizations work. I had a long list of potential avenues for research but most of them turned out obsolete upon further investigation. 

What really helped me was the recommendation by my supervisor to start with the interviews quite early even as I did not have a final research question. Talking to people with expertise regarding the issue gave me many important and interesting insights and helped me to understand my subject of study much better than text-based resources. It showed me which puzzles were actually not that surprising and eventually helped me to narrow down my research question.

4. What are you doing now and what are your plans for the coming year?

After handing in my thesis and graduating last summer, I started working full-time in ESG and public sector consulting at PwC Austria where I had already held a part-time position during my studies. There, I mainly dealt with European sustainability legislation like the European Sustainability Reporting Standards and the EU Taxonomy. Now I am about to join WWF’s climate and economy team in Austria. I am really excited to explore this new opportunity and assist companies in taking effective climate action.  

5. Following the above, did your research impact those plans in any way?

My research definitely increased my interest in biodiversity and the interconnection between the climate and biodiversity crisis. While I was planning a career related to environmental issues already before, I am thrilled to put some of the insights I gained while writing my master’s thesis to practise in my new job and expand my knowledge on biodiversity-related topics. 

6. Do you have any advice for people who are undertaking this type of resarch?

My advice would be to start reading about and learning the topic as soon as possible. Policy preparation and making in intergovernmental organizations is quite complex and hard to understand as an outsider – which might also be true for many other topics. In order to ask the right questions, you need a pretty good basic knowledge already before you start your actual research. It’s also really helpful to talk to people who have been involved in the policy making or attended the conferences. The more you know about something, the better of a research question you will be able to come up with.

Author Bio: Lara is a recent International Relations graduate from the Central European University in Vienna. Previously, she studied political science at LMU Munich. She is now a young professional working at the WWF after gaining experiences in sustainability and public sector consulting at PwC Austria. Her interests lie especially in climate and biodiversity policy and governance.

Categories Student Work

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