Developing government/industry voluntary agreements to control transboundary air pollution

Voluntary agreement programs involve national government, business, industry, trade associations, communities, universities and local government in programs which complement traditional regulatory approaches to environmental protection.

Their success lies in solving environmental problems not generally addressed by specific laws and regulations, such as reducing greenhouse gases or encouraging wise use of energy. Focusing on pollution prevention, organizations set and reach environmental goals such as conserving water and energy, or reducing greenhouse gases, toxic emissions, solid wastes, indoor air pollution and pesticide risk.

The successful implementation of an integrated environmental approach at the enterprise level depends on the action of social partners at work; however, it also depends on concerted support from the relevant ministries and governmental agencies concerned with health, environment, labour and social policies.

National commitment should consist in specifying the policy and action to be taken or initiated at the government level. This includes a policy statement explicitly clarifying the commitment of the government and of the ministers involved, and a government policy document specifying national objectives, the underlying principles, the necessary legislative and non-legislative tools, and the principles of monitoring and evaluation. It also includes a national strategic action plan, intended to identify the actions necessary to achieve objectives specified in the national policy. The strategic action plan should also specify the role and action to be taken by each stakeholder, including government institutions and local authorities. The entire national system should be audited and evaluated periodically, so that adjustments can be made as necessary, and to ensure continuous feedback from society.

In negotiated agreements between government and industry, certain industrial sectors agree to take specific actions without the need for legislation. The negotiations allow industry to influence the targets and objectives and to set a suitable time scale. Industry is left largely free to determine the means by which targets and objectives are met.

Several issues should be addressed while developing a national policy on industry voluntary agreements. One issue would be which general principles to apply, such as the precautionary principle, legal compliance, democratic control, extended producer responsibility and the preventive principle. In establishing the policy, defined and measurable goals should be set, a time frame determined and a scheme for monitoring, evaluation and auditing agreed. All relevant stakeholders should formulate, implement and periodically review an integrated national policy that should be holistic and cover all aspects of environmental performance. In the process of policy development, accountability, transparency and the use of self-control and self-regulation should be observed. A national policy should create economic and social incentives for enterprises to implement environmental improvement programmes. It should also encourage the development of economic appraisal of environmental performance in enterprises. It should reduce the opportunities for enterprises to externalize the costs of poor practice.

Speaking at the British Library Conference on Sustainable Business (October 1998), UK Environment Minister Michael Meacher, addressing industry voluntary schemes for the environment said: "The first step to voluntary improvement is to measure your impacts in the first place, so you can voluntarily manage them and set targets. It is particularly important you do this for your main forms of energy consumption - and go public - showing your commitment. Without this, major companies that say they believe in the voluntary route to improvement do not sound very convincing. That is why I am challenging top companies to measure and report comprehensively on one of their key environmental impacts - their emissions of greenhouse gases, particularly carbon dioxide. I am challenging you to set yourselves demanding targets for cost-effective, profitable improvements in performance and efficiency."< The UK Government has recently completed its consultation on Sustainable Business - examining options for the business contribution to the developing national Sustainable Development strategy. Over 400 businesses large and small, trade associations and NGOs responded to this consultation and voted three to one in favour of Government selecting one or two leading sustainability indicators against which businesses should report. The narrow balance of respondents was in favour of a voluntary approach to the adoption of leading indicators; even though a clear majority said they thought compulsion would be needed to get a big increase in the number of companies reporting.

1. Voluntary systems and agreements with policy makers demonstrate that business strategies can address the complex problems of environmental, health and safety aspects of products and processes. Voluntary approaches should be used by policy makers as they respond to business needs and market conditions complementing regulation.

2. Every government's responsibility is - working with business and citizen's groups - to devise the policy framework that will allow consistent and realistic goals to be developed and met. Such a framework should be target-oriented and cost-effective in implementation.

Counter Claim:
1. Voluntary agreements with industry represent the power and influence of capital and wealth to avoid the legal regulation that all other sections of society are forced to adhere to.
Type Classification:
E: Emanations of other strategies
Related UN Sustainable Development Goals:
GOAL 1: No PovertyGOAL 2: Zero HungerGOAL 3: Good Health and Well-beingGOAL 4: Quality EducationGOAL 5: Gender EqualityGOAL 6: Clean Water and SanitationGOAL 7: Affordable and Clean EnergyGOAL 8: Decent Work and Economic GrowthGOAL 9: Industry, Innovation and InfrastructureGOAL 10: Reduced InequalityGOAL 11: Sustainable Cities and CommunitiesGOAL 12: Responsible Consumption and ProductionGOAL 13: Climate ActionGOAL 14: Life Below WaterGOAL 15: Life on LandGOAL 16: Peace and Justice Strong InstitutionsGOAL 17: Partnerships to achieve the Goal