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Mikael Hildén, Kirsi Mäkinen: Finding the path for Myanmar’s environmental governance

17.5.2016 Mikael Hildén, Kirsi Mäkinen
Mikael Hildén, Kirsi Mäkinen, SYKE
Kirsi Mäkinen and Mikael Hildén

As a country of great riches in natural resources and rapid economic growth Myanmar faces numerous environmental challenges. Strong foreign interests aim to benefit from the exploitation of Myanmar’s resources and rapid urbanization and economic growth put pressure on the environment. At the same time civil society organisations (CSOs) are becoming stronger and demand a say in decisions affecting the environment. How does Myanmar cope with these challenges?

A large number of development partners have entered the scene with projects ranging from implementing environmental impact assessment procedures to local community based activities. In July 2015 more than 60 recently completed, ongoing or planned projects were listed by the environmental sector group that forms a platform for the collaboration of development partners and the Myanmar government.

Myanmar, Finland and UNDP took a slightly different approach to develop environmental governance. Instead of yet another specific project, the partners joined forces to assess key needs of the environmental administration in Myanmar. Participation from CSOs and the private sector was part of the process. The result was an analysis of the current state and a roadmap for actions that was published in February 2016.

The findings underline that environmental governance needs a proper system for managing data and information together with open and transparent processes for handling environmental matters. Also a system for collecting fees from polluters to cover the costs of administering permits and monitoring compliance is essential. These may appear self-evident actions, but it turns out that so far they have been only partly covered in the long list of ongoing activities.

Such lack of attention to the fundamental practical aspects of environmental governance may be an unwanted side effect of the idea that policies should be viewed as cycles. Such policy cycles are assumed to start with problem framing and policy formulation, progress to action and return via evaluation to the framing. This suggests continuous improvement, but why do efforts to implement policy cycles often fail to deliver?

The heart of the problem is that it is relatively easy to formulate strategies and documents with all the right buzzwords, but taking action is all but a smooth endeavour. Many development efforts take the easy route and emphasize reporting and strategy formulation. The real needs lie, however, in seemingly mundane practical things such as systems for maintaining and publishing records on polluting activities or organizing participatory processes that can actually influence decisions. Myanmar is not the only country to lack such tools of governance.

To progress from the too simple heuristics of the policy cycle, Myanmar’s future environmental governance could be viewed as two connected wheels: a small and fast rotating strategy wheel that at best transmits some energy to a larger, much slower wheel of everyday practice that often suffers from inertia and friction. With this mental image it is easier to understand why the roadmap for Myanmar’s environmental governance focuses on practice rather than strategies.

The roadmap for Myanmar’s environmental governance emerged in dialogues with key stakeholders. Its value will be determined in practice by the very same stakeholders. Our hope is that development partners support the work on the ground that helps the environmental administration, businesses and civil society to deal with the environmental challenges of Myanmar’s transition to a democratic sustainable society.

Mikael Hildén and Kirsi Mäkinen

Professor Mikael Hildén and researcher Kirsi Mäkinen from the Climate Change Programme in SYKE steered the team of experts that assessed how to strengthen the practical application of the Environmental Conservation Law in Myanmar. They have a keen interest in improving environmental and climate governance both at home and abroad.

Mikael Hildén, Tel: + 358 295 251 173, [mikael hilden], Kirsi Mäkinen, Tel: + 358 295 251 445, [kirsi makinen]

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