The future role for local government in environmental policy

January 27, 2013

In a useful contribution to the thinking currently underway at European level concerning the development of the 7th Action Programme for the Environment, the Committee of the Regions has highlighted a renewed role for local government in the development of environmental policy at Union level.

The Committee has highlighted the critical role played by local government in applying environmental policy at local level. It has called for a greater level of coordination on policy development between local government, national authorities and the European Institutions.

The Committee suggests that the Covenant of Mayors would provide a good example of where the engagement of local government and the higher levels of government works and that it could become a model for general environmental policy development.

Greater coordination, it has argued, is a necessary condition of policy implementation and that the high level of infringements of EU Environmental regulation may well be explained in part by the limited engagement between the three levels of governance.

In addition, given the horizontal nature of environmental policy the Committee has suggested that the delivery of environmental policy could be facilitated through deepening the links between local government and the national authorities.

This thinking, interestingly, is a feature of the recent local government policy reform statement in Ireland. The challenge is, of course, to create mechanisms to enable such engagement.

Furthermore, and with an eye perhaps to Europe 2020, the Committee has highlighted the importance of green procurement policy and the need to establish clear guidance which would free up local government to be active in procuring services and products which respect the life cycle of such products rather than being restricted to the relatively short term gains of best value or lowest price.

Addressing the role of local government therefore requires action on a range of policy fronts. These include putting in place processes which allow local government the competence to determine local policy priorities whilst acknowledging the need for transparency and effective linkage into EU policy through the Member States.

It suggests the need for clarification on the demand for finances and resources to ensure adequate transition of policy into implementation actions at local level whilst also respecting the need for planning alignment across the layers of government.

The role of the citizen is also highlighted with the Committee calling for education and research to reinforce connections between the citizen and their environment, something which will be central to any effort to integrate policy across each level of government.

Finally, the Committee clearly recognises the significant role played by earlier Environmental Action Programmes in moving the Union towards more sustainable development by calling for the development of a 7th Action Programme which recognises the significant role played by local authorities across the Union.