Capacity Building in Environment Audit

Capacity Building in Environment Audit

1.    Introduction

Mankind is becoming more and more aware about the environmental issues and the dynamic linkage between the development and environment. Sustainable development is becoming part of the agenda of nations, national governments and even big corporate houses across the world. Impact of human activities on environment is unfolding and it is universally accepted that the world should adopt and practice sustainable development and strike an optimal balance between economic development, social equity and environmental concerns.

International community has responded to various economic concerns in a collective manner and taken various steps to protect and conserve environment while fulfilling developmental aspirations of people of various nationalities. Over 500 international environmental agreements have been concluded since 1972, the year of the Stockholm Conference and the establishment of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) . Subjects touched by these agreements include following:

Table 1 : Subjects under International Agreements

Sr No. Subject of Agreement No. of Agreements
1 Water 195
2 Chemicals and wastes 180
3 Biodiversity 155
4 Atmosphere including climate change 60
5 Land Use 45

One such recent development is the resolution (No. A / RES / 70 / 1 of 2015) of United Nations titled “Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development” adopted in its Seventieth Session on 25 September 2015. This resolution recognised the need for setting out a supremely ambitious and transformational vision, while underlining challenges and barriers to overcome. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are already in the launch stage with the commencement of the year 2016, as successors to Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which lapsed in December 2015.

International community has reached next level of common vision by adopting the above resolution. As per this agenda the indicator framework is expected to be a management tool to help countries develop implementation strategies and allocate resources accordingly. For each of these 169 targets, indicators based on measureable outcomes are to be defined. The UN system has initiated a process in March 2015 to define what should be measured and how. This process was likely to be concluded in March 2016 to provide a set of indicators that can help track, monitor and guide global and regional development priorities over the next 15 years. The Paris Agreement under the aegis of UNFCCC also has a concept of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) which are to be reviewed for their compliance and implementation by member countries. These developments are likely to add new dimensions to environmental audits being conducted by SAIs all over the world. SAIs might also get some formal roles in respect of implementation of these landmark multilateral environment agreements / conventions.

2.    Role of Supreme Audit Institutions
a.    Extent of Environmental Audit activities

International Organisation of Supreme Audit Institutions (INTOSAI) has recognised the importance of the accountability and transparency in the environmental governance by individual nations and accordingly has placed emphasis on the audit of these issues for last two decades. INTOSAI has emerged as internationally recognized leader in public sector auditing.

INTOSAI’s Working Group on Environmental Auditing (WGEA) has promoted and supported environmental auditing within the INTOSAI community. WGEA was created in 1992, the year in which UN Earth Summit was held in Rio de Janeiro. WGEA became the formal means by which SAIs collectively support environmental auditing. WGEA aims to improve the use of audit mandates and audit instruments that are used to audit topics relevant to the environment.

In 1995, 185 SAIs met with the intention of increasing their knowledge of environmental auditing during 15th triennial meeting of the entire INTOSAI membership. Particular topics addressed included overall framework for environmental auditing, expansion of legislative mandates to include environmental auditing, creation of environmental awareness in government, and cooperation between SAIs auditing International Environmental Agreements (IEAs). WGEA has formalised a process of working through three-year work plans with goals and actions assigned to specific SAIs.

Between 1993 and 2011, national audit offices in over 100 countries conducted more than 3,200 financial, compliance, and performance audits related to the environment. Environmental audits have resulted in governments taking action to improve water quality in rivers, to strengthen protection of flora and fauna, and to reduce pollution. Benefits to environmental governance include development of new legislation and regulations and stronger compliance with those already existing. Audits have resulted in improved implementation of multilateral environmental agreements through better designs for linking programs and better mechanisms for reporting results.

As per the seventh survey (2012) of WGEA the volume of environmental audits conducted by SAIs under ASOSAI during 2009-2011 were substantially higher in comparision to earlier three years. In 59% of SAIs, more environmental audits had been completed since 2009 compared to the previous period and 66% of respondents were planning to further increase their number of audits in the next three years. 22% of respondents had audited some or all aspects of sustainable development and the same proportion of SAIs were likely to consider the Kyoto Protocol in their future work.

Despite all these developments much is yet to be achieved by world leaders in environmental governance and SAIs in the area of Environmental Accountability. As part of an initiative to identify a core set of environmental goals, UNEP examined progress in achieving 90 important goals from 500 different treaties and found that only 4 of them showed significant progress. From this standpoint, there is much unfinished business on the international environmental agenda.

