Environmental policy auditing for biodiversity conservation: The coordinated audit of protected areas
Auditing entities are public institutions that play a key role in the improvement of environmental policies. Thus, the Commission on Environmental Auditing of Latin America (COMTEMA) conducted the Coordinated Audit of Protected Areas in 2019-2020, with the participation of 26 inspection entities from 17 countries, in order to effectively evaluate their environmental management.
Given their cross-cutting and transboundary nature, environmental policies require complex organizational structures and governance arrangements as well as global responses that allow for the coordinated and integrated action of different stakeholders.
Among these stakeholders are Supreme Audit Institutions (SAIs): independent public institutions that examine the use of public resources. In addition to this role, SAIs also conduct audits to evaluate the efficiency, efficacy, and effectiveness of public policies. Therefore, environmental policies can benefit from a technical, independent, impartial, and apolitical analysis carried out by SAIs.
In view of the cross-cutting nature of the biodiversity conservation policy, the SAIs of Latin America, within the framework of the Latin American Special Technical Commission for the Environment, have joined efforts to carry out a joint work to evaluate the public environmental patrimony represented by protected areas, one of the key governmental strategies for biodiversity conservation. A coordinated international audit project was therefore initiated by several audit teams in different Latin American countries. However, in order to carry out the work with so many actors, it was necessary to establish a common language, so as to allow for standardization in communication and, above all, in the way of evaluating the audited policies.Here, the Aichi Target 11 of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) serverd as a common standard to be shared across all countries.
A key challenge was to create a methodology that could be applied to different contexts and, at the same time, allow the consolidation of the analyses carried out by all the audit teams involved in the project. To do so, the team coordinating the audit (represented by EFS do Brasil) built a methodology called Indimapa, based on methodologies that are already internationally recognized for assessing the effectiveness of protected area management, such as the Rappam developed by WWF and the Tracking Tool developed by the World Bank.
This is a georeferenced tool that, with indexes and indicators visualized on a map, allows the assessment, communication and monitoring of the management level and implementation of the conservation units. In addition, Indimapa arises from the need for audits to establish outlines that allow for chronological comparisons of the results of the evaluated policy and serve as a baseline for longitudinal studies. The instrument therefore allows the monitoring of the evolution of the management of these areas by control agencies, management entities, non-governmental organizations, international donors, and society, thus increasing social control and strengthening environmental governance. Indimapa was applied between 2019 and 2020 by 15 countries in Latin America and two in Europe (Spain and Portugal), which allowed for a standardized and objective evaluation of more than 2000 protected areas.
Taking into account the different audiences interested in the SAI's evaluations, the communication of the consolidated results was represented with an average of the indicators on a map with a three-tiered chromatic scale, allowing all citizens, even those without specific knowledge on the theme, to be able to understand the results of the analysis. Therefore, the joint efforts of the SAIs have culminated in an unprecedented evaluation that provides an overview of the level of management of protected areas in Latin America and Europe, demonstrating the fundamental role that SAIs can play in promoting sustainable development.
What Makes Your Project Innovative?
The Coordinated Audit of Protected Areas provides a systemic regional overview of the management and implementation of 2,415 protected areas in 17 countries, which were evaluated by 26 independent public control institutions (INTOSAI-P-1) that can issue opinions, advice, and/or recommendations to governments with the aim of promoting the efficiency, efficacy, and effectiveness of public policies and the use of public resources (UN-A/RES/69/228). 1,028 protected areas were evaluated for the second time, allowing the identification of advances and opportunities for improvement in their management and implementation. This evaluation is unprecedented due to its execution by inspection and auditing entities, the number of protected areas evaluated, and the mandate and importance of the evaluating institutions before national and subnational governments.
What is the current status of your innovation?
The project was first run in 2014 with the participation of 12 countries. 1200 protected areas were assessed by the SAIs. At that time, the results indicated that most protected areas were at an intermediate level of management and implementation.
