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    A Unique Environmental Institution

    By Keith R | January 27, 2009

    Topics: Environmental Governance | No Comments »

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    Right now, until 05 February, environmental groups across Brazil are electing their representatives on the National Environment Council (Conselho Nacional do Meio Ambiente – CONAMA).

    The more than 500 environment nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in the Environment Ministry’s (MMA) National Registry of Environmental Entities (Cadastro Nacional de Entidades AmbientalistasCNEA) are voting for which individuals will represent their interests in the 11 of 12 civil society slots on the Council that they control (the twelfth by tradition goes to Brazil’s oldest conservation organization).  One of the 11 slots must be filled by an NGO with national scope, the rest by two representatives apiece from each of Brazil’s five major regions.

    No other Latin America or Caribbean (LAC) nation lets environment (and business, labor, scientific and professional) organizations participate directly in environmental policy formation as Brazil does with CONAMA, and certainly none have NGOs hold open elections for their representation on environmental policy matters.  In fact, I am hard-pressed to think of a nation outside of LAC (including most in the OECD) that has a similar environmental policy-making model.

    What is CONAMA and Why Does it Matter?

    It’s not just a consultative body like most governments use to get (and often ignore) input from non-governmental sources.  CONAMA is a collegial policy-making body in which representatives from all levels of government (federal, state, local) and various non-governmental actors (trade unions, scientific and technical bodies, environment NGOs, etc.) participate and have equal say (and vote*).  CONAMA has set national environment standards on such diverse questions as noise in industrial activities, environmental licensing of oil and gas exploration, oil platform discharges, end-of-life batteries and tires, recovering used oil, the management of construction and demolition (C&D) wastes, air pollution and water quality.  While general environmental policy frameworks are still set by law by Congress and through implementing decrees emitted by the Environment Ministry (MMA), CONAMA is responsible for the key technical fleshing-out of standards that guide implementation of environmental law and policy in Brazil.

    Much of CONAMA’s work is done by 11 technical chambers:

    assisted by numerous working groups on specific issues.  Currently there are working groups on such questions as the use of agrotoxics (pesticides), wastewater discharges, groundwater standards, air pollution by fixed sources, sustainable forestry plans, mercury lamps, lithium batteries, and interstate movement of hazardous wastes.

    Many of these working groups were created at the petition of environment representatives in CONAMA, and these representatives are often actively involved in the drafting of CONAMA binding norms, known as resolutions.  And, of course, they each have a vote in deciding on the resolution’s approval when it comes before the plenary session of CONAMA.

    A Very Inclusive Institution

    As mentioned above, CONAMA has membership from both governmental and nongovernmental actors.

    The Chair of CONAMA is always the Environment Minister (currently Carlos Minc), and the MMA’s Executive Secretary serves as CONAMA’s Executive Secretary (so, as you can guess, MMA has some degree of control over the agenda and pace of the Council’s work).

    The Council also has a spot for one representative from the federal environment agency (IBAMA), the National Water Agency (ANA), each one of the Ministries and federal secretariats, and the different military commands.  While the IBAMA and ANA representatives tend to be active in CONAMA deliberations, the Ministries (with the possible exception of the Health Ministry) have spotty participation and the military representatives hardly at all.

    As for other levels of government, CONAMA includes a representative apiece from each state and the Federal District (DF), which usually is someone from the state environment secretariat or agency.  State participation varies — some states, such as São Paulo or Rio Grande do Sul, tend to be very active, while others (primarily those in the North and West) participate infrequently.

    CONAMA also includes eight representatives from municipal governments that have an environment authority and a municipal environment council: one from the National Association of Municipalities and the Environment (ANAMMA), two from other municipal associations with federal ambit, and one apiece from each of Brazil’s five major regions.

    On the nongovernmental side, the Council includes

    Why Just Brazil?

    In 2000 I was discussing policy regarding special wastes with Argentine officials when they asked me about policy developments on the subject elsewhere in LAC.  When I mentioned the then-new CONAMA regulations on batteries and tires, they inquired what type of instrument Brazil used (law, decree, etc.).  After I finished explaining CONAMA and its resolutions, one commented wistfully, “If only we had such a body, it’d make things much easier.”  The other opined that Argentina’s constitution probably would not permit the creation of something akin to CONAMA.

    How much a part do constitutions and other legal impediments play in the fact that no other LAC government has a body in which civil society can participate directly in environmental policymaking?

    It’s one of life’s little ironies that a democratic and inclusive CONAMA was created in 1981 by a military government sensitive to international criticism that it needed to democratize Brazilian governance, whereas none of the democracies then and now existing in LAC have done anything similar or close to it.  [Don’t get me wrong — many LAC governments do a decent and improving job of consulting the public, and a few even have consultative bodies, but none quite like Brazil’s CONAMA, which involves them in the actual drafting and in the process promotes consensus-building and civil society buy-in to the policy that eventually emerges.]  I’ve sometimes wondered if CONAMA had not already existed for several years and proven its worth before the new constitution was crafted and approved under a democratic government in 1998, would that constitution also have placed impediments to the creation of something like CONAMA?

