Our Common Journey

Towards Cooperative Environmental Monagement
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I began this book in 1996, partly as a retrospect on progress since the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. By most accounts, the results of Rio have been disappointing. Though the world community pledged a huge increase in development aid for the environment, scarcely any countries have kept their promises. While we signed a convention to limit deforestation, figures show that the loss of tropical and temperate forests continues at a brisk pace. And while we pledged to integrate environmental and economic concerns under the rubric of ‘sustainable development’, we’ve seen the growth of a massive global trade and investment regime which scarcely registers environmental concerns.

These and many other criticisms surfaced in the spring of 1997 when the United Nations held a five-year review of the Earth Summit, billed as Rio Plus Five. This was an opportunity for environmental organizations to criticize inaction by the world’s political leaders, and for everyone to criticize the United States in the hope of eliciting a positive response before the Kyoto Protocol negotiations on climate change in December. Then a funny thing happened: the industrialized countries, which account for most of the world’s current carbon dioxide emissions, actually signed an agreement to begin reducing those emissions.

The bright promise of Kyoto has been dimmed somewhat, however, by the re-emergence of tensions in environmental policy making. Many environmentalists dismissed the agreement as a totality ineffective strategy for limiting climate change (which is probably true). Many, but not all, business interests predicted that the protocol would have severe negative effects on the world economy. Some politicians from the United States blasted the agreement for not including commitments from developing nations, while those nations counter-blasted the wealthy countries for making unfair demands of their impoverished Southern neighbours.

Such tensions result from the established approach to environmental policy making as a constant battle. Governments, businesses and non- governmental organizations (NGOs) each define what policy should be, and each fights to impose its agenda on the others. Instead of moving forward together, the parties all go their own ways. If I were to compare environmental policy to hiking, I might observe that this approach resembles a poorly organized group outing. Everyone thinks he or she has the right destination in mind and the best information on how to get there. This approach looks more like a boxing match than a hiking trip, and it is destined to fail.

A New Framework
Reaching sustainability will be a very long, difficult journey. On their own, a select few members of the ‘hiking party’- such as designated government bureau or NGOs – cannot hope to reach the target. They must find ways to involve all the participants, including other government departments and businesses. In this book, I want to discuss a new policy approach – one in which the parties discuss environmental, economic and social concerns, cooperating to resolve their differences. This approach is based on my experience in dealing with environmental issues in the Dutch government. Through years of trial and error, my colleagues and I have worked towards a new framework for policy, based not on constant conflict but on what I call cooperative environmental management. This framework is sometimes called ‘the Dutch approach’, although it is being applied, in varying degrees, around the world.

I do not claim that the Dutch have all the answers, or that they lead in all aspects of environmental protection. Through a lot of hard work, however, and in collaboration with colleagues in other countries, we have identified some key lessons of the policy process. We have learned, first, how to clarify government thinking on the nature of environmental problems and the actions needed to address them. We have found ways, for example, to undertake sophisticated data collection and modeling of environmental problems, while presenting the results in concise terms that people readily understand. We have also streamlined our Environment Department* so that other parts of the government, as well as businesses, understand our mission. Second, we have found a framework for discussing environmental issues which government and most companies and NGOs can agree upon. There will always be day-to-day arguments about specific actions or policies, and these may be quite fierce. But most parties in the Netherlands have reached a basic understanding of the ground rules for debate and have learned to appreciate each other’s perspectives.

My aim is not simply to describe developments in the Netherlands. Instead, I will use the Dutch experience as a case study to illustrate the elements of cooperative environmental management, an alterative to the frustration and stalemate of the adversarial approach. I will then apply these elements to an analysis of policy developments around the world. Before describing this new framework, however, I would like to review the old one.

A Critique of the Old Framework
Although obvious in theory, it is not always clear in real-life policy making that each issue has both a cause and an effect. Instead, policy has focused on either causes or effects, with different programmes oriented to one or the other and little coordination among them. This begins to explain why environmental progress has often been so slow, and why policies can be so bureaucratic and expensive.

