Item 1: Local environmental management
Item 2: Community participation in local environmental management
The working group analyzed this topic from two standpoints: the political and institutional perspective and the institutional capacity of local governments for environmental management. The conclusions and recommendations that follow were drawn from the discussions.
The participants considered that in the political and institutional area:
· No political or institutional priority is given to environmental management; it hardly appears in local government proposals.
· Little importance is given to environmental issues in plans for local integral development and especially in the allocation of economic and financial resources.
· The concept of environmental problems as a whole is feeble, which leads to a sectoral view of problems: pollution, health, natural resources, basic sanitation, land management.
· There is an imbalance between the environmental impact of urbanization and the actions and efforts of municipalities, businesses, or communities themselves for environmental rehabilitation.
· Countries' laws and regulations are too conditional and limited for adequate local environmental management.
· The role of local nongovernmental actors in environmental management is not clearly enough defined.
· Citizen action and participation in local environmental management are given low priority.
In the area of management capacity they found that:
· Environmental management is poorly coordinated at the intergovernmental and intersectoral levels and within local governments themselves, which causes dispersion or duplication of efforts.
· The multiplicity of regulatory and operational provisions at the national, state, and municipal levels causes conflicts because of jurisdictional overlap that hampers and limits their effective application by local governments.
· Participatory mechanisms to engage citizens in environmental management are not sufficiently institutionalized in most of the local governments of the region.
· There are few or no mechanisms for settling disputes arising from environmental management, both in the local government and in the community itself.
· The human, economic, and technological resources to meet the requirements of efficient local environmental management are limited.
· The technical knowledge available to local government authorities, officials, or citizens is insufficient or inaccessible.
· Little or no relevant information is available for local environmental management.
· Little consideration is given to local environmental management by international and regional financing agencies in the projects they fund on decentralization or institutional development.
In view of the foregoing conclusions, the participants decided to recommend the following actions:
· To have local governments set priorities for their environmental efforts in the various spheres of management: political, social, economic, and technological.
· To institutionalize local environmental management in the context of sustainable development.
· To set deadlines and establish specific participatory mechanisms for defining an Agenda 21 for each locality, integrated into the pertinent regional and national systems of environmental management.
· To promote and strengthen systems for participatory planning in local governments by reinforcing community action in sustainable development processes.
· To promote a definition and clear identification of the environmental authorities - their role, functions, and powers - at each level of management and government.
· To promote at the national and regional levels a review of the organization and functions of local governments, in order to institutionalize structural mechanisms that will promote effective management of the environment and of integral, sustainable local development.
· To promote organizational coordination of structures, programs, and projects at the various levels of government, institutions, or sectors in national environmental management systems.
· To create or strengthen spheres and mechanisms for the identification, treatment, and settlement of disputes arising from environmental action and management in the community, the locality, the region, and/or the country.
· To develop national environmental training programs for municipalities, at their various levels and spheres of local, public, entrepreneurial, or community action.
· To create or strengthen national and regional information networks that will support the processes of improving local environmental management.
· To strengthen the institutional capacity of the municipalities - their human, financial, and, in particular, technological resources - for proper environmental management.
· To promote criteria for allocating resources from multilateral and bilateral cooperation and national programs that incorporate the strengthening of local environmental management and also elements of environmental sustainability in programs and projects for government reform, decentralization, and local and municipal development.
· To request support from the Organization of American States for the establishment of a hemisphere-wide network on environmental management and development, to be joined by national and local governments, nongovernmental organizations, and a variety of enterprises or organizations in civil society, that will promote the strengthening of processes of local development within the framework of the efforts our countries have been pursuing toward regional and subregional integration and complementarity.
The working group that analyzed this topic took into consideration two fundamental aspects of citizen participation in local environmental management identified in the presentations and discussions during the seminar: the degree of progress countries have made toward involving civil society and the difficulties facing this participation.
With respect to the degree of progress toward citizen participation, the participants concluded that:
· The countries have legal structures that in general guarantee citizens' right to participate in environmental management processes.
· There are specific experiences with systems of participation that have been successful and could be converted into reproducible models, adapted to the particular conditions of each place.
· There has been a growing individual and collective awareness in recent years of the importance of community influence in environmental decisions.
· The governments, in their effort to decentralize and deconcentrate policy and administration, are opening spaces for genuine citizen participation in environmental management.
· There are differences of opinion about what participation is, who participates, and how and when they participate.
As to the causes of the difficulties hindering community participation, they said that:
· There is no general culture of public participation.
· The capacity of municipal structures and of society itself to incorporate public opinion into decision-making processes is limited.
· The competing interests of politicians often undermine community participation.
· Training for both social agents and municipal governments in environmental management processes is lacking.
· Mechanisms for making community participation feasible are still rudimentary.
For these reasons, the participants decided on the following recommendations to the countries:
· To create and/or improve mechanisms for participation in environmental management, in such a way that this participation starts when an idea is first considered and not just when the citizen feels affected, in conformity with the principle of preventing environmental conflicts.
· To institutionalize the instruments for citizen participation, preferably through existing structures and organizations.
· To draft a strategy at the local-government level for formal and informal participation, that not only takes into account the opinions, suggestions, or demands of the citizens, but also involves them in decision-making and informs them of the results of activities, and that gives them an opportunity to appeal.
· To create or strengthen the technical agencies that facilitate community participation.
· To have regional and international organizations promote and design programs to train members of municipal governments and of organized groups to improve their capacity for environmental management by, among other things:- Holding regional and national workshops on local environmental management and community participation.
- Preparing documents to disseminate success stories in local environmental management throughout the hemisphere.
- Organizing exchange visits between countries to learn about successful experiences in this field.
- Establishing a program to promote the operation of networks on specific issues that facilitate citizen participation.