    I suspect, though, that for most LAC governments it is not really a question of constitutional or major legal impediments.  More likely it is a fear of how such a body would act, a fear of losing tight control over policy formulation, or even some patronizing attitude assuming that the governed are not yet ready to be given some responsibility for how they are governed in an area like environmental policy.

    I have no doubt that in some countries (I will not name names), creating and implementing such a body would be messy at first and may not bear immediate fruit.

    But perhaps the way around that and any other reservations LAC governments might have about creating such a body is to ask the Brazilian government and participants in CONAMA to share their experiences and lessons learned in 28 years of utilizing the Council to shape Brazilian environment policy.  I wonder which LAC governments would queue up for that dialogue and capacity-building?


    * A notable exception: representatives of the Federal Public Ministry (MP) and state MPs can participate in CONAMA deliberations, but they are not permitted to vote.  MPs have unique status under Brazil’s 1988 Constitution: they are empowered to protect the public interest through special investigations and legal actions, including the ação civil pública, where the MP can take on anyone it feels is not complying with current law in specific areas (environment is one), even if it is an environment agency.

    Desde o Ministério do Meio Ambiente (MMA):

    Eleição das entidades ambientalistas no Conama

    As entidades ambientalistas em todo o país estão elegendo os seus representantes ao Conselho Nacional do Meio Ambiente até o próximo dia 5 de fevereiro. O Conama é o primeiro conselho gestor da nossa República que nasce deliberativo e com participação da sociedade civil. Em pleno regime militar, em 1981, muito antes de votarmos para presidente, quando nem sequer havia eleição para governos estaduais, este conselho surgia com o propósito de assessorar e normatizar a política ambiental do País, de forma participativa.

    Nos anos recentes, o Conama vive um novo momento. A gestão do ministro Carlos Minc dá continuidade e intensifica um processo de revitalização do conselho. Esse trabalho se realiza, hoje, com a renovação dos membros das câmaras técnicas, a revisão do regimento interno, a priorização de temas estratégicos, a publicação da 2ª edição do livro de Resoluções para os novos prefeitos, mas também com a eleição das novas entidades ambientalistas para mais dois anos de mandato.

    A eleição de 11 representantes de ONGs de todo o país é realizada entre mais de 500 instituições registradas no Cadastro Nacional de Entidades Ambientalistas (CNEA), atualmente administrado pela Secretaria de Articulação Institucional e Cidadania Ambiental do Ministério do Meio Ambiente (MMA). Este segmento integra a bancada da Sociedade Civil, com um total de 22 cadeiras.

    A militância dos ambientalistas, assim como dos demais segmentos do Conama, vai muito além dos debates acalorados em plenário. Envolve os grupos de trabalho, onde qualquer cidadão participa, especialmente técnicos e especialistas indicados, inclusive por essas entidades; as câmaras técnicas temáticas, que votam em primeira instância; a Câmara de Assuntos Jurídicos e ainda o Comitê de Integração de Políticas Ambientais, o Cipam, onde cada setor tem um representante. Só então as resoluções vão a plenário para aprovação e posterior publicação no Diário Oficial da União, passando a vigorar com força de lei.

    A importância dessa eleição pode ser medida pela produção do conselho. Durante o mandato das atuais entidades (2006-2008), foram aprovadas 30 resoluções, além de outras deliberações e consultas, como o documento de Orientações Estratégicas do MMA para o Plano Plurianual 2008-2011. Entre as resoluções, vale destacar a que trata da destinação de pilhas e baterias, o novo prazo do Proconve para veículos pesados (Diesel S-10), os limites de emissões por fontes fixas, o uso agrícola de lodo de esgoto, o licenciamento de agroindústrias e aterros sanitários de pequeno porte, a vegetação de Mata Atlântica de Minas Gerais e Paraíba, a classificação e diretrizes ambientais para o enquadramento de águas subterrâneas e o Plano de Emergência para incidentes com óleo.

    Neste ano, o Conama deverá aprovar outras matérias relevantes como a vegetação de restinga, o licenciamento de aquicultura, o gerenciamento de áreas contaminadas, a nova fase do Proconve para veículos leves, o bem estar animal, além do seu Regimento e a Resolução 292, que disciplina o próprio CNEA.

    Por tudo isso, a sua participação nessa eleição é decisiva, inclusive para os novos desafios do conselho. Nas palavras do ambientalista, fundador do Conama, prof. Paulo Nogueira-Neto, “o voto e a participação da sociedade civil são muito importantes para o bom trabalho do Conama em favor do meio ambiente e dos recursos naturais no Brasil”.

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