By Grace Menck Figueroa
In November 2015, 18 IDB member countries came together in Lima, Peru, to attend an event of the Regional Policy Dialogue (RPD), to share their experiences in the environmental licensing process and the common challenges of ensuring adequate enforcement measures. In addition, the environmental public authorities also discussed ways of increasing technical exchange on the environmental monitoring and enforcement process, as well as good practices on environmental licensing processes, including the possibility of creating a digital database that tracks the environmental licensing procedures, with the objective of strengthening environmental and enforcement measures over the Region.
Environmental agencies in Latin America have licensing and enforcement systems in place to assess environmental impacts and risks of economic activities – new infrastructure in particular – in their respective countries. While these systems apply to most new developments in both urban and rural areas, they are particularly critical for developments taking place in sensitive and/or protected areas, and where people’s livelihoods may be negatively impacted. With increasing frequency, however, authorities are finding challenges in providing consistent, effective licensing and enforcement mechanisms.
In recent years, environmental agencies have been pushed to expand capacity and simplify licensing and enforcement measures as a result of the Region’s commodity boom and an increasing number of complex infrastructure projects. The IDB has been engaged to assist member countries by increasing interregional collaboration as they pursue these goals. As quickly learned at the RPD, these agencies are also called upon to address a wide variety of unique environmental challenges, whether they arise from an everyday construction project or the illegal trade of endangered animals.
How so? Let’s take the example of a new road funded by the IDB. In these projects, the licensing system helps identify adverse impacts, risks and sound solutions for environmental conservation and protection. Normally, the system would be part of an environmental impact assessment process whereby a license is granted alongside an approval to proceed with the road construction, with certain conditions for the construction and operation phases, such as earth-moving restrictions, noise or air quality standards, or protection of an endangered species – such as a blue macaw – which may nest nearby.
The enforcement system monitors implementation activities once the project – in this case, a road- is under construction, as per the licensing requirements. This ensures the construction firm and sponsor are abiding by the earth moving restrictions, meeting the noise or air quality standards, and putting in place measures to mitigate the impacts of the construction on the blue macaw.
What we often find however, is that licensing and enforcement measures are not always aligned, which means that adjustments may be required during the life of a project. Strongly aligned enforcement measures are likely to enable a smoother review and assessment by our own environmental staff, which will be looking to assess the extent to which the measures in place meet with our environmental safeguard policies and requirements.
Sharing the success
As each country makes refinements to these processes, forums like the RPD provide an invaluable opportunity to share successes and lessons learned. Our conversations showed that, in the Region, even more commonalities arise due to similar geography, geology, climate, and ecosystem. Agencies have expressed their needs for capacity building as well as investments in new technologies, to ensure a modern and responsive licensing system that can keep pace with economic development.
Enforcement processes have also been experiencing changes, given the increasing number of licenses granted in light of the commodities boom over the last decade. To ensure enforcement measures address environmental matters adequately, technology has been aiding agencies to better identify areas of environmental devastation, to more strictly monitor protected areas, and to ensure that areas where natural resources are being developed or exploited are being managed in a more sustainable way.
Several environmental agencies have also created integrated on-line systems, to ensure that the enforcement authorities provide feedback to the licensing authorities. Such initiatives have helped modify enforcement measures and propose new and innovative mechanisms for monitoring mitigation and conservation activities.
Sharing these lessons across borders will help achieve the goals of all parties involved: more environmentally friendly projects that take less time and money to review, license, monitor, and complete. And, as we quickly found, the benefit of these exchanges goes far beyond the typical topics of trade and development, with some interesting and unique stories arising out of a necessity for increased collaboration among various regional enforcement agencies.
Photo by Milton Jung / CC BY 2.0