Local Environmental Action Plans (LEAPs)
“We see schools and communities as champions of progress in the Drina River basin, working together to make this area a modern and responsible environment based on cooperation and mutual understanding. This will ultimately lead to our schools and communities being able to continuously plan and implement the principles of sustainable development.”
Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) and South Eastern Europe (SEE) have weathered tremendous changes in the past two and a half decades. Political and economic transition, a shift towards decentralisation, and EU accession processes have been the most significant drivers in shaping these regions and their development. At the same time, local governments have taken on new, broad responsibilities towards addressing environmental problems. This new emphasis on local control over environmental problems takes into consideration the fact that local governments and citizens have the best understanding of local problems, issues and needs.
Since the late 1990s, the REC has been implementing various programmes to build the capacities of local governments to plan and manage their future sustainability with active public participation. From the beginning, these programmes have been implemented in a regional and cross-border context — especially in SEE, following the years of conflict — which has made a positive contribution to initiatives for peace, stability and cooperation in the region.
Local environmental action plans (LEAPs) hold enormous potential for helping to solve environmental problems at local level in the CEE and SEE regions. The drafting of LEAPs involves developing a community vision, assessing environmental issues, setting priorities, identifying the most appropriate strategies for addressing key problems, and implementing actions that achieve real environmental and public health improvements.
The LEAP process is founded on meaningful public input in local government decision making and provides a forum for bringing together diverse groups and individuals with different interests, values and perspectives. The development of a LEAP is typically led by a stakeholder group comprising representatives from all major institutions in the community, including businesses, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), academic and scientific institutions and government agencies. These groups work together over a period of 12 to 24 months to forge consensus on recommended priorities and actions to address environmental concerns. The recommended priorities and actions are then compiled into an action plan, which serves as a blueprint for future environmental investments in the community. The recommendations are also incorporated into the decisions of the municipal council and/or other implementing bodies.
Over the years, as the needs and capacities of local communities have changed, the REC has tailored its approach accordingly by introducing new tools for local planning, such as local biodiversity action plans (LBAPs), which were developed in cooperation with the European Centre for Nature Conservation. The REC also supported a school development planning process in the Drina River basin, further enhancing cooperation with local governments. All programmes implemented by the REC include an investment component for selected small-scale priority activities.
Among other goals, the LEAPs developed in the CEE and SEE regions have aimed to:
- improve environmental conditions in the community by implementing concrete, cost-effective action strategies;
- promote public awareness of and responsibility for environmental issues and increase public support for action strategies and investments;
- strengthen the capacity of both local governments and NGOs to manage and implement environmental programmes, including their ability to obtain financing from national and international institutions and sponsors;
- promote partnerships between citizens, local government officials, NGO representatives, scientists and business people, and encourage cooperation in solving community problems;
- identify, assess and set environmental priorities for action based on community values and scientific data;
- identify specific actions for solving problems and promoting community vision; and
- fulfil national regulatory requirements regarding the preparation of environmental action plans.
The REC has been involved in the following LEAP-related activities:
- Publishing the Guide to Implementing Local Environmental Action Programmes in Central and Eastern Europe, which was developed by the Institute for Sustainable Communities in cooperation with the REC to support local governments in fulfilling their environmental responsibilities (the guide was subsequently tailored to respond to country-specific needs).
- Publishing the Guide to Implementing Local Biodiversity Action Plans in the Western Balkans, which was developed in cooperation with the European Centre for Nature Conservation.
- Leading the process of drafting LEAPs in more than 50 municipalities in CEE and SEE countries.
- Establishing and supporting the Drina River Committee, an informal association of municipalities from Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia that serves as a platform for cooperation and dialogue.
- Promoting partnership between citizens, local government officials, NGO representatives, scientists and business people to solve community problems.
- Providing direct environmental investments worth more than EUR 2 million through the implementation of small-scale priority actions.
The increased capacities of local actors and stakeholder involvement are recognised as key elements of success in solving environmental problems and improving quality of life in a wider context. Local planning and on-the-ground activities also contribute towards achieving relevant national targets for sustainable development.
At present, the approaches and lessons learned through LEAP implementation in the CEE and SEE regions are being transferred successfully to Belarus, Moldova and Ukraine, which demonstrates a continuing need for local planning where systems are undergoing different processes of decentralisation.