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Environmental Mainstreaming
Integrating environment into development institutions and decisions

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Environment Inside - 13.1 Policy and planning cycles as the framework for environmental mainstreaming

The tasks associated with integrating environment and development in decision-making differ at each stage of the decision-making process – commonly assessment, case-making, option development, policy-making, strategy development, planning, shaping investments, and building capacity. Such processes tend to be most effective for sustainable development when they are considered together, at least nominally in a cyclical and iterative manner (as discussed in section 3.1 and illustrated in Figure 13.1). The ‘cycle’ stages and the mechanisms which drive cycles (e.g. participation and communications) provide opportunities and leverage points for promoting and delivering environmental mainstreaming. Because such cycles follow generally predictable steps, usually the starting and completion dates, lead agencies and key stakeholders, and bodies/points for taking major decisions are known. This helps greatly in planning, in advance, how to engage with institutions and individuals for mainstreaming purposes, and selecting the most appropriate approaches, tools and tactics to promote and support environmental mainstreaming at each of these stages.

For example, opportunities for environmental mainstreaming are available through the internal processes and delivery mechanisms of development cooperation agencies. Here, again, an array of different mainstreaming tools and approaches can be used (see Box 13.1).

Policy-making, planning and decision-making can also be non-linear, without clear and predictable steps – due, for instance to the involvement of multiple actors with conflicting goals, or because decision-makers lack of information on the issue(s) at hand, or because of difficulties in reaching consensus on defining particular concepts. Yet this less organised approach (sometimes termed the ‘garbage can model’1) will still involve consideration of a wide range of issues and options and possible responses and the involvement of many actors/stakeholders who will still involve consideration of a wide range of issues and possible responses, involving many actors/stakeholders who will want the chance to link, discuss and assess those issues and make choices (choice opportunities). Under this model, however, mainstreaming is likely to be more ad hoc than planned (to take advantage of such windows of choice as they arise), and choosing the most useful and appropriate tools for mainstreaming will be critical to success.


Figure 13.1: Linking mainstreaming to the continuous improvement approach to managing policy, strategy and planning processes
(Adapted from Dalal-Clayton & Bass, 2002; and UNDP, 2008)

Linking mainstreaming to the continuous improvement approach to managing policy, strategy and planning processes
NOTE: The figure illustrates examples (only) of the kinds of tools available for steps in the cycle – it is not comprehensive (see Table 12.1 for more extensive list). As portrayed, it suggests that the overall process involves a rigid sequence of steps. However, in practice, these are on-going and necessarily overlap. Key features of the central tasks are stakeholder identification, strengthening capacity, collaboration and outreach.


Box 13.1: Mainstreaming tools and approaches used in development cooperation

Development cooperation agencies and other international organisations have many ‘internal’ processes through which they frame and channel development assistance. Environmental mainstreaming in such processes is critical if the outcomes are to be effective in promoting sustainable development.

For example, DFID attempts to make environmental mainstreaming less onerous by essentially asking just two questions at each stage of policy and programme development: ‘what are the environmental issues associated with this intention, positive and negative?’ and ‘what will you do to minimise the negative and accentuate the positive?’ (DFID 2003). The procedures are supposed to be carried out by, or commissioned by, ‘mainstream’ DFID officers and only aided by specialist DFID environment advisers. Annexes in DFID’s 2003 guide (being revised) give guidance as to typical positive and negative issues associated with all kinds of sectoral and governance situations, and checklists of proposed responses.

In a further example, UNDP’s Environmental Mainstreaming Strategy (UNDP 2008a) identifies a range of ‘entry points’ and building blocks for mainstreaming environmental issues into national development planning and the preparation of UN Development Assistance Frameworks (UNDAF). Table 13.1, intended as a framework, lists tools and resources for the entry points related to phases of environmental mainstreaming in UN-supported country programming. Some activities may take place in parallel while others might be skipped due to national circumstances.


Table 13.1: Entry points for mainstreaming environment into Country Analysis and the UNDAF 

UN-supported Country Programming2

Phases of Environmental Mainstreaming3

Entry points

Tools & Resources

Plan of Engagement

  • Map the national policy and planning process (incl. SIPs, SWAPs, DBS)
  • Assess the UNCT’s comparative advantages
  • Review the quality of country analytic work and identify critical gaps
  • Agree on UNCT support for country analysis


Finding entry points and “making the case”

  • Assessing the country institutional and policy context
  • Understanding development-environment linkages

Preliminary assessments of existing environmental analysis to identify:

  • data and information for convincing arguments
  • partnership opportunities
  • critical capacity gaps
  • potential working mechanisms

Scanning, strategizing, lobbying – both UNCT and key stakeholders

Mapping exercise - include environmental stakeholders

  • Who are the key government, donor and civil society actors and processes that shape development priorities and affect policy and planning decisions? (focus on Finance, Planning, Environment Ministries; key sectoral ministries e.g. Health, Energy, Labour; major donors).
  • Who amongst these actors can/would “champion” environmental mainstreaming?
  • What are their most critical institutional and capacity needs, including national and sub-national working arrangements?