Efforts to address environmental deterioration began in earnest during the late 1960s and early 1970s. By the mid-i980s there was a fairly clear picture of what was wrong – that is, a catalogue of effects. Problems like deforestation, acid rain, urban smog and waste disposal are obvious to any observer. Policy in the Netherlands and in other countries has been geared to ‘dealing with’ these problems – or, more specifically, these effects. For example, scientists have studied the acidification of the soil and its impacts on forests and agriculture. Meanwhile, government agencies have cleaned up past damage, such as toxic waste sites.

At the same time, there was a general concept of what might be causing environmental problems. Just as acid rain or waste disposal are obvious effects, factory smokestacks; car exhausts and increased use of disposable products are obvious causes. Accordingly, there were policies to deal with these causes. Engineers developed expensive new end-of-pipe technologies for sources of air pollution, such as scrubbers to remove sulfur from smokestacks and catalytic converters to reduce automobile emissions.

There are causes and effects, but the relationships between them are not fully explored in the old framework. There is little effort to determine the impact, in terms of effects, of measures targeting environmental causes. The old framework also has difficulty examining interrelationships among environmental issues. Although many problems are related, scientists have tended to approach them separately, often appearing to repeat the same research again and again. There is a great deal of information – often duplicated – but no framework to organize it as a clear, integrated picture. Without a comparative framework, it is difficult to check the validity of a particular study or finding. It is often easy, however, to design a ‘scientific’ study which supports any position in a political debate as required, a tactic sometimes called Junk science’.

Without hard information on causes and effects, policy makers are left to try piecemeal approaches to one or the other. In political terms, it is generally easier to address effects. Cleaning up a polluted site can show that a government is ‘doing something’ about the environment. Addressing causes is more difficult, since it requires re-evaluating economic structures and production methods. Rather than taking the difficult approach of integrating environmental concerns into the economy, governments generally take the easier approach of cleaning up the damage. Although often costly, such end-of-pipe measures have little or no impact on the overall economic structure. They rarely encourage systemic changes such as reducing energy intensity, conserving resources or moving toward high quality, longlife products.

The easy approach to environmental causes relies on a regulatory structure known as ‘command and control’, which creates a war mentality of suspicion and hostility. Because it does not trust business, government – sometimes with support from NGOs – produces strict legislation and highly specific regulations to police the enemy. Because it does not trust government, business responds by skirting environmental responsibilities when it can, or by fiercely opposing government policy through political and 1egal challenges. Because they trust neither government nor business, often environmental NGOs are confined to criticizing both parties rather than working to propose real solutions.

This war mentality was probably a necessary stage in the development of environmental policy, and it has borne fruit. Levels of pollution have dropped, absolutely or at least relative to economic growth, in many places around the wor1d. In the Netherlands, for example, sulphur dioxide emissions are at their lowest point since 1970, yet the economy has grown by 67 per cent since then. In addition, companies have come to accept, though often grudgingly, that they are responsible for the environmental effects of their activities. The fruits we have harvested, however, were the lowest on the tree, the easiest to reach, and we have reached nearly all of them.

As technology and the economy continue to expand ever more quickly, government regulators are losing the ability to keep up with their prescriptions. Furthermore, the era of quick, end-of-pipe solutions may be coming to an end. Afterthought techno-fixes yield continually diminishing returns, yet great improvements are still needed to sustain a healthy environment for our children and grandchildren.

These improvements will not come if government authority continues to walk its own lonely policy path. The old approach has produced many specialized institutions – government offices, research centers, consulting firms. Their focus is generally on the ends of policy, not the means. Thus success is sometimes measured in terms of new laws, regulations and institutions created, rather than in terms of real environmental improvement. But systemic change can only come from a results-oriented integration of environmental responsibility into other branches of government and the private sector.

