Are Environmental Agreements effective?
Are Environmental Agreements effective?
The report "Environmental Agreements, Environmental Effectiveness", published by the European Environment Agency (EEA) today, was first released at the meeting of the European Parliament’s Committee on Environment, Public Health and Consumer Protection on the 21st May 1997. The report focuses on the assessment of the environmental effectiveness of a selection of environmental agreements(1), and includes a review of the use of environmental agreements in Europe as well as an overview of the on-going debate on the subject.
The EEA mission statement includes the ‘provision of timely and targeted information’. This report, requested by the European Parliament, is targeted at policy makers and the public and is timed to assist the European Parliament in its debate on the European Commission’s Communication on Environmental Agreements published in November 1996.
Main conclusions of the report
EAs appear to be of most use as complements to other policy measures, such as regulations and fiscal instruments, where they can make a valuable contribution, especially in terms of their ability to raise awareness, create consensus and to provide a forum for information-sharing among different parties. EAs also seem to be useful in improving environmental management in industry and business
Compared to other policy instruments, e.g. taxes, few evaluations of EAs, whether ex-ante or ex-post, have been made and there is little literature available on their use. The report aims to help fill this gap by trying to assess the environmental effectiveness of six different EAs. These particular EAs were selected to cover various countries, sectors and themes.
In most cases it was not possible to make a quantitative assessment of the environmental effectiveness of the agreements due to the lack of reliable monitoring data and consistent reporting, which prevented comparisons being made between the current situation and what would most likely have happened if no agreement had been concluded (the ‘business-as-usual’ situation). Some wider benefits were found, however, including environmental improvements on the situation prior to the agreement and the encouragement of environmental management in business.
Since the late 1980s, there has been an increased use of Environmental Agreements (EAs) as policy tools in EU Member States, especially in industry and waste management. This approach to environmental management, mirrors current trends of consensus-building and participatory processes in public policy and complements the traditional command-and-control approach. EAs reflect both the development of shared responsibilities and the integration of environmental considerations into company management structures.
Some concerns have been expressed, however, about the rise of EAs as a new policy instrument, particularly by parties that are not involved in their negotiation, such as the European Parliament and NGOs. If EAs are to be used more widely, it is necessary to improve their credibility and accountability. This calls for the setting of clear targets, for greater transparency during the negotiation, implementation and evaluation of EAs and for the introduction of reliable monitoring and reporting arrangements. In the European Commission’s Communication on Environmental Agreements, guidelines were presented for the use of EAs, aimed at improving both their credibility among the various stakeholders and their effectiveness. These guidelines include: the setting of quantified objectives, the monitoring of results, periodic reporting, the verification of results, and provisions for access to information and for the accession of third parties.
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(1) There is no standard definition of "environmental agreements", which are also known as "voluntary agreements, "negotiated agreements" or "covenants". The term covers different types of agreements, ranging from voluntary "codes of conduct" to legally binding agreements. For the purpose of this study, Environmental Agreements (EAs) are defined as covering only those commitments undertaken by firms and sector associations, which are a result of negotiations with public authorities and/or explicitly recognised by the authorities. Other voluntary approaches, such as codes of conduct, fall outside the scope of the study.