Strategic partnerships - SRJS
Cooperation in the Shared Resources, Joint Solutions programme
From 2017 to 2020, the NCEA was knowledge partner on environmental assessment in the Shared Resources, Joint Solutions (SRJS) programme, a strategic partnership of IUCN NL, WWF NL and the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. SRJS worked with CSO partners across the world in 26 landscapes that provide ecosystem services essential for local communities and broader economic development. SRJS trained and assisted CSOs to play their role in integrated landscape management and facilitated multi-stakeholder cooperation. Among many other approaches, SRJS explored Environmental and Social Impact Assessment and Strategic Environmental Assessment as tools to enhance multi-stakeholder dialogues.
Environmental assessment in SRJS
After four years of practice and experience in different forms and settings, SRJS’ work on ESIA and SEA shows that transparency and inclusiveness did improve in many cases. The link with formal decision making opened new avenues and partnerships to SRJS partners that previously did not exist. It stimulated cooperation with government authorities, whom in turn came to understand the importance of engaging civil society and have come to value their contributions in decision making processes. Dialogues have become more impartial and partners more credible.
Of course, challenges remain, and commitment does not come overnight. These processes take time, require listening and conscious effort. They also require funding, which should come at least partly from the responsible authorities themselves. But the consensus is that this is a worthwhile investment which pays itself back through better quality, more transparent and more accountable decisions.
More specifically, the SRJS partners worked on three categories of activities: work on ESIA for projects, starting SEA processes, and advanced application of SEA.
ESIA for projects
In Benin, Suriname, Uganda and Zambia, SRJS partners worked on ESIA for projects. Many invested in creating a more transparent decision-making process and in strengthening the role of CSOs in the assessment and review phases. While CSOs have become more aware of their convening role and more experienced in how to influence ESIA processes, authorities from their side have come to recognise civil society as skilled and serious parties in those processes: “There is now more pressure to do things better”, as one SRJS partner put it. Because of these results, there is now more awareness on the importance of transparency and dialogue during the ESIA phase but also during project implementation.
All cases show that ESIA helped improve dialogue and cooperation. CSOs contact authorities to listen to what they are saying. Relations with private sector improve. Government and civil society work together on developing sector guidelines. Government actively invites civil society to comment on ESMPs and resettlement action plans.
Starting with SEA process
In many countries, Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) is still completely or relatively new. In Burkina Faso, Madagascar and Tanzania, SRJS partners started to work on SEA for the first time. Investing in partnership is clearly at the core of starting SEA processes. Without trust among the stakeholders that are engaged in the development of a plan, it is hard to reach inclusive, sustainable decisions. It takes time, but SRJS partners feel it to be worthwhile, not only for the planning process at hand, but for other or future activities as well.
Case: ESIA for oil production in Uganda
Since 2012, the Ugandan government and the oil companies operating in Uganda have been trying to fast-track oil production in the Albertine Graben, a sensitive and biodiverse area of international importance and provisioner of services such as water, food, and climate resilience. In 2018, an ESIA report was submitted to Uganda’s Environment Authority NEMA for the Tilenga oil project. Consequently, NEMA invited the public to review and make written comments on the Tilenga ESIA report.
From 2017, the SRJS programme worked with the Africa Institute for Energy Governance AFIEGO and CSO partners to build their capacity to review and monitor ESIA reports and certificates of approval. That was timely, as now these CSOs were able to engage in the review of the Tilenga ESIA. They participated in public hearings, managed to involve their leaders, and submitted written comments on the ESIA reports to NEMA. Previously, citizens would not be aware of mitigation plans. Now, authorities, developers ánd citizens are talking about their implementation, monitoring and compliance. This makes the decision-making process much more inclusive and transparent.
For Tilenga, the CSOs and other stakeholders identified several gaps in the ESIA report. These gaps were not all satisfactorily addressed before project approval. AFIEGO and CSO partners therefore continue to monitor the implementation and compliance of certificate of approval.
With input from Dickens Kamugisha, AFIEGO, Uganda
Looking back, SRJS partners recognise multi-stakeholder platforms as important in starting SEA processes. They help ensure that CSOs, governments and private sector are involved in the process jointly, at the same time.This is the foundation of building trust and understanding where other views are coming from. It helps create a sense of joint responsibility and ownership. In all cases partners mention that a neutral facilitator – in this case the NCEA - helps in connecting different stakeholders that do not traditionally find each other or recognise or respect each other’s roles
Advanced application of SEA
In Indonesia, Mali and the Philippines, SRJS partners concluded one or more SEA processes. Important factors mentioned in all three cases were inclusiveness, commitment by government, and an impartial, facilitated process.
