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The steering and work in the environmental objectives system – final report (2014:10)

The Government has commissioned Statskontoret to evaluate the work performed by the 25 agencies that have been given responsibilities within the environmental objectives system. The purpose of Statskontoret's assignment is to establish a macroeconomically efficient system in which all actors can work together to achieve the highest possible goal fulfilment in the most cost effective way, in terms of the generation goal and the environmental quality objectives.

Statskontoret's commission is made up of two parts. In the first part, which was presented in June 2013, Statskontoret has mapped how the 25 agencies with responsibilities in the environmental objectives system work to contribute to the achievement of the generation goal and the environmental quality objectives. In the second part, Statskontoret has focused on the agencies' conditions for carrying out effective environmental work. This report constitutes Statskontoret's final submission in its assignment.

The generation goal is at present the overall goal of environmental policy. The generation goal specifies the orientation of the societal shift that needs to happen in order for the next generation, by 2020, to be able to take over a society where the major environmental problems are solved, without having caused increased environmental and health problems outside the country's borders. To achieve the generation goal, the Swedish Parliament has adopted 16 environmental quality objectives, which describe the state of the environment to which the environmental work should optimally lead. The Government has commissioned 25 national agencies and the 21 county administrative boards to contribute to achieving these objectives. Eight of the agencies have also been given monitoring responsibilities.

The environmental work is not leading to the objectives' achievement

According to the latest assessment of the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, 14 of the 16 environmental quality objectives will not be achieved within the designated timeframe. Contributing reasons for this include that fact that the majority of the objectives are visionary in nature and the agencies, in most cases, only have a limited ability to influence the fulfilment of objectives. In several cases, an international commitment is required for the objectives to be achieved. In other cases, national measures are required of which the agencies do not have right of disposition, for example in the form of legislation or taxes and charges. Most environmental quality objectives cannot be achieved unless the public and industry change their behaviour and give greater consideration to how the environment is being affected.

Most of the agencies with commissions in the environmental objectives system have not adequately reported the work they have carried out in an effort to achieve the objectives, or how any measures have contributed to achieving these objectives. It is therefore unclear to what extent the agencies are engaged in activities that contribute to the achievement of the generation goal and environmental quality objectives.

The Government's steering of the environmental work needs to be strengthened

The Government's steering of the work in the environmental objectives system has in recent years been achieved through the agencies' instructions. When it comes to the 25 national agencies, these provisions are essentially identically worded with regard to the responsibility for implementation work. At the same time, these agencies have substantially different core missions. Included among the agencies are, for example, the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, the Swedish Transport Administration and the Swedish National Agency for Education. In addition, the agencies fall under a number of different ministries.

Statskontoret notes that the steering is at present insufficiently tailored to operations. Environmental policy objectives are visionary and do not provide adequate support to policy implementation. The provisions in the instructions do not provide adequate guidance and they have not been followed up with reporting requirements. Furthermore, scant reporting of environmental work in the agencies' annual reports has gone unchallenged. The Ministry of the Environment, which is commissioned to coordinate environmental policy under the Government, has largely surrendered the steering and monitoring of the implementation of environmental work to respective agency's departmental ministry.

In the 2014 appropriation directions, however, the agencies have been commissioned to report on how they are working to achieve the generation goal and environmental quality objectives, as well as report on how the work is being integrated with the implementation of the agency's core operations. Despite this, Statskontoret assesses that there is further need to strengthen the steering of the environmental work. This should be done through the Ministry of the Environment taking a more long-term approach to its work with the departmental ministries on issues of environmental policy, for example through skills development training and knowledge exchange. In relation to the agencies, the Government's steering needs to become more operations-related, for example, through government commissions.

The Swedish Parliament and the Government require more of a knowledge base regarding the environmental work

There is currently limited knowledge on what the agencies are doing or their work approach in terms of contributing to achieving the environmental quality objectives. The Swedish Parliament and the Government need this knowledge in order to continuously reassess policy direction and content.

Statskontoret assesses that the current performance reporting is inadequate and must be improved. The Government should also allow the Environmental Protection Agency to produce analyses and data for decision-making based on these performance reports.

Statskontoret assesses there to be a need for the Government to increase its demand for impact analyses, including macroeconomic analyses. The Government has repeatedly highlighted the need to develop the macroeconomic analyses, but the incentives to conduct these analyses have been weak. A higher demand should lead to both the development work in this area and the application of the analyses gathering momentum.

