Understanding Issues

Incinerator Slice
Extracted from: DANIDA Workshop Papers: Improving the Urban Environment and Reducing Poverty; December 5, 2000; Copenhagen, Denmark.
What can governments do? Good governance for good environments – I

Many urban environmental problems arise because of the weakness of urban authorities to control pollution, to meet their responsibilities for infrastructure and service provision or to provide the framework for NGO, community and private sector provision. There is also a failure of governance, as the political and administrative institutions of government are not accountable to citizens for their policies and expenditure priorities. However, a number of urban centres have developed innovative Local Agenda 21s that demonstrate new ways of tackling environmental problems, including working across sectors and linking community action and NGO and municipal support.

Each city has its own mix of environmental problems, in part linked to its own unique local environmental context, in part linked to the factors that shaped its development, and in part linked to its existing demographic, economic, social and cultural base. Where resources are limited, these problems can only be addressed with a knowledge of local resources (and how these can be mobilised), a knowledge of local constraints (and how these can be overcome) and the use of approaches that reduce capital requirements. Potential solutions will need to be discussed locally and influenced by local citizens' own needs and priorities.

These city-specific environmental agendas – Local Agenda 21s - can become ways of:

  • Institutionalising consultation, participation and accountability. Environmental planning moves into the public arena as it shifts from being something determined or driven by professionals to something developed, discussed and influenced by public consultation.
  • Integrating concerns for environment and development. Local Agenda 21s should provide a means through which citizen concerns and priorities for environmental quality become more influential in government – both in the use of government resources and in government regulation and control of private sector development.
  • Ensuring that plans are driven by local concerns – although they should take into account the regional concerns and national and global issues, particularly regarding resource use and waste generation.
  • Ensuring co-ordination and cooperation between different government agencies, as they involve the different public bodies or agencies active within any locality (including those responsible for infrastructure and service provision, land use management and environmental regulation).
  • Tapping pride in a locality’s natural resources and cultural heritage, and in the quality of its governance (including its Local Agenda 21)

For further discussion, see: Environmental problems political solutions; Weakness of city and municipal authorities; and new professional attitudes.


What can civil society do? Good governance for good environments – II

The shift in thinking from supporting ‘government’ to ‘governance’ has helped to highlight the important role of community-based organisations, local NGOs and non-profit groups in ensuring (and developing) more appropriate responses to environmental (and other) urban problems. It has also encouraged external agencies to consider how they can support these groups.

There are several different ways in which civil society organisations can help address environmental problems and they require different kinds of government and international agency support:

  • Enabling frameworks. Improving urban environments depends not only on what urban governments fund and regulate but also on how they encourage and support the efforts and investments of households, citizen groups, NGOs and the private and non-profit sector.
  • Different NGO approaches: market orientation, welfare approaches, claim-making on the state, and civil society driven alternatives.
  • Participatory tools and methods. As external agencies (from NGOs and local governments to international agencies) have sought more participatory (or collaborative) ways of working with grassroots organisations, new tools and methods have been developed to facilitate this.


What can the public-private sector do to improve environmental services?

How can public-private partnerships work for the poor? What is the potential role of private enterprises in improving living environments in poor neighborhoods?

Despite the focus on the private sector, good governance is again found to be central. In pursuing the Brown Agenda, city governments are increasingly turning to the private sector to help provide water, sewerage and waste management, and the hope is that the resulting public-private partnerships can help improve access to environmental services even among low-income residents. Private-public partnerships in environmental service provision are also being promoted internationally, often by donors whose mandate is to reduce poverty. They are frequently portrayed as a means of combining the strengths of both public and private sectors, and thereby providing services both equitably and efficiently. In practice, the outcome clearly depends upon the qualities of both the partners and the partnership.

Private sector involvement has been increasing rapidly, even in low-countries. Several reasons are given:

• To restructure a failing public utility
• To attract capital investment
• To improve technical and managerial efficiency

However, there is recognition that unregulated private companies are prone to:

• Engage in monopolistic behavior
• Ignore public benefits consumers are unwilling to pay for
• Ignore quality deficiencies consumers cannot perceive
• Ignore the environmental costs of their own activities that they do not have to pay for

While providing better living environments for the poor has not been one of the principal objectives of most public-private partnerships, there is much potential to improve service delivery. However, this requires special measures, and there may be difficulties with:

• Insecure tenure
• Physical obstacles
• Lack of household funds for down-payments
• Low levels of trust and poor communication
• Conflicts between formal and informal systems
• Collective service use and special needs

To-date, public-private partnerships only account for a small share of environmental service provision. Ultimately, success with partnerships depends not just on the willingness of private companies, but the capacity of local governments and regulatory bodies to negotiate effectively, encourage competition, engage with other stakeholders, and form partnerships that serve the public interest.


What can the private sector do for ecological sustainability?

What is the potential role of private enterprises in reducing the environmental impacts of urban industry? A first and often critical step is for the major polluters to take preventive measures – typically at the demand of the government. A second and more important step in the long run is for industry to adopt ‘cleaner production’: improve efficiency by reducing material intensity and waste and generally reduce ecological loads.
In summary:

“From pollution reduction to cleaner production”

Neither of these steps is likely to be taken by the private sector acting alone. But private enterprises can, given the right encouragement, become more willing partners in the pursuit of sustainability. Again, good local governance is critical.

Several issues arise: the private sector is seen as both environmental villain as well as environmental saviour. The key is to get the best from the private sector and encourage them to move towards sustainable industrial production.

Nevertheless, ecological efficiency and economic efficiency are not identical goals, and in most cases some groups will lose out when more ecologically efficient production processes are introduced. In many cases ecological efficiency (or, for that matter, economic efficiency correctly defined) is not economically competitive in existing markets, and requires tighter regulation and stronger economic incentives, as well as a willingness on the part of both private enterprises and the government to take environmental costs seriously.