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Environmental sustainability within the new development agenda: opportunities and challenges for civil society

Research report

Written by Neil Bird

Research report

The Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness is having a major impact on the design and implementation of international development cooperation.  A new relationship is slowly emerging between donor countries and aid-receiving countries that acknowledges the primacy of national ownership over the development process.  There is also recognition that national ownership needs to go beyond government, with a critical role to be played by civil society.  Where do environmental issues fit into this new understanding?  
This is the question that this study explores. 
The study draws on the recent literature on development and the environment to help identify two main sets of issues.  First, there are new opportunities for civil society to work towards better environmental outcomes as a result of the focus on improving aid effectiveness.   Second, there remain challenges for civil society to secure greater attention on the environment within the new development agenda.  By improving understanding of these issues this study aims to contribute to the debate. 

Providing the evidence to help strengthen national civil society’s engagement with the aid effectiveness agenda is a key issue.  Therefore an important part of the study is a preliminary review of experience at country level to bring new empirical evidence to the policy debate.  The three country case studies of Ghana, Kenya and Tanzania all provide interesting insights.  These countries were chosen on the basis that (i) there is a longstanding, and significant, aid relationship with donors; (ii) there has been a substantial response to the Paris Declaration, including the introduction of budget support; and (iii) there are major environmental challenges to be faced, requiring both government and civil society action. 

A key concept introduced in Chapter One concerns the autonomy of civil society organisations, which enables CSOs to hold independent positions from government and development partners.  Compared to developed countries there tends to be a lower level of autonomy displayed by CSOs in many aid-receiving countries, which makes them more vulnerable to economic fluctuations and political instability.  If civil society is to play the role required of it under the new aid agenda then continuing external support will be necessary for quite some time.  How this is to be sourced – beyond traditional donor project funding – is not yet clear. 

The opportunities to improve environmental sustainability highlighted in this report provide potential entry points for national civil society to influence the direction and speed of reform in their respective countries.  The evidence suggests that national CSOs should be lobbying for:

Neil Bird and Alice Caravani