Five years later, the second version of the project was carried out. This time, the coordinated audit included 17 countries and was able to assess more than 2400 protected areas in a standardized and objective manner. In addition, it was possible to verify whether progress had been made between the areas that were evaluated on both occasions. Currently, the project is finishing the preparation of an executive summary with the consolidated results of the joint work.
Collaborations & Partnerships
The audit was coordinated by the TCU, under COMTEMA/OLACEFS, with support from GIZ GmbH and experts from the CBD, IUCN, UNDESA, US GAO, WGEA/INTOSAI. The audit was carried out by more than 100 auditors from 26 teams in 17 countries in Latin America, the Caribbean and Europe, including 17 national audit bodies and 9 subnational entities: courts of auditors of Brazilian states in the Amazon and of the Province of Buenos Aires in Argentina.
Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries
The primary users of the audit results are citizens, parliamentarians, and national and sub-national governments, who make decisions about the formulation, implementation, evaluation and review of public policies. Stakeholders include GTZ, international organizations, and environmental NGOs. The beneficiaries are the participating inspectorates, which have been strengthened in the process, and their auditors, who have developed important professional skills and competencies.
Results, Outcomes & Impacts
The creation of Indimapa allowed the evaluation, communication and monitoring of the management level and implementation status of the protected areas. Considering that the Indimapa methodology was applied for the second time by 11 Latin American SAIs, it was possible to evaluate 1028 areas in an objective and standardized way by means of indicators and indexes, showing an improvement in the sustainable management levels of these territories. In this sense, the methodology allows chronological comparisons of the results and serves as a baseline for longitudinal studies. Furthermore, this type of evaluation contributes to the strengthening of social control, accountability, and environmental governance.
Challenges and Failures
The first challenge was to establish a common language among the control bodies participating in the coordinated audit. Then the challenge of developing a methodology applicable to different national contexts had to be overcome, as well as the challenge of establishing a communication strategy for the results.
To overcome the challenge of developing a specific tool for the control bodies and applicable to different contexts, internationally recognized methodologies were used, among them the Rappam developed by WWF and the Tracking Tool by the World Bank. The communication strategy was based on 2 principles: (1) the analysis of results should be easy to understand, regardless of the reader's level of knowledge on the subject; and (2) the results should be consolidated and presented in a user-friendly way through an illustration. Thus, the results maps allow a simple, single-view identification of the management level of each protected area.
Conditions for Success
Key success factors included:
- The leadership and support of top management, who played a crucial role in the coordination of different actors, which resulted in 26 inspection entities from 17 different countries joining the project.
- The financial support obtained through GTZ GmbH that was fundamental in sponsoring the auditors' participation in technical workshops held in the planning and consolidation stages of the audit.
- The commitment and, above all, the technical and managerial capacity of the team coordinating the project, which knew how to deal with diverse actors, in three languages, and with different levels of capacity and resources.
Given that the work process and methodology developed are applicable to different contexts, the possibility of replication is significant. In this way, other control bodies can draw on this experience and apply the system developed in the local, national, and global contexts, by means of joint work. Furthermore, although it was developed for use by control agencies, the methodology can be used by other actors. For example the government of Mexico has reported using the tool to strengthen the management of Mexican protected areas (https://www.gob.mx/conanp).
Finally, the logic behind the tool is based on the definition of objective criteria that, through indicators and indexes, provide individualized information and, at the same time, information about the system being evaluated. Thus, the replication of the methodology can occur in other areas such as education, health, infrastructure, security, etc.
The main lessons learned are:
- it is necessary that the teams involved are engaged and share a common language. Along these lines, the use of common evaluation criteria is an essential factor to maintain the standardization of the analyses and to allow the consolidation of results. Without standardization and without a systematic consolidation of data, it is not possible, for example, to generate a regional panorama at the end of the work.
- the inclusion of various stakeholders (civil society organizations, academia, private sector) was fundamental to validate the project's methodological strategy and add value to the analyses undertaken.
- it is essential to establish a communication strategy from the beginning of the project, communicating to the interested parties, among other things, the objective, activities, and timeline of the initiative.
- it is necessary to recognize that the project participants have different levels of capabilities, experiences, and resources.