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Environmental Mainstreaming
Integrating environment into development institutions and decisions

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Environment Inside - Chapter 7


[Chapter to be developed further]

For environmental mainstreaming to be a continuing process of integration that responds to new dynamics, rather than a one-off attempt, the design or mobilisation of special capacities and systems will be needed. Capacities are needed at the levels of individuals, organisations and wider sector or national contexts (Figure 7.1).

Systems that are able to span environment-development linkages include:

  • Information and analytical capacities and systems that generate good, specific evidence relevant to mainstream objectives, rather than ‘environmental special pleading’. For example, integrated environment-development indicators and their use in census and statistical work of sectors and localities. The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment framework offers a model;

  • New contributions integrated within the mainstream government ‘machinery’ of planning, expenditure review, budgeting, fiscal policy, and development control – rather than separate environment functions (although not to the exclusion of the latter). For example, environment coordination units within sector ministries, sets of environment-development criteria for sector planning;

  • Multi-stakeholder participatory ‘platforms’ and methodologies, where issues of environment and development can be debated. For example, National Councils for Sustainable Development as established in many countries (as suggested I Chapter 22);

  • Learning and communications systems so that the often pioneering mainstreaming experiences can be built on. For example, environmental mainstreaming ‘learning groups’ (Box 12.1);

Figure 7.1: Capacity development for environment: a simple framework (Source: developed from Bass et al., 2006)

Capacity development for environment: a simple framework

Decision-support tools and procedures that are able to support the above, notably the tools listed in Table 13.1).

The kinds of capabilities or skills needed to operate such systems for environmental mainstreaming include:

  • Participatory engagement and empowerment skills to bring the right champions and antagonists to the table, and especially to be able to engage marginalised groups;

  • Analytical skills particularly to address environmental trends, poverty-environment links and the economics of different options – including foresighting (scenario planning) and future-searching skills in order that long-term environmental issues are well anticipated, managed and integrated;

  • Planning and prioritisation skills, especially mobilising and refining those used by ‘mainstream’ institutions and processes – including risk analysis and management skills so that the significant issues of climate change, cumulative impacts and tipping points can be factored into decisions;

  • Political action and communications skills so that mainstreaming work is clear, well-targeted and influential – including political economy skills so that institutions evolve in ways that bring environment from the periphery to the centre of decision-making;

  • Monitoring, evaluation and learning skills that are able to handle complex multi-factor changes such as environment-development links;

  • Specific technical skills on particular environment-development issues that are significant for the country, locality or sector in question.

Effective mainstreaming identifies, mobilises, builds on and builds up these elements of capacity. But such capacity cannot be developed overnight. Thus any mainstreaming ‘project’ needs to see itself as playing a particular role in a long-term process that will already have begun (if falteringly) and that will necessarily continue. In this way, it is important to work towards a systemic approach. There tends to be a tension in environmental mainstreaming work between stand-alone initiatives (which tend to be pushed by environment interests) and systemic approaches (which tend to be developed by planning interests).

Stand-alone initiatives try to strengthen environmental organisations or environment-development pilot projects, redressing the imbalance of environment’s invisibility and lack of influence. They can be highly relevant where environmental mainstreaming is at an early stage and a ‘champion’ is needed. They can be easier to fund-raise for, monitor and manage. But ultimately they are difficult to ‘scale up’.

On the other hand, initiatives that aim right from the start to be truly systemic, such as national sustainable development strategies, can be good at mapping needs and rehearsing new approaches, but do not themselves provide all those needs. They often come across as an imposition or a conditionality if pushed by ‘heavyweight’ external players such as the World Bank, or an unrealistic plan if pushed by less powerful players such as IUCN (even if they are highly knowledgeable about the environment). They are also difficult to monitor or fund over a long period. Their likelihood of success is higher where environmental mainstreaming has already reached a significant stage, where the institutional and political climate is right for moving from an ad hoc approach to a systemic approach to mainstreaming.

Effective environmental mainstreaming will therefore involve a mix of approaches, developed for different stages, over a considerable period of time.

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