The bureaucratic approach is leading to growing frustration in many societies. There is great frustration, for example, on the effects side, as the American David Brower explains: ‘as environmentalists, all we have been able to do is to slow down the rate at which things have been getting worse’. Furthermore, new effects seem to ‘pop up’ constantly. Recent concerns include biotechnology, cloning and the growing suspicion that common synthetic chemicals may act as endocrine disrupters which interfere with development and reproduction. These are the latest in a lineage of crises, such as the Exxon Valdez oil spill, the Chernobyl nuclear accident or the chemical releases at Bhopal, India and Seveso, lta1y. Each crisis results in new demands to ‘deal with’ environmental problems, and policy makers are caught in a game of catch-up to find a quick response.

There has also been frustration on the cause side, which basically involves the private sector. Companies have invested billons of dollars on pollution control technologies and spent billions more on fines and 1ega1 action; yet they are still told that they are not doing enough. Not only are they constantly attacked on their lack of progress in addressing existing problems, but as frequently they are confronted with demands to address new problems.

These frustrations fuel a never-ending scenes of policy conflicts. Sometimes scientists win, lf their research is ‘taken seriously’ and governments devise a policy response. Sometimes government and environmentalists win, if they manage to pass a strict new environmental law. Sometimes business wins, if it prevents a 1aw from being implemented or successfully challenges a regulation in court. Yet, if everyone wins sometimes, everyone must also 1ose. The result is a stalemate in which most problems are never solved. Furthermore, there is little continuity in the policy process, since the players are constantly trying to undo each other’s actions.

In the meantime, the environment continues to deteriorate. This should be a concern not only for traditional ‘environmentalists’, but for everyone. It has become increasingly clear, for example, that the success of companies depends on a sustainably healthy environment. Without a secure resource base, they will not have the materials to manufacture their products; and without healthy, decent living standards, they will not have customers able to buy their products and services.

Cooperative Environmental Management: the Dutch Example
Although we have not solved environmental problems in the Netherlands, I believe we have devised a useful alterative framework, one that has been developing over two decades of trial and error and is as much the product of sophisticated thinking as, of good luck. Cooperative environmental management was not born like the goddess Athena, who sprang fully grown and fully armed from the head of Zeus. Instead, it’s a baby that we nursed through years of late-night feeding and nappy changing, lost teeth and skinned knees. For that reason, I think I can best describe the new frame- work by explaining its historical context and evolution.

While the Dutch approach was originally meant for the specific problems and circumstances in the Netherlands, the experience is valuable for many other settings. Similar political struggles and institutional difficulties are faced in many nations, and similar personal dynamics are involved. I hope readers will see this book not simply as an historical account from one country, but as a case study with lessons that can be applied to their circumstances. This can be done more easily through the example of a small country like the Netherlands, where the scale of issues is more manageable and the people involved are more accessible, we can open the Dutch case study with a preview of the main lessons on offer.

Business-as-usual is no longer an option for government or the private sector, or for the environment. Effective solutions to environmental problems will require some radical rethinking of technology and economics. This can only be achieved if government and business, as well as citizens and NGOs, join forces in a concerted effort rather than waste their energies and ingenuity in endless skirmishing. Bringing about this change, of course, is no small feat. It requires government regulators and NGOs to be clear about what they want – not just on individual, day-to-day issues, but comprehensively and over the long term. It also requires business to be clear on what it can deliver, under what time frames and circumstances.

If the adversarial approach resembles a very disorderly hike, the co- operative approach may resemble a more successful outing. A group expedition, for example, begins with the desire to go hiking and a vague idea of where you want to go. Next, you need to get some information about the territory and how you might reach your goal.

Furthermore, you are travelling in a group, so you have to foster a dialogue to which all those involved can contribute. Everyone will not have the same reason for hiking. Some will want to get exercise; some will go for the scenery and fresh air. Others may not be so sure they want to go hiking at all, as is often the case with children. The trick is to help everyone find a reason to participate and objectives they can agree on. Finally, you must assess everyone’s abilities so that you can choose an appropriate route and assign duties fairly.

Five Elements
Cooperative environmental management is a strategy to fulfill the tasks mentioned above. It can be described in terms of five main elements:

  1. Integrating environmental responsibilities into society as a whole;
  2. Presenting clear information, understandable and acceptable for all parties;
  3. Recognizing policy as process, in which many actors play critical roles;
  4. Framing the policy debate in terms acceptable to ail participants;
  5. Working for long-term continuity in policies.

