Abby Lindsay Ostovar, Ph.D.

American University

City: Monterey, California

Country: United States

About Me:

I am a ‘pracademic’ engaging as a practitioner, as well as continuing teaching and research as an academic.  I teach water, climate, and environmental policy courses at the undergraduate and graduate levels, currently at American University.  I am now focusing on developing collaborative strategies that enhance the climate resilience of water management and support low-income or otherwise disadvantaged communities, both in California and internationally.  From 2013-2015, I coordinated the Partnership on Technology Innovation and the Environment for the Center for Environmental Policy, a collaborative effort with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Environmental Defense Fund, and other public and private partners currently focused on scaling up water technology adoption. Prior to that, I worked on trade and environment at the U.S. State Department, managing environmental cooperation programs with over 15 countries to advance environmental protection and private sector implementation of environmental technologies and practices.

Research Interests

Environmental Policy

Energy And Climate Policy

Foreign Aid

Urban Politics

Water Politics

Water Governance

Climate Resilience

Environmental Justice

Climate Change

Global Environmental Governance

Countries of Interest


United States

My Research:

My research focuses on collaborative water governance and climate resilience.  My main research project analyzes multi-stakeholder water governance in Peru, asking when and how stakeholders collaborate and exploring the linkages between participation, legitimacy, and justice.  Through comparative case analysis of river basin councils in Peru, I argue that reproducing asymmetrical sociopolitical patterns within water management could cause Peru to miss opportunities to increase adaptive capacity and ensure sustainability of water supplies in a socially-just manner.  I am an Earth Systems Governance Research Fellow and a Senior Fellow of the Environmental Leadership Program.  I have also completed research on renewable energy, climate change policy, sustainable development, global forest governance, and environment and trade.


Journal Articles:

(2019) Investing upstream: Watershed protection in Piura, Peru, Environmental Science and Policy

As the world is increasingly urbanized and climate change presents new uncertainties, urban water supply management needs to be flexible and adaptable. This includes reaching beyond city limits to include water supply and watershed management, as well as working with stakeholders outside the boundaries of the city, across the urban/rural divide. Bringing together diverse stakeholders to collaborate on management strategies entails bringing together multiple knowledge systems that interact, compete, and reshape water systems. Large cities located within Peru’s arid coast provide important opportunities to examine these knowledge dynamics, as urban water supplies depend on actions within the rural watersheds. These watersheds, which originate high in the Andes mountains, are populated primarily by campesino communities, who have been marginalized from state-led water governance for centuries. With Peru’s adoption of the 2009 Water Resources Law, campesino communities were brought into management through multi-stakeholder river basin councils. These councils ideally provide a space for stakeholders to deliberate and reach agreements on sustainable water management. Yet, despite the critical importance of upper watershed protection for ensuring water supplies for the large coastal cities, few efforts have resulted in watershed protection. Here, I examine one successful case, where the stakeholders in Piura agreed on a program to protect critical upper basin ecosystems. This study uses a process tracing approach to analyze the knowledge dynamics that led to the agreement and initial implementation. Based on ethnographic research including 112 interviews between 2015 and 2017, I argue that the interaction between knowledge and belief systems needs to be taken into account. I find that stakeholders’ seemingly incongruent worldviews and epistemologies were bridged, enabling them to reach agreement on an ecosystem-based technique for watershed protection. Further, strong leadership and active support of the knowledge and preferences of the historically-marginalized campesino communities was critical for the inclusion of their views and agreement upon watershed protection. Where urban water supplies rest on actions of non-state actors, such as is the case with watershed protection, the ability of stakeholders to voluntarily reach and implement agreements is critical, especially given increased variability and uncertainties associated with climate change.

(2018) Social learning as an adaptive measure to prepare for climate change impacts on water provision in Peru, Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences

This article examines the conditions under which social learning occurs and leads to adaptive measures through two empirical examples of Peruvian cities that invested in watershed protection for their urban water supplies. Social learning is an increasingly popular approach aimed at achieving socio-ecological resiliency through multi-stakeholder collaborative governance processes. Social learning is a convergence in knowledge that occurs through dialog and deliberation. Yet, assumptions that social learning will necessarily lead to more environmentally sustainable and resilient practices may be overly optimistic, especially as they rarely consider the political and organizational dimensions of decision making. This study analyzes two seemingly similar case studies of multi-stakeholder water management in Peru that resulted in watershed protection programs—a novelty in Peru that will help ensure future water supplies. Despite similar programs adopted, though, the social interactions were markedly different. Social learning occurred in Moyobamba, where the multi-stakeholder platform was characterized by trust, flexibility, and sustainability. In Cusco, however, stakeholders reached an agreement on projects for watershed protection, but the process exhibited little evidence of social learning, trust, or flexibility. In this article, I use process tracing to analyze if and how social learning occurred in each case. Then, I identify factors that contributed to social learning, including diverse participation, open communication, multiple sources of knowledge, extended engagement, unbiased facilitation, and an opportunity to influence outcomes.

(2016) Diffusion through Issue Linkage: Environmental Norms in US Trade Agreements, Global Environmental Politics

How do environmental norms and policies diffuse across borders? In this article, we argue that preferential trade agreements (PTAs) can play an important role in this process. Specifically, we argue that the US has long used PTAs as mechanisms to diffuse such norms, and show this through an empirical examination of three US PTAs, each from a distinct phase of US trade policy. We demonstrate how the US used the North American Free Trade Agreement, the Central American Free Trade Agreement, and the US-Peru Trade Promotion Agreement as vehicles to diffuse norms of (1) public participation in environmental policymaking, and (2) effective enforcement of environmental laws to trading partner nations. In doing so, we both illuminate a new mechanism of environmental norm diffusion and demonstrate the importance of this mechanism in changing environmental policy and practice across borders.