Urban Environmental Management
Cities, EMS and Everything
Putting up a Green Front
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Decentralization, Local Autonomy and ISO 14001

The existing situation in local governments - where synergies between projects are rarely exploited to its fullest, and decisions are taken in a top-down, externally influenced manner - is hardly a conducive environment for the implementation of the recent moves towards decentralization and local autonomy. Most people now realize that decentralization and structural reform of the national and local governments are two of the most important and urgent political issues to address if cities are to survive in the next century.

The objectives of this reform are :

  • Demarcate the powers and responsibilities of local governments,
  • Promote the transfer of power and responsibilities from National Government to local government,
  • Abolish agency-delegated functions and establishing the new relationship between national and local government,
  • Strengthen and secure the fiscal resources of local governments,
  • Reform the structure of the local government, and
  • Improve the accountability of public participation.
The key ingredients of this local reform - accountability, effectiveness and efficiency, leadership and transparancy etc. are precisely those that are facilitated during the process of acquiring the ISO 14001 certificate. The comprehensive environmental policy, evaluation and audit system called for under ISO 14001 has several externalities that directly and indirectly benefit decentralization goals.

In order to establish an EMS, the significant environmental aspects needs to be assessed and evaluated, and the degree of achievement be checked and managed. However, as mentioned previously, there are no externally enforced 'standards' or 'targets' to be met. These are indeed decided and set by the local government itself - based on the local conditions and pressures. This kind of localized decision-making processes clearly help in understanding the responsibilities for local governments required by the decentralization processes.

In decentralization, the implementation responsibility from central/national governments to local governments requires, for example, the setting up of a recycling or zero emissions society. The establishment of an EMS and the simultaneous empowerment of local governments - along with a broad partnership with local stakeholders (NGOs/NPOs, citizens groups, businesses and industry, universities and research institutions etc.) - leads to the creation of collaborative networks that are beneficial to local governments in working on the development of its region.

Source: Proceedings (1999) "Environmental ISO and Local Government Network Forum" in Japanese. 22 August 1999, Nagahame City, Shiga Prefecture

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Contact: Hari Srinivas - hsrinivas@gdrc.org