It’s rare that a week goes by without there being a report of negative consequences of decisions that have been made without due regard to their environmental impacts. From instances of localised contamination to international climate change impacts the repercussions of production and consumption patterns in developed and developing countries and of the public and private sector decision-making processes that underpin them are increasingly difficult to avoid.
The growing prevalence and magnitude of some of the consequences, such as flooding and drought exacerbated by climate change, have increased recognition that for economic growth to be viable related strategies and investments must be environmentally sustainable in the long-term. The main driver behind related plans tends to be the growing body of evidence that demonstrates that trade-offs are not necessary, rather that appropriate environmentally sustainable investments and development trajectories can contribute towards realising economic and social objectives. In the transport sector, for example, the ‘co-benefits’ of low carbon transport measures include enhanced road safety, time savings (including associated with lower congestion), reduced energy costs, improved energy security, increased social equity and inclusion, improved air quality, and the creation of more pleasant environments. Other incentives, particularly for developing countries, include access to a wider range of funding opportunities (such as climate finance) and dedicated technical assistance, and even the potential for some of interventions to catalyse transformation of all or part of a sector.
We apply our expertise to help institutions across the globe see environmental and climate change action for what it is - a great opportunity to promote economic growth and prosperity before we reach a tipping point that will exceed our capacity to adapt to environmental change. As multilateral development banks are facing increasing calls to track their progress towards how their investments are contributing towards, or working against, sustainability goals, and to consider adopting reforms regarding how finance is applied, we are working with governments at all stages of development to help them transition towards a model of growth that will bring economic benefits, improve equality and quality of life, and respect the delicate balance of ecosystems. This involves mainstreaming environmental considerations into all elements of an institution’s planning, budgeting and monitoring processes. The recommendations that we make to enhance the integration and implementation of optimal sustainable interventions vary widely according to context, but there are five factors that apply in all scenarios and guide our approach. These are introduced below.
Environmental protection must be addressed as a systemic challenge – most sustainability measures interface with strategies, policies and programmes in all sectors of the economy and are impacted by decisions made by diverse actors ranging from members of the public to Senior Ministers and business leaders. These linkages and the potential for related synergies and unintended impacts that they present must be understood and ‘designed in’ to any intervention adopted;
Environmental considerations need to be fully incorporated into the policy apparatus of governments – organisational frameworks, management structures, financial budgets and regulatory frameworks must provide an environment that is conducive to the ongoing development, implementation and continuous improvement of measures designed to improve environmental sustainability, and that is also attractive to private sector participation in the same;
Clear environmental sustainability goals must be set and linked to specific actions - concrete goals provide direction, motivation and cohesion in relation to achieving desired environmental outcomes. The clarity that can come from well communicated and tangible goals that are directly linked to robust action plans also enhances related accountability, commitment and mobilisation of associated resource;
Capacity building to empower decision-makers and policy-makers is essential – technical and applied knowledge is the foundation for developing, implementing and sustaining interventions that have environmental integrity and that exploit opportunities to enhance environmental outcomes. The creation of enduring capacities requires capacity building of institutions, individuals and communities;
Accurate, up-to-date and transparent data must be accessible – without a robust evidence base that can be interrogated to determine environmental, economic and social performance and the impacts of specific interventions both pre- and post- implementation it is not possible to produce informed strategies or action plans, and it can compromise even the ability to set meaningful goals.
Countries can realise many tangible and wide-ranging benefits by adhering to these five factors. Economic growth and negative environmental impacts can and are being decoupled, and with smart planning and decision-making it is possible to realise regional, national and local growth aspirations without reaching a tipping point beyond which the environment is unable to adapt.
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