Environmental planning and policy in the year of Rio +20

Environmental planning and policy in the year of Rio +20

By Diana Durán

Twenty years after Eco 92 - considered the starting point of global environmental awareness - environmental problems are getting worse. In this context, the design and application of management models capable of promoting and reconciling objectives that constitute the substantial challenge of society and its actors becomes substantive.

In the year of Rio +20, 20 years after Eco 92 -considered as the starting point of global environmental awareness-, environmental problems worsen and there is no doubt that the need to face sustainable projects is at the core of the human response to the environmental challenge. We are not thinking about megaprojects or large global agreements, but about sustainable projects, soft, local technologies, innovation in management, cooperation faced by communities and with a strong insertion of environmental education at all levels of the educational system. It is about promoting many environmental projects created with strong citizen participation, distributed in small territories that, when juxtaposed, generate processes of “territorialization”.

In this context, the design and application of management models capable of promoting and reconciling objectives that constitute the substantial challenge of society and its actors becomes substantive. Today, it is widely accepted that planning systems play an important role in promoting sustainability.

Environmental planning is developed within an interdisciplinary framework that generates methodological progress as a direct consequence of mutual learning between specialists from the different natural and social sciences and communities, when they can participate intensively in these processes.

The issue of environmental planning takes on more and more a more significant aspect in the face of the increasingly pressing needs to specify sustainability through instruments and procedures for action. The objective is to translate into specific ideas the way in which they should be applied to use in a sustainable way and restore, in the event of deterioration, natural and social systems, reflecting rational criteria for weighing negative environmental impacts or preventing natural risks. and technological, among other issues.

The planning arose initially from the territorial, physical or regional planning but with time it was inscribed within the framework of environmental management. On many occasions these issues have been approached in a technocratic way, as if the geographic spaces to be planned were a blank paper on which it is possible to design without considering the natural bases.

Environmental management is a set of activities leading to the integral management of the environmental system. It includes as a theoretical framework the concept of sustainability and, in this sense, it constitutes the strategy through which anthropic activities that affect the environment are organized, in order to achieve an adequate quality of life, preventing or mitigating environmental problems.

The problem of how to plan, with what concrete positions, how to carry it out, how to translate abstract ideas into reality, are reflections that have been the driving force, not only of the debates, but also of the criticisms that the environmental paradigm has experienced. (one)

One of the planning models applied to promote sustainability is known as Pressure-State-Response (PER) of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). (2) This model is an analytical and integrative tool that classifies information on the state of the environment according to its interrelationships with the social, economic and political environment through environmental indicators.

Many times the lack of coordination and planning of the actions of governments has resulted in the ineffectiveness of their policies, and have meant, on environmental and infrastructure issues, the need to return to the beginning, to zero. For example, anti-pollution measures are sometimes established in water systems, through action against various companies, but open dumps are not taken into account, which are always located on the banks of rivers, or liquids are discharged. sewers without any treatment, or effluents simply leak with the complicity of some officials. In this way environmental policy does not solve, but often deepens the problem by applying ineffective methodologies.

Environmental policies, especially those aimed at curbing the damage caused by pollution, must be comprehensive, meaning that if a campaign is undertaken, no cracks can be left or begin with the details. Consistency is required. It is not acceptable and rational to take students from educational establishments to gather papers, while allowing an industry to divert its polluting effluents from the treatment plant. It is not sustainable to call for voluntary adherence to a clean production plan, to which those who always collaborate will go, since those who are not interested in clean production will continue to contaminate freely.

It is necessary to develop, agree and execute an environmental policy including social actors and serving the interests of society, as an integral part of State policy, as is the case with education and health. And this implies putting scientific research at the service of national interests, with the promotion of the State, academia and non-governmental organizations. These policies must also be promoted according to the geographical realities of each State and region and not exclusively promoted according to the application of what international organizations promote.

It is important to note that the development of a regional environmental policy meets important needs for all sectors of the community.

She demands that each regional entity carry out a diagnosis or environmental balance on the historical process of appropriation of resources and land use, with its potentialities and vulnerabilities. This means preparing an updated diagnosis, in which it is defined and explained how this environmental reality is affected by its economic, social, cultural, institutional, national and international environment.