Inclusiveness: SEA provided the opportunity to engage stakeholders that would otherwise not have the chance to be involved in decision making. This refers to broad inclusivity, including different levels of government, owner and user groups, age groups and a good gender and cultural balance. In all cases an elaborate and participatory stakeholder mapping was done.
Government commitment was found to be essential for the effectiveness of SEA in influencing decision-making. This happens in several ways: Where SEA is a requirement by law, there is a link with a formal planning process. This motivates government to do a good SEA. Also, SEA was more effective where it involved governments at the appropriate levels and where it invested in dialogue between these levels. And in all three SRJS cases, part of the funding came from external sources, but always in combination with funding from the government itself. This shows commitment to get results.
An impartial process: for SEA to be effective and credible, it needs to be a process that is well designed and professionally facilitated, preferably by a neutral facilitator. In many instances, the NCEA brought this neutrality into the process, which helped convince governments and other stakeholders to kick-off SEA and start an impartial debate. In all cases, a strong CSO acted as a driving force throughout the process. They helped convince decisionmakers to do the SEA and acted as mediator, facilitator, and coordinator. This driving force pushes the process and makes government recognise the constructive role of CSOs in good governance. An important lesson learned and result that is likely to last beyond the individual SEA and planning process
Role of NCEA
In the SRJS programme, the NCEA acted as resource person, independent advisor, trainer, coach, or neutral facilitator in ESIA and SEA processes. Depending on the needs in a specific landscape, SRJS partners asked the NCEA to play a specific role. This flexible, demand-driven and context-specific support allowed for an effective approach.
SRJS partners had already reflected on the challenges and benefits of working with environmental assessment in landscape management in a joint publication with the NCEA. On the role of the NCEA specifically, the following observation was made:
“In all countries where SRJS partners decided to work on ESIA and SEA, a link was sought with the competent authority on environmental assessment, and thus a link with formal planning and decision making. The NCEA would then accompany both the competent authority and the CSOs in the process. Collaboration with the NCEA in the use of ESIA and SEA in the landscape approach has been essential. Their role of neutral facilitator and trainer helped build trust in the process and between participants.”
In addition, after SRJS ended, WWF NL and IUCN NL looked back at the cooperation with the NCEA as follows:
“Overall, we would say that the NCEA put a great effort in introducing and strengthening SEA and ESIA as promising tools for civil society to influence government planning. By doing this the NCEA contributed to the increased engagement of local CSOs in strategic planning processes in various countries of the SRJS-programme. We are very satisfied with the role of the NCEA, and how they helped us to introduce and learn about SEA and ESIA in the SRJS program.”
“The NCEA staff is very knowledgeable both on the content of SEAs and of the place of SEA in a country’s legal framework. Moreover, the staff is accessible for the CSOs. This means that the CSOs have trust and easily approach the staff with questions. NCEA is working in a professional way and therefore remained [sic] its independent position. Government appreciates and values the knowledge and position of NCEA. The practice of facilitating workshops with participants from both CSOs and the government is a good way to encourage collaboration between the two”.
The external evaluators of the SRJS programme, also specifically mentioned the NCEA as a valuable partner in SRJS:
“Within SRJS, all partners have broadened their horizons to forge coalitions with likeminded people and engage stakeholders with different views. This would not have been possible without the support of valued partners such as the Netherlands Commission for Environmental Assessment, the Dutch Association of Investors for Sustainable Development, the International Institute for Environment and Development and the international chapters of IUCN and WWF’’.
In a recent study of the landscape approach as applied in SRJS, the authors call for ‘the power of ESIA and SEA to be built into landscape strategies’. They also specifically refer to the role of the NCEA in this context:
“A factor consistently positively impacting stakeholder processes was the work done with the NCEA. Not only did this lead to a better understanding of SEAs and ESIAs by local communities and government (vital tools for sustainable land and water use), it also in multiple cases increased the trust between various stakeholders.”
“Where NCEA was involved, their objectivity and neutrality of their work was greatly valued. It helped not only build expertise, but also build trust between the participants, better understanding each other’s perspectives.”
 Environmental Assessment in Landscape Management – improving governance, collaboration, transparency & inclusiveness. (The Netherlands Commission for Environmental Assessment, IUCN NL, WWF NL, the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs, November 2020)
 WWF NL and IUCN NL in Reflections SRJS on cooperation with the NCEA, NCEA report, March 2021
 External evaluation of the SRJS programme. Blomeyer & Sanz, November 2020
 Landscapes in perspectives, a study on SRJS & the landscape approach (EcoValue, August 2020)