In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Environmental Policy and Politics in Latin America

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works and Online Resources
  • Journals
  • Cities

Political Science Environmental Policy and Politics in Latin America
Jose Carlos Orihuela
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 November 2011
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 November 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0021


The study of environmental policy and politics has undergone a rapid and complex development. As elsewhere, the view that in Latin America and the Caribbean there was neither political action nor policy action on environmental affairs before the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, Stockholm, has shifted to a more nuanced understanding of the evolution of environmental politics, both across and within nations. The Latin American “shades of green” owe their range to a diversity of cultures that coexist within a diversity of ecosystems. Green politics unfold in time and in place. Nineteenth-century state formation and commodity-led growth shaped the first layers of modern environmentalisms in state and society. The view of “empty” and “wasted” forests that existed as productive engines for national progress was conventional wisdom until the third quarter of last century. In the 20th century, economic forces, the impetus of modernization, and internal migration recreated rural and urban environments. The Indian Question reappeared, helped by the new structure of political opportunities provided by transnational networks, with ethnic and green politics feeding each other in local and global arenas. In the cities, grassroots activists and professionals have progressively colored politics and policymaking. Green bureaucratic structures of diverse autonomy and limited reach characterize the evolution of the Latin American state. Governments have played a secondary role in the climate-change debate.

General Overviews

The literature on environmental policy and politics, though still in its infancy, is burgeoning. Recent edited volumes and review articles help to paint an imposing landscape. Carruthers 2008 assesses the current state of environmental justice scholarship, Liverman and Vilas 2006 reviews the literature on neoliberalism and environmental policy, Miller 2007 provides a rich historical overview, and Roberts and Thanos 2003 introduces key topics and regional trends. Bebbington 2009 and Carey 2007 review book production of the last decade. Collinson 1996 shows the diversity of conflict ecologies and policy arenas. Christen, et al. 1998 introduces the shades of green of environmentalism in Latin America. United Nations Environment Programme 2010 provides an overview of environmental problems and policymaking.

  • Bebbington, Anthony. “Contesting Environmental Transformation: Political Ecologies and Environmentalisms in Latin America and the Caribbean.” Latin American Research Review 44.3 (2009): 177–186.

    DOI: 10.1353/lar.0.0119

    Surveys some of the most prominent books published between 2004 and 2008.

  • Carey, Mark. “The Nature of Place: Recent Research on Environment and Society in Latin America.” Latin American Research Review 42.3 (2007): 251–264.

    DOI: 10.1353/lar.2007.0033

    This is a review of recent book production that complements Bebbington 2009.

  • Carruthers, David V., ed. Environmental Justice in Latin America: Problems, Promise, and Practice. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2008.

    The volume contains a dozen case studies on “popular environmentalism” and an overview of the state of the research on environmental justice movements. The most comprehensive and updated handbook of its kind.

  • Christen, Catherine, Selene Herculano, Kathryn Hochstetler, Renae Prell, Marie Price, and J. Timmons Roberts. “Latin American Environmentalism: Comparative Views.” Studies in Comparative International Development 33.2 (1998): 58–87.

    DOI: 10.1007/BF02687408

    An account of the variety of environmentalisms in Costa Rica, Mexico, Venezuela, and Brazil.

  • Collinson, Hellen, ed. Green Guerrillas: Environmental Conflicts and Initiatives in Latin America and the Caribbean; A Reader. London: Latin American Bureau, 1996.

    Reviews two dozen cases, ranging from urban planning in Curitiba to environmental crisis in Haiti.

  • Liverman, Diana M., and Silvina Vilas. “Neoliberalism and the Environment in Latin America.” Annual Review of Environment and Resources 31 (November 2006): 327–363.

    DOI: 10.1146/

    An excellent survey of the literature on the different impacts that structural adjustment reforms have had in the management of natural resources and environmental affairs.

  • Miller, Shawn William. An Environmental History of Latin America. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

    A short history of six centuries, sketching key process and episodes. Chapters 6 and 7 introduce contemporary politics of urban planning and forest conservation, providing a broad introductory bibliography.

  • Roberts, J. Timmons, and Nikki Demetria Thanos. Trouble in Paradise: Globalization and Environmental Crises in Latin America. New York: Routledge, 2003.

    An engaging narrative introducing the politics of trade and pollution, disease, the Green Revolution, deforestation, urban environmental movements, and contentious indigenous politics. Cases discussed in detail include Mexico, Central America, urban Brazil, and the Amazon.

  • United Nations Environment Programme. Environment Outlook for Latin America and the Caribbean: GEO LAC 3. Panama City, Panama: United Nations Environment Programme, Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean, 2010.

    Provides an assessment of the main environmental problems in the region and the current state of environmental policymaking.

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