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Who blames corruption for the poor enforcement of environmental laws? Survey evidence from Brazil


Who blames corruption for the poor enforcement of environmental laws? The answer to this question is important since corruption is an important reason why environmental policies are not properly enforced, but previous studies of environmental public opinion do not address the issue. We analyze data from a survey fielded in Brazil in June 2012, immediately preceding the Rio+20 environmental summit. We test hypotheses on income, education, and perception of corruption as a cause of poor enforcement of environmental policy. We find that wealthy individuals are more likely to associate corruption with enforcement failure than their poorer counterparts. However, education is not associated with the belief that corruption is a primary cause of enforcement failure. These results suggest that since wealthy Brazilians have a higher exposure to corruption because of their interaction with government officials, they understand the role of corruption in policy failure. Conversely, the kind of general information that education offers does not raise concern about the role of corruption in environmental policy. The results have important implications particularly in democratic societies, where governments have stronger incentives to address the problem if the concerned public associates corruption with enforcement failure.

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  1. 1.

    An exception is Aklin et al. (2013) who examine the environmental preferences of Brazilians.

  2. 2.

    For instance, the Water and Mines Code decreed that land owners no longer had the right to water or ores that may be present on their private holdings. The reason behind this code was not to protect water and ores from exploitation by the private groups, but to transfer control of such resources to the federal government (Drummond and Barros-Platiau 2006). Indeed, this law helped Brazil become a powerhouse in both ore mining and hydroelectricity during the second half of the twentieth century. Another example of such a law was the Forest Code which established government control over all forests in the country. However, the implementation of this law proved difficult, and the coming decades saw the rise of the logging industry in Brazil and the resulting deforestation of the country’s rainforests.

  3. 3.

    This is not always a clear result. See Farzin (2003) for example.

  4. 4.

    DataSenado is an official service of the Department of Research and Opinion, and its objective is “to develop research that serve[s] to strengthen communication between the Senate and the needs and desires of society.” See http://www.senado.gov.br/noticias/datasenado/institucional.asp. Accessed 5 Nov 2012.

  5. 5.

    This survey does not include survey weights. We assume that the polled sample is representative of the population in Brazil, notwithstanding those who have no telephone. See the summary statistics in Table 1 for the demographic characteristics of the survey respondents.

  6. 6.

    According to DataSenado, about 20 % of the interviews were checked by trained professionals and the margin of error is 3 %.

  7. 7.

    While these substantive choices are indicative of the possible reasons that hinder the enforcement of environmental laws in Brazil, we do not claim that these reflect the actual reasons behind the problem. In this paper, we are interested in explaining Brazilian public opinion about the environmental law enforcement in the country, which is precisely what the survey does.

  8. 8.

    While these results point to income having a statistically significant effect on the respondent’s perception, the survey unfortunately does not include questions that ask respondents on their exposure to corrupt activities. In addition, since the survey included respondents with landline telephones only, we re-run the estimations using weights from the Brazilian census and our main findings hold in all models. These results are available in the Supplementary Appendix.

  9. 9.

    In order to account for the correlation between the income and education variables, we present the Variance Inflation factors for the full model in the Supplementary Appendix.

  10. 10.

    See, for example, http://www.socialwatch.org/node/14372. Accessed 20 Dec 2012.

  11. 11.

    We test the Independence of Irrelevant Alternatives assumption with the Hausman, seemingly unrelated estimation, and the Small–Hsiao tests. The results of these tests are also available in the Supplementary Appendix.


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Correspondence to S. P. Harish.

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Aklin, M., Bayer, P., Harish, S.P. et al. Who blames corruption for the poor enforcement of environmental laws? Survey evidence from Brazil. Environ Econ Policy Stud 16, 241–262 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10018-014-0076-z

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  • Environment
  • Corruption
  • Latin America
  • Brazil
  • Public Opinion