Reimbursing the future: an evaluation of motivational, voluntary, price-based, property-right, and regulatory incentives for the conservation of biodiversity
Biodiversity Series, Paper No. 9
M.D. Young, N. Gunningham, J. Elix, J. Lambert, B. Howard, P. Grabosky and E. McCrone
CSIRO Division of Wildlife and Ecology, the Australian Centre for Environmental Law, and Community Solutions
Biodiversity Unit, Department of the Environment, Sport and Territories, 1996
ISBN 0 642 24429 4
Chapter 5: Institutional design principles
By far the greatest resource is people. At the local level, in any part of Australia, groups of people with common concerns or interests, whether they be Landcare groups, bush walking groups, birdwatchers, national parks volunteers, or simply volunteer 'working bee' groups, are the most valuable and efficient resource.215
As a nation, Australia has been under-investing in biodiversity conservation. Our case studies reveal that existing mechanisms have been insufficient to deliver effective biodiversity conservation or to encourage its ecologically sustainable use. Existing processes for protecting biodiversity have also been far from ideal, as have arrangements for funding. If we are to be successful in addressing the major threats to biodiversity and in meeting our national and international obligations, we need not only to develop new mechanisms and to improve the performance of existing ones, but also to design appropriate "delivery vehicles" and related funding strategies for biodiversity conservation. As argued in chapters 1 and 2, the most appropriate response is one that continues the construction of our protected area network and which complements this investment with a substantial effort to conserve biodiversity off-reserve.
The next three chapters address the processes (community and institutional) and the major instruments (motivational, voluntary, property right, price and regulatory) necessary to achieve Australia's biodiversity policy objectives. In particular, they provide a theoretical base for the recommendations that arise later in this report. They identify general guidelines and principles appropriate for building institutional capacity, for the design of an incentives-based biodiversity conservation strategy and for the funding of such a strategy.
Specifically, this chapter addresses the core issue of how to build an institutional framework conducive to the conservation and ecologically sustainable use of biodiversity – building institutional capacity. Chapter 6 deals with issues of how to encourage people to promote, and how to finance, the conservation of biodiversity – making it happen. Chapter 7 offers guidelines on how to combine the suite of available instruments and mechanisms in an optimal manner.
One innovation which has now entered into agriculture and several other sectors is the development of community-initiated and industry-initiated approaches to the resolution of tensions between the environment and the economy. The best known of these is the Landcare movement. Other examples include Waterwatch and Streamwatch. The Save the Bush and One Billion Trees schemes are examples of this type of model which relate specifically to biodiversity.
However, it would be as serious a mistake to concentrate exclusively upon "bottom up" processes based on community participation, and devolve all responsibility to the local level, as it would to design an entirely "top down" institutional structure which involved no community participation. The issue is not one of a stark either/or choice, but of finding the right balance between these two approaches, and of developing co-operative and co-management structures involving community, industry and government.
5.2.1 The role of government
While the participation of community and industry is obviously important for all the reasons listed above, there are also a number of vital contributions which can most effectively and sometimes only be made by government. Sometimes decisions made on a local level can be based on limited or very specific information. A case in point is the Giant Gippsland Earthworm – because people living in the area had seen the species in the past, and even seen it frequently, they found it difficult to accept that it is in fact a threatened species.216 In situations such as this, the involvement of central government can provide a valuable broad perspective, and ensure that irreversible decisions, like clearance of remnant vegetation, are not made without careful evaluation of all implications, including the ramifications of the precautionary principle (see Box 6.1 in Chapter 6). For reasons developed in Chapter 6, government must also set precautionary standards in a range of circumstances.
It is clear that even where implementation is devolved to regional or local level, there remains an important role for state and Commonwealth governments. This role is explicitly acknowledged by of the National Strategy for the Conservation of Australia's Biological Diversity, which calls for cooperation and coordination from all levels of government.217 From a biodiversity conservation perspective, the role for central governments is in:
- setting the agenda of broad policy objectives to be achieved;
- protecting broader public interests in ensuring, for example, that the many small decisions made at the local level do not result in an ecosystem type becoming rare or endangered;
- providing resources and distributing funds;
- building a safety net which can take over when local processes fail to conserve biodiversity;
- co-coordinating policy, in particular inter regional, state and national plans and strategies on biodiversity (which have had community input during development);
- ensuring biodiversity input into other government programs eg salinity, timber, mining, telecommunications;
- resourcing biodiversity research where that information is unlikely to be provided through the market;
- regulation (with community input into design);
- monitoring and accountability (keeping in mind the vital role community groups can have in this area); and
- establishing necessary institutional arrangements which will ensure meaningful community participation.
5.2.2 The Commonwealth Government's role
In seeking mechanisms that devolve responsibility in conjunction with the financial structures that make devolution possible, one option is to follow the process being used to improve opportunities for the ecologically sustainable use of Australia's native forests. Taking a regional approach, the Commonwealth has committed itself to setting regional targets consistent with agreed strategies and constraints. State Governments will then be expected to manage within those constraints. Under these types of arrangement, the Commonwealth and the state governments can devolve responsibility and accountability for achieving targets to local government, community groups, resource-management agencies and industry.
