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Environmental Mainstreaming
Integrating environment into development institutions and decisions

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Environment Inside - 2. The policy framework and mandates for environmental mainstreaming


Table 1.1 indicates the significance of a range of international obligations in shaping how environment is mainstreamed (or not) into development at national, sector or local levels. Most countries have committed to a range of international agreements which set both obligations and challenges. Many of these provide an unofficial ‘mandate’ for taking forward any initiative for integrating environment and development:

  • Several Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs) contain obligations to integrate particular environmental concerns into policy-making, planning and decision-taking. For example, the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), negotiated in 1994, specifies (Article 10,1a) that National Action Programmes shall, inter alia, “incorporate long-term strategies to combat desertification and mitigate the effects of drought, emphasise implementation and be integrated with national policies for sustainable development”. The UN Convention on Biological Diversity (UNCBD), agreed at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, has three main objectives: the conservation of biodiversity, its sustainable use and the equitable sharing of benefits from the use of genetic resources. In order to implement the Convention’s objectives in the national context, countries are required to develop national biodiversity strategies and action plans (NBSAPs), and to integrate biodiversity concerns into all sectors of the national economy (Box 2.1).

Box 2.1: The Convention on Biological Diversity: mainstreaming requirements and outcomes

Article 6 states that Parties shall:

  1. Develop national strategies, plans or programmes for the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity; and

  2. Integrate the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity into relevant sectoral or cross-sectoral plans, programmes and policies.

Article 10(a) requires Parties to integrate biodiversity considerations into national decision-making.

Integrating biodiversity objectives into mainstream development is a complex challenge that lies at the heart of the Convention, and a key objective of NBSAPs, which have now been completed in over 166 countries. Swiderska (2002) examined the constraints to, and opportunities for, mainstreaming biodiversity in development policies, plans and programmes, and how NBSAPs can more effectively address the challenge of mainstreaming. She found that, by 2002, in all countries, North and South, NBSAPs had not paid enough attention to linkages with economic policies and plans, and have suffered from a lack of integration with other national institutions and planning mechanisms. As a result, the objectives of the CBD continue to be undermined by mainstream development activities. But NBSAPs have had a number of useful outcomes. They have helped to raise awareness about biodiversity, the threats to biodiversity, and action required to address these threats. New policies and laws on biodiversity have been introduced, protected areas have been expanded and some promising new initiatives have been launched on the ground.

  • The Millennium Development Goals (agreed at the UN General Assembly in 2000) provide a framing focus for development planning and assistance. To be effective, they need to be integrated into national and local policy-making, decision-taking and planning processes. MDG7, in particular, calls for the “integration of the principles of sustainable development into country policies and programmes” and asserts the importance of water, sanitation, forests and now also biodiversity for development. There are also key environmental underpinnings of MDGs 1-6 (see UNDP 2004, WRI 2008), but most of these are not included in the MDG targets and indicators – which were a UN Secretariat construct developed rapidly and expediently, not especially informed of the critical poverty-environment links for each MDG. Table 2.1 lists some key environmental links for each of the MDGs.

  • The Johannesburg Plan of Implementation (JPOI) agreed at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002 stressed the importance of “strategic frameworks and balanced decision making … for advancing the sustainable development agenda”. Given many different circumstances and contexts, this demands a range of mainstreaming tools.

Table 2.1: MDG links to the environment
(Source: Irish Aid 2007)

Millennium Development Goal

Links to the environment

1. Eradicate extreme
poverty & hunger

The livelihoods and food security strategies of the poor often depend directly on the natural resources available to them (farming, livestock rearing, fishing, etc.)

2. Achieve universal
primary education

As resources become depleted, children spend more time gathering firewood and water or looking for grazing for the family livestock – meaning they have less time for school.

3. Promote gender equality
and empower women

Poor women are susceptible to respiratory diseases caused by indoor air pollution, and they tend to have unequal access to land and natural resources even though they are often responsible for collecting firewood and water and for tending fields.

4. Reduce child mortality

Water-related diseases affect children under 5 in particular. Children are also susceptible to malnutrition as yields decline due to soil degradation and erosion.

