Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Global Governance and Human Security

First Advisor

J. Samuel Barkin

Second Advisor

B. Jane L. Parpart

Third Advisor

Craig N. Murphy


Policymakers concerned with promoting climate change increasingly integrate the issue into development through the term “mainstreaming.” However, there is no unified framework for understanding what climate change mainstreaming efforts imply, which policy tools they legitimize, and why. This dissertation addresses this gap, examining the discourses that climate change mainstreaming in international development cooperation permits and legitimizes. The study examines climate change mainstreaming processes through discourse analysis of the development policies promoted by the World Bank (WB) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The study covers the period of the early 1990s to 2015, and it focuses on the mainstreaming efforts within the WB and the UNDP, as these organizations are ‘expert voices’ within the development community.

The study found three discourses that climate change mainstreaming efforts create and promote within the WB and the UNDP: the discourse of Poorly Done Development, the discourse of the Cumulative Downward Spiral, and the action-oriented discourse, “Managing risks while facing uncertainties of climate change issue.” These three discourses are each present, but to different degrees and the presence or promotion of each discourse has shifted over time. Of the three discourses identified, two (Cumulative Downward Spiral and Poorly Done Development) have significant elements of political, power related content. The third is managerial, with an emphasis on such market mechanisms as pricing carbon and risk management. Over time this third, neoliberal discourse has increasingly displaced the first two. This displacement has focused discussion of climate change in the WB and UNDP on efficiency, and away from the bigger and more fundamental questions about decarbonization.

The dominant discourse of climate change mainstreaming privileges managerial-technocratic actions that require communities and individuals to exercise high levels of risk-preparedness and entrepreneurial action in the face of climate change. The dominance of the neoliberal discourse reflects the general trends of the development community toward improving efficiency and performance among the recipients of development aid. It also reflects the tendency of the development actors to engage more closely with the private actors who might supply such needed funding for development and climate change efforts.


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