Moreover, in recognition of their greater understanding of local diversity, it is desirable that each level of government should set minimum standards for biodiversity protection, and no level of government should undermine the minimum standard set by another level of government, or a community or industry.218 In effect, this means that each community would be free to be more precautionary towards the prospect of irreversible losses in biodiversity than that required by higher levels of government and, on biodiversity grounds, alone over-ride economic development plans advocated by other levels in the hierarchy.
We suggest the much greater use of co-management structures that enable targets and strategy to be agreed jointly and simultaneously by all parties affected by a decision. As illustrated by our case studies, significant opportunities for co-management exist in the agriculture, ecotourism, fishing and water sectors.
5.2.3 The role of community and industry
The theoretical arguments for increased community and industry involvement are substantial. Community-initiated biodiversity protection harnesses local knowledge, which can be provided at minimal cost and can sometimes be invaluable (not all information about biodiversity is published in academic papers or exists in government files). Community involvement also creates ownership and pride in the solution to a problem. Generally, rules made by the parties affected directly will be based on more information than rules imposed from outside. Because these rules are developed against a richer information base they are likely to result in more efficient outcomes. The probability of compliance with those rules is also much higher, since people are more willing to acquiesce in solutions they have helped devise.219
Moreover, many decisions concerning biodiversity protection are taken against a backdrop of considerable scientific uncertainty and limited information. Where scientific knowledge is inadequate, centralised decisions lack credibility. Often the basis for decision making is not understood by local communities. In contrast, where decisions are taken locally, the credibility gap can be largely overcome, notwithstanding informational deficits. It is well known, for example, that it is wise to protect fish breeding areas, but often it is not known where these breeding areas are. A central-government decision to stop fishing in a breeding area because it might interfere with spawning may not be respected, but if the same decision is made by local fishers then the ultimate decision will have far greater legitimacy and is more likely to be self-enforced (see our fisheries case study in Appendix 2.4.) This may be crucial, given that central government's capacity to monitor and enforce all activities of a myriad of resource users, often in remote rural areas, is extremely limited. As a general rule, top-down processes require more information and information synthesis than bottom-up processes, and also tend to be less flexible and, as a result, more prone to administrative failure.
The fishery example mentioned above also illustrates the point that people learn by becoming involved. Once they are involved, their appreciation of the value of acting in the face of uncertainty and taking precautionary decisions increases. Because resource users have an incentive to work to improve the information available, industry-initiated solutions are also likely to be adaptive. In contrast, those initiated by government tend to produce blunt and inflexible responses, which may fail to deal with area-specific complexity and run the risk of alienating those who use natural resources.
Finally, the considerable leverage that community based-initiatives provide compares very favourably with central government directives in cost-benefit terms. Community-based initiatives often involve considerable contribution in the form of voluntary labour and privately financed investment while at the same time developing land-user awareness and motivation (see Box 5.1). One review of community projects in Victoria concluded that for every dollar given to the community, an additional eight dollars of contribution is generated, either in cash or kind.220 As the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Environment, Recreation and the Arts has pointed out:
Essentially, community groups are on the spot, implementing works on the ground in their local area. They are extremely cost effective and efficient, giving large amounts of valuable time and often personal resources as well.221
There are equally sound practical reasons for community involvement in biodiversity conservation. Perhaps the most convincing of these is the question of resourcing. The biodiversity we are seeking to protect is situated on all parts of the continent, and in the sea surrounding it. Government simply does not have the resources required to police the measures necessary to protect that biodiversity without the cooperation and involvement of the Australian community. Moreover, as biodiversity is usually protected by a focus on surrogate indicators – like restrictions on clearing rather than damage to ecosystem function – community commitment is doubly important. Without it local people will look for loopholes in national and/or statewide requirements. As a grazier in Charleville said "If you don't encourage primary producers to be part of the solution, rather than treating them as part of the problem, then they will keep doing what they know best".
Advocating the use of community-based programs is not intended to suggest that such systems are flawless. There may be some circumstances, such as local decisions concerning land use, where the dangers of corruption or capture by vested interests are a serious concern. A particular problem with local participation and decision-making arises directly out of the substantial gap that commonly exists between the private interests of landholders (eg in land clearing) and the public interest in biodiversity conservation. This is that:
landholders appear to rely on the David Suzuki aphorism "think globally, act locally." This is intended to inspire people to contemplate the state of the earth and be inspired to act locally to help. But many landholders say quite openly that in the overall picture of things, clearing their little bit won't make much difference. And they are right.222
This problem is particularly serious when decisions are so localised that decision makers have very direct and immediate self-interests that may conflict with their broader public responsibilities. Significantly, local government typically gives blanket support to clearance.
However, these problems can be substantially mitigated by a variety of means which are canvassed later in this chapter. They include devolving responsibility primarily to regional levels (where parochial self-interest is less likely to prevail), ensuring a diversity of interests are represented in the decision making process (including federal and state government and conservation interests), accountability mechanisms and transparency in decision making, and cross compliance.
