III. MECHANISMS FOR INTEGRATING ENVIRONMENTAL CONSIDERATIONS INTO ECONOMIC DECISION-MAKING
C. Status of integrating environmental considerations into the decision-making process
Environmental management should not be framed in isolation from the development and policy sectors from which the issues emanate. Environmental management and planning cuts across virtually every sector and discipline.
The decision-making process described above deals almost exclusively with economic issues. However, development does not only involve economic issues. To be sustainable, social and environmental issues need to be integrated into the decision-making process. Under the current system, environmental considerations are marginalized in the decision-making process.
One of the main reasons for that scenario is a certain lack of participation by the many stakeholders among the public in the decision-making process on the use of national resources. Yet true sustainable development can only come from the people who rely most on sustainable development choices for their existence. Political leaders and the local elite are unlikely to be the source of change to the current development thinking. They have an interest in the quick benefits of unsustainable development. The present growth-oriented development promoted by the government shows a lack of understanding of the wider socio-environmental issues and their implications. Only when a thorough awareness is achieved will sustainable development become part and parcel of the intricate process of development planning, as well as development project formulation and implementation. In his paper for the Capacity 21 National Workshop on Sustainable Development and Planning held in Port Vila in 1996, Stanley (1966) concluded:"Decision makers need to know the manner in which people benefit and lose as a result of conserving biological and other natural resources, as well as the values and costs of the goods and services that create the gains and losses. It is from an understanding of these basically economic aspects of environmental conservation that governments can then be clear and explicit about national objectives for environmental considerations."
Conducting an economic analysis within an EIA should be a requirement, so that economic values on natural resources can be integrated in the decision-making process. Such values inform planners and policy makers of how crucial biological diversity and environmental management is to sustainable development and national development objectives. That approach would require expertise in resource/environmental economics. It would call for closer interaction between the Department of the Environment and economic planners in CPO and the line ministries. However, there is no formal process in place for such interaction and no personnel are available with skills in resource/environmental economics to function in that process. Under the current conditions, any economic evaluation of the external effects of development projects requires the expertise of overseas consultants.
Some provisions are made under the proposed Sustainable Development Act that would require the quantifying of resources in financial terms. Within five years of the enactment of the Sustainable Development Act, every government ministry, department or statutory body responsible for the administration of any natural resource will be required to implement an accounting system for quantifying, in financial terms, the resource capital that they administer. Those agencies will also have to quantify any expenditures incurred in the exploitation, extraction or use of the resources. Considerable training will be required if that requirement is to be meaningfully met.
The recent global summit meetings on the environment, such as those in Rio de Janeiro and Barbados, have come up with programmes of action to address environmental issues. Countries including Fiji have been requested to mainstream the programmes of action into the central decision-making machinery so that environmental considerations may be integrated in that process. This has yet to happen. The process under which mainstreaming takes place depends largely on the effectiveness of the central decision-making machinery. Fiji is fortunate to have a relatively efficient machinery which ought to make the mainstreaming process more viable than is the case in many other countries. The problem is that the political will has been deficient.