The political and institutional context in which environmental decisions will be made in the new millennium is the product of two deep-seated transformations. The first is a continuing shift away from a process of policy-making dominated by state action at the global and national level, to a more complex, multi-level system of environmental governance. This links global processes, through activities at the regional and the local, to the individual consumer or citizen via a series of interconnections. The term 'governance' captures the transition to a more poly-centric mode of environmental decision-making and refers to the emergence of new styles of governing in which the boundaries between public and private sector, national and international are more blurred.
The second change is the slow but steady extension of environmental imperatives into previously 'non' environmental sectors such as agriculture, trade and energy production. The challenge for policy-makers at all levels of governance is to find the means of securing environmental policy integration, rather than treating the 'environment' as a discrete, self-standing area of decision-making one step removed from the driving forces of environmental change.
Decision tools are needed to support and inform environmental decisions made at each of the different levels and in the various sectors to ensure the overall mix is consistent and supportive of sustainability. One of the key research challenges is to identify opportunities for scaling up or scaling down the experience of successfully applying tools at particular levels. There is an equally urgent need for tools that promote coordinated decision-making across sectors and levels of governance in pursuit of sustainable development.
Some of the criteria for effective environmental decision-making include:
- Legitimacy: is the basis of informed consent to accept an agreed outcome by means that are judged to be accountable, fair, trusted and responsive to changing circumstances. Legitimacy is based on processes of governance that are inclusive and empowering, which increase resilience and reduce vulnerability in ecological and social realms.
- Equity: is the assurance that legitimate interests are identified, incorporated, and assisted to be included in the process of achieving agreed outcomes. Equity also addresses issues of justice in terms of human and ecological rights, as well as responsibilities for abiding by shared outcomes.
- Efficiency: is the condition that any decision taken must be one in which the consequent sustainability gains outweigh all the costs of implementation. That "benefit to cost" relationship, however, requires an integrated approach to participation and envisioning that explicitly incorporates the interests of the excluded as well as the connectivities of the natural world.
Effectiveness: is that link to the natural world. Environmental decisions will only be effective if they are informed by natural-systems processes, variability, and change and its driving forces. Environmental decisions, therefore, need to buttress the resilience of those natural systems and ensure that human beings are not placed in a position whereby they undermine this resilience. Hence environmental effectiveness also means reducing social vulnerability as efficiently as possible.
Source: CSERGE - ESRC Programme on Environmental Decision Making