Inevitably, the quality of resource conservation engendered by such a wide range of groups will be varied. Some local committees will be organised, motivated and innovative. Others may well be disorganised, demoralised and inefficient. But it is strongly arguable that this diversity provides considerable advantages, notwithstanding the fact that some initiatives will fail. For example, if the same problem is approached by many parties from many angles, it is far more likely that the most efficient solution will be reached by some, which will ultimately be of benefit to all.223 This has certainly been the experience of a major study on a series of regional plans for ground water preservation in California. This study concluded that the various schemes attempted were "diverse and complex, and some work better than others. That on balance they have worked well is significant; that so much effort has been applied to the task and that so much has been attempted is even more significant."224 The fact that mistakes will inevitably be made is less important than the fact that the groups which make those mistakes will "learn by doing". Learning by doing is a recommendation arising both from community consultations and from the Fisheries case study which draws attention to the benefits achievable from the use of adaptive approaches to resource management.
Obviously community-based initiatives will not be appropriate in all cases. For some mechanisms, like income tax policy for example, opportunities for community and industry involvement and decision making are limited and there is no viable alternative to central administration. However, in other areas, especially those associated with resource use, the opportunities for local involvement and for substantial "community-initiated" decision-making are substantial. For all the reasons identified earlier, such strategies are likely to be more effective and efficient than policies that are delivered from above. "Communities of common concern" can, and should, be nurtured to advantage. As one influential report put it:
unless local communities have the incentives, the capacities, and the latitude to manage biodiversity sustainably, national and international actions are unlikely to produce results. Thus, the policy reforms likely to have the greatest short-term impact on biodiversity conservation will be steps taken to create conditions for conservation locally.225
Mechanisms that encourage community initiative need less monitoring, are perceived by landholders as more equitable because they are voluntary, and are easily adapted to new situations. Their outcome in terms of effectiveness depends heavily upon government willingness to act upon the resulting recommendations and decisions.
Box 5.1 The contribution of voluntary groups – the case of Water Watchers
Water Watchers is a community group in the Serpentine Jarrah region in Western Australia, formed in 1990 to collect data on phosphorus loads in the district's water and to raise community awareness about the health of local waterways. The group was formed under the impetus of a local resident who was also a junior officer with the Office of Catchment Management, and was comprised primarily of female residents who were members of other community groups such as church groups and environmental action groups.
Water Watchers also established a children's group, known as Slug Busters, which operated in five primary schools in the area. These groups were supervised by a Water Watchers member in monitoring water quality and looking for the "slug" of nutrients which appeared in drains and streams. The Water Watchers had four stated aims which they achieved:
- Increased community awareness of nutrient runoff in the catchment – Water Watchers organised newspaper and radio coverage, and published the results of their surveys;
- Development of measuring methods for water quality and the generation of comparative information – comprehensive reports of water quality were made at 32 monitoring sites;
- Involvement of children, residents and landholders in water monitoring – approximately 150 children were involved in Slug Busters, and a diverse range of local residents took part in the monitoring activities; and
- Creation of a base for community action plans – the information collected by Water Watchers is being used by the Shire Council's Rural Strategy for the area.
The success of Water Watchers illustrates the potential for utilising the resources available in the community to deal with environmental problems. By providing a feeling of community cohesion, groups such as Water Watchers serve to both empower the residents of an area and provide information unobtainable by limited government resources. As one Water Watchers participant put it, "the EPA was told to sit up and take notice - they were quite amazed that this information had come from a group of women playing in the water in the creeks of Byford."
Source: Carr, A. (1992) Community participation on water quality monitoring: The case of Water Watchers. Centre for Resource and Environmental Studies Australian National University Working Paper.
5.2.4 Decision-making processes and accountability
Community planning and implementation processes will only be effective if the community perceives that the structures used have been formulated in a legitimate manner. Attaining legitimacy is a challenging task which involves both the processes by which local people are consulted or involved in decision-making, and accountability mechanisms.
The diagram in Box 5.2 outlines the pathways by which consultation and decision making processes could be implemented. Some programs would work through states, others through local government or non-government organisations and a third group directly through individuals and/or communities. Efforts would be made to devolve national responsibilities to states, regions and local governments. Generally, the approach that we recommend is one that nests expectations and obligations within a structure that involves people and devolves accountability with responsibility.
Decision making processes
As illustrated in Box 5.2, there are many pathways by which the incentive instruments we describe in Chapter 6 can be applied to conserve biodiversity. Alternatives to the centralised top-down approach include:
- co-management models where community, industry and government representatives make final decisions on a collective basis;
- nested decision-making structures that set state, regional and local targets to be achieved and devolve responsibility for achieving those targets to the appropriate level in a non prescriptive manner;
- strong advisory councils and committees whose recommendations are rarely over-ridden; and
- strong local management structures such as those often found in local government.
