Constraints, catalysts and choices to make in environmental mainstreaming
Constraints to mainstreaming – entrenched governance problems:
Several constraints make it difficult to mainstream environment into development decisions and institutions, notably:
- The prevailing development paradigm, which treats environment as an institutional and economic ‘externality’;
- Lack of data, information, skills and institutional capacity to work on environment-development links;
- Weak environmental mainstreaming initiatives to date to act as a precedent;
- Lack of political will for change.
Catalysts for mainstreaming – entry points and drivers:
With such constraints, it is all the more important to identify ‘entry points’ which offer a better chance of tackling these constraints and getting environment on the development agenda, and ‘drivers’ with the vision, incentives and resources to act. These may be at national, sectoral or decentralised levels. The ‘entry points’ are often key points in mainstream policy and planning cycles, particularly those concerning safeguards, prioritization and investment choices. Some of the more effective ‘drivers’ may be from within the mainstream itself (finance and planning ministries where these are concerned about critical prioritisation questions of budget and policy), but are increasingly also specific initiatives aimed at better use of the environment (e.g. PES and REDD). Environment institutions on their own are not often effective drivers.
Making the choices:
A norm seems to have developed where environmental mainstreaming concentrates on the national development plan or equivalent. Such plans do have, in theory, the comprehensive coverage required to handle the range of environmental issues, multi-stakeholder processes, and links to key formal decision-makers. But, even in countries where the national plan is indeed a driver of development, there are several choices that need to be made about mainstreaming:
- To work with government authorities – or non-government drivers of development?
- To work with environment authorities with information and interest in mainstreaming – or with finance/planning/development authorities who represent the mainstream?
- To address comprehensive range of environment issues – or to focus on those that capture the attention of the mainstream e.g. low-carbon growth, rural job creation, and increasing public revenue from natural resources
- To work on the plan or capacity – the machinery of government – or ‘upstream’ on key policy issues – or ‘downstream’ on critical investments and implementation?
- To work with existing ‘mainstream’ processes (and thus their time-frames and precedents) – or to establish special processes (with opportunities for new types of analysis)
The choice is best made following a good, in-depth, in-country assessment of the current drivers of, and antagonists against, mainstreaming – especially to uncover what is currently working for mainstreaming and associated champions, entry points and tools.
At decentralised and sector levels, analogous choices can often be made. The range of entry points and drivers (and associated approaches and skills) is more limited, but EIA and public consultations are becoming a norm for major mainstreaming efforts.