INTERNATIONAL ECOTOURISM MONTHLY
Year 4, Issue 47, Apr. 2003
Edward Cameron is Project Director of the European Commission Environmental Governance Initiative. He is currently preparing an environmental governance conference in Volos, Greece on 26/27 May 2003 on behalf of European Commission DG Environment and the Greek Presidency of the European Union. This conference will examine how new forms of governance can be used to promote sustainable tourism. Edward manages a number of projects relating to sustainable development on behalf of the European Commission and networks of local/ regional government. He is a European policy expert and is also pursuing a PhD in Political Science on environmental governance.
You are a leading Expert in Environmental Governance. Please explain what 'Environmental Governance' really is with particular & practical reference to Europe.
When defining terms such as environmental governance it is very easy to slip into jargon and/ or vague definitions. I prefer to avoid these and so I would simply say that governance is the process whereby we seek to improve public policy. There are a number of key deficiencies in public policy at the moment. Chief among these are the failure to properly involve diverse interests in the preparation of policy, a failure to consider the wider impact of public policy, a failure to implement policy once made, and a failure to properly engage the general public. Governance offers us an opportunity to address these deficiencies by developing tools for greater consultation, participation, and communication.
In the environment field governance will mean providing stakeholders with a greater opportunity to participate in the preparation of policy. This will involve setting up consultation mechanisms and providing greater access to information and decision-making. It will also require more transparency and accountability to enable closer scrutiny of how decisions are made. It will require an improved communication system that educates, mobilises, and responds to the general public. This inevitably will spark a movement away from traditional forms of information provision towards more innovative and interactive forms. It will also demand that we pay more attention to policy integration. At present there are confusing messages emanating from the European Union on transport, energy, and agriculture. While one department provides subsidies to fossil fuels, another tries in vain to promote renewable energies. This confusion needs to be replaced by greater coherence.
Of course this process of improving environmental policy is not limited to the European level. It is a process that will need to progress at the national, regional, and local as well. The aim is to ensure greater implementation of laws by making better laws.
How is Ecotourism defined in an official European Policy context and how does that definition differ if it does from other common definitions?
To my knowledge there is no definitive criteria or definition for ecotourism at the European level and this is indeed a problem. Some see ecotourism as a new tourism market, an economic boon to go along side mass tourism, second home tourism, classical tourism, and sun/ sea tourism. I am personally troubled by this as for me ecotourism should not be a new market but rather a principal that is applied across tourism markets. My hope is that the conference in Volos will assist in the development of clear and coherent criteria.
You have particular experience working with local authorities in Europe. What is their attitude towards sustainable tourism & ecotourism. Ignorant, Indifferent, Positive or Negative? Are there geographical patterns?
In my view there is no single "attitude" to sustainable tourism within local and regional authorities. The attitude depends on so many variables ranging from culture to economic context, and from political climate to personalities. Some municipalities, notably Calvia in Spain recognised long ago that sustainable development was an essential part of their tourism product. They realised that tourists are looking for quality of life just as much as the local inhabitants are and so they made a conscious effort to protect their cultural and environmental heritage. Other municipalities have regrettably opted for the easy money that mass tourism offers. This short-sighted view is already posing problems throughout the Mediterranean. A third type of municipality markets ecotourism without actually doing anything to promote a sustainable vision of the tourism market. So I think much work needs to be done and in this respect there is a key role for NGOs in publicising poor practice, for consumers in demanding a better tourism product, for business in adopting a long term approach to their product, and for local authorities to provide the framework where all of this can happen. This framework is what we call governance.
In the post Iraq-war era, what is the outlook for international environmental governance & diplomacy? Are there any major rifts, or do we carry on as we were before?
This is a difficult question to answer and I am not sure that I am qualified to make judgements here. However my gut feeling tells me that the situation in Iraq will hit tourism revenues and probably hit them very hard. This may have a severe impact in Turkey in particular. My fear is that this will encourage a panicked response leading to neglect for environmental issues as hard hit destinations chase the remaining revenue.
There is growing concern, in official European reports, that official European funding for development, in various sectors, including the environment, has led to corruption and clientelism. Can transparency be improved in your view and how?
I think this is a very important issue. Transparency is not just about targeting corruption. Even when money is spent honestly it is often spent inefficiently. At the moment too few people are involved in deciding on where and how money is spent. This needs to change.
A famous and visible 'environmental villain' as far as Mediterranean tourism is concerned is the Plastic Water bottle, conspicuous and bought by the dozen by thirsty tourists and locals alike. How can Environmental Governance tackle such obvious problems as well as less visible waste management problems, such as rubbish dumps?
Environmental governance can tackle this issue by providing better information to the consumers not only on the environmental impact but also and crucially on the alternatives. Environmental communication tends to focus too much on the problems and not enough on the solutions.
What is the state of Environmental Governance in Eastern Europe, is it more or less accepted there than in Western and Southern Europe?
Environmental governance in Eastern Europe faces a number of problems. The first problem is a failure of co-operation. This is characterised by a lack of co-operation between different municipalities and also a breakdown in co-ordination within the various municipal departments. The second problem involves a failure of communication: the inability of many municipalities to properly dialogue with and relate to their own communities. This second problem is characterised by poor environmental communication, insufficient public participation, and low levels of stakeholder dialogue.
Both of these fundamental problems represent critical shortcomings in urban governance and significant barriers inhibiting the sustainable management of cities and towns. The region typically lacks a vision for environmental governance whereby stakeholders collaborate to address problems. This can be partly attributed to 50 years of Soviet rule in the CEEC. Co-operation in the modern sense of the word was virtually non-existent during those years. Instead authorities were characteristically suspicious and guarded information rather than sharing it. In order to implement good governance, sustainable urban development, and European Environmental Legislation, it is critical that these fundamental problems are addressed.
Public 'Education' is often touted as the magic trick that can solve, in time, many environmental management problems. But, can we really convince a villager not to throw his/her rubbish in the forest/ in the river, through 'Education' if we do not provide him/her with a cheaper, easier alternative? Similarly, can we promote the use of organic methods in agriculture, by Educating' the consumer, if the end-product is so expensive that no one buys it?
I don't have much to add here because I absolutely agree. I myself come from a poor urban area and I often tire of explaining to "Middle Class" children why it is that so many of our deprived urban and rural areas suffer from environmental problems. When growing up in my home town you worried about getting a job and earning some money first, paying your bills and providing for your family second, and environment some where a long way down the line. It is difficult to protect the environment when 25% of the population is unemployed. It is difficult to persuade someone with no job and no hope for a job that he should recycle. That is why we need to promote environmental protection as a "quality of life" package that includes economic development.
In your view what is the main challenge for Europe in the sphere of the environment in the next decade?
The main challenge is to change behaviour. Over the past ten years we have been successful at raising awareness but the time for that has passed. We now need to change behaviour by providing solutions and so mobilising the general public. In terms of themes I think waste management and noise will be crucial as these are the issues of prime concern to the European public
Is there anything else you would like to inform our readers about?
I would like to draw your readers attention to a study on environmental communication that I have just prepared for the European Commission. This can be downloaded from http://www.cameronsds.com/portfolio/current/env_com/
I hope your readers will comment on this and also that they will build on some of the good practice contained within the report.
For more details on the Environmental Governance
Conference in Volos, please see:
Thank you very much. Indeed to help our readers publicly comment on this important study, we have set up a special 'thread' in our on-line Community at: http://www.ecoclub.com/forum/DCForumID23/123.html
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