In choosing between possible administrative models, complex trade-offs need to be considered: for example between establishing and utilising local bodies (close to the community) and establishing and utilising regional bodies (the level at which threats to biodiversity may be best addressed); between increasing the size of such bodies to broaden representation and reducing management costs and maintaining accountability;226 between giving local and regional bodies decision-making capabilities and risking the fact that their decisions may not necessarily be in the national biodiversity interest.
Unfortunately, because of these tensions, and because different models are likely to suit different purposes, no single model is likely to meet all needs, to be appropriate to all circumstances, or to be capable of implementing all instruments of biodiversity protection. For example, a model which may be appropriate to rangelands may be quite different from one which is likely to be suitable for the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park (where the Commonwealth Government and State Governments may play a dominant role) or for Land Conservation Council work in the Victorian Mallee (where a focus on public lands may limit local government involvement).
In each case, critical considerations will be whether a new or existing body is to have an advisory or decision-making (including a regulatory) role. In general, bodies that have decision-making power will have more credibility and be more motivated than those which have only advisory functions. For example, in the case of integrated or total catchment management there was, in the initial implementation period, an ambiguity about the role of Community Catchment Groups or similar bodies, with the community believing that they were intended to be involved in decision-making, and state officials holding the view that their role was purely advisory. This not only angered local people, but also resulted in the groups losing legitimacy in the eyes of the people most affected by their decisions.227
By actively engaging community bodies in decision making, and making clear the extent of their role from the outset, it is more likely that such groups will gain credibility, and thus support from the community. Communities are more adept at recognising the applied value of information than centralised bodies, and providing they are constrained to avoid compromising broader objectives, they are more likely to make efficient and equitable decisions. When national and state obligations need to be considered with local issues, co-management models have the considerable virtue of bringing together representatives of all key interests within a structure that facilitates the resolution of competing interests.228
In circumstances where it is not desirable or practicable to establish a regional or local body with decision-making power, then legitimacy can be strengthened by mandating that certain consultative processes be followed. A board, for example, can be required to publicise draft proposals widely and formally consider the views of certain bodies. The recent NSW Fishery Management Act, for example, requires the Commercial Fishing Advisory Council to forward copies of any proposition it puts to the Minister to the Recreational Fishing Advisory Council.
Finally, cooperative partnership at local or regional level, has to be combined with arrangements that enable central government to ensure that national and international considerations are recognised (see above). It also requires that policy changes be made in sufficient time for errors to occur without serious irreversible consequences. This suggests that institutional changes need to precede or accompany the introduction of new instruments and the development of off-reserve biodiversity conservation strategies. Most existing institutional structures and processes in Australia have been developed for different purposes and have functioned in this mode for a long time.229 Deeply embedded in the administrative culture and without change, these structures and processes are unlikely to be able to detect problems in a timely manner. Modifications to institutional processes will be required if timely responses are to be made possible, as well as to foster an off-reserve focus.
One Australian example of a co-management decision-making structure is the South Australian Pastoral Board that includes people nominated by different Ministers, industry and conservation organisations (see Box 5.3). Another example can be found in the Fisheries case study where a case for co-management of fishery resources is advocated as a means to increase the probability of compliance with management decisions in an environment where enforcement of some conditions is expensive. An added consideration is the unit chosen for management. This case study observes that from a biodiversity perspective, management would be more effective if it was by ecosystem rather than by species.
Another contemporary, and apparently successful approach adopting this model (operating at a regional as distinct from a local level) has been the SEQ 2001 Project. The SEQ 2001 Project utilised a Regional Planning Advisory Group (RPAG) to prepare a "Framework for Managing Growth" in South East Queensland. The RPAG served as a vehicle for facilitating a bottom-up collaborative process, with initiatives and priorities defined by a broad cross-section of the community. The Group included Commonwealth Government, State Government and local government, professional, community, environment, business/industry and union sector representatives. The representative structure of RPAG ensured that a wide range of perspectives were considered. The project owes its alleged success largely to the partnerships that have been achieved "between all levels of government and relevant community interest groups".231 The project outcomes are currently being implemented through sub-regional structure plans and organisations of Councils, with assistance from special government resource units.
The experience of catchment committees may also be instructive in designing participatory models. Catchment committees develop strategic plans for management of the catchment, identify the key issues and priorities, consult widely, then circulate these plans to the local community and government. Local and state government sign off on the plan and are then committed to the consequences of implementing that plan. Such a participatory model is consistent with both the recommendations of the Commonwealth Taskforce on Regional Development (1993) and of the Prime Minister's Working Nation Statement (1994).232
It must be emphasised that a community-initiated approach cannot succeed, nor can it gain legitimacy, unless it is adequately resourced. This is one of the clearest messages to emerge from community consultation and from the Landcare experience. Campbell233 argues that inadequate funding may seriously undermine the early success of this alternative community-initiated approach to resource conservation. Resourcing is particularly important to facilitate genuine community participation. Thus mechanisms that reimburse people for net participation costs are likely to enable people to give fuller consideration to all issues and trade-offs than those that rely on altruistic concerns.234 Mechanisms that reduce participation costs have similar effects.
