In this paper, we examine the extensive use of bans (temporary prohibitions or moratoriums) on resource exploitation activities by the government of Laos as an authoritarian environmental governance tool. We focus on bans enacted recently in three sectors: on the granting of land concessions in 2012, on the expansion of banana plantations in 2014, and on logging exports in 2016. Bans have long been used in Laos, particularly in the forestry sector, despite their considerable political risk and economic costs, the way they contradict state actors’ promotion of these same activities as drivers of development, and their past ineffectiveness. Most cases in the environmental authoritarian literature explore authoritarian states with a strong capacity to employ top-down governance tools. We argue, in contrast, that the Lao government’s repeated use of bans instead of other effective governing tools, such as more incremental, conditional, or incentive-based policies, reflects not strong state capacity but rather the limits to its implementing and enforcement capacity. The bans examined emerge from central–local divides, unregulated village land leasing, and failures to extract state revenues, and we interpret them as central-state efforts to consolidate and assert a more centralized, command-and-control authority over the country’s land and resources.

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