Environmental planning for protecting Bosnia and Herzegovina, one town at a time

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A shorter version of this lesson has been featured on the booklet produced by the MDG-F Environment and Climate Change window "Seeds of Knowledge - Contributing to Climate Change Solutions". - Read more about the booklet or download it in English / Spanish / French / Arabic.

Contents

Summary

The development of Local Environmental Action Plans (LEAPs) has long been held as a viable standard for addressing issues concerning how society affects its environment. Such strategic-planning has been a norm within Bosnia & Herzegovina (B&H) for over a decade, but it has been far from consistent or proceeding at a regular pace. Laws have been established to require their adoption (either at the municipal or cantonal level), but because environmental matters are typically given a low priority in the country (especially in a global economic crisis), unfortunately the actual adoption of LEAPs has been sporadic over the years. Clearly, legislative solutions were insufficient without the ability to enforce them, and something else had to be done.A standard methodology had already been developed previously, but the JP determined that it needed to be re-examined and updated, especially in terms of approaches for defining problems/goals/measures and in elements of emphasizing public participation. Though this was achieved – and is clear through JP implementation that it was a necessary improvement – it became obvious that upgrading the methodology was not the only thing necessary.

In the end, it has become apparent that simply pushing municipalities to create a LEAP is insufficient by itself if it is not framed within a longer-term context. Instead, what is needed is for them to be continually exposed to strategic-planning principles over several years’ time and covering a range of sectors. Only after such exposure would they be able to realize not just the benefit of such methods, but also actually be able to continue to develop such plans without the need for outside guidance/assistance, perhaps even being able to offer their expertise to mentor neighboring municipalities wishing to develop their own LEAPs or other strategies.

Purpose of the activity

Development of LEAPs is one of the core pillars of the Joint Pprogram, seeking to empower local authorities and other stakeholders with more stream-lined tools/plans to mainstream environmental issues as legitimate priorities and thereafter solve such problems through locally-designed actions, rather than merely waiting for top-down remedies. Furthermore, it is expected that the principles learned in developing a LEAP can be easily multiplied to formulate similar strategic documents, within the municipality, around the country or even to locations beyond national borders.

Original issue addressed by the activity

Out of 142 municipalities in the country (see the map below, under “Products”), only 54 (38%) had already adopted LEAP documents when the JP began, while another 7 (5%) were still in various stages of completion (including 2 which had completed their LEAP documents years before, but were for some reason still waiting to finally adopt them as official municipal strategies). At the start of the JP, this meager state was unfortunately the case, despite clear benefits to be derived from an adopted LEAP (e.g. access to international funds), as well as laws officially on the books requiring all 62 municipalities in one entity, Republic of Srpska (RS), to have already adopted a LEAP by that time – at the time, less than half of RS municipalities had adopted or were in the process of adopting a LEAP.

But looking at the situation from a quantitative perspective does not tell the complete picture., Aas a qualitative view reveals that too few meaningful measures from the adopted LEAPs had actually been implemented either. The most common explanation for this lack of LEAP-realization is a simple lack of financial capacity to implement actions, especially compounded by the global economic crisis, though more so because they were not deemed as budgetary priorities by authorities. However, after analysis of the LEAPs, it was determined that the LEAP process seemed to have been completed as a mere formality, rather than as a step in a longer-term process. Local State of Environment Reports (SoERs) compiled for those LEAPs had many data or analysis gaps, meaning that the subsequently-formulated goals and measures inadequately addressed the true local SoE. In many cases, local ownership of both the problems and solutions was not achieved, as complacent or insufficient stakeholders were often engaged, resulting in a lack of political/societal will to actually implement meaningful and positive change, much less expand LEAP principles to develop more strategic plans for other sectors.

In general, both a lack of will and a lack of funding are to blame for this all-too-common occurrence of “paper plans”. In some ways it’s not entirely the fault of local authorities. As a country, B&H is still recuperating from the continuing negative effects of the war (politically, infrastructurally, etc.) and is simultaneously still slowly transitioning from a socialist, state-centered model to a more democratic one, seen in the prevalence of overly-bureaucratic institutions, poor democratic governance, low-capacity among stakeholders, apathetic citizens, etc.