In the situation of biodiversity conservation, the case for adequate funding of community initiatives from the outset is even more compelling than for Landcare. In the case of the latter, land users have some demonstrable self-interest in land conservation, and therefore some incentive to engage in voluntary community initiated schemes. Their self interest in biodiversity conservation is, with limited exceptions, far less, with the result that community-based schemes may simply not get off the ground in the absence of adequate external resourcing.
If a decision-making role is to be given to local communities, to industry or to co-management structures, and if such bodies are to be entrusted with taxpayers' money, then their accountability becomes crucial. There are a variety of ways in which accountability can be achieved. One mechanism is the establishment of goals and the identification of performance indicators235 against which levels of success can be measured. The establishment of such performance criteria will also assist the groups themselves by providing guidelines for their objectives and aims. It will also be necessary to establish reporting rules coupled with periodic independent auditing processes. The reasons for this are twofold. Firstly, reporting and audit requirements would ensure transparency, which is an important factor in accountability. Secondly, if the structure in question is not one which has been created to deal exclusively with biodiversity concerns, such requirements are a simple way of ensuring that the issue remains a priority. An example of this approach is the legislative requirement for NSW local government, to prepare state of the environment reports for the Environmental Protection Agency.
Cross-compliance – the provision of support for one objective subject to compliance with another – can also play an important role in this regard. It forces agencies to collate the necessary information to demonstrate, in a transparent manner, that they are meeting required objectives in social programs. If central government funds and grants are to be tied to the fulfilment of identified objectives, the bodies dependent upon that funding would be forced to be more accountable and the outcome of their decisions would be more certain.
Equally important will be the transparency of regional and local decision-making processes and of their implementation. This will not only enable community scrutiny but will also allow community groups to "blow the whistle" should there be any hint of resources being misused. The ultimate sanction in the case of serious abuse of power could be the capacity for central government to relieve the decision-making body of its functions, replacing it with an administrator pending the appointment of a replacement body.
Box 5.3 A co-management model – the South Australian Pastoral Board
The Pastoral Board of South Australia, under the general direction of the Minister is responsible for virtually all land management decisions about the state's pastoral lands. Amongst other things, the Board has power to order that part or all of a lease be destocked and to change lease conditions. A co-management model is used to make such decisions.
The Board comprises persons appointed in the following manner:
- The Minister for Lands appoints a person with wide experience in land administration;
- The Minister for Agriculture appoints a person with wide experience in soil conservation;
- The Minister for Environment appoints a person with wide experience in land administration and ecology of pastoral lands;
In addition, the Minister responsible for the Act appoints one person chosen from a panel of three put forward by the pastoral industry and one person chosen from a panel of three put forward by the state's peak conservation body. The Governor appoints the Board's chair. The Act requires the State to implement decisions made by the Board.
Source: South Australian Pastoral and Land Management Act.230
5.2.5 The regional context
From a biodiversity perspective, community-based decision-making is likely to be most effective if it begins at the regional level in a manner that is aware of national and international considerations. This is because the threats to biodiversity most commonly express themselves within a region. Indeed, on one view, it is a bioregion236 which forms the most appropriate unit for decision-making, because it enables
an appreciation of the inherent ecosystem diversity to be conserved within each broad geographic unit that is responding to a particular set of environmental determinants; the use of a scale that is practical in terms of nature conservation and land use planning; and recognition of the major threats to biodiversity on a regional basis and possible interrelationships with other land management issues.237
In many cases the region may be best defined in terms of its catchment, because a catchment provides a logical and natural planning unit, with readily identifiable boundaries and characteristic patterns of water movement.238
However, since many attributes of biodiversity cross regional, state and even national boundaries, it is clearly not appropriate that all planning should be located at a community level – some decisions at least, necessarily and directly involve Commonwealth and state government. Nevertheless, the broader principle which we draw from the earlier part of this chapter is that the Commonwealth and state government roles will be most efficient and effective if they use instruments and mechanisms that encourage local governments, industry and community to accept these broader responsibilities (the principle of subsidiarity.)239
One way of achieving this assumption of responsibility is to set targets that must be achieved by those responsible for protecting biodiversity. Another way is to specify the nature of decisions that must be taken in consultation with state and/or the Commonwealth Government. The move by the Commonwealth and state governments to negotiate comprehensive regional forest agreements is one example of the benefits of processes that pursue subsidiarity.
It is important to avoid an inflexible approach, and to recognise that there may be circumstances where community decision-making should be local rather than regional. There may be grounds, for example, for locating both biodiversity and implementation decision-making more narrowly at local council level, if this is the level at which there is a "community of common concern", but even then, regional oversight will usually be necessary. Similarly, it may sometimes be appropriate, for instance, to divide a catchment into an upper area and a lower area, or even into smaller divisions if this is necessary to generate effective local involvement. The Lockyer Watershed Management Association in Queensland, for example, suffered from low response from lowland irrigators until the watershed was divided into ten sub-groups "each focusing on the common interests and problems of different groups within the valley."240 In other cases, an industry-focused structure may be more appropriate.
