Integrating Environmental Considerations into Economic Policy Making: Institutional Issues

Article excerpt

Integrating Environmental Considerations into Economic Policy Making: Institutional Issues. By Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific. New York: United Nations Development Papers No. 21, 2000. Pp. 141.

The concern for environmental protection has become especially important in the last two decades, particularly after the publication of the Brundtland Report in 1987 which focused on the importance of achieving sustainable development as a global challenge for policy makers and governments alike. The book builds on this theme of environmental protection by presenting and discussing the results of four synthesis papers; three subregional papers which have focused on institutional arrangements and mechanisms in different regions (South Asia, Pacific Islands, and East and Southeast Asia); and one paper on Nepal, the Philippines and Fiji. It also reports on the institutional gaps present and provides technical assistance insights for integrating the environment into economic policy-making in line with the goals of sustainable development.

The main ideas contained in the book are refreshingly simple and yet stimulating in terms of its approach towards integrating institutions with environmental protection. Basically, they can be summarized as follows. First, the existence of institutions (institutional mechanisms) is important for implementing successful environmental policies. Second, successful policies depend on the ability of government ministries and administration to effectively co-ordinate and cooperate with one another. Third, policy success is dependent on enforcement mechanisms, of which an important prerequisite is efficient monitoring. Finally, international agreements play an important part in influencing environmental policies in a country.

A central theme is that the success of environmental policy statements (intentions) depends on translating such statements into policies that can be effectively implemented. In turn, implementation depends on the types of institutional mechanisms that exist in a country to facilitate such an action. Institutional mechanism is defined as both formal and informal rules and norms which are "in place to define and enforce the rules and policies of the government" (p. 3). Subsequent chapters expand on these and other inter-related ideas in a very clear and logical manner.

The introductory chapter provides brief background information on the physical and economic characteristics of countries in the Asian and Pacific region. The different types of environmental problems existing in these countries are discussed with the link between environmental degradation and the functioning of an economy pointedly underscored.

In Chapter 2, the importance of general policy statements in terms of their "environmental concerns" quotient is discussed, by examining for evidence from documents such as the country's constitution, legislation, development plans, and development policy statements, strategies, and visions.

Chapters 3 and 4 then examine issues related to environmental management, co-ordination, and cooperation among government and administrative entities in the various countries. The importance of feedback from selected public representatives, the private sector, and non-government organizations (NGOs) is recognized as an important aspect for implementing and integrating environmental goals with economic ambitions.

Different aspects of monitoring are discussed in Chapter 5, notably the techniques of monitoring, standards, shortcomings in present approaches, and suggestions for effective measures.

Enforcement mechanisms are then discussed in Chapter 6. Fragmentation, irrelevance, and contradictions in environmental legislation are reported as some of the major shortcomings present in policy implementation. The slow litigation process is another weakness. Importantly, the non-excludable and non-rivalrous characteristics of environmental benefits have worked against incentives and created inertia for particular individuals to take legal action. …