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Engagement for Effective Environmental Governance

Thursday, 22 September 2011
by Valerie Brachya, Director of the Environmental Policy Center, Jerusalem Institute for Israel Research, former Deputy Director General of the Ministry for Environmental Protection, Israel
Engagement for Effective Environmental Governance
1. Introduction

Countries around the world recognize the importance of global and regional environmental governance and express their willingness to cooperate and support common goals.[1] However it is increasingly apparent that most current governance regimes have not proven effective. The issue is therefore what steps could be taken to transform global or regional agreements into effective measures for implementation at the national level. Commitment will remain as good intentions without results if a country's governmental system does not translate them into operational processes which affect environmental performance. Consequently a key issue, is what brings a country's government system to reform its environmental performance?

It is frequently proposed that transformation is achieved through top down or bottom up processes, or a combination of both. This paper proposes that transformation can often best be achieved through the middle rung of the ladder, neither top nor bottom, but through a horizontal shift generated by the epistemic community of professional environmentalists inside government.[2]

2. Ineffectiveness of Multilateral Environmental Agreements

Criticism of the lack of willingness of countries to take adequate steps for the effective implementation of environmental agreements is a main focus of global attention approaching RIO+20.[3] If we return for a moment to the Rio Summit of 1992,[4] it was clearly understood that concerned countries could not cope alone with transboundary and global issues and hence international cooperation was essential. It was also understood that the protection of environmental resources would not be achieved by the efforts of devoted environmentalists, however enthusiastic they may be, without mainstreaming environmental criteria into economic and social systems of governance.

However, despite intensive efforts by the environmental community around the world and sporadic successes through which the environmental agenda even managed to make its way onto the political agenda, such a transformation has largely been limited to incremental improvement with limited levels of effectiveness. Even the governance of climate change regimes, which have received enormous levels of professional and media attention, has not created an effective mechanism for transformation and it is highly unlikely that declared commitments will be met and even if they are, they are far from what is really needed to stay within safe planetary boundaries.[5]

The equally critical issue of protection of ecological systems and biological diversity[6] remains neglected and peripheral to the political agenda, despite the high level of public awareness and appreciation of their value. In light of the gaps between these agreements and their effective implementation by member countries, the key question is what brings a country to make fundamental (as opposed to incremental and minimal) changes to its governance system with effective results?

It is difficult to determine where effective results are actually being achieved. Uneven monitoring and reporting provides a biased overview, where those who report accurately are those who can be identified as non-compliers whereas the serious non-compliers do not necessarily report at all or do not have accurate monitoring systems to provide the required data.

3. Engagement through Involvement

The availability of information and generation of awareness in civil society does not necessarily translate into governmental reform unless there is a powerful platform for engagement. This paper proposes that the crucial commitment of national governments - still the key players in environmental governance can be achieved through engaging a high level transnational professional community of experts capable of and committed to bringing environmental commitments to fulfillment within the economic and social systems of the individual country. Engagement in the process generates responsibility of the members to the group beyond their individual commitment, and group affiliation provides support to promote their policies and instruments in light of opposition or disinterest at home. The imposition of policies and instruments from outside, without engagement in the process of their formulation, is likely to result in a limited level of implementation. Where economic or social benefit can be perceived, there is a strong incentive for significant change in environmental governance.

The following examples illustrate the importance of engaging epistemic communities as a mechanism for committing governments to environmental responsibility and accountability.

4. Engagement in a Regional Group The Mediterranean Action Plan

Although much criticism has been raised about the effectiveness of the Mediterranean Action Plan in achieving its basic goal of protecting the Mediterranean Sea,[7] it has had very significant impacts on the environmental governance of the Contracting Parties. Its activities, including protocols, in-depth studies of specific issues, expert discussions and reviews of practice, usually involving country experts in formulating policies and tools, have had very significant spin-off effects, which are not necessarily identified in the criteria used for evaluating effectiveness.

MAP has suffered over the years from a weak monitoring and reporting system without benchmarking the countries sharing the Mediterranean. As has been realized in corporate environmental management, a mandatory system of self-reporting is an essential element for effective implementation, possibly even more important than strengthening legal compliance mechanisms, which may not necessarily be operated in practice by imposing sanctions on non-complying partners who do not supply accurate reporting. Israel is perhaps a useful case example for evaluating the effectiveness of engagement since it is not a member of a committed regional group such as the EU but is willing and interested in participating in global and regional environmental responsibilities and is affected by the deterioration of environmental resources. While the Mediterranean Action Plan had direct impacts, such as the adoption of legislation concerning the prevention of marine pollution, active engagement in the diverse professional groups within the Action Plan generated far more than legislation and its enforcement. Major steps forward were generated by discussions on practical guidelines relevant to implementation at the national level, the exchange of practical experience between representatives of the parties and the dissemination of best practices. Israel's intensive involvement in coastal zone management with the PAP Priority Actions Program was undoubtedly a factor in its early adoption of legislation for Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM) in 2004, well before the MAP protocol,[8] and as a result of learning from the experiences of Spain and France in coastal legislation.

The MAP Country Action Management Programs (CAMP) provided additional opportunities for innovation and experimentation with examples of good practice elsewhere. Israel used the opportunity of its CAMP[9] in the mid 90's to introduce Sustainable Development into the national economic and social agenda, with the guidance of experts from The Netherlands, who introduced their good practice of discussions within sectorial target groups.

5. Engagement in an Interest Group OECD

Effective engagement may be achieved not only by complying with the legal obligations of a multilateral agreement, but by a country taking on the obligations of an interest group to which it wishes to belong. Israel requested to join the OECD it had no obligation to do so, but its economic leaders promoted the accession for the benefit of its economic growth, which has become very dependent on international trade.