Adding to this consideration is the fact that bioregions rarely coincide with other administrative boundaries like those used by local government and for the management of natural resources like forests, fish and rangelands. The size and nature of a "region" will also vary with the types of threat and land use and with the socio-economic context.241 Consideration of broader national and international considerations adds another layer of complexity. Tuna swim from Western Australia to Victoria. Australia has an agreement with China that covers 81 migratory bird species, some of which have breeding grounds which are located in Siberia.
This inevitable international element to biodiversity conservation is one more reason why central government has a vital role to play in the implementation of any proposed institutional design for conservation. The Commonwealth government has both national and international obligations concerning biodiversity protection and also holds most of the significant purse-strings. However, it does not follow that it also needs to be intimately involved in all aspects of the programs intended to meet those obligations. Indeed, as identified above, there are compelling reasons why the Commonwealth's role, in respect of some instruments at least, should be that of steering the boat rather than rowing it.
5.2.6 Existing and alternative institutional arrangements
Earlier, it was argued that currently utilised institutional structures and processes are insufficient to conserve biodiversity, especially in respect to off-reserve conservation. This deficiency can be addressed either by using and adapting existing structures or, alternatively, building new ones. Of these two approaches, the former – adapting existing structures – is likely to be most effective, especially if these structures are guided and nested within oversight mechanisms that account for broader considerations.242 The obvious first reason is the resultant savings in administrative costs. Another, less obvious reason, is that many of the threats to biodiversity are associated with decisions made by these bodies. In virtually all cases, it is more efficient to modify the existing bodies or processes than to superimpose new ones upon them. As a consequence of this, we recommend that, as a general principle, devolution of responsibility to regional or local levels be achieved by using and adapting existing administrative structures. We recommend this principle because many of the causes of biodiversity loss – habitat loss, urban and rural pollution, altered fire regimes, climate change – originate from decisions made by existing organisations.
Having said this, it must be pointed out that existing bodies have existing (and sometimes entrenched) cultures, which by and large do not embrace biodiversity conservation values. It would be naive to assume that cultural change will come about quickly or easily, particularly if taking account of biodiversity conservation runs counter to the core functions of the institution.243 Accordingly, if biodiversity conservation is to be added to the functions of existing institutions, it is crucial that they be given incentives to do so,244 that their decisions be transparent, and that there be performance indicators and other accountability mechanisms capable of assessing their performance in their new role.
The action of superimposing new structures on top of old ones does not address the underlying cause. In most cases, the underlying causes of threats to biodiversity are embedded in an existing policy. In the Macquarie Marshes, for example, restrictions on water use prevent landholders from using available water in ways that increase biodiversity values (see Appendix 2.2). In such circumstances, the most efficient solution is to encourage those who formulate irrigation policy to accept responsibility for biodiversity and seek to change the policies they administer. The addition of biodiversity conservation to the responsibilities of other agencies will give them an incentive to acquire the skills necessary to manage for, maintain and, ultimately increase biodiversity values.
Effectiveness in decision-making can be enhanced by differentiating between strategic planning and implementation processes. With attention to the consultation processes, plans formulated at a regional scale can be implemented at a local scale.245
5.2.7 Local government
One existing body capable of being harnessed for biodiversity conservation is local government, which has the potential (not always realised) to be more sensitive than central government to community needs. It also sustains a higher direct cost from land degradation than central governments.246 For these reasons, local government could play a significant role in biodiversity, a role emphasised in Agenda 21 and elsewhere.247 However, for reasons indicated earlier, there are also considerable dangers in using local government unless there are substantial accountability and other balancing mechanisms.
Other bodies capable of being adapted to enhance biodiversity conservation include Landcare, Catchment Committees and many of the non-government organisations already active in working for biodiversity conservation. Resource management agencies like the Murray Darling Commission also have a role to play as do the many extension officers employed in state departments of agriculture.
As indicated in the case studies and in the following chapters, if industry seeks to conserve biodiversity then the prospects for achieving this goal are high. This is particularly important when industries operate and negotiate policy positions at different scales to those adopted by communities. The transport industry, for example, operates at a national, state and local level and has jurisdiction for arguably more biodiversity than any other organisation. Whilst the data has never been assembled, it is clear that the nation's roads, railways and stock routes contain significant examples of ecosystems and species not represented within any reserve (see Box 5.4) Other industries where these considerations are important include agriculture, tourism and forestry. Building a matrix of mechanisms that link industry ownership of responsibility for biodiversity with community ownership of biodiversity in a consistent manner is a challenge. If successful, however, the effectiveness of a move toward more community participation will create a true sense of co-operative partnership with a high degree of motivation. The main mechanisms used to do this are protocol and strategic arrangements.
Box 5.4 The road industry and biodiversity
Australia's roads (and railways) pass through many ecosystems and contain many endangered species not adequately represented in our reserve network. The actual value and contribution of roadside verges and reserves has yet to be assessed but it is clear that many of these areas offer a powerful means to build linkages between remnants and conserve endangered flora and fauna.
