This thesis is an exploration of the debates surrounding the concept of sustainable
development. Specifically it examines the ways in which the concept has been
defmed and adopted within environmental governance in Central America.
The concept of sustainable development is intended to provide a framework for
decision-makers and planners working on environment and development issues.
However, sustainable development is commonly poorly defined and so broad in scope in most policy documents that it has become a highly ambiguous concept.
This lack of clarity has led to different actors operating within the
environment/ development arena interpreting it in a multitude of different ways.
Such ambiguities in how the concept can be and is interpreted by such actors have
led to conflicts over how sustainabihty can be achieved. This thesis demonstrates
the manifestation of such ambiguities and how these then impact upon
environmental governance and the direction of sustainabihty initiatives.
The ambiguities associated with the concepts of sustainable development adopted
by actors within Central America are demonstrated through an exploration of the
relationships amongst, and impacts of, three concurrent regional initiatives which
all strive towards achieving "sustainable development"; the Mesoamerican
Biological Corridor, the Plan Puebla Panama and the Dominican-Republic Free
Trade Agreement. Through exploring the nature of these three initiatives, the
thesis reveals how a neoliberal interpretation of sustainable development has
become the dominant discourse that is serving to influence their direction. It is
also demonstrated that neoliberal ideologies have not only permeated and
influenced the environment/ development agenda at the regional level but also at
the national and local levels within the Central American region.
With the neoliberal discourse dominating sustainability agendas within regions of
the world such as Central America, this research shows how the concept of
sustainable development by no means offers a clearly defined policy agenda. The
thesis concludes by questioning the future viability of the concept as a whole and
whether or not the term can continue to be used as a reference frame for decision
A Doctoral Thesis. Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the award of Doctor of Philosophy of Loughborough University.