Monday, November 14, 2011

Environmental Conservation: A Democratic Process

"Agenda 21: Culture, Today, Tomorrow"

The encouraged participation of women, youth, NGOs, farmers, and businesses in aspects of European Union policy making seems unheard of in many areas of politics. The situation with environmental initiatives, however, is a different one.

Agenda 21 is the United Nations’ plan for sustainable development. Subsections of Agenda 21 are devoted to changing consumption patterns, promoting health, protecting the environment, and increasing participation of individuals in environmental decision making. European Union countries a a re signatories of the action plan and play a key role in insuring its policies are enacted at the national and local levels.

In scientific and political debates, sustainable development has emerged as a policy area that cannot be imposed at the supranational level of government. Instead, scholars argue, polluters need “to pay”, seeing themselves as both the problem and solution (Annika Agger, “Involving citizens in sustainable development: evidence of new forms of participation in the Danish Agenda 21 schemes,” Local Environment, 2010:15(6), 541-552). With the creation of Agenda 21 in 1992, policy makers strived to be inclusive, incorporating a more innovative and participatory approach to sustainable development. Sustainability is not just for elites. Despite fundamental differences in the GDP of European Union countries, conservation can and must be practiced by all.

Historically, Scandinavian countries have taken the lead in implementing Agenda 21 initiatives as they posses the required administrative capacity at the local and regional levels (Agger, 2010). When analyzing the different sections of Agenda 21, it is evident that the plan encourages a wide variety of governmental and local activities involving an abundance of research and technology. Scandinavian countries not only have greater institutional capability than, say, their southern European counterparts; they also have better financial resources to build on policies in place. How are Mediterranean countries, with a lower GDP and fewer funds for research, able to comply with the requirements?

In this situation, the role of the community becomes increasingly important. Despite a county’s financial situation, the wide variety of initiatives proposed by Agenda 21 allows governments to capitalize on their current strengths. For instance, Italy’s devotion to Agenda 21 initiatives has been recognized at the European level. While Italy has more financial resources at the provincial rather than the local level, local community officials have utilized existing management tools and the involvement of local environmental stakeholders. In a study of Italy’s participation in Agenda 21, 82% of participants said the main achievement of Agenda 21 was greater information sharing pertaining to environmental initiatives a  nd 31% reported greater participation in the decision making process (Walter Sancassiani, “Local Agenda 21 in Italy: an effective governance tool for facilitating local communities’ participation and promoting capacity building for sustainability,” Local Environment, 2005:10(2), 189-200). Participatory techniques such as European Awareness and Scenario Workshops (EASW) encourage dialog and promote awareness of the world’s most pressing environmental issues and corresponding solutions. Programs aimed at increasing youth involvement in decision making, such as the ­­­­­­Child Friendly Cities (CFC) initiative, have received positive feedback as well. When surveyed about their experience, Italian children across 12 cities reported gratification in demonstrating their autonomy in environmental planning initiatives, exercising their rights, and involvement in the decision making process (Marco Corsi, “The child friendly cities initiative in Italy,” Environment and Urbanization, 2002:14(2), 169-180). 

Although some politicians feel Agenda 21 impinges on sovereignty by controlling too many aspects of everyday life, its impact on environmental discourse within communities is noteworthy. Clearly, this initiative has something to offer to everyone. Whether it consists of prestigious research projects to further technological advancement or local level dialogs about waste conservation, the future for local participation in Agenda 21 initiatives seems bright.

Allyce Husband is a first-year student in the Master of Arts in European Union Studies program at the University of Illinois. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Communication and Psychology from the University of Illinois in 2011. As an undergraduate, Allyce studied abroad in Florence, Italy. She was awarded a Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) Fellowship for 2011-2012 to continue studying Italian as a graduate student. She plans to research immigration issues in the European Union.


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