Research by the Australian Road Research Board248 suggest that "responsibility for and jurisdiction to control the environmental effects of road construction, use and maintenance is ... fragmented; and consequently best practice environmental management and the pursuit of the ideals of 'ecologically sustainable development' may be compromised by an uncertain duplicity, absence or ignorance of legal and administrative controls."
Addressing the problem the Board249 has proposed that a protocol system be developed to bring leadership to the delicate inter-agency, inter-government and interdisciplinary situation. Arguing, in effect for a matrix approach to management where all participants have ownership, they propose a Protocol Core that will set out agreed national objectives and industry commitments to biodiversity conservation; Protocol Chapters which commit interdependent agencies and groups to specific actions coupled with Management Arrangements to allow work to proceed. These protocols and agreements would seek to cover all who affect and are affected by roadside biodiversity including the tourism industry who benefit, electricity and telephone companies, adjoining landholders, power companies, all levels of government and relevant non-government agencies.
Effective implementation of incentive-based mechanisms requires subsidiarity: the transfer of authority and responsibility for aspects of the strategy to the lowest level at which it can be exercised effectively. This implies consultation and often the direct participation of the community and industry in decision making and implementation at local or regional level. This is essential not only because ultimately all conservation occurs at local level, but also because the success of biodiversity protection programs depends to a substantial extent on the attitudes of local people, on the capacity to harness local knowledge, and on local ownership of solutions locally devised.
Accordingly, effective institutional structures encourage communities and industry to participate in biodiversity conservation programs. At the same time, these programs also require government participation, as there are a number of institutional requirements which cannot be carried out by the community, or on a completely local level.
Effective local or regional participation cannot be achieved unless the decision-making and consultative processes themselves have legitimacy. This requires the creation of appropriate co-management and consultative arrangements at regional and local level, coupled with effective oversight and accountability mechanisms. More broadly, the principles that emerge in building institutional capacity are that:
- community-initiated and industry-initiated responses to declines in biodiversity value are likely to be more effective than government-initiated ones;
- there is a role for central governments in building the institutional structures that empower local communities, providing access to the instruments necessary for their operation and in fixing problems when local initiatives fail;
- community planning and implementation processes will only be effective if they have legitimacy. In this respect, representation of stakeholder groups, direct community involvement, transparency and accountability will be crucial;
- community-based decision-making is likely to be most effective if it begins at regional level;
- in implementing policies at the regional level it would be efficient, where practicable, to build on existing decision-making structures rather than create new ones;
- a community-oriented approach cannot succeed, nor can it gain legitimacy, unless it is fully resourced;
- communities and industries must be given incentives to initiate their own biodiversity conservation programs;
- other incentive-based mechanisms, must, of necessity, be administered by central government; and
- when designing institutional structures and processes, the motivational and information efficiency benefits of subsidiarity – the transfer of authority and responsibility for biodiversity to the lowest level that it can be exercised – should be recognised.
215. House of Representatives Standing Committee on Environment, Recreation and the Arts (1992) Biodiversity: The contribution of community based programs, p72-73.
216. Crosthwaite, J. (1995) Personal communication. 25/8/95.
217. ANZECC Task Force on Biological Diversity (1993) National strategy for the conservation of Australia's Biological Diversity. Department of the Environment, Sport and Territories, Canberra, p6.
218. This would mean, for example, in NSW fisheries where some is controlled by the state and some by the Commonwealth government through the Australian Fish Management Authority (AFMA), either could stop all fishing in an area on the grounds that the area was not able to sustain the pressures being placed on its biodiversity.
219. Blomquist, W. (1992) Dividing the Waters. ICS Press, San Francisco.
220. Huthwaite, P. (1995) 'Incentives for Landcare; Proceedings of 25th Outlook Conference.' Commodity markets and natural resources. Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics, Canberra, pp182-189.
221. House of Representatives Standing Committee on Environment, Recreation and the Arts (1992) Biodiversity: The contribution of community based programs, p72-73.
222. Bradsen, J. (1994) 'Vegetation clearance controls in South Australia.' Paper delivered to Fenner Conference Sustainability: Principles and Practice, Canberra, November
223. For the full benefit of such a system to be achieved, it is vital that the individual approaches are transparent and that there is clear communication and education to ensure that all interested parties are made aware of all options. A 1995 study commissioned by the Department of Primary Industry and Energy has suggested that local governments in Australia are, by and large, unfamiliar with the environmental initiatives and approaches adopted by their counterparts. This is a situation which should be avoided if possible.
224. Blomquist, W. (1992) Dividing the Waters. ICS Press, San Francisco.
225. World Resources Institute; World Conservation Union and the United Nations Environment Program; (1992) Global biodiversity strategy: Guidelines for action to save, study and use Earthís biotic wealth, sustainably and equitably. Paris, France., p24.
226. Large bodies may become so unwieldy as to inhibit effective decision-making. It may become difficult to arrange meetings, to establish rapport between members, or to ensure that members believe their vote will count, thereby generating responsibility and accountability.
227. Mitchell, B. and Hollick, M. (1993) 'Integrated catchment management in Western Australia: Transition from concept to implementation.' Environmental Management 17(6):735-743, p736.