Each region shows a specific environmental reality, in its natural resources in the diversity and magnitude of the problems that it must face, in the capacities and commitments of its institutions and in the population, among others. Likewise, environmental policy supposes that each community define and rank their challenges and future scenarios, establish deadlines for their fulfillment, identify the necessary resources and the responsibilities that correspond to each sector such as: public, private, academic, unions, non-governmental and community organizations and of citizens in general, as well as indicating those tasks that require the participation of the various actors in the region.

Objectives of the environmental policy

Environmental policy is the establishment of a harmonious and interrelated set of objectives, which are oriented to the improvement of the environment and the adequate management of natural resources. Specific decisions and actions aimed at fulfilling them must be incorporated into these objectives, with the support of standards, institutions and procedures that allow to achieve functionality. (3)

An environmental policy implies a challenge and, at the same time, a commitment from the State and not from a government; in addition to a deep social participation.

As part of an innovative concept, environmental from social should not be separated. We must be aware that social aspects are linked to the environment, just as the environment is linked to society. An environmental policy requires that citizens participate in the achievement of the proposed objectives. Achieving these objectives goes beyond incorporating changes of attitude in daily work practices, since it is also intended that citizens bring these new practices to their homes, apply them, and thus generate healthier, more sustainable environments, built with awareness, and especially thinking about the legacy that can be foreseen for future generations.

The concepts of governance and institutionality are fundamental for the construction of a sustainable environmental policy. (4) In short, it is about the set of political efforts to conserve the natural bases of human life and promote sustainability.

It is known that there is no general agreement on the principles of environmental policy and that different countries define it in their environmental laws. However, there are some generally accepted bases or principles that, in this case, are extracted from the General Environmental Law of Argentina (5), but that appear in many similar laws:

• Consistency: Provincial and municipal legislation must be adequate to national law.
• Prevention: The causes and sources of environmental problems will consider the negative effects on the environment.
• Precautionary: in the absence of information or scientific certainty of danger of serious or irreversible damage, the adoption of effective measures should not be postponed.
• Intergenerational equity: Those responsible for environmental protection must ensure the appropriate use of the environment by present and future generations.
• Progressivity: Environmental objectives should be achieved gradually, through goals projected on a schedule.
• Responsibility: The generator of degrading effects on the environment, current or future, is responsible for the costs of preventive and corrective restoration actions.
• Subsidiarity: The national State has the obligation to collaborate and participate in a complementary manner in the actions of individuals in the preservation and protection of the environment.
• Sustainability: Economic and social development and the use of natural resources must be carried out through management that does not compromise the possibilities of present and future generations.
• Solidarity: The Nation and the provincial States will be responsible for the prevention and mitigation of adverse transboundary environmental effects of their own actions, as well as for the minimization of environmental risks on shared ecological systems.
• Cooperation: Natural resources and shared ecological systems will be used in an equitable and rational manner, the treatment and mitigation of environmental emergencies with transboundary effects will be jointly developed.

Environmental planning strategies

For the Argentine case, for example, based on the information provided by the system of environmental indicators (6), taking into account the available local knowledge, a state call (in an associated Nation and provinces) must be made in each province, on a limited area of ​​them (for the initiative to be viable), in order to discuss with local producers and communities a sustainable strategy for local development and a process for the transfer of environmentally appropriate technology available in the country.

The idea is that if this strategy becomes planning with the binding participation of producers and communities and achieves successful results, it should be a point of reference for replication at the provincial level.

It is a planning strategy that goes from the particular to the general in execution and with a centralized policy conceptually by eco-region.

Within the framework of this strategy, for example, a confrontation is not proposed between soybeans and livestock, nor between agriculture and native forests, nor between preservation and development, but rather a concertation between interests that should be considered legitimate among them. All appropriated by the convocation of the State, which is the only source of legitimation in the constitutional order. Nothing could be further from the current Argentine reality.