On the funding side, there’s a global economic crisis which, besides shifting local priorities away from socio-environmental initiatives towards any kind of strong economic growth, it also severely dampens donors’ funding opportunities/priorities.. Realistically, local authorities cannot implement their LEAPs on their own. Among the JP’s 37 municipalities developing LEAPs, there is a funding gap of roughly 75% (coming to about 193 million EUR) that municipalities simply cannot afford, and therefore require some sort of co-financing from cantonal, entity, national and/or international donors.

A further point is that in many ways, stakeholders at all levels are somewhat lacking creativity for finding solutions. Local authorities tend to focus too much on large-scale, infrastructure projects. For example, the most commonly-planned type of project in B&H involves developing adequate wastewater treatment systems. Every single one of the 37 municipalities wish to do something in this field, but it’s also the single-most expensive type of measure (in total over 109 million EUR investment required, 81% needing to come from outside the municipalities). Among the various sectors covered by the LEAPs, there are few low- or no-budget measures envisioned which are truly innovative. But at the same time, outside of this JP program (which has already initiated efforts in this direction, particularly in emphasizing the benefits of energy-efficient/renewables projects and/or focusing on the advantages of several smaller, synergetic initiatives, as opposed to the traditional large, capital investment ones), few donors are actively encouraging innovation from local applicants.

Unfortunately, all this easily translates into “paper plans”. as apathetic/inexperienced/uncreative authorities focus on other priorities instead, while an apathetic/inexperienced/uncreative civil society fails to challenge authorities’ status quo policies and many donors subject to reduced funding are unwilling/unable to stimulate either authorities or civil society to act more progressively/innovatively.

Strategy chosen to address the issue

The clearest means of alleviating the situation was to simply plan for developing more LEAPs in the country. The JP document outlined a goal of another 30 municipal LEAPs to be developed, representing a 49% increase (though a further 7 municipalities were also identified during JP implementation to be included, meaning a total 61% increase).

However, it was not simply enough to increase the quantity of LEAPs, but also to improve their quality and sustainability to avoid creating yet more ‘paper plans’. Previous LEAP methodologies used in B&H were analyzed to determine which aspects were functional, which irrelevant and which simply needed improvement. At the same time, other types of strategic-planning processes and methodologies from other regions were investigated to incorporate into the JP’s new approach. Furthermore, it was deemed quite necessary to engage diverse stakeholders in a participatory manner in LEAP development, though in the JP document, it was not clearly defined in which manner or to which degree.

Implementation of the strategy

The clearest means of alleviating the situation was to simply plan for developing more LEAPs in the country. The JP document outlined a goal of another 30 municipal LEAPs to be developed, representing a 49% increase (though a further 7 municipalities were also identified during JP implementation to be included, meaning a total 61% increase).

However, it was not simply enough to increase the quantity of LEAPs, but also to improve their quality and sustainability to avoid creating yet more ‘paper plans’. Previous LEAP methodologies used in B&H were analyzed to determine which aspects were functional, which irrelevant and which simply needed improvement. At the same time, other types of strategic-planning processes and methodologies from other regions were investigated to incorporate into the JP’s new approach. Furthermore, it was deemed quite necessary to engage diverse stakeholders in a participatory manner in LEAP development, though in the JP document, it was not clearly defined in which manner or to which degree.

Results and Impacts

While it is important to see that usage of both the DPSIR and participatory approaches truly does seem to yield better results (more in-depth SoER, more detailed/specific goals/objectives, more comprehensive measures, activation of other actors, greater satisfaction from the community…) than previous methods, as far as this lesson learnt is concerned, the key finding is actually that longer-term planning experience is crucial on all fronts:

  • consultants must accept that educating others in strategic-planning should not be treated merely as a formality, but as chance for real capacity-building;
  • municipal administrations must support not only the development of strategic plans, but also the implementation of their actions afterwards, to show they’re not just deemed as empty documents;
  • all stakeholders (especially NGOs and public utility/private companies) must become more engaged in matters important to the community, at the same time building up their expertise to be truly capable of being equal partners with municipalities in decision-making;
  • municipal staff must become more exposed to strategic-planning principles (including the importance of genuine public participation), so that after several times in similar processes, they are able to realize that a similar approach can be applied to any sector, and thereafter will be able to continue on their own without guidance from consultants or outside initiators like the UN.