228. Arguably, all major stakeholders and interests must be directly represented on the decision-making body, including in particular, land users and conservationists. It might also be valuable to include scientific or other expertise.
229. See the distinction made by David Farrier between land, native vegetation and biodiversity conservation in Farrier, D. (1995) 'Policy instruments for conserving biodiversity on private land.' In Bradstock, J. (ed) Conserving biodiversity: Threats and solutions. Surrey Beatty and Sons, Chipping Norton. Forthcoming.
230. Pastoral Land Management and Conservation Act No. 51 of 1989, South Australia.
231. Elix J. and Lambert J. (1995) Bioregional planning for biodiversity conservation: Discussion paper. Unpublished Report to Department of the Environment, Sport and Territories, p46.
232. See Commonwealth of Australia, (1994) Working nation: The white paper on employment and growth. Presented by Prime Minister P.J. Keating, 4th May 1994. Australian Government Publishing Service Canberra and Taskforce on Regional Development (1993) Developing Australia: A regional perspective – Report to the Federal Government. Canberra.
233. Campbell, A. (1994) Landcare: Communities shaping the land and the future. Allen and Unwin, Sydney, p267.
234. Net participation costs because some private benefits will flow from participation.
235. Keeping in mind the difficulties of providing concrete performance criteria, and of making blanket statements about possibly widely varying practical situations, it is suggested that a viable system should, as a minimum, address the following performance factors:
- compliance – with minimum safe standards and possibly also with voluntarily agreed local quotas/aims.
- effectiveness – measurable quantitative results in resource management and protection.
- efficiency – in an economic sense; that no alternative arrangement would result in less economic waste or improve welfare ie administration costs etc.
- equity – in regard to distributional considerations.
- adaptability – aims and goals will change with levels of knowledge about the resources concerned.
236. A bioregion for these purposes may be defined as an area: large enough to maintain the integrity of its biological communities, habitats and ecosystems; having cultural identity and a sense of home to its local residents; containing a mosaic of land uses; and having components that are dynamic and interactive (World Resources Institute; World Conservation Union and the United Nations Environment Program (1992) Global biodiversity strategy: Guidelines for action to save, study and use Earth's biotic wealth, sustainably and equitably. Paris, France, Chapter VII).
237. Elix J. and Lambert J. (1995) Bioregional planning for biodiversity conservation: Discussion paper. Unpublished Report to Department of the Environment, Sport and Territories, p24.
238. Irwin, F. and Williams I.R. (1986) 'Catchments as planning units.' Journal of Soil Conservation (NSW) 42(1) p7. However, we should keep in mind the limits of Total or Integrated Catchment Management Plans when used for this purpose, in that they are "currently focused on the productive aspects of land management, and... are not well coordinated in a planning sense, across local and state government boundaries" Elix J. and Lambert J. (1995) Bioregional planning for biodiversity conservation: Discussion paper. Unpublished Report to Department of the Environment, Sport and Territories, p83.
239. This is a term used by the European Community to describe the process by which the authority for aspects of a strategy is transferred to the lowest level at which it can be effectively exercised.
240. Chapman, C. (1994) 'Integrated catchment management and agricultural communities.' Australian Journal of Soil and Water Conservation 7(2): p3.
241. Note that "different regionalisations are likely to be appropriate for different priority issues" Commonwealth EPA (1992) Development of a national state of the environment reporting system: Discussion paper. Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, p14.
242. See further the Commonwealth Taskforce on Regional Development (1993) which went to great lengths to avoid suggesting a fourth sphere of government or the establishment of new layers of bureaucracy. The concept of utilising existing regional groupings of local government to undertake environmental planning at a regional level is being explored by the Australian Association of Local Government (ALGA) which is using Commonwealth funding under the Regional Environment Employment Project (REEP) to develop guidelines for the preparation of regional environmental strategies and facilitate a number of pilot projects around Australia.
243. See for example, Farrier, D. (1995) 'Implementing in-situ conservation.' Paper delivered to Environmental Treaties Conference, Darwin, July 1995. Farrier points out that organisations focussed on land or native conservation cannot readily accommodate to biodiversity conservation objectives.
244. For example, State of the Environment Reporting obligations on local government have served to sensitise them to environmental issues. Tying grants of money to biodiversity performance is another obvious incentive.
245. Choice of the most appropriate scale for planning also depends on the uses to which an area is being put.
246. Campbell, A. (1992) Landcare in Australia. National Landcare Facilitator, Third Annual Report, p36.
247. See in particular, UN Conference on Environment and Development (1993) Agenda 21: the Earth Summit strategy to save our planet. Earth Press, Boulder, Colorado.
248. Bates, G. (1995) 'Jurisdiction in relation to biodiversity on roadsides.' Report prepared for Transport Research Limited, Sustainable Development Series. Australian Road Research Board Working Document 95/003.
249. Farmar-Bowers, Q. (1995) 'Is there a road industry responsibility for biological diversity?' Australian Road Research Board Working Document 95/002.