5. Improve maternal health

Indoor pollution and carrying heavy loads of water and firewood over increasingly long distances have adverse affects on women’s health and can lead to complications in pregnancy and childbirth

6. Combat major diseases

One fifth of the total disease burden in developing countries may be attributed to environmental risk. Poor urban planning and land use management contributes to the spread of malaria. Declining natural resources force people to migrate and find new ways of earning a living which can contribute to the spread of HIV/AIDS

7. Ensure environmental

Unless the current trends of environmental degradation and global threats such as climate change are reversed, it will not be possible to meet the MDGs.

  • The Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness (adopted in 2005) commits development agencies to reform the way in which aid is delivered and to work in closer harmony to enhance development efficiency and effectiveness. It also emphasizes the need for donor agencies to better align behind the priorities of developing countries and their strategies to address these priorities. This commitment was reconfirmed in the Accra Agenda for Action agreed in Ghana in September 2008 at the High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness which reviewed progress in implementing the Paris Agreement, and which highlighted, inter alia, the need to support country environmental planning systems and to engage with civil society.

  • A range of international programmes for environmental mainstreaming has evolved, most recently in response to the above three agreements. These have adopted various definitions of environmental mainstreaming, and play to different incentives and threats (some internal to the organisation promoting them):
  • The Poverty Environment Partnership (PEP1 - a multi-agency network which is attempting to mainstream environment in development aid, in support of national and sector development planning in developing countries (see Box 1.2).
  • The Poverty-Environment Initiative (PEI)2 - a joint UNDP-UNEP programme which is working with country teams in several developing countries to support environmental mainstreaming in national and sector development policy, plans, and budgets.
  • The Environmental Mainstreaming Initiative (IIED) – an IIED-coordinated initiative, guided by an International Stakeholder Panel which has investigated a wide range of mainstreaming approaches that work across many developing countries and to share learning, and produced this synthesis report.
  • The UNDP’s Drylands Development Center, in close collaboration with the Global Mechanism (GM) of UNCCD, UNEP and the UNDP/GEF Global Support Unit, has developed Generic Guidelines for Mainstreaming Environment into National Development Frameworks, drawn from experiences in mainstreaming from a range of national case studies in drylands (UNDP 2008)3

Voluntary market and civil society initiatives can also be considered to provide a complementary ‘mandate’ for environmental mainstreaming. Some, such as forest and organic agriculture certification schemes, have proven to be powerful forces in ensuring that companies include environmental (and some social4) dimensions in their production, and in getting buyers to exercise preferential treatment in their consumption. This has been more effective with both producers and consumers who have the financial and human resources to adopt new ways of working (as well as to cover certification transaction and financial costs). Some of this ‘supply chain soft legislation’ has already influenced territorial legislation in countries that are both dependent on the sectors in question and are well-resourced enough to ‘mainstream’ environment in new production systems.

Furthermore, in all countries there is a range of domestic national (and more local) strategies, policy-making and planning processes covering environment and/or development (e.g. poverty reduction strategies, sustainable development strategies, sector-based policies and plans) as well as legislation, institutional procedures and voluntary arrangements. Some specify the use of particular environmental mainstreaming tools (notably EIA, and increasingly SEA and public consultation) but many are not well implemented, in part because stakeholders lack effective approaches.

It is to be expected that new international institutions and mandates will emerge in the coming years, especially regarding the growing confluence of economic, social and environmental problems and the need for a systemic approach to building resilience to change. For example, the UN High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change concluded:

There still remains a need for a body that brings together the key developed and developing countries to address the critical interlinkages between trade, finance, the environment, the handling of pandemic diseases and economic and social development. To be effective, such a body must operate at the level of national leaders.”

Report of the UN Secretary General’s High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change, 2004

In 2001, the European Commission development a working paper on integrating the environment into EC economic development cooperation (EC 2001). Subsequently the development of the European Consensus on Development (Official Journal C 46/01 of 24 February 2006) established ‘environment and sustainable management of natural resources’ as one of the nine areas for Community action. Yet a contemporaneous report of the European Court of Auditors (2006) highlighted existing problems and shortcomings in the European Commission’s work to integrate environmental aspects in development cooperation, as noted by Olearius et al. (2008):

  • Lack of appropriate implementation mechanisms for the environmental integration strategy;
  • Lack of appropriate monitoring systems;
  • Delayed elaboration of a mainstreaming manual, started in 1998 and finalized in December 2006);
  • Lack of sufficient in-house capacity;
  • Shortcomings of capacity-building efforts.

