Environmental governance is a challenging task. In the face of global environmental changes, including climatic changes and loss of biodiversity exacerbated by harmful anthropogenic activities, promoting sustainable responses to these changes has acquired increased significance.
In a regional context, the European Union strives to take up a leadership role globally in advancing appropriate environmental governance frameworks. It seeks to bring about change by evolving viable, feasible and acceptable environmental legislation to tackle impending climate changes, as well as encouraging other regional organizations/nation-states to take up causes similarly. Much legislation is geared towards guiding business, industry and society to inculcate eco-friendly practices in their activities.
In light of these issues, the MSc in Environmental Change and Management field trip to the nerve-centre of the European Union, Brussels, was an attempt to expose us to the frameworks and decision-making processes associated with environmental governance in the European Union.
The MSc seeks to evolve the next generation of environmental leaders, the trip turned out to be a rewarding experience. An introduction to how discussions take place, how laws are debated and how responsibilities are divided within the union as well as within the consulates was well-received.
We interacted with different people from within as well as from outside the Union, and each speaker provided their unique insights into environmental governance and law-making in the EU. Initiatives like the EU Emissions Trading System (EUETS), which allocates emissions permits to enterprises, and the EU renewable energy policy received much attention.
In the environmental context more than any other, NGO’s have a fundamental role to play in critiquing legislation and guiding policy-makers towards evolving sustainable and suitable legislation. Representatives from the Brussels-based NGO, Client Earth as well as the Climate Action Network (a global network of environmental NGOs), recounted their experiences with legislations and directives in the Commission.
We got an inside view of the discussion and deliberation processes in Member-state Consulates by the environmental attaché of Portugal, also an alumni of our course. The interaction with her made it evident that the Union is not such a bureaucratic maze that critics accuse it to be!
Further discussions with representatives from the DG Environment, DG Maritime Affairs and Fisheries and Reuters shed further light on different aspects of work the Union is involved in.
To put it in context, I believe the European Union, despite its critiques and limitations, is a healthy regional body governing over roughly 500 million people. The health of the organization can be evidenced from the fact that its membership is only expected to grow from the current 28 member-states in the near future. Since most EU policies are ‘directives’, not ‘laws’, which are not legally binding, there exists sufficient room for member-states to interpret and implement in a way they see fit.
An interesting comparison of the EU can be made with the federal structure of India, where individual states work towards furthering their own agendas, yet are also part of a larger national dynamic.