Do you know what environmental management is? Environmental management is systematic, process-oriented and often complex, and it doesn’t necessarily mean that you are taking care of the environment itself. Rather it is a process of making sure society with its people, industries and businesses, is taking care of the environment, in terms of regulation and protection. To support and improve environmental management in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Environmental Strategy and Action Plan, (BiH ESAP 2030+) project, is aiming to tackle this as one of the focus topics. Here, the experts MSc Maja Maretić Tiro and MSc Snežana Mišić Mihajlović speak about the challenges and opportunities regarding environmental management systems in BiH.

What does the thematic area of environmental management entail, and why is this field important?

Environmental management is a distinctive theme within the EU environmental policy. Therefore, it is included in the ESAP project, in addition to the thematic areas of water; waste; biodiversity and nature conservation; air quality, climate and energy; chemical safety and noise; and resource management. The environmental management theme covers the so-called horizontal policy areas: data management, monitoring, environmental assessment, permitting and enforcement. In practice, environmental management helps the governments to put in place the policies, structures and processes that facilitate appropriate planning, strategic steering, and implementation of actions in all environmental areas.

Basic objectives and guidelines for integrated environmental management are considered as standard requirements for the environmental policies in all jurisdictions in BiH. Therefore, the ESAP activities have been designed to integrate strategic goals and guidelines for environmental management. These will be validated by the steering bodies and approved by the respective authorities.

Could you describe some of the environmental management tools or mechanisms that are being used by BiH authorities today?

Governments address environmental impact with a variety of instruments ranging from international agreements to national and local governance acts, all of which seek to control, incentivise or monitor environmental and sustainability impact.

BiH authorities have many mechanisms for regulating the environmental behaviour of companies and public, so called regulative instruments. These include for example: international conventions and treaties, legislation and regulations, policies and programmes, permits and licensing, monitoring and control, environmental impact assessments, strategic environmental assessments, channels for dissemination of environmental information, mechanisms for citizen participation in environmental matters and inter-institutional coordination.

Besides regulative instruments there are also economic instruments or so-called market-based instruments (e.g. environmental charges and taxes and emission trading schemes) and voluntary instruments, such as Environmental Management Systems, voluntary agreements (e.g. between public and private institutions), and award schemes.

What are the main challenges regarding environmental management in BiH?

The main challenges from the environmental management perspective in the BiH context are partly related to the fairly low degree of harmonization of legislation with the EU environmental acquis (a collection of all environmental laws within EU legislation). There is also a lack of sufficient institutional capacities for implementation of environmental policies and projects, underdeveloped monitoring, data management and reporting systems, as well as weak cooperation among actors from the public, civic and private sectors towards achievement of environmental objectives.

How does ESAP aim to strengthen environmental management systems in BiH?

The ESAP will provide a more innovative and more comprehensive strategic framework for implementation and progress of existing tools and mechanisms as well as design and introduction of new tools.

The environmental strategies and action plans of all jurisdictions in BiH will contain objectives and measures specifically related to strengthening environmental management systems. Thus, the main improvements are expected in terms of a higher degree of harmonization of the legislation with the EU environmental acquis, stronger institutional capacities, functional inter-sectoral cooperation and establishment of efficient monitoring and reporting systems in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

On the 5th of June, people worldwide are celebrating World Environment Day 2021, this year it is focused on encouraging everyone to focus on ecosystem restoration. What is the current situation regarding ecosystem restoration in BiH and do you see that there are any further developments needed?

Each direct threat to degradation or loss to biodiversity may have several drivers. The most serious pressures on biodiversity in BiH include: conversion of habitats, over-exploitation of resources, pollution, climate change, invasive species, and anthropogenic actions and economic development activities, as well as waste mismanagement, excessive and illegal logging and energy generation.

Adoption and implementation of spatial planning documents at all levels in BiH has been slow, which resulted in uncontrolled urbanization and fragmentation. With that came loss of agricultural land, forest, wetlands and other species habitats. When it comes to degradation and fragmentation of land, it happens because of urbanization, construction of infrastructure facilities, fire, erosion, discharge of pollutants into the ground, and illegal construction of facilities.

Also, climate change is identified as one of the greatest threats to biodiversity in BiH in different reports. The sensitivity of ecosystems to the effects of climate change has increased due to their disturbed state, fragmentation and various anthropogenic influences. Climate change manifests its effect on plants and plant communities, which can first be noticed by changes in annual life cycle stages. We also see changes in the distribution of populations and species, as well as in the functioning of ecosystems.

Measures for ecosystem restoration and climate change mitigation are of utmost importance particularly for agricultural and forestry ecosystems. The urgent action to combat climate change impacts call for measures by e.g.  implementing nature-based solutions (NBS) in key sectors to achieve ecosystem restoration. This way we can we maintain relevant ecosystem services to society and for human wellbeing. Special emphasis should be given to wetlands, especially those that are already under protection – but if restoration measures are not implemented soon, biodiversity values may be permanently lost.

Ecosystem restoration deserves more attention by the authorities at all levels in BiH as well as concerted action of all segments of society. The World Environment Day 2021 is a good occasion to promote the need for strong actions, some of which have been addressed in the ESAP thematic group ‘Biodiversity and Nature Conservation’.

It is important to note that public awareness is increasing. Educational activities, including those organized on the occasion of important environmental days, fall in the range of environmental management tools. This is how environmental management supports behavioural changes and promotes more effective policy choices.

ESAP is developed using participatory approach, which means that relevant institutions, general public, private sector and civil society organisations, as well as the professional community in BiH are engaged in the process. Is a participatory approach also important for the implementation of the strategy and action plan?

Indeed, participatory approach is particularly important in ESAP and is expected to facilitate efficient implementation of the strategies and action plans in all jurisdictions. During the development of ESAP documents, participatory approach will facilitate different ways of collecting data and knowledge about environmental problems and different solutions. This ultimately increases the likelihood that many stakeholders will feel ownership of the produced documents and will support and participate in the implementation.

It is expected that effects of the participatory approach in the ESAP design will be visible beyond the end of the production process in the form of new or strengthened networks between stakeholders. Everyone involved is going through intensive collective learning, and receives a higher understanding of the purpose of environmental policy and multi-stakeholder cooperation, ultimately for better achievement of positive environmental outcomes.

More about the BiH Environmental strategy and Action Plan 2030+:

 The primary goal of the BiH ESAP2030+ project is to support the authorities of BiH, FBiH, RS and BD in the ESAP 2030+ development. The ESAP 2030+ document will comprise environmental strategies and action plans for FBiH, RS and BD, and actions that will be taken at the level of BiH. On a long-term basis, the project will improve the environment in BiH and support BiH on its path to EU membership.

The contents of the BiH ESAP 2030+ will address the following EU seven areas of the Environmental Acquis: Water; Waste; Biodiversity and Nature Conservation; Air Quality, Climate Change and Energy, Chemical Safety and Noise; Sustainable Resource Management; and Environmental Management.

The BiH ESAP 2030+ project is implemented by Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) with the support of the Embassy of Sweden in BiH.

The interview was initially published on the portal on June 7, 2021.