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The policy toolkit

Ultimately, whether or not we have successfully matched problems and institutions, achieved adequate scientific understanding, and developed appropriate representation and decision processes, we still must ensure that the policy tools available are adequate.Decisions over which tools should be in the toolkit can be contentious in themselves. Examples include from the United States “clear unwillingness to even consider market instruments” at the state level due to concern about voter reactions (Rothenburg 2003, p4).[49] This is where up-front agreement on the overall ‘vision’, as discussed above, can be crucial. Once the problem is recognised and the need for action accepted, the argument to use a full range of tools is easier. Blaming market failure for inappropriate resource use can be an easy response, but does not in itself identify why markets have not worked or how they can be fixed or created. Market mechanisms can work highly effectively to maximise value or minimise costs within a regulatory framework.

Table 4– factors faced in adopting environmental best practice
Barriers to adoption Positives for adoption
Labour constraints and financial costs
Missing markets for externalities
Lack of data or scepticism of science
Lack of clear targets or options to achieve them
Internal or external resistance to particular options
Sound practical scientific and local knowledge
User and community awareness of environmental issues
Effective regulatory framework and institutional capacity
Willingness to comply
Practical and economically viable options
Ability to monitor and measure environmental impacts
Shared vision of the future

Sources: (MAF policy 2006)

Early exclusion may be very costly at a later stage if an inadequate toolkit forces undesirable compromises between goals or prevents consensus on how to address specific goals. “The chance of being able to successfully design environmental policy programmes around one particular tool or approach is very low” (MAF policy 2006). Conversely, the wider the range of tools is, the more likely that a solution can be found to deal with a range of social and ecological circumstances (see Table 4).

A balance is also required between consistency and tailored solutions; e.g. between catchment based water planning, and farm-specific management techniques for efficient water use and runoff control.

Where rights or obligations are established, their design should be fully considered. Failure to do so can cause long-term problems; e.g. seniority based systems (where first users in time have priority but only as long as they continue their use) can seriously constrain flexibility of use. Also communities may use planning powers to restrict transfers of water outside their region or to activities that generate fewer local jobs or don’t use (and help pay for) shared infrastructure, even if transfers are of national benefit (Shaw 2005).[50]

Non-regulatory tools should also not be overlooked, on their own or in tandem with regulatory solutions. Success of such measures will be more likely where strong social networks exist, environmental impacts are obvious, options are not complex, information is accessible, and change can be easily measured (MAF policy 2006).

Finally it is important to build in monitoring and review arrangements (Guerin 2003a). Good monitoring can facilitate diffusion and adaptation of successful models and correction of unsuccessful ones.

4.3  Summary

The discussion on goals and frameworks and delivering them illustrates the overall complexity of sustainable development. It also illustrates the potential for successful delivery of practical outcomes from a staged process within an overall vision, as opposed to a ‘big bang’ policy process that may take years to develop and be extremely difficult to keep on track. Once a vision is in place, individual challenges can be addressed through flexible policies and institutions.
‘People look at our environmental problems with waste and climate change and say “Quick, quick, fix it”. But these things don’t lend themselves to simple solutions.It requires the mobilisation of the entire economic, social and environmental fabric of a nation to reorient things. It involves change and making change happen is hard stuff.’[51]

A balance is important between addressing immediate crises in a manner consistent with the overall vision, and ensuring that no particular area is left too far behind. It may be found that “a parallel-track approach to water reform is likely to prove faster and more effective”, developing and adjusting laws, standards, rights, plans and consent formats in a mutually reinforcing manner (Bruns 2005, p296). Issues of governance, tenure and transferability would also be addressed comprehensively rather than in sequence. Such parallelism is complex but reduces the risk of a long and costly policy process that cannot then be implemented.Adaptive management depends crucially, however, on the coherence and resilience of the vision and on patience. “The relevant time scale for reform may be better measured not in a few months or a few years, but in decades” while ‘attempting to avoid this debate will, at a minimum, reduce the effectiveness of reforms, and may generate opposition that stalls the entire process” (Bruns 2005, p294).

Notes

  • [49]Specific arguments such as about the use of ‘markets’ or the availability of certain pesticides can divert attention from the real goal; ensuring that users face the opportunity cost of natural resource use. This means decisions should take into account the costs (private, social and ecological) created by their use and the potential benefits foregone from that resource not being available for other higher value uses. Markets are a key means of communicating opportunity cost but not the only one.
  • [50]Other structural issues include whether the environment is recognised as a ‘use’ (so that rights for non-use, such as in-stream flows of water, can exist), and whether rights are created in a form that allows for division, transfer and use as security for loans.
  • [51]Hugh Logan, CE of the Ministry for the Environment, The Dominion Post, Thursday, October 26, 2006, C9.
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