Diversity and Homogeneity
Fostering Innovativeness in Local Environmental Management

Hari Srinivas and Makiko Yashiro

This short paper is based on an introductory background paper written by the authors for an international symposium of the same title, held on 18-19 January 2002 in Tokyo. It was jointly organizied by the Science Council of Japan, the Japan Human Dimensions Programme, The United Nations University, and the United Nations Environment Programme.


G
lobalization is a buzzword that has received much attention recently both negative and positive. The different processes of globalization have however had an unusual offshoot a sub-process where greater emphasis and focus has been placed on the local dimension. The unifying and all-encompassing pressures of globalization has raised the need to retain and preserve local nuances and features, where the local culture, local delicacies, local art plays a greater and more prominent role in addressing a globalized world's needs! This is no more true than in the process of managing the environment. On one hand, we see greater globalizing efforts in understanding environmental problems and coordinating efforts in tackling them. On the other, there is a groundswell of action that has translated the global goals and frameworks to tangible, practical initiatives targeting the man-on-the-street.

The climate change protocol is a good example of this. Parallel to the efforts of implementing the 1997 Kyoto Protocol have been the innumerable local efforts in translating the protocol into action at the local level. These efforts have started as single actions performed by single individuals like the little drops that make the mighty ocean which collectively have, and will have, long-term impacts in mitigating climate change effects.

Even before the Kyoto Protocol, Agenda 21 the global agreement on the environment - clearly realized the criticality of local communities and the civil society in general in managing the local environment. It highlighted this in Chapter 28, calling for the setting up of Local Agenda 21 plans at the local level. But increasing attention being paid to the local level has raised concerns of the capacity of the local institutions and groups, including communities and citizens groups, to be able to address local concerns while keeping global issues/implications in mind (and vice versa of understanding the local implications of global movements).

This is the key issue that the conference aims to address of developing innovative capacities at the local level, to be able to come up with local resources and local solutions to solve local problems, that have beneficial global impacts. Capacitating local stakeholders, including local governments, NGOs/NPOs, and community groups, has now become a priority. The urgency of translating global talk to local action, and building capacity to facilitate that action, has spurred much discussion on the issue. Hence the Symposium's subtitle, "Fostering Innovativeness for Local Environmental Management"

But what about the main title "Diversity and Homogeneity"? As anyone working with local stakeholders will testify, capacitating the local level to address global problems and concerns is a very difficult task indeed when we consider the myriad range of issues, problems and concerns to be covered. The complexity of issues and action required essentially means that it cannot be easily compartmentalized into one-problem-one-solution. There are always 'problems behind problems' that require 'solutions for solutions'. Case studies and good practices in local environment management have clearly outlined the need for a coherent and concerted action by different stakeholders at different levels of governance.

As a city mayor recently said, "A diverse range of problems requires a homogenous set of solutions". Diversity in local environmental management refers to the different problems and their causes, of the range of solutions and skills needed, of assorted stakeholders and resources, of the scales and subsidiarity of decision-making. Homogeneity in local environmental management concerns the commonality of goals and objectives, of the complementarity of resources and actions, and of the integrative nature that is key to achieving sustainable development.

While there is a need for a diversity in the tools, approaches and resources for local environmental management, there is a clear need for homogeneity in the conceptual frameworks for policy and action.

In a river clean-up programme, it is the river that integrates and provides the homogeneity for action from NPOs (investigation, awareness raising, education), from industries (changes in manufacturing, material use and discharges, sponsorships), from local governments (legislation, rules, cleanup work), from communities (volunteer action, lifestyle changes), and from universities (research, policy formulation). Thus, different local stakeholders bring in different resources to achieve the same commonly agreed goal a clean river. This lesson forms the first of the sub-themes explored under the Symposium "Multi-Stakeholder Partnerships: Different Roles, Same Goals".

It is the bringing together of local stakeholders that forms the initial and key challenge. What makes disparate and sometimes conflicting groups work together towards a common consensus good? How can the focus on local issues and local actions be initiated within the broader goals of sustainable development? The second of the sub-themes for the Symposium looks into this issue "Achieving Sustainable Development: Think Local, Act Local"

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Contact: Hari Srinivas - hsrinivas@gdrc.org