Governance: Environmental policy under the spotlight

Governing, regulating, steering, coordinating – there are many different aspects of political action behind the term ‘governance’. Relevant actors can be governmental, e.g. the national government, public authorities and the municipalities. However, civic and economic organisations also set rules with an environmental dimension and impact. In terms of nature and the environment, ‘governance’ refers to the design of institutions and instruments that help to protect the climate and the environment, consume fewer resources, reduce pollution, preserve biodiversity, etc.. More specifically, governance includes, for example, mechanisms for consultation and participation in the development and implementation of governmental policies, as well as policy instruments such as regulations, taxes and information campaigns. Last but not least, it also encompasses voluntary commitments and CSR approaches of businesses, standards set by associations (e.g. sustainability certification) as well as roundtables with multiple stakeholders.

Oeko-Institut contributes to the shaping of environmental governance on different levels. Our contributions range from the analysis of environmental conflicts and proposals for setting targets and objectives via the assessment of suitable instruments, to the evaluation of the implementation and success of measures taken. The researchers advise actors in politics, the business sector and civil society on the specific design of governance. In addition, they analyse “blind spots” in legislation and private sector regulations, for which further standards are needed. Last but not least, Oeko-Institut also provides expert advice in standard setting, various governmental advisory committees and infrastructure planning procedures.

Strategy: Approaches for environmental policy in the 21st century

Many environmental problems such as unchecked sulphur dioxide emissions in the 1970s and 1980s as the most important factor of the “forest dieback” could be alleviated in the past. In such cases technical solutions – like filters for flue gas desulfurization – were often relatively easily available. However, environmentally harmful production processes were often also shifted abroad. Future environmental policy must address more closely existing ‘wicked’ problems that cannot be solved with a filter. One example is the environmental impacts of rising individual consumption, which can be countered by sufficiency measures. In addition, negative environmental impacts worldwide must be prevented, instead of being shifted. This is not only a national but also an international task.

An Oeko-Institut project launched in autumn 2015 – “Environmental policy in the 21st century: Approaches to tackling new challenges” – focuses on these issues. Based on an analysis of the achievements and success factors as well as the weaknesses and gaps of German environmental policy in the last forty years, researchers at Oeko-Institut are developing strategic recommendations on how environmental policy of the 21st century should be designed today. Furthermore, they are also concentrating on the role of communication, which is essential for influencing societal discourses. The results of the project, which is being conducted on behalf of the German Federal Environment Agency, will be made available in autumn 2018.

Evaluation: Coherence of environmental policy

Oeko-Institut has also been commissioned to analyse how environmental policy objectives are interconnected – for example, how one objective influences, promotes or obstructs another one – in a research project completed in summer 2015. Together with the Environmental Policy Research Centre (FFU) and the Health & Environment Alliance, experts at Oeko-Institut developed an overview of the different fields of action of environmental policy and their interactions.

The fields of action cover, on the one hand, subjects of protection (such as climate, air and water) and, on the other hand, societal sectors (such as energy or transport). The team of experts identified the main environmental problems together with their drivers and determined the political objectives for solving these problems. In addition, policy instruments (such as feed-in tariffs for electricity from renewable energies) and the behaviour triggered thereby (such as the construction of solar power plants) were captured.

Lastly, the researchers linked the individual elements to chains of effects. All components are incorporated in a clearly-structured and easily updateable wiki. Supported by software, the German Federal Environment Agency can, as commissioner of the project, assess in future whether existing or possible new objectives and instruments are consistent with other environmental policies.

Enforcement: Structural reforms in environmental administration

Success in environmental protection also depends, not least, on whether and how the administration is able to carry out its legally assigned duties in practice. In the research project “Environmental law in limbo?”, Oeko-Institut analysed how provisions of environmental policy are implemented on the municipal level and in the federal-state administration of the Länder. The expert report, published in 2008, and a related policy paper focus on the field of tension between declining staff resources and the need for high-quality work in environmental administration.

The analysis shows that the changes made in the course of local and regional structural reforms are associated with a sacrifice of quality for the effective implementation of environmental legislation. Certain tasks can no longer be handled with sufficient quality. In addition, the reform processes have not been evaluated by the federal states concerned. Using the example of Baden-Wuerttemberg, Hesse and Lower Saxony, the experts illuminate the need for action on central administrative levels and develop recommendations for quality standards, knowledge management and more. The project was funded by the Legacy for the Future Foundation (Stiftung Zukunftserbe).