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The past decade has witnessed non-governmental organisations (NGOs) come up with numerous sustainable environmental initiatives. Besides, the organisations have increasingly participated in most of the United Nations’ meetings aimed at conserving environment.
Today, many directors from most of the United Nations organisations acknowledge the role that NGOs play in environment conservation.1
The questions that currently ringer in people’s mind include why the NGOs are increasingly participating in environmental conservation projects, whether their initiatives are different from those they initiated in the past, and what exactly is the role of the non-governmental organisations in environmental conservation initiatives.
Today, the role of non-governmental organisations in the development of sustainable environmental initiatives is less technical and more of advisory. This paper will evaluate the role of NGOs in the development of sustainable environmental initiatives.
Role of the NGOs
One of the challenges that NGOs encounter in their daily attempts to conserve the environment is the lack of legal authority to impose their policies in the agendas discussed during environmental meetings. Nevertheless, the NGOs have significant influence in ensuring that most of the environmental initiatives are implemented.
They participate in the setting of environmental agendas informally. The non-governmental institutions use their influence to marshal people behind any agenda that they realise it would facilitate to conserve the environment.2
Once the agenda receives massive support from the public, the NGOs’ representatives inform the national and global policymakers about the agenda and call upon them to take the necessary actions. The public has limited knowledge about environmental issues that require urgent consideration.
Hence, the NGOs act as the revelation for the public. They identify these issues, repackage them in a way that the public would understand them, and mobilise the public to compel the government to take actions.
Although an amorphous method of the policy-making process, the NGOs value the use of public in instilling pressure on governments to partake in sustainable environmental initiatives.3
Besides setting environmental agendas for both local and international environmental meetings, NGOs play a central role in the establishment of environmental policies. For instance, In Jamaica, NGOs played a significant role in the establishment of the country’s environmental policies.
The major problem that the NGOs face is that after helping in the establishment of environmental policies, they are not given the mandate to implement them.
They are relegated to the observer’s position, where they monitor the implementation process, which underlines the reason why many non-governmental organisations are not participating directly in environment conservation projects in Jamaica. Their roles only include sourcing the fund for the project and offering technical advice.
In most of the developing countries, the governments are leaving the role of environmental conservation to non-governmental organisations. Most of the NGOs are autonomous and do not have interests in national resources.
Therefore, the public is more likely to trust them than it can trust the government.4 In the United Arab Emirates, the government has delegated the duty of reclaiming the lost coral reefs and addressing environment pollution to non-governmental organisations.
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The government has given the World Wild Fund (WWF) the mandate to come up with environmental policies aimed at helping the country establish sustainable environmental projects.5 Besides, the NGO is working on capacity building in the country.
Environment conservation calls for concerted efforts from all the stakeholders. In a bid to achieve this goal, all the stakeholders ought to have experience in environmental conservation strategies.
Currently, WWF is working to make sure that every institution in the United Arab Emirates has the capacity to initiate and run programs aimed at conserving environment.
In 2009, the NGO trained 20 nationals from the country on how to conserve coral reefs thus ensuring that it has left people that are capable of running the coral reef conservation projects even when it stops operating in the country.
Capacity building is one of the crucial roles played by the NGOs in the development of sustainable environmental initiatives. Failure to equip the public with environmental conservation skills leads to the environmental initiatives not yielding any positive results.
The public continues engaging in activities that degrade the environment out of ignorance.6 Non-governmental organisations understand that, to achieve environmental conservation objectives, they need to deal with the parties that are directly involved in environmental pollution.
In most cases, the public pollute environment without knowing. Hence, NGOs educate it on how to conserve the environment as a strategy to avoid chances of the public polluting the environment unknowingly.
In most of the developing countries, the government is ever a step behind on matters of development of sustainable environment initiatives. The government is always short of moral authority that is critical in enhancing environment conservation.
The non-governmental organisations come in to instil this moral authority. Hence, besides setting agendas for environmental conservation meetings, the NGOs also act as the ‘conscience-keeper’ by keeping the government alert at all times and making sure that it implements the established environmental policies.7
The public has limited trust in the government, which makes a majority of government representatives to run their institutions without considering the public interest.
This aspect underlines the reason why most of the international organisations like the World Trade Organisation (WTO) undertake activities that violate domestic health and environmental regulations without fear.8
Government representatives do not fight for the people’s interests at the international levels since they feel that most of the people did not approve their appointments.
The NGOs come in to close the gap between the government and the public by making sure that the government meets the public’s interest even if they feel that the public does not have faith in them.
In China, non-governmental organisations play a significant role in making sure that the government implements environmental conservation policies. China is currently one of the developed economies. The Chinese government directs most of its attention to economic development, neglecting the issue of environment conservation.9
Most of the environment conservation policies have direct effects on economic development. Some aim at reducing the rate of carbon dioxide emission, which means either doing away with some industries or changing the machines used in most of the industries. Such moves would affect the Chinese economy negatively.
This element could be the reason why the Chinese government is always reluctant to implement environmental conservation regulations. Non-governmental organisations take the initiative to ensure that the government does not abdicate its responsibility of conserving the environment.
China has environmental NGOs that seek to ensure that the central government does not shift all its priorities to economic development and abandon the environmental conservation initiatives.
United Nations’ organisations, especially those that face ‘popularity’ and financial challenges like the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) are turning to non-governmental organisations for partnerships.
Nevertheless, it is hard to ascertain if these partnerships have helped the UN organisations reinstate their previous environmental conservation programs.10
The reason why it is hard to ascertain if the partnership is helping the organisations in reviving sustainable development projects is that the move calls for inclusion of developmental and environmental issues, institutional coordination, and establishment of essential policies.