Integrating environmental responsibilities
Under the old approach, government plods along the path o[ compartmentalized, sector-specific policies. In the beginning, this is perhaps inevitable, since new environmental problems seem to keep popping up, demanding immediate responses. As a result, governments develop policies, and bureaucracies, to address each specific problem or problem area – such as waste, or pollution of the air, the water, the soil. After a while, this leads to an inefficient duplication of effort. It resembles a hiking trip in which everyone is carrying his or her own equipment; there may be five tents or frying pans, when the group only needs one or two. They also have different maps and different ideas of how to reach the destination. In the policy field, that means separate bureaucracies for air, soil, water, toxics, and so on. Each has its own scientists and budgets; each issue has its own corresponding laws and regulations.

Not only do the environmental authorities pack their own baggage poorly, they also try to pack for everyone else. The superfluous baggage that government carries, in terms of regulations and bureaucratic procedures, is also forced on business. One day, companies are inspected for emissions to the air, another day for emissions into water. Later they might have to deal with soil pollution or waste disposal. For each area there is generally a separate law and set of regulations, and another ream of pages in a facility’s license. This process ignores the fact that often the same activity, or set of activities, produces each of these problems.

It is also possible that policy on one environmental medium, such as air, can undo policy on another medium, such as water. A good example is the gasoline additive methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE) which helps the fuel to burn more cleanly and produce fewer smog-forming pollutants. The problem is, MTBE is itself a potent water pollutant. Through spil1s and automobile emissions, it is finding its way into drinking water, where even minute quantities of MTBE can make the water taste like turpentine.

Another result of this fragmented approach is that environmental policy makers define problems in different terms from other branches of government or the private sector. In the Netherlands, for example, the Ministry of Economic Affairs dealt with distinct sectors of business, such as industry or refineries, while another ministry dealt with agriculture. The Environment Department, however, was focused on various environmental media, such as air, water, or soil. It was organized according to effects, whereas its counterparts in other ministries and the private sector were organized into different sectors of causes.

After some time, policy makers may realize the need to reconsider unilateral action and to integrate their work with other branches of government and the private sector. In the Netherlands, the impetus to integrate actually came from business, which demanded a clearer picture of the Environment Department’s long-term goals and the responsibilities of different economic sectors. The Department responded by grouping the thousands of different environmental issues into a handful of general themes, such as waste generation or the release of toxics, which recognized the interrelationships among various effects. The themes were complemented by the designation of specific target groups, such as industry or agriculture, which were responsible for causing the problems in the various theme categories. This gave an overall picture, at least, of what was wrong (effects, or themes) and who was responsible (causes, or target groups).

The themes and target groups eventually fed into the development of a National Environmental Policy Plan (NEPP) in 1989. The NEPP, which is updated every four years, tracks progress towards long-term, comprehensive goals. It is the starting point for discussions of how [o integrate environ- mental policy into society as a whole.

Integration in hiking: Everyone knows where we ore going
Integration in cooperative environmental management: Common targets for all parties involved

Presenting clear information
A hike is not much fun if the group keeps getting lost. The hikers should have a clear idea of where they are heading and how to get there. A trail map is generally an essential tool, but some maps are more helpful than others. An extremely detailed topographical map with every geological feature, for example, can be more confusing than useful. The hiking party may prefer a simpler map with a clearly marked route. The same holds true for scientific information in the policy process.

Solving the information problem requires a unified study of causes and effects to provide clear, useful information. In the Netherlands, the government achieved this by commissioning its National Institute for Health and Environment (RIVM) to prepare a comprehensive study. Concern For Tomorrow began by examining environmental quality, but differed from other studies in three important ways. First, it was a truly comprehensive study: the Dutch scientific community worked together to examine environ- mental problems and their interrelationships. The broad scientific consensus behind Concern for Tomorrow closed off the opportunity to challenge its findings with junk science. Second, Concern for Tomorrow made an effort to trace environmental effects back to their causes and actually quantified the pollution reductions that would be needed. Third, the study took a long- term (25-year) perspective, which allowed sufficient time for making the considerable systemic changes that are necessary.

