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Sustainable natural resource governance under interest group competition in policy-making


Non-state actors play an increasingly important role in environmental policy. Lobbying by interest groups has been associated with policy stagnation and environmental degradation as well as with sustainable governance. However, little is known about how competition between economic and environmental interests influences the ability of governance systems to avoid undesirable outcomes. We investigate how competing interest group behaviour affects sustainable resource management by tracing the policy change process in a case study of the European Union fisheries policy and analysing its dynamics with an agent-based model. We find that formation of interest group coalitions in response to a perceived crisis can delay or prevent collapses, even when the competing interests have unequal resources. We attribute such outcomes to the emergence and timing of a ‘tug of war’ mechanism between competing interest group coalitions. We argue that attempts to improve sustainable resource management must account for feedbacks from environmental change to behaviours of political actors.

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Fig. 1: Overview of the processes in the PoliSEA model.

Icons designed by Jerker Lokrantz/Azote

Fig. 2: Results of experiment 1, exploring the effects of IGs’ coalition-building strategy on outcomes of the simulation.
Fig. 3: Dynamics of fish population in 200 model runs over time, under conditions of IGs’ coalition formation.
Fig. 4: Representative run for the fast decline scenario.
Fig. 5: Representative run for the slow decline scenario.
Fig. 6: Representative run for the balancing scenario.
Fig. 7: Results of experiment 2, exploring the role of IG funding in the performance of the fishery under conditions of IG coalitions.

Data availability

The experiment output data that support the findings of this study are available from the corresponding author upon request. ODD + D protocol model documentation is included in Supplementary Note 1.

Code availability

The NetLogo code for the PoliSEA model is available for download from the OpenABM library:


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This research was made possible by the support of the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP/2007-2013/ERC grant agreement no. 283950 SES-LINK), the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (ERC grant agreement no. 682472—MUSES; to K.O. and M.S.) and Marcus and Marianne Wallenberg Foundation (Grant no. 2017.0087 to A.D.). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish or preparation of the manuscript. We would also like to thank E. Sundström for data analysis assistance.

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Authors and Affiliations



K.O., A.D. and M.S. conceived the study and designed the experiments. K.O. led development and implementation of the model, conducted experiments and analysed the data with expertise and feedback from A.D. and M.S. K.O., M.S and A.D. wrote the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Kirill Orach.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Editor recognition statement Primary handling editor: Stavroula Kousta

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Extended data

Extended Data Fig. 1 Interest group coalition-building decision.

Interest groups’ decision to join or form coalition(s) or lobby alone.

Extended Data Fig. 2 40/10 scenario of Experiment 2.

a, Fish population, b, quota, c, average number of interest coalitions and d, influence of lobbying groups during the 40/10 scenario. The dashed line in (a) and (b) represents the concern threshold of environmental (a) and industry (b) groups. The light blue field in (b) represents seasonal catch that can be taken out to maintain current fish population size (setting a quota above this value would lead to a decrease in the fish population next season).

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Orach, K., Duit, A. & Schlüter, M. Sustainable natural resource governance under interest group competition in policy-making. Nat Hum Behav 4, 898–909 (2020).

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