Following further EC consideration of these challenges, the European Environment Council (of the EU) adopted ‘Conclusions on Integrating Environment in Development Cooperation’ at its meeting on 25th June 2009. These set out the EU approach for supporting environment integration in developing countries and priorities for implementation. To ensure a prompt and focused start of implementation, the following areas are highlighted for immediate action:

  • Updating Country Environment Profiles (CEPs) to address environmental risks such as climate change, biodiversity loss, deforestation or desertification issues in a comprehensive way;
  • Integration of environment issues, including climate change and in particular adaptation, into EU’s external action and promoting their inclusion in partners’ development strategies. Mid-term reviews of Country and Regional Strategy Papers should be an entry point for full integration in the 2012 programming exercise;
  • Coherence, coordination and complementarity of EU support for climate change investments already identified and planned for in national frameworks;
  • Preparing a CEP (including climate change issues) jointly with UNEP/UNDP, World Bank and other selected partners as a pilot exercise, while ensuring country ownership.

The following areas are identified as further priority areas:

  • Strengthening the use of tools such as Strategic Environment Assessments (SEAs) in order to ensure mainstreaming of environment issues in key sector activities and explore the further use of these tools in new delivery modes, such as budget support;
  • Working with others in developing and applying tools to quantify the economic value of environmental resources, to promote more sustainable use, and inform more sustainable models, of economic growth;
  • Ensuring that the economic recovery programme makes the best possible use of investments to promote a resilient, sustainable and green recovery (low carbon development path).

The ‘Conclusions’ also indicates the areas needing coordination and policy coherence, invites Member States to mobilise resources and the EC to set up a framework to monitor the EU approach to environmental integration and prepare an EU-wide strategy for environmental integration. An annex lists recommended actions for improving environmental integration (Box 2.2).

Box 2.2: Areas for Intervention in environmental integration identified in

European Environment Council Conclusions on Integrating Environment in Development Cooperation

The European Environment Council has endorsed six areas of work for improving environment integration and recommends specific actions in each of them as following:

Expansion of the environmental knowledge base

  • Including environmental integration in the policy dialogue at country and regional level.
  • Including environment indicators, i.a. on policy quality and implementation, in aid allocation criteria.
  • Identifying key needs related to environment and climate change or to cross-cutting issues and use of market-based instruments.
  • Sharing and discussing the findings of environmental assessments and reports with partner countries and other interested stakeholders, including civil society.
  • Strengthening the dissemination and use of research results.
  • Organising regional-level reviews of environmental policy quality as a means for achieving better environmental integration. In order to improve tools for environmental integration and capacity building:
  • Enhancing the quality, relevance and use of environmental integration tools (CEPs, SEAs, Environmental Impact Assessments - EIAs and Climate Change Analysis – CCAs), taking into account the climate change dimension, and further developing these tools jointly with Member States and in coordination with key multilateral and global actors (e.g. UNEP, OECD), as well as with other bilateral donors.
  • Encouraging effective application of tools, including by improving collaboration between implementation agencies, different environment helpdesks and/or similar support structures of the EU, as well as with civil society.
  • Updating CEPs to address climate risks, inter alia in the context of the MTR of CSPs and RSPs.
  • Promoting environment related capacity building in partner countries, including environment law-enforcement.

Mainstreaming of environment

  • Better reflecting environment and natural resource management issues in the countries’ governance profiles.
  • Maintaining an (easily accessible) inventory of the environmental mainstreaming tools in collaboration with OECD.
  • Better addressing health-environment issues, in particular those strongly affecting the poor.
  • Exploiting synergies between natural resources management and conflict prevention policies.
  • Supporting climate integration in development cooperation through the use of climate risk screening and assessment tools and by incorporating climate risks into SEA and EIA methodologies5.
  • Ensuring that food security responses duly reflect long-term environmental sustainability.

