The selection of freshwater, climate change and environmental governance as priorities by all regions suggests a recognition that these issues have reached a point of global importance requiring responses that could have relevance worldwide. Climate change exerts extreme pressure on ecological systems, including on freshwater by exacerbating problems of water supply and demand. Two regions considered climate change to be cross-cutting, and assessed how policies in each theme help to attain international goals related to climate change.
There are common elements in successful policies across the regions. Tools such as integrated water resources and coastal zone management; the removal of environmentally harmful subsidies, especially on fossil fuels and/or carbon taxes; renewable energy, marine protected areas, and cross-boundary biodiversity conservation, are all examples of policies used in more than one region, but customized to each context. Formal, robust, and well-established governance mechanisms and structures at all governance levels are a necessary foundation for successful implementation of environmental policies.
The policies selected by the regions are successful because of some underlying principles. These include policies that are mutually reinforcing and have benefits across sectors, address drivers, invest in monitoring and evaluation to allow revision and enhance accountability, or involve multi-stakeholder participation at local, national and regional level.
There is sufficient experience to enable faster transfer and replication of several of the priority policies. This, however, would be greatly improved by the sharing of experiences between donor and recipient practitioners and stakeholders, learning the specific skills of how to assess potential policies for particular needs and how to adapt these to the selected situation, and establishing capacity and institutional development to support the enhancement and propagation of these skills.
While many of these policies are long-standing management concepts, their application can be innovative if certain principles are adhered to. This includes policies that are mutually reinforcing with positive impacts in more than one thematic domain, and policies that address drivers – as defined in Chapter 1. Concentrating on these deeper, underlying causes of environmental degradation will allow the goals and targets set out in international, regional and national agreements to be met in a more effective way.
Transboundary cooperation is important when natural areas are shared. It promotes understanding and the transfer of knowledge between neighbours, and leads to a collective response to shared problems, allowing new opportunities and ways of overcoming these common problems to be identified.
Improved environmental governance is needed if environmental degradation and the unsustainable use of natural resources are to be reversed. Critical components include multi-stakeholder support, raising public awareness among all stakeholders, stronger mechanisms for financial sustainability, enhanced institutional capacity, adequate legal frameworks and strong compliance mechanisms. Community leadership demonstrated, for example, in the formation of water maintenance trust funds or wetland management schemes provides local services, helps resolve inter-community conflicts, demonstrates the value of participation and learning, and provides income-generating opportunities.
Policies that have proven successful can be analysed for their ability to leverage societal transformation. Understanding the potential of these policies, alone or in combination, could help facilitate transformative change and enhance the effect that policy makers have on reaching sustainable development objectives at local, national, regional and international levels.