Evidence

The primary evidence found by the JP to support the idea that longer-term strategic-planning is necessary is found in the experience of developing LEAPs within the JP itself. For example, the first 23 municipalities required nine to eleven months to complete the LEAP process, while the 7 selected municipalities that had already completed ILDP beforehand were able to finish their LEAP documents in about four months, because they were already familiar with strategic-planning processes, and had only to fine-tune data collection and goal/measure identification. Of course it was not completely trouble-free, as one municipality had little support from the municipal administration, which translated clearly into an apathetic LEAP work team, though in the end, they finally completed a satisfactory document. Similarly, there were several municipalities among those 23 with other past strategic-planning experience, and this made them quite obviously very competent to more efficiently develop a LEAP.

Furthermore, as evidence that a long-term approach to strategic-planning is desirable, one should consider that many of the all 307 JP municipalities, only a single one did not plan any further planning documents within its LEAP for other sectors and sub-sectors identified within their LEAP priority measures to develop similar planning documents for other sectors (such as energy, agriculture, tourism, waste management, etc.…). On the other hand, 10 municipalities do expect to further the planning process in four of the five sectors covered by the LEAPs, and another 3 wish to develop planning documents for all five sectors. Altogether, those 36 municipalities wish to invest over 3,2 million EUR into long-term planning for environment-related sectors; the fact that roughly half of that amount is expected from the local levels themselves is a strong indicator that the municipalities wish to claim ownership of their own planning. This shows that even the municipalities themselves recognize a need for a longer-term programme, whereby each planning document represents a single step towards reaching the community that they wish to achieve.

Next Steps

As already mentioned previously, an additional 7 municipalities were chosen to add to the initial 30 selected. These 7 were specifically chosen based on the positive practice of building on the foundation ILDP-experienced municipalities. Similarly, aAnother facet of the JP program has already been initiated: the development of strategic-planning documents focused on the energy sector with Sustainable Energy Action Plans (SEAPs) in 5 municipalities, including one that was already simultaneously developinged a LEAP within the JP.

Furthermore, a few activities already planned within the JP document are being adapted to focus attention on the lesson to be learned, both in terms of highlighting the problems and also in providing municipalities with tools useful for overcoming them. Specifically a national stakeholder (including national and international donors/actors) conference will soon be organized with the primary topics being building up the sustainability of strategic-planning (especially LEAPs) and mechanisms for stimulating the implementation of their measures. On the other side, capacity-building trainings for municipal work teams have been re-defined to facilitate municipalities to appropriately prioritize environmental actions in making their annual budgets.

In general, the JP team has found that “showing by doing” is an appropriate approach to ensuring the sustainability of these issues. By highlighting municipalities which are now successfully able to institute planning processes on their own and those which have benefited in capacity and/or funding through such endeavors, it is expected that other municipalities will follow suit.

Potential replication / application

As already mentioned previously, an additional 7 municipalities were chosen to add to the initial 30 selected. These 7 were specifically chosen based on the positive practice of building on the foundation ILDP-experienced municipalities. Similarly, aAnother facet of the JP program has already been initiated: the development of strategic-planning documents focused on the energy sector with Sustainable Energy Action Plans (SEAPs) in 5 municipalities, including one that was already simultaneously developinged a LEAP within the JP.

Furthermore, a few activities already planned within the JP document are being adapted to focus attention on the lesson to be learned, both in terms of highlighting the problems and also in providing municipalities with tools useful for overcoming them. Specifically a national stakeholder (including national and international donors/actors) conference will soon be organized with the primary topics being building up the sustainability of strategic-planning (especially LEAPs) and mechanisms for stimulating the implementation of their measures. On the other side, capacity-building trainings for municipal work teams have been re-defined to facilitate municipalities to appropriately prioritize environmental actions in making their annual budgets.

In general, the JP team has found that “showing by doing” is an appropriate approach to ensuring the sustainability of these issues. By highlighting municipalities which are now successfully able to institute planning processes on their own and those which have benefited in capacity and/or funding through such endeavors, it is expected that other municipalities will follow suit.

Information products

Images

Map showing the locations of the 61 LEAPs (adopted and in the process) existing before the JP in gray, as well as each of the lots representing the JP’s targeted 37 municipalities (lots 5 and 6 represent the initial and added-on municipalities, respectively, which had ILDP experience before the JP). The white municipalities so far have not begun developing a LEAP, while the heavy blue lines show the borders of B&H’s entities.

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