The agencies' roles and responsibilities in the environmental objectives system should not change

At present, 25 national agencies have responsibilities to contribute to the environmental objectives. These agencies fall under a number of different ministries. From a steering perspective, there are advantages to the number of agencies under governance being as few as possible. However, the agencies involved operate within considerably different areas and have different core missions. That means, among other things, that it is difficult to coordinate the agencies in different groups. As environmental policy encompasses so many objectives, the impact of the environmental work would also be reduced if fewer agencies would be given responsibilities in the environmental objectives system. Statskontoret has therefore not found reason to change the number of agencies participating in the system today.

Within the framework of the implementation work, the Environmental Protection Agency's proactive role can be strengthened to some extent, for example through the agency providing guidance to other agencies on how to tackle these issues. However, the Environmental Protection Agency cannot steer the implementation work to any greater extent than currently achieved since, firstly, there is a lack of knowledge regarding the other agencies' operations, and secondly, it has no mandate to govern other agencies.

Statskontoret's assessment is that some of the environmental agencies could internally coordinate the work with the environmental objectives system and the environmental management system. A more extensive aggregation of the two systems is however inappropriate given the fundamental differences between them. For example, unlike the environmental management system, the environmental objectives system imposes requirements on the agencies to be proactive and take action to achieve the environmental objectives. For its part, the environmental management system does not only encompass the 16 environmental quality objectives, but must also perform an impact analysis of all environmental impacts resulting from agency operations.

The agencies must analyse the requirements set by the environmental work

The majority of the agencies with responsibilities in the environmental objectives system have not analysed what this responsibility entails. This has prompted a government assignment which the agencies have received in this year's appropriation directions.

It is incumbent on the agencies to look to the future and submit proposals for measures and policy instruments associated with the coming years' environmental work. In 2008, the agencies submitted over 1,000 such proposals to the Government. Aside from the general commission in the instructions, the agencies have since then not received any assignment to submit proposals. Statskontoret's assessment is that the Government should request such proposals as they are deemed important for the development of environmental policy. The proposals should be undergo impact analysis by the agencies.

The environmental objectives system should not be evaluated now

There is currently a lack of documentation, for example performance reports and follow-up reports from the agencies, needed to be able to evaluate the environmental objectives system and the environmental work. Statskontoret has therefore determined that the Government's steering needs to be strengthened before it can be considered meaningful to conduct an evaluation of the agencies' work.

Integrated model for steering the environmental work

Based on the assessments presented by Statskontoret, we believe that the implementation work can be further enhanced through changes in the current governance model. According to Statskontoret's assessment, there is reason to clarify that the basis for the implementation work is found in both the strategies already being developed, and in the in-depth evaluations which the Environmental Protection Agency coordinates and reports once per mandate period.

However, in order for the in-depth evaluations to constitute an adequate basis in the implementation of the environmental work, they need to be developed in at least two respects:

  • In order for the agencies to be able to use the in-depth evaluations to analyse how the evaluations can contribute to the environmental objectives, they must be more concrete and clearly illustrate what can be done at different levels, for example, internationally, nationally and locally.
  • For the Government to be able to use the in-depth evaluations as a basis for decisions, the evaluations must, to a greater extent, present how the environmental objectives system should be developed and present the consequences of various measures.

Based on the in-depth evaluation and the state of the environment (which is presented in the evaluation), it should make it significantly easier for the agencies to analyse the way in which they can contribute to a better environment. The assignment, issued to the agencies with responsibilities in the environmental objectives system, needs to be concretised and given a specific timeframe. According to Statskontoret's assessment, it is reasonable that the measures in the structure are distributed over a four year period, in a cycle, starting after the next in-depth evaluation. The work shall begin with an internal agency analysis of the in-depth evaluation and end with a presentation and evaluation of their own work. The agencies' presentation should take place in connection with the next in-depth evaluation being reported, wherein the cycle begins again with the internal agency analysis.

The Environmental Protection Agency should also be able to sort through the proposals for measures, subject them to impact analyses, and present an overall proposal to the Government regarding the order of priorities. This proposal can therefore form the basis for policy standpoints.

In addition, Statskontoret proposes certain measures in order for the proposed model to be introduced in time.