Back to home page
Managing local environment has always been a key aspect of local policies even before environmental problems gained large scale attention in the 1980s. It has, however, not been long ago that environmental decision support and management tools, such as impact assessments, environmental planning, programming, and management systems started to play more significant role in local policies. Long term planning and the implementation of systematic tools have been strongly supported by the development of the sustainability agenda.
Strategic environmental assessment (SEA) is commonly defined as the application of environmental assessment to policies, plans and programs. More specifically, it is “a systematic, on-going process for evaluating at the earliest appropriate stage of publicly accountable decision making, the environmental quality, and consequences of alternative visions and development intentions incorporated in policy, planning, or programme initiatives, ensuring full integration of relevant biophysical, economic, social and political consideration” (Partidario, 1999).
The concept of SEA builds upon the idea and practice of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), which since its introduction in the 1970s has been applied worldwide as a tool to support decision-making on environmentally significant projects. The application of SEAs has been promoted by international initiatives, such as the UNECE negotiations on an International SEA Protocol, as well as the EU Directive 46/2001 “On Environmental Assessment of Certain Plans and Programs”.
Current international SEA practices tend to be based on modified EIA procedures and methods, and involve a linear process of identification, prediction and evaluation of environmental impacts (Sheate et al., 2001). However, this approach has been criticised for its assuming of a straight-forward, rational decision-making process, which is often not the case in actual policy-making. (see e.g. Nilsson and Dalkman, 2001). It has been pointed out that the links between environmental assessment and the decision-making process are crucial to the effectiveness of SEA (Therivel and Partidario, 1996). Alternative approach to SEA therefore suggests that strategic environmental assessment should fit policy making in order to be effective for, as well as successfully adopted by policy-makers (Nitz and Brown, 2001). Advocates of this approach, therefore, emphasise the fundamental need for understanding the policy making process and establishing the opportunities and means for SEA to contribute to it.
As a result of the international initiatives, and more importantly of the eastern enlargement of the European Union, SEA is expected to become more and more applied in Central and Eastern European (CEE) countries, as well. The success of SEA application is, however, dependent upon the way it is applied, which in turn depends upon the preparedness of these countries and their policy-makers and practitioners for a meaningful adaptation of the method. An important element of the preparation is conducting well-founded and relevant studies on policy practices in CEE. In conducting such studies one should avoid mistakes of former studies of EA systems, for example, that relied upon formal, static, partial and context-insensitive criteria (Cherp and Antypas, forthcoming).
Local governments play a significant role in national environmental policy processes. This role consists of the complex tasks of implementing national (and international) policies, as well as formulating local policies and regulations. These complex roles and responsibilities in the environmental field of local governments are best summarised in Chapter 28 – entitled ‘Local Authorities in Support of Agenda 21’ – of Agenda 21, the key document accepted at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in 1992:
“Local authorities construct, operate and maintain economic, social and environmental infrastructure, oversee planning processes, establish local environmental policies and regulations and assist in implementing national and sub-national environmental policies.”
Notwithstanding, local governments face a number of problems and challenges in fulfilling these complex roles and responsibilities. These include political problems of decentralisation and local democracy, as well as constraints in human, natural and financial resources. Furthermore, these problems occur in different shape in different locations, there is also a continuous evolution of both the problems and challenges, as well as the role of local and national governments in dealing with them (EEA, 1997).
Due to the complex tasks they face SEA is a particularly relevant tool for local and regional governments. Local governments make strategic decisions and set out plans for various aspects of local development, which all need to consider local needs and conditions. In addition, certain strategic plans at the national level (such as the National Development Plan in the EU, which is also being prepared in accession countries, such as Hungary) build upon local and regional development plans, hence decisions at the sub-national level can have significant impact for national policies. In this regard, the way of and the extent to SEA applied at the local and regional government level is particularly important for both national environmental policymaking and local environmental management.
However, SEA is not the only environmental decision support tool applicable at local and regional level. Environmental management systems, programmes, action plans, auditing, and eco-budgeting have all been developed and applied to a varying degree at local governments. Yet, these tools are often developed and implemented independently and have rarely been considered within an integrated framework of environmental management.
Against this background the principal aim of the research is to establish a research framework for the analysis of the decision-making process at local governments in CEE, in order to investigate how SEA and other environmental decision support tools can be most effectively integrated into these processes.
In particular, the objectives of the research are:
1. to provide an overview of the theory and research on decision/policy making at the local government level in order to establish generic models of the decision process;2. to establish the context of strategic environmental policy making at the local level in CEE, using the example of Hungary;
3. to investigate local environmental policy making and management practices at selected Hungarian local governments;
4. to establish an integrated framework for the application of various environmental decision support tools at local level;
5. based upon the research results towards objectives 1, 2 and 3 to establish a practical and generally applicable framework for research on the environmental policy making processes at local governments in CEE;
6. based upon the research results towards objectives 4 and 5 to provide recommendations on the integrated application of SEA and other strategic environmental management tools at local governments.
In general, the research will heavily draw upon the results of my PhD research on the application of corporate environmental management tools at local governments. Also it will utilise the results of and possibly contribute to the research conducted by CEU staff on environmental assessment systems in countries in transition.
In particular, the research objectives will be accomplished by the following means:
Objective 1, 2 and 3: primarily based upon a thorough review of available literature.
Objective 4: review of public documents, interviews and visits of contacts established on the course of the PhD research.
Objective 5 and 6: desktop analysis of the research results, discussions and consultations with CEU staff and other relevant experts.
The Fellowship at the CEU will provide the following opportunities and support for the research:
- to review books, articles on the research topic taking advantage of the CEU library facilities,
- to conduct detailed interviews with CEU staff and recommended researchers having competent research experience in local environmental management and/or environmental policy in Central and Eastern Europe,
- to participate in the activities of the research community at the CEU.
Cherp, A. & Antipas, A. (forthcoming) Policy-relevant EIA systems’ studies in countries in transition, CEU, Budapest
EEA (European Environment Agency)(1997) Towards Sustainable Development for Local Authorities – Approaches, Experiences and Sources, European Environment Agency, Copenhagen
Nilsson, M. & Dalkmann, H. (2001) Decision making and strategic environmental assessment, Journal of Environmental Assessment Policy and Management, Vol. 3, No.3 (September 2001) pp. 305-327, Imperial College Press, London
Nitz, T. & Brown, A.L. (2001) SEA must learn how policy making works Journal of Environmental Assessment Policy and Management, Vol. 3, No.3 (September 2001) pp. 329-342, Imperial College Press, London
Partidario, M. (1999) Strategic environmental assessment – principles and potential Handbook of Environmental Impact Assessment, I, ed. J. Petts, London: Blackwell Science
Sheate, W., Richardson, J., Aschemann, R., Palerm, J. & Stehen, U. (2001) SEA and Integration of the Environment into Strategic Decision Making, 1-3. Final Report to the European Commission, London
Therivel, R. & Partidario, M. (1996) The Practice of Strategic Environmental Assessment, Earthscan, LondonBack to top