Identify environment-development linkages during UNCT review of country analytic work

  • What are the key environmental problems in the country and their causes?
  • How do they contribute to major development problems, such as poverty and disease?
  • What are the existing national policies and programmes to address the problems?
  • What are the critical gaps in the existing analysis related to environmental standards?

UNCT comparative advantages

  • What are the specific comparative advantages of the UNCT for environmental mainstreaming?


  • Stakeholder Consultations & Literature review
  • National Environmental Summary
  • Screening for Environment in Country Analysis

Resources: Assessments and Policies

  • National Environment Action Plan (NEAP)
  • National Strategy for Sustainable Development (NSSD) [link to NSDS tool profile]
  • Integrated Environmental Assessment (IEA)
  • UNEP State of the Environment Reports
  • World Bank Country Environmental Analyses
  • EC Country Environmental Profiles

National reports on MEAs

Support and strengthen country analysis

  • Participation in government-led analysis

  • Complementary UNCT- supported analysis

  • A full CCA process

Phase 1: Integrating environment into national development processes

  • Targeted studies - evidence
  • Identification of priorities for NDP, PRSP, MDG or sector strategies, UNDAF
  • Identification and costing of alternative environmental policy interventions and programmes

Focusing, linking, convincing

Support and strengthen country analysis:

Have focus

  • From the range of “problems” identified for further analysis, target the ones having the most critical environment linkages – the “best bets”
  • Generate additional country-specific evidence to complement existing national, regional analysis

Position the evidence and arguments

  • Position evidence about the critical environment linkages during national analytical processes and UN theme group (TG) meetings
  • Participate in analytical exercises and highlight critical environmental causes at underlying and root levels to major development problems
  • Use evidence, argument, and “champions” to Influence national development processes (NDP; PRS) and stakeholders


  • Causality, role, and capacity gap analysis conducted by UN TGs
  • Influencing the PRS process
  • Environmental assessments (leading from the screening tool above)
  • Economic analysis to illustrate the contribution of environment to the national economy


  • MEAs
  • National reports

Select Strategic Priorities for UN-Government cooperation

The intersection of:

  • major development problems

  • UNCT comparative advantages

  • alignment of stakeholders

Link environmental evidence and analysis to emerging policy and programme priorities

  • Support preparation of, and participate in the UNDAF retreat
  • Use evidence, argument, and “champions” to influence and shape UNDAF priorities
  • Make the link between UNDAF results and national environmental priorities
  • Develop and cost possible policy and programme interventions

As above

UNDAF and country programme/ project preparation, implementation, and monitoring

Phase 2: Meeting the implementation challenge

  • Integration of key environmental indicators in the national monitoring system
  • Engage in budget processes
  • Support implementation of policy and programmes
  • Strengthen institutional capacities

UNDAF formulation

  • Participate in/ co-chair UNDAF outcome groups to help formulate the UNDAF, particularly the framing of agency outcomes, outputs, and indicators, where critical environmental linkages emerge
  • Ensure that UNDAF results help to sustain the environmental focus in national institutions and processes (planning, budgeting, policy, etc)

Formulation of UN-supported programmes

  • Offer assistance (be the “green” advocate) to UN agencies to help formulate country programmes and projects
  • Advocate for EIA screening or full EIAs.

Help make the UNDAF operational

  • Participate in UNDAF monitoring and reporting – particularly for environment-related results
  • Use monitoring evidence to demonstrate critical environment-development linkages

Play a role in coordination between UN, Gov, other stakeholders with a focus on environmental issues


  • Appraisal of planned UNDAF results
    Support for agency mandated environmental reviews

  • Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) [link to EIA tool profile] (as needed, on basis of National legislation and procedures)

  • UNDAF outcome groups, joint monitoring and reporting

  • Checklist for including ES in the UNDAF Evaluation

Note: This approach aims to provide a framework to mainstream environmental issues such as climate change, chemicals management, sustainable land management and sustainable consumption and production, into national development planning and UNDAF preparation. It is a guide only. Some activities will take place in parallel while some activities might be skipped due to national circumstances.


1 Cohen et al., 1972; March & Olsen, 1976 [link each to references]

2 UNDG, Guidelines for UN Country Teams on preparing a CCA and UNDAF, UN, Feb 2007.

3 UNDP-UNEP, Guidance Note on Mainstreaming Environment into National Development Planning, 2007, UNDP-UNEP Poverty-Environment Facility; UNDP-UNEP, Handbook on mainstreaming environment into national development planning, DRAFT-March 2008

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