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Environmental Mainstreaming
Integrating environment into development institutions and decisions

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Environment Inside - Chapter 6


[Chapter to be developed]


Concepts and principles

Mainstreaming processes will depend very much upon context. Approaches will differ. However, assessment of effective mainstreaming suggests that there are some clear principles behind effective environmental mainstreaming, covering:

  • Leadership – the mobilisation and creation of political will, engaging with ‘champions’;
  • Integration – where environment and development approaches are integrated;
  • Key sectors – a strong focus on economic sectors;
  • Dialogue – a wide range of means for making voices heard and for cooperation;
  • Ownership – mainstreaming process managed by the country or locality in question;
  • Subsidiarity – decisions taken at the lowest possible level of public authority;
    1. Use mainstream processes – existing analytical/planning process where possible;
    2. Transparency and accountability – information on issues, decisions made and reasons.

Environmental mainstreaming is an agenda for institutional change – it entails changing institutions and decisions, in order to improve a range of possible outcomes. The principal challenge to progress in environmental mainstreaming is to both work with – and yet change – the mandates, capacities, behaviours and inter-relationships of institutions at all levels: international to national to local; in different sectors; and across the main actors in development – government, private sector, civil society and external development agencies.

This is not a mechanical affair, following a clear ‘recipe’. Mainstreaming narrowly aimed at a single, recognised process such as preparing a national plan could quite successfully follow some procedural steps (which is perhaps why it is often the chosen path for mainstreaming). In most other cases, however, the mainstreaming process will have to be designed to work with a highly specific set of institutional contexts, entry points and drivers (see Chapter 5). In this case, a simple set of principles to guide mainstreaming is perhaps the most appropriate approach. Box 6.1 proposes a set of principles, drawn from the lessons of successful approaches in our survey countries, PEI and other activities, and building on the work of others.1 Not surprisingly given the institutional change nature of environmental mainstreaming, they are structured mainly around principles of good governance.

Box 6.1: Principles for effective mainstreaming

  1. Leadership – the mobilisation and creation of political will and awareness at the highest ‘mainstream’ levels possible, engaging with ‘champions’ who can trigger and institutionalize the necessary processes.

  2. Integration – a ‘two-way’ approach where environment and development approaches are integrated with mutual respect and adjustment – not a one-way environmental ‘push’.

  1. Key sectors – a strong focus on economic sectors, notably those that are able to act soon and/or are facing key drivers for effective environmental inclusion.

  1. Dialogue – a wide range of means for making voices heard and for cooperation open to all levels and sectors, using recognised norms such as prior informed consent – and not restricted to technical issues.

  1. Ownership – the entire mainstreaming process should be under the full responsibility of the country or locality in question – and not by external interests.

  1. Subsidiarity – decisions concerning the integration of environment development should be taken at the lowest possible level of public authority closest to the population concerned.

  1. Use mainstream processes – use existing national, sectoral or local analytical/planning process as far as possible – rather than attempt to run special ‘environment’ processes.

  1. Transparency and accountability – information is made available on environment-development links and dynamics, on decisions made and reasons why.

  1. Environmental sustainability – the process needs to be informed of relevant environmental processes, potentials, stresses and limits.

These principles would, of course, have to be articulated to relate closely to the specific country, locality, sector or theme being addressed.


1 This web resource examines principles used by key initiatives. For example, UNDP offers principles that underlie country processes to mainstream drylands issues. They are consistent with principles in Agenda 21, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), UNCCD, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and other MEAs. (UNDP 2008)

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  3. Targeting EM
  4. Main EM issues
  5. Challenges
  6. Concepts and principles
  7. Skills and capabilities
  8. Needs assessment
  9. Capacity development
  10. Institutionalising EM
  11. Environment-poverty-development linkages
  12. Outcomes to achieve
  13. Entry points of EM
  14. Country Evidence
  15. Influencing policy processes
  16. Budgeting and financing
  17. Implementing measures
  18. Influencing national monitoring system
  19. Advocating & communicating EM
  20. Stakeholder responsibilities
  21. Monitoring and evaluation
  22. Key steps in EM
  23. Tool Profiles
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