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Building better environmental policy by looking into the future

As we prepare for a future yet unwritten, a cascade of uncertainty presents itself - the future structure of our society and economies is uncertain; the environmental changes that may result are uncertain; and how we might react or adapt to such environmental changes is also uncertain. Against the backdrop of these and many other uncertainties, long-term analysis can help create more robust environmental policy and the space for innovative thinking.

 Image © stephenhanafin

A new report from the European Environment Agency (EEA), entitled ‘BLOSSOM – Bridging long-term scenario and strategy analysis: organisation and methods’ summarises the results of a three-year project, that examined to what extent foresight studies underpinned environmental policies in 12 EU Member States. It shows several successful examples of how European countries are giving increasing attention to using long term approaches, such as scenario building, when formulating environmental policies.

The natural environment though is very complex and problems often develop slowly over time. As policy makers look further into the future, uncertainties multiply, and the possibility grows of unexpected surprise events. At the same time, electoral cycles are short, so longer term objectives are often ignored and short-term objectives may be prioritised, particularly when there is a lot of pressure to do so from external organisations and lobbyists.

Some countries have attempted to address these challenges by setting up new institutional arrangements. For example, Portugal has integrated the Department for Foresight and Planning (DPP) in the Ministry responsible for Environmental Affairs, while the Finnish government has created the Parliament Committee for the Future and the Government foresight report.

The report notes the environment public sector is increasing its capacity for futures thinking and striving to make futures studies more relevant in policy. Governments in Europe - and beyond - could also go further in exchanging information on their approaches. A network on futures thinking in environmental policy could help national governments strengthen their work, the report says.

 

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European Environment Agency (EEA)
Kongens Nytorv 6
1050 Copenhagen K
Denmark
Phone: +45 3336 7100