Environment, Development and Sustainability

, Volume 15, Issue 5, pp 1337–1363 | Cite as

Elites, climate change and agency in a developing society: the Chilean case



Faced with global climate change, local elites are confronted with the main dilemma of a developing country: development requires economic growth, but this effort also requires consideration of environmental factors and sustainable patterns of production and consumption. Based on empirical evidence from qualitative research on businesses and political elites in Chile—a paradigmatic South American middle-income country—this paper explores the extent to which local elites are aware of the severity of challenges posed by global climate change and identify main climate change concerns in their discourse. The degree to which domestic elites are aware of the paradigm shift they must assume toward clean industrial production is a key issue of environmental governance that involves private non-governmental actors. This paper gives clues to a better understanding of what is happening with strategic actors in developing nations and their understanding of their decision-making capacity concerning environmental policy and investments for facing global climate change. The main conclusion of the research is that awareness of climate change in local elites’ discourse is relative. It is not accompanied by a full acceptance of their agency and is not leading to a paradigm shift toward a clean model of development because of domestic elites’ position within globalization processes.


Climate change Elites Environmental governance Sustainable development Agency Developing country 



The authors want to acknowledge the support of FONDECYT (National Fund for Science and Technology, Government of Chile) for its contribution to the research on which this paper is based and the International Research Project ENGOV, Environmental Governance in Latin America and the Caribbean: Developing Frameworks for Sustainable and Equitable Natural Resource, EUROPEAN UNION, ENGOV, FP7-SSH-2010-3, Project, 2011–2015, of which the authors are the Chilean partners. The main results of this paper come from the project FONDECYT No. 1090797; others comes from the project FONDECYT No. 1120662. Some conceptual frameworks’ inputs for this paper are driven from the International Research Project ENGOV from its WP3 and WP4. We thank Cristián Cuevas, Claudia Oliva, Rodrigo Guerra, Gabriela Flores, Rigoberto Muñoz, Claudio Peralta and Luis Peña, who made valuable contributions to the research. We specially thank Benedicte Bull for helping in the conceptualization of elites and the environment and the anonymous advisors that read the manuscript. Their comments have been of real value.


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute for Advanced StudiesUniversidad de Santiago de ChileSantiago de ChileChile
  2. 2.CICESUniversidad de Santiago de ChileSantiago de ChileChile

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