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Payments for Ecosystem Services, neoliberalisation, and the hybrid governance of land management in Australia

journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-19, 16:36 authored by Vaughan HigginsVaughan Higgins, Dibden, J, Potter, C, Moon, K, Cocklin, C
Payments for Ecosystem Services (PES) are seen by many as one of the defining projects of a more neoliberalised approach to environmental governance. In practice, however, many PES schemes are hybrid constructions, depending on a mix of market and non-market policy instruments and the involvement of state as well as non-state actors to achieve changes in environmental practice on the ground. In this paper we provide insights into how and why hybrid forms of governance enable PES schemes to be workable in practice, and the implications of these arrangements for the neoliberalisation of rural environments and subjects. Focussing on the hybrid governance strategies of institutional blending and contextual adaptation, we examine two PES schemes in the State of Queensland, Australia. Conserving native vegetation and protecting the Great Barrier Reef respectively, these programmes have used PES as part of a suite of initiatives to achieve improvements in the environmental practices of beef producers. Our analysis reveals that institutional blending and contextual adaptation were crucial in building trust between landholders, farming organisations and those agencies responsible for delivering schemes; enabling the alignment of PES with existing mechanisms of governing, such as regulation and extension; meeting the outcomes required by government funding agencies, often in a short timeframe; improving the targeting of specific land types or landholders; improving the quantity and quality of funding applications; and overcoming fears about perceived threats to private property rights. While these strategies were important in making each PES scheme workable, the use of non-market instruments of regulation and extension compromised the application of neoliberal policy prescriptions to rural environments. However, we argue also that these same instruments contributed to and reinforced the construction of neoliberal landholder subjectivities.


Publication title

Journal of Rural Studies








School of Social Sciences


Pergamon-Elsevier Science Ltd

Place of publication

The Boulevard, Langford Lane, Kidlington, Oxford, England, Ox5 1Gb

Rights statement

Copyright 2014 Elsevier Ltd.

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  • Restricted

Socio-economic Objectives

Environmental policy, legislation and standards not elsewhere classified

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