Mainstreaming environmental governance: linking local and national action

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The environment had been given a low priority in a country that has had to simultaneously recuperate from a war and make a transition away from a socialist system. These events left a fragmented bureaucracy unprepared for adequate environmental protection: with local and national authorities often lacking the capacity, jurisdiction and/or willingness to provide proper environmental management. At the same time, there was lack of cooperation between some national institutions left at the local levels without proper strategic guidance. The result was a critically stagnant environmental situation.

The UN Joint Programme of the MDG-F was designed to address and overcome the significant barriers to effectively delivering environmental services and management at the national and local levels. The Programme also highlighted the links between environmental issues and poverty using an approach based on the principle of social inclusion, a cross-cutting issue which especially sharpens the MDG framework in the context of EU pre-accession countries like Bosnia and Herzegovina.


As part of a multi-pronged approach, the Joint Programme sought to improve local environmental planning nationwide, primarily through the development of Local Environmental Action Plans (LEAPs) and Sustainable Energy Action Plans (SEAPs), which were seen as important for empowering local stakeholders to mainstream environmental issues into policy agendas. As a result, rather than wait for top-down remedies from the national Government, municipalities have taken advantage of improved approaches which emphasize the necessity of long-term strategic-planning, comprehensive analyses of the issues and public participation to achieve solid local ownership of problems and solutions.

The second approach dealt with enhancing the management of environmental resources and the delivery of environmental services primarily through the funding and follow-up of local actions in addition to reporting how resources are managed nationwide.

The Programme also increased national environmental awareness and action by localizing and achieving the MDGs, firstly through support given to implement innovative pilot projects and through the establishment of a national environmental database and the first National State of the Environment Report (NSoER) in the country. Finally, a national body was established for Kyoto Protocol issues and called the Designated National Authority (DNA).


  • 37 new municipalities now have comprehensive LEAPs and five of the larger towns in the country now have SEAPs. Other municipalities are motivated to develop their own LEAPs;
  • A resource management report has helped identify the most important gaps in environmental services across the country;
  • Culturally-significant facilities have been protected and energy conservation efforts have been mainstreamed into their maintenance;
  • A national Energy Management Information System provides inspiration to local stakeholders about energy conservation by highlighting pilot projects funded by 18 Micro-Capital Grants and 12 Innovative Grants;
  • The Environmental Information System provides national databases for environmental experts;
  • The development of the first NSoER is an important step in building national ownership of environmental protection processes, and it is hoped that the authorities will use it as a tool for crafting future national policies;
  • After years of attempts, the DNA is finally assessing Climate Development Mechanism projects, and is one of the few examples where all relevant national stakeholders regularly cooperate with each other.


  • Municipalities, lacking previous experience often found strategic-planning processes difficult, though mentoring from more-experienced municipalities proved beneficial.
  • Often environmental efforts in the country were hindered at many levels by a lack of local experts and/or data, due to unavailability, inaccessibility or being out-of-date;
  • The global economic crisis intensified the unfortunate fact that environmental measures rarely are seen as budgetary priorities by local authorities;
  • Inadequate capacities at all levels for environmental management were often exacerbated by unclear institutional jurisdictions and environmental responsibilities;
  • Authorities tended to focus too much on infrastructural projects, when often smaller-scale (or even no-cost) actions could do an equally effective a job.

Way Forward Experiences in Bosnia and Herzegovina have shown both the importance and difficulty of integrating top-down with bottom-up approaches. Since the numerous administrative layers within the country complicate things, focus was directed to building linkages between them to ensure that national policies are effectively implemented at local levels and, conversely, that local experiences flow into higher-level policy development.

At the national level the Joint Programme plans a handover of future NSoER processes to relevant national authorities, though the actual capacity of those institutions to carry out the task remains uncertain. This could be addressed through further follow-up by UN agencies.

In the meantime, an investigation is being conducted about abandoned land management, an issue discovered by this Joint Programme. Furthermore, the DNA should not only continue assessing projects on its own, but also the concept should be replicated to establish similar committees, therefore harmonizing legislation and facilitating collaboration between national parties which still remain somewhat uncooperative.

At the local level, it is clear that simply pushing the municipalities to create a plan is insufficient by itself if not framed within a longer-term strategic context and involving other sectors. For example, in replication into other sectors such as energy, agriculture, tourism and waste management. In any case, any new strategies developed, or old ones revised, must reflect current data and standards, making sure they are not merely “paper plans”, but instead are “living documents”.

Read more about this JP on the MDG-F website.

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