Clear information in hiking: Using a good map and compass
Clear information in cooperative environmental management: Comprehensive cause-effect analysis

Recognizing policy as process, with many roles
Comprehensive environmental solutions will not be devised by one person sitting behind a desk in a government bureaucracy. Nor is public policy like a computer which takes in data at one end and feeds out logical measures at the other. Instead, policy is a human process among people representing different interests in government, business, the press, the scientific community and societal groups. To succeed, the process requires guidance and communication.

There is no single leadership role in the policy process. This is clear when we return to the example of a group hiking trip. One person should not do everything; different people must take the lead in fulfilling different functions. Someone has the original idea to go on a hike. Someone has to get a group of people together and see that they are kept informed about plans. Someone also facilitates logistics, such as dividing baggage to be carried or finding a safe place to cross a stream. It would be unusual for one person to perform all these functions on a group hike, and it is impossible in policy making.

In the Netherlands, for example, the Queen and Prime Minister played the role of .sponsor by stressing the importance of developing an environ- mental p1an. RIVM acted as an informer by presenting objective scientific information on which to base the plan. The Director General of the Environment Department acted as a process manager by convening negotiations, and I often served as diving force by pushing the discussions toward concrete conclusions. There are several other roles in the policy process, and many other people who played them, which I will describe in later chapters.

Recognizing roles in hiking: Everyone has duties
Recognizing roles in cooperative environmental management: Parties have different functions

Framing the policy debate
lf you begin a discussion by treating someone like your enemy, that person will become your enemy, and you are unlikely to resolve your differences. If you treat the other person as a potential ally, you may be able to negotiate an acceptable solution. Regardless of the differences among parties, there are almost always some areas on which they agree, and these should be the starting point for discussion. In hiking, the first step in framing discussions is to recognize what everyone has in common. Presumably they like the outdoors and exercise, and they don’t mind being a little hot, cold or wet. That doesn’t mean they al1 have the same goals or reasons for wanting to hike, but at least they can respect and understand each other’s concerns.

Each party has certain priorities which cannot be compromised, and these must be recognized in framing a policy discussion. The priority of business, for example, is to make money. A company can compromise on many issues. but it will never accept a scenario which substantially affects its bottom line. The primary concern for government officials is to preserve their legal and administrative authority. They may agree to share responsibilities with other sectors of society, but they will never accept a scenario which cedes their power to others. Environmental NGOs will never accept a situation which threatens the integrity of natural systems, or their integrity as independent, critical voices in society.

A major problem with the adversarial approach is that it assumes the parties’ priorities are always at stake. If the environmentalists ‘win’, a company will go bankrupt. If a company ‘wins’, the environment will be poisoned. These are possible results if policy is approached as a zero-sum game; but there are other possibilities. In hiking, for example, two people can have different reasons for being on the trail but stil1 agree on a route that meets both their needs. If someone wants a lot of exercise and someone else wants to take pictures, they can choose a route which is both rigorous and scenic. Each may give a little, but they should be able to agree on objectives for the hike that satisfy their priorities.

But why compromise at all when setting objectives? In the early days of the adversarial approach, compromise was not very popular. Environ, mental issues were win-lose propositions, and all the parties thought they could win. After decades of stalemate, however, business and government have begun to see that neither is likely to win a decisive victory, and both are more amenable to making a deal which satisfies their basic concerns.

NGOs are less likely to make deals, since their primary mission is to act as independent critics of business and government. I don’t think that cooperative environmental management requires a fu1l buy-in by the NGOs. Perhaps it is best for them not to compromise, but to remain as strong critics, thus driving the public discussion of environmental issues and checking the integrity of other parries.

