Stakeholder participation - local government

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64th DPI/NGO Conference, Bonn, Germany, NGO Workshop Report

(Sunday, 4 September 2011)

Introductory Highlights

This workshop, sponsored by ICLEI - Local Governments for Sustainability and co-sponsored by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and Deutsches Institut für Entwicklungspolitik (DIE), extended the discussion on international environmental governance to consider participation from the local level. It was moderated by Melanie Virtue, Agreements Officer in the UNEP/CMS Secretariat in Bonn, with panelists Bradnee Chambers, Chief, Environmental Law and Governance Branch, UNEP, Nairobi; Suzanne Salz, ICLEI, Bonn; Shereen Kandil, Office of International Affairs, US Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, DC, USA; and Eneko Albizuri Laucirica, Basque Government Water Agency, Spain.

The major conclusion was that there can be no successful sustainable policies without citizen involvement.

Summary of Workshop Discussion

The moderator, Melanie Virtue, opened by underlining the involvement of UNEP in the debate on international environmental governance, and the need for new ideas.

Bradnee Chambers noted that there was little talk of local governance in the negotiations on international environmental governance (IEG). He reviewed the long debate on reforming IEG and the inadequacy of the 1972 system for current challenges. Multilateral environmental agreements were fragmented, financing was fragmented, the policy landscape was fragmented, and there was a deficit in implementation because the promised support had not been delivered. There were also gaps in the system. Two years of UNEP ministerial consultations were based on the principle that form follows function. IEG should be strong and responsive, presenting the authoritative voice for the environment, achieving efficiency and coherence in the UN system, with predictable funding, and responding to developing country needs. IEG options included an enhanced UNEP, a World Environment Organization, a Sustainable Development Organization, reforming ECOSOC, and increasing efficiency in the present system. The UNEP Governing Council last February passed the issue to New York and the Rio+20 preparatory process, which should be preparing an evaluation of the different options. We know that civil society input and public participation are needed, but the multilateral system is a dinosaur and needs reform. Public participation should be made a foundation for all of these options.

Suzanne Salz emphasized that local governments are a key link between the local and global levels, and many have adopted local Agenda 21s that are now being reviewed. Local authorities are considered a major group of civil society, but they are in fact governmental stakeholders, as was finally recognized at COP16 in Cancun. Many cities are larger than most nation states. She asked what mechanisms there were for managing global common goods? National governments were not doing it, so other actors were needed to take participation to the next level. Citizens now think globally (via the internet), businesses act globally. The actors that matter are organized globally and should have the responsibility to act in the UN system, including business and labour; governmental stakeholders including local and regional governments, parliamentarians and the judiciary; and civil society. They should be given voting rights, which would help with accountability as each would hold the others accountable. Environmental trends require urgent action by all actors.

Shereen Kandil described some of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's programmes for public participation, including community involvement goals for meetings and hearings, the Commission on Environmental Cooperation (with Canada and Mexico), Border 2012 including 26 states on the US-Mexican border, and the Superfund community involvement program since 1980. EPA has developed a multilingual Public Participation Guide and International Toolkit, with case studies and videos for situation assessment, selecting the appropriate level (inform, consult, collaborate, empower), process planning, tools, skills and resources. They will hold a workshop in Morocco in spring 2012 for Africa and the Middle East, and are looking for partners to develop the toolkit and supporting resources.

Finally, Eneko Albizuri Laucirica referred to the driving forces for stakeholder recognition. The EU water framework brings dramatic changes, since rivers do not correspond to administrative boundaries and must be managed as a unit, recognizing many new stakeholders. This means a change in mentality and introducing stakeholders inside the process through information, workshops and empowerment. The directive requires public participation, where the public can consider and challenge plans, but they have no negotiating power since the administration decides. Challenges include avoiding participant fatigue, including their expectations and demands, and focusing on policy outcomes and processes. Citizen implication can lead to complicity and an awareness of the problems, and can include volunteering experiences, campaigns, subsidies to grassroots organizations, and the educational sector. Water policy should extend beyond administrative tasks and be enriched with citizen implication.

Question and Answer Period

In the open discussion that followed, the first question was how to include different stakeholders. Granting voting rights requires legitimacy, so how to do this fairly? The panel's responses emphasized that integration was the key, since the sectors affect each other. The present institutional framework has no accountability, no review, and no support to implementation. It is important to keep promises. In the Basque region, they have failed to get involvement on a daily basis.

Other questions concerned the difficulty of getting participation from the extremely poor, the limited time available to be heard, the relationship to access to justice, and the challenges of achieving consensus, which depends on people, takes a long time, and may fail. In their closing comments, the panel noted the efforts at stakeholder engagement at UNEP including more interaction with major groups, and participation in roundtables at intergovernmental meetings. The UN General Assembly sets the rules for civil society participation, but there is no review of their execution. Innovative ideas are needed to make public participation a foundation of IEG.

Sara Svensson's picture

 Thank you for the notes!

 Thank you for the notes!