The need to incorporate the environmental dimension, as well as citizen participation in the instruments of territorial ordering –which encompasses environmental planning- requires the use of new planning methodologies that promote a sustainable use of the territory, that is, reconciling economic interests, social, political and environmental, both in the short and long term. In the field of environmental evaluations, the methodological instrument called Strategic Environmental Evaluation begins to be increasingly applied in order to complement environmental protection and quality with economic and social development. This approach facilitates having a broad-spectrum vision that allows a rapid assessment of the impacts of territorial planning within the global framework of the proposed environmental quality objectives (7).

Components of environmental planning

Below is a table that shows the components of strategic environmental planning with their stages and components in terms of the aspects involved in the study to be carried out on the geographic space to be developed.

The administration of the environment includes the evaluation, planning, management or environmental management in an adequate way, trying to damage it as little as possible and making a sustainable use of natural resources. First you need to study and then plan until you reach the goal and manage.

Sustainability of environmental projects

The concept of sustainability from the point of view of the projects has an environmental dimension that is related to ensuring the living conditions of future generations. This dimension is very different from others of an economic and socio-organizational nature, although they are interrelated.

The preservation of living conditions for future generations implies, among others, executing a set of actions and measures that are generally grouped under the name of sustainable development.

The environmental dimension has many levels ranging from the micro level to the international level (rich countries complain about the decline of tropical forests located in less developed countries). This means that a variety of measures must be taken at many levels in order to achieve the goal of preserving the new generations, which makes it extremely complex.

It is necessary to point out that in terms of environmental measures, it fundamentally affects whether the social and administrative base is solid enough to sustain the measures adopted as a result of the execution of an environmental project.

Under the previous premise, the main cause of the lack of sustainability of environmental projects may be the unequal participation of people in the costs and benefits of the project, due to problems related to tenure and land use rights and traditional resources.

Therefore, it is necessary to take some measures such as the following:

• Effect the genuine integration of local communities and peoples into the planning and implementation of the project.
• Establish clear, long-term jurisdiction over the natural resource, emphasizing local participation in decision-making.
• Involve local leaders in protection, to avoid illegal exploitation or colonization.
• Provide alternatives to compensate, equitably, the local population that suffers losses.
• Protect important cultural landmarks and resource use patterns.

In short, generating environmental projects means putting sustainability into practice in the different environments and territories of a country, which will constitute a “sine qua non” condition for the well-being of its inhabitants.

Diana Duran. From the book. "Environmental projects and sustainability". New Paradigms Collection. Buenos Aires: Publishing Place, 2012.286 p. ISBN: 978-950-892-398-1.

The book "Environmental Projects and Sustainability" addresses the traces of the contemporary environment, through a critical synthesis of its complexity that will allow its recipients -students and teachers of related careers and the general population, interested in environmental problems-, understand it and Act accordingly.

Issues such as spatial planning, environmental planning and policy, environmental impact assessment, pollution control, environmental risks, project management and environmental education integrate the various chapters of the book with a comprehensive perspective.

The book may constitute a substantive tool for teacher and technical education and training, project management and environmental education.


(1) MATEO Rodríguez, José and others (2006). Environmental planning in urban territories: the case of the province of Havana (Caesar project) Faculty of Geography, University of Havana Faculty of Geography, University of Havana, Cuba.

(2) ARREDONDO GARCIA, María Concepción (2006) Multi-scalar model of indicators as a tool for environmental planning in the region of the Gulf of California. Doctoral thesis…

(3) FRERS, Cristian. (2008) How to develop an environmental policy.…

(4) FRERS, Cristian. (2009) The problem of a lack of environmental policy.… ..

(5) ARGENTINA. (2002) General Law of the Environment. Law No: 25675 - Legally protected asset. Sanctioned on 11/27/2002. Published in the Official Gazette of 11/28/2002

(6) ARGENTINA (2009) System of Environmental Indicators. Secretariat of the Environment of Argentina….

(7) RIVAS, Marcela. ZELEDÓN, J. (2002) Strategic environmental planning in Territorial Planning instruments. Case study: the Alto Aconcagua Intercommunal Regulatory Plan (PRIAA), San Felipe and Los Andes provinces, V region, Valparaíso, Chile. Projection Magazine Nº 2. Faculty of Philosophy and Letters. National University of Cuyo.

Video: RIO +5 u0026 RIO +10 u0026 RIO +20 kya hai. environment conference of parties agenda 21 (July 2021).