In the Netherlands, the basis for deal making between government and business was the new concept of ‘sustainable development’. The term was coined in 1987 by the report of the World Commission on Environment and Development, which is generally named for its chairperson, Ms Gro Harlem Brundtland, Prime Minister of Norway.* The Brundtland Report said that the goal of both environmental and economic policies should be sustainable development, which ‘meets the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’

Interpreting this definition can be difficult, since the present generation does not know how future ones will structure their societies and cannot, thus, determine what future needs will be. Rather than arguing endlessly on this hypothetical point, we in the Netherlands came to a simple conclusion: since we do not know the needs of future generations, we must leave all options open to them. This means that the current generation cannot pass any environmental problems on to the next. Every generation must clean up its own mess.

This concept has helped unify both economic and environmental concerns by introducing the element of time. On one hand, this generation has to clean up its act, so it cannot postpone action indefinitely. On the other hand, a generation (which we defined as a 25-year period) allows the formulation of long-term policies. We no longer had to insist, for example, that business make sweeping changes immediately We were able to set long- term (25-year) goals higher, far more ambitious than those we had required before, yet these were more acceptable to business. Companies finally had a clear picture of their long-term responsibilities and a reasonable amount of time to incorporate the necessary measures into their overall business strategies. The time element was the basis for a deal between government and the private sector on environmental policy.

Framing the hiking process: Something for everyone’s interest
Framing in cooperative environmental management: Find a deal that respects the parties’ interests

Long-term continuity
Once the hikers have agreed on the route, they expect it to be followed as closely as possible. They should recognize, however, that unexpected events will come up: the weather may change, a fallen tree or washed out section of trail may force a detour. Barring catastrophe, however, they expect that the hike will proceed more or less as everyone has agreed.

Those in the policy process also require continuity. Government, in setting long-term environmental goa1s, must stick to them. Businesses will insist that sweeping new demands are not made, while environmentalists will insist that objectives are not watered down. Business, for its part, must provide the same continuity it demands from government.* Once they have agreed to targets, companies are bound to meet them. At the same time, everyone must recognize the inherent uncertainty of long-term policies and the legitimate reasons for reopening negotiations. On one hand, scientists may discover substantial new environmental threats which were not known when the long-term agreements were set. Technological hurdles, on the other hand, may require that some interim targets for business be adjusted.

Preparing an environmental plan on paper is fairly easy; the real work comes in implementing it. In the Netherlands, for example, it required lengthy discussions with the private sector to set concrete goals that were aggressive enough to fulfill government objectives but flexible enough to accommodate inherent uncertainties and unexpected difficulties. Appropriate, realistic goal setting is essential to the continuity of policies, since measures which are either too lenient or too strict will eventually cause a breakdown of the process.

Continuity is strengthened by building trust among the parties, an assurance that everyone is negotiating in good faith. The personal factor is quite important here. In the final stages o[ agreements in the Netherlands, top officials, such as environment ministers and corporate chief executive officers, were involved personally in negotiations. A handshake and a promise are not, in themselves, a basis for making policy, but they go a long way towards instilling confidence on both sides.

Ten years after approval of the first National Environmental Policy P1an, I believe we have established some continuity in policy. As we were completing the NEPP, many other countries were also developing their own national sustainable development strategies. The NEPP, however, is the only one of these plans which has been maintained and updated. NEPP 2 was approved in 1994, NEPP 3 in 1998. In addition, many other reports and plans are produced on a yearly basis to reinforce the development of consistent long-term polices.

Long-term continuity in hiking: Regular targets, evaluations
Long-term continuity in cooperative environmental management: Step-wise approach and feedback

Broader Applications
As I have said, cooperative environmental management is more than a theoretical model. Theories have emerged from looking back at what happened and drawing lessons from it. The first part of this book recounts developments In the Netherlands through a series of narrative chapters. It also includes a series of ‘interchapters’ which describe the five elements of cooperative environmental management in greater detail, partly through examples form the Dutch case study.

The second part specifically addresses the international context of cooperative environmental management. While developing new policies in the Netherlands, my colleagues and I learned of similar efforts in other countries. This 1ed to a considerable exchange of ideas with individuals and institutions around the world. In some cases, the Dutch have incorporated ideas from other countries. In other cases, countries have borrowed ideas from the Dutch. In the last lour chapters, I recount some o[ the exchanges which have already occurred and analyze current and possible future developments toward cooperative environmental management around the world.

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