The OECD is basically an economic collaborative community of countries; however, it has gone far beyond the economic agenda and has been playing a very active and leading role in global environmental policy and performance. Its interest in environmental issues is not altruistic, but stems from a desire to prevent unfair competition in international trade by countries exploiting environmental depletion and deterioration in order to gain economic advantages in the global market. It therefore emphasizes that its members commit themselves to a fair playing field in international markets and to like-minded international environmental and social commitments. The organization has over the years created an 'acquis'[10] of instruments, decisions, recommendations and declarations but does not on the whole set specific standards or issue directives, such as the European Commission. Nor does it operate an enforcement mechanism. Its approach is compliance assurance, through benchmarking the performance of its members, highlighting where countries are failing to meet their expectations and by conducting peer reviews of countries to assist in showing how performance could and should be improved.

The accession process requires a country to clearly demonstrate that it is like-minded and is taking the relevant steps to be in line with the commonly accepted commitments of the group. Country expert participation in professional discussions preceding and during the accession process created a learning process within an epistemic community which later enabled quicker and easier adoption of its instruments. Cross country exchanges of experience at its meetings concerning similar problems provide a brief but extremely helpful way of learning from relevant experience elsewhere and enables an accessing country to feel a part of the professional group when presenting its own experience. Strong self monitoring, reporting and benchmarking systems are an essential part of the process, indicating clearly when countries are not in line with common targets. Periodic performance reviews[11] are a compliance assurance process and clearly expose non-compliance without resorting to enforcement.

The accession process for Israel involved commitment to major reforms in its environmental governance, including the initiation of a mandatory self reporting system on emissions and wastes (PRTR) and the establishment of a mechanism for chemicals management. Although accession was promoted by the economic community in Israel, the environmental community is a main beneficiary. Transformation of environmental governance was accepted by the economic community as an obligation for Israel's acceptance to the community to which it wished to belong.[12]

6. Information Without Engagement EU-ENP

The Environmental Neighborhood Policy (ENP) is an interesting case of non-engagement. It was adopted by the European Community as a means of bringing neighboring countries in line with the European 'acquis' without offering them membership in the group. There was therefore no intention of engagement or accession or any formal or official status. It was promoted by the diplomatic community as beneficial to international relations between the parties and was operated through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It focused on government to government and did not relate to the economic community of the country. Participants were invited as observers at some events but were not invited to join and become part of the Members' epistemic community.

It constituted an important program of training and capacity building through the provision of expertise and information (TAIEX, Twinning and professional visits). However, it did not include benchmarking in fact the European Environment Agency EEA was very reluctant to take on benchmarking responsibilities beyond that for accession countries to the EU. At a later stage, the Agency did accept the role of improving data analysis and benchmarking in the Mediterranean, in cooperation with MAP.[13]

Israel's experience in the context of the ENP has been limited. The Policy and its Action Plan contributed to professional knowledge in the specific areas requested by the Parties, including the provision of expert knowledge on environmental risks as financial risks, responsible investment and integrated permitting (IPPC), but did not have a major impact on environmental governance.

The ENP was a one-way system, from Europe to the individual countries included in the policy; it did not include the involvement of neighboring countries in formulating policies for all the parties and did not encourage neighborhood countries to exchange their experiences or bring their expertise and knowledge to the benefit of the European countries. It was a very good form of improving access to useful sources of information but there was no commitment, no monitoring or evaluation and no review of performance.

This is in contrast to the effectiveness of the EU directive on the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) which has had a profound effect on the environmental performance of Israeli chemical industries involved in the supply chain to European markets.


The three examples above of transgovernmentalism for management of environmental issues which transcend national boundaries illustrate the range of options and their implications for participating countries. This paper proposes that the transfer of information is insufficient for achieving a significant change of national environmental policy. However, it also proposes that compliance and enforcement are not necessarily the essential elements of the process. It rather emphasizes the value of benchmarking, of engaging the environmental professional epistemic community across the participating countries and the value of creating and strengthening the links between the environmental community within a country and the leaders of its economic community.


The author would like to thank Adv. Rahell Adam for her most helpful review and comments.


  1. See Perrez, F. X. (2001) Cooperative Sovereignty from Independence to Interdependence in the Structure of International Environmental Law, Kluwer Law International.
  2. Defined as "transnational networks of knowledge-based communities that are both apolitically empowered through their claims to exercise authoritative knowledge and motivated by shared causal and principled beliefs", Peter Haas, "Do Regimes Matter: Epistemic Communities and Mediterranean Pollution Control", 43 INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATION (Summer 1989), 377-403.
  3. UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) Rio de Janeiro 2012.
  4. UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) Rio de Janeiro 1992.
  5. Rockstrom et al., "Planetary Boundaries: Exploring the Safe Operating Space for Humanity ", 14(2) Ecology and Society (2009).
  6. Millenium Ecosystem Assessment 2005.
  7. Haas, P. (1990) Saving the Mediterranean The Politics of International Environmental Cooperation, Columbia Press NY.
  8. ICZM MAP Protocol came into force in March 2011.
  9. Gabbay, S., 2000 Israel CAMP Final Integrated Report MAP-PAP.
  10. Acquis is the accumulated legislation which candidate countries must adopt to become members of the European Union. The term is also used by the OECD relating to accession countries.
  11. The OECD Environmental Performance Review of Israel is currently in preparation and due to be issued by the end of 2011.
  12. Israel's position with regard to OECD Council Acts and other relevant instruments was submitted as a Memorandum in March 2010 prior to its accedence to the OECD Convention.
  13. EEA-MAP Joint Work Plan 2006.

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