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.

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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.

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