Integrating environment in budget support

  • Including environmental integration in budget support dialogue.
  • Increasing the use of SEAs to improve environment mainstreaming in budget support.
  • Identifying key entry points for addressing environmental issues in budget support, including through environmental indicators, monitoring systems, and performance reviews.
  • Promoting environmental fiscal reform as a component of general budget support and the inclusion of environmental issues in Public Expenditure Reviews (PERs).
  • Strengthening local capacities to undertake SEAs, PERs and environmental fiscal reform.

Improving monitoring, evaluation and reporting on environmental issues:

  • Strengthening project monitoring systems to make them more results-oriented and suitable for internal and external reporting on progress made in environment integration, including identification of relevant indicators that contain consistent information for all the main subthemes.
  • Refining methodology and indicators to enable the monitoring of progress in environment integration.
  • Working towards a more comprehensive and comparable environment reporting system that contains consistent information for all the main sub-themes.
  • Collaborating with other actors, in particular within the OECD, with a view to agreeing on an environment reporting system to be applied by all the donors, including a climate change adaptation marker.

Coordination and division of labour in environment and natural resource management issues

Developing EU positions on environment issues with a view to dialogue with partner countries and other stakeholders.

Promoting regular exchanges between the Commission and Member States’ agencies on environment integration focusing inter alia on:

  • joint use and peer review of mainstreaming tools (CEPs, SEAs, EIAs) as well as joint analytical work, in collaboration with other bilateral and multilateral donors, when and where appropriate;
  • joint training on environmental integration and on specific environmental themes, interlinking of websites, in collaboration with other bilateral and multilateral donors, when and where appropriate."

Source: European Environment Council (2009): Council Conclusions on Integrating Environment in Development Cooperation. 25 June 2009. The Council of the European Union.

The EC has developed an environment integration handbook - available at http://ec.europa.eu/europeaid/multimedia/publications/documents/thematic/europeaid-environmental-handbook_en.pdf. In this handbook the environment is considered to include those bio-physical resources and conditions on which human lives and activities depend, and which in turn they influence. The handbook will be replaced by Environment Integration Guidelines, and the Environment Integration strategy will be updated by 2011.


The World Bank - moving beyond mainstreaming toward environmental sustainability.

The following quotation from the World Bank’s concept note for its new Environment Strategy indicates its thinking on environmental mainstreaming and environmental sustainability.

Achieving environmental sustainability is an ongoing process on which we intend to move forward during the timeframe of the Strategy. In the WBG, key milestones in that journey include the adoption of the Safeguards, in the late 1980s, as the Bank’s policy instruments for implementing the precautionary or ‘do no harm’ principle in Bank-funded activities. Subsequently in 2001, the Bank’s first environment strategy emphasized mainstreaming or incorporation of environmental considerations in the activities of sectors. The new Strategy intends to move further along the spectrum, beyond safeguards and mainstreaming, to improving the environmental sustainability of the WBG’s overall portfolio. Building on areas where effective mainstreaming was achieved, the proposed Strategy will include targets for achieving environmental sustainability of the operational portfolio, to be achieved over the 10-year implementation period of the Strategy. This will require (i) a results framework; (ii) knowledge and capacity building, both internally and externally including to foster ownership of environmental sustainability in all sectors; (iii) close partnership with regional and sector colleagues, including linkages with relevant sector strategies such as climate change and energy; and (iv) leveraging external stakeholders support for sustainable development. Results indicators for sustainability outcomes will be agreed with the regions and sectors. The experience from implementing IFC’s Policy and Performance Standards on Social and Environmental Sustainability offers potential lessons for the Bank in moving forward, as will the experience from the integration of infrastructure units with environmental, social and rural development units into a Sustainable Development Network in June 2006”.


1 PEP is a group of donor agencies, multilaterals and some research-focused INGOs. See http://www.povertyenvironment.net/pep/

4 For example, codes of practice for horticulture and floriculture now have reasonable social chapters.

5 Council Conclusions on Climate Change (16 March 2009) and on DRR (18 May 2009).

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