Environmental discourse in the eThekwini Municipality : the eThekwini catchments project.
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Worldwide, it has been recognised that local governments are uniquely placed to bring about positive environmental change in their areas of jurisdiction. This research was conducted to assess how one South African local municipality, the eThekwini Municipality, Durban, is faring in its efforts to achieve sustainability. Hajer's (1993, 1995, 2003) discourse approach to environmental policy making was used as the key theoretical and methodological basis of the research. This approach recognises the power of discourse in shaping how society's relationship with the environment should be managed and sustained. In global environmental politics, ecological modernisation has emerged as the dominant environmental policy discourse and reflects a weak approach to sustainability. An alternative is the strong sustainability discourse, which argues that sustainability cannot be achieved without giving attention to issues of social and environmental justice and including local communities in environmental policy making. These two discourses are used to structure the assessment of environmental policy discourse in the eThekwini Municipality. A recent municipal project, "eThekwini Catchments 2002: A Strategic Tool for Planning" was used as the research case study. The project provides an assessment of the environmental health of each of the 18 river catchments identified in the municipal area, using environmental indicators. The intention of the project was for this information to be used by municipal planners as a tool for environmental decision-making. Municipal officials, representing several municipal sectors, and the project consultants were interviewed to determine their perspectives on the project. The interview transcripts, as well as the Catchments Project report and other municipal documents, were analysed using Hajer's discourse methodology to uncover the key discourses operating in the municipality that influence environmental policy making. Municipal discourse was then reviewed in terms of the EM and strong sustainability discourses to determine whether the municipality is moving towards stronger sustainability. This research also contributes to an improved understanding of how discourse shapes environmental policy projects and their outcomes. By identifying the environmental discourse dynamics at work, it is possible to stimulate a more deliberate approach to environmental policy making to bring about positive environmental change in the municipality.
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