3.    Skills required for SAIs and gaps therein

Environment is a multidisciplinary subject and to understand the dynamic interaction between various components of the same one has to understand the components and the nature of interactions between them. Environmental Auditors thus have to approach their audits through multidisciplinary angles and have to develop set of skills accordingly.  Many SAIs have already carried out audits of environmental programs and are moving into the area of sustainable development. Audit of issues like sustainable development is likely to pose new conceptual and methodological challenges for SAIs. In coming years, the challenge may be to look more at issues that traverse organizational boundaries, or to look more at links between economic, environmental and social issues.

SAIs  might take incremental steps towards environmental audits which can be primarily clarification of mandate to do environmental audits to the higher level of having an impact on environmental issues. SAIs can have right balance of topics for its different achievement stages of environmental audits. There is no substitute for real audit experience as a means to develop and reinforce good practice in the field of environmental audit.

As SAIs gain confidence in handling complex issues, greater effort would likely focus on examining how effective government actions are. For this, SAIs will need to question whether existing methodologies used to conduct performance audits are suitable. Bringing in specialist staff can be one route, either directly by hiring specialists or through the use of outside consultants depending upon local circumstances but SAIs may also need to review its pool of domain knowledge.

SAIs  and  their  auditors  and  others  who  carry  out environmental  audits  should   demonstrate  adequate  knowledge  of  environmental  auditing acquired by training and practical experience. The wider the SAI’s mandate, more complex becomes the task of ensuring quality of performance across the whole mandate.  This often applies directly to environmental auditing.

SAIs believe that there is always room for improvement in such a developing field as the audit of environment and sustainable development. Exchanging experiences with other SAIs can  help share ideas and keep abreast of recent developments. The SAI community has therefore been working through regional groups on environmental auditing to assist the learning process, evolve common training programs, information sharing mechanisms and preparation of common databases to assist in identifying and sharing expertise.

The results of Seventh Survey of INTOSAI WGEA (2012) in case of ASOSAI revealed the following:

  • As many as 34% of respondents i.e. 11 SAIs had a separate unit devoted to environmental auditing. On the other hand, seven did not have auditors assigned to environmental audits at the time of the survey.
  • In most SAIs, 1-4% of total staff were involved in environmental auditing. In more than half of respondents’ offices employees dealt with environmental auditing mostly on a part-time basis.
  • 66% of respondents expected their SAI’s amount of environmental auditors to increase in the next three years, while 81% perceived existing potential within their SAI.
  • Competence wise, SAIs most often mapped performance and compliance auditing experience as existing skills.
  • 52% of SAIs had auditors with work experience in the environmental sector and those with specialised education in 39% of SAIs.
  • 75% of SAIs under ASOSAI considered training on environmental auditing an important development need, and 41% of SAIs wanted to take measures to meet this need.
  • A lack of skills or expertise was the main barrier to environmental auditing underscored by respondents in the survey, while an inadequate mandate was decreasing in importance since 2009 (from 11 to three SAIs). To overcome this challenges, 78% of SAIs had relied on training to staff in environmental auditing.

4.    Global Facility for Capacity Building

SAI India established International Centre for Environment Audit and Sustainable Development (iCED) in June 2010 in order to fulfil its role of a national auditor in the field of ‘environment’. Objectives of iCED have been knowledge creation and assimilation, capacity building and knowledge dissemination at national and international levels. WGEA has adopted building capacity of SAIs to conduct environmental audits, through exchange of information and training as its core activity. The Survey conducted by WGEA indicated that one of the main expectations from WGEA was to get training on environmental auditing. Hence, during the work period of 2011-13 one of the proposed actions (action 2.3 (f)) of WGEA was to find a partner to develop a Global Training Facility on environmental auditing. The training facility was to be open for every SAI and would ideally provide annual courses based on existing guidance and study documents. The courses would provide basics to start an environmental audit, as well as provide discussions and case studies on critical issues in the world and / or different regions. SAI India responded to this cause and a proposal was mooted in 2011 by SAI India to make iCED the Global Training Facility (GTF) for WGEA which was accepted by it, keeping in mind the need for training in environment audit expressed by SAIs across the world. A need analysis showed that most WGEA members wanted an introductory basic course, at least for the