The term sustainable development has become a catch phrase of the 1990s, a handy slogan for politicians, bureaucrats, environmental activists, multinational aid officials, and even business leaders. Implementing sustainable development policy, however, is no mere technical problem. Indeed, environmental policy making is classically political: a competition among multiple interests with differing goals, resources, tactics, information, and time horizons. Who “sustains” what, for whom, why, and how? These questions underpin any analysis of the politics of environmental policy.
Scholars have paid little attention to the political side of environmental policy making in developing countries. Although environmental policy making is often understood as a case of “diffusion,” in which ideas flowed from Western Europe and the United States to the developing world, the acceptance of new ideas is always mediated by local institutions and cultures (Sikkink, 1991). Furthermore, as international linkages have come to involve more and more actors outside foreign ministries, the form of diffusion differs from classic examples like social security policy (Collier and Messick, 1975).