Since the environmental meeting held in Rio Brazil, non-governmental institutions have been working in partnership with international organisations to help in the establishment of sustainable development projects across the globe.11
In spite of the non-governmental organisations helping to develop sustainable environmental initiatives in collaboration with other international organisations, the partnership has numerous disadvantages.
For a long time, the NGOs have worked as ‘conscience-keepers’ making sure that the government and other institutions stick to the established environmental policies. However, the partnership with other institutions is leading to the NGOs being absorbed into the existing patterns.
Some of the NGOs are adopting the behaviour of these institutions, therefore, not being able to compel the institutions to adopt and implement environmental policies. In addition, non-governmental organisations do not have independent sources of fund.
They depend on the international organisations, individual benefactors, or charitable foundations. Consequently, the NGOs do not decide on projects to pursue autonomously.
In a majority of the developing countries, non-governmental organisations are compelled to participate in projects identified by the donors. Hence, it becomes hard for the NGOs to pursue the most critical sustainable development projects.
In Bosnia, non-governmental organisations work in collaboration with international donors to come up with sustainable environmental initiatives. However, the main concern is that the NGOs have limited influence on the projects undertaken in the country.12
The foreign donors decide on the projects to pursue. Consequently, some of the most critical sustainable development projects have remained unattended to as the foreign donors pursue those projects that are of benefit to them.
In Bosnia, people have overestimated the role of non-governmental organisations in environmental conservation. While many believe that NGOs have significant influence in the development of sustainable environmental initiatives, the situation on the ground is very different.
Even though the NGOs have the ability to rally the public behind critical sustainable development projects, foreign donors have forced them to participate in the projects they approve. In addition, a majority of the NGOs lack the requisite skills for the management of environmental conservation projects.
To run their projects, they have to depend on experts from either the government or other organisations.13 In a bid to get this support, NGOs have been forced to give in to some of the demands from the government and other institutions, therefore, not being able to pursue the sustainable environmental initiatives autonomously.
Non-governmental organisations play significant roles in the development and implementation of sustainable environmental initiatives. In most cases, NGOs do not directly participate in the implementations of the initiatives and, where they do, they work in partnership with either the government or other private organisations.
The main roles of the NGOs in the development of sustainable environmental initiatives include capacity building, setting agendas, and conscience keeping. Non-governmental organisations educate the public on how to conserve the environment by enlightening it on the impacts of its daily activities to the environment.
Moreover, the NGOs mobilise the public to support certain environmental goals leading to the goals being included in the agendas of most of the global environmental meetings. Besides, the NGOs help to keep the government and organisations alert by reminding them about their duty to conserve the environment.
Al Mubarak, R, The role of NGOs in tackling environmental issues, 2012, Retrieved from https://www.mei.edu/publications/role-ngos-tackling-environmental-issues
Betsill, M & E Corell, ‘NGO influence in International environmental negotiations: a framework for analysis’, Global environmental politics, vol.1, no. 4, 2007, pp. 65-85.
Charnovitz, S, ‘Participation of Non-Governmental Organisations in the World Trade Organisation’, University of Pennsylvania Journal of International Economic Law, vol. 17, 2003, pp. 331-357.
Fagan, A, ‘Neither ‘North’ nor ‘South’: The environment and civil society in post-conﬂict Bosnia–Herzegovina’, Environmental Politics, vol. 15, no. 5, 2006, pp. 787–802.
Jepson, P, ‘Governance and accountability of environmental NGOs’, Environmental Science & Policy, vol. 8, no. 5, 2005, pp. 515-524.
Lane, M & T Morrison, ‘Public interest or private agenda? A meditation on the role of NGOs in environmental policy and management in Australia’, Journal of Rural Studies, vol. 22, no. 2, 2006, pp. 232-242.
Porter, G, Global Environmental Politics, Westview Press, Boulder, CO, 2000.
Schwartz, J, ‘Environmental NGOs in China: Roles and limits’, Pacific Affairs, vol. 77, no. 1, 2004, pp. 29-48.
1 G Porter, Global Environmental Politics, Westview Press, Boulder, CO, 2000, p. 65.
2 M Betsill & E Corell, ‘NGO influence in International environmental negotiations: a framework for analysis’, Global environmental politics, vol.1, no. 4, 2007, pp. 65-83.
3 Porter, p. 68.
4 Betsill & Corell, p. 85.
5 R Al Mubarak, The role of NGOs in tackling environmental issues, 2012.
6 P Jepson, ‘Governance and accountability of environmental NGOs’, Environmental Science & Policy, vol. 8, no. 5, 2005, pp. 515-524.
7 Betsill & Corell, p. 82.
8 S Charnovitz, ‘Participation of Non-Governmental Organisations in the World Trade Organisation’, University of Pennsylvania Journal of International Economic Law, vol. 17, 2003, pp. 331-355
9 J Schwartz, ‘Environmental NGOs in China: Roles and limits’, Pacific Affairs, vol. 77, no. 1, 2004, pp. 29-45.
10 M Lane & T Morrison, ‘Public interest or private agenda? A meditation on the role of NGOs in environmental policy and management in Australia’, Journal of Rural Studies, vol. 22, no. 2, 2006, pp. 232-242.
11 Schwartz, p. 48.
12A Fagan, ‘Neither ‘north’ nor ‘south’: The environment and civil society in post-conﬂict Bosnia–Herzegovina’, Environmental Politics, vol. 15, no. 5, 2006, pp. 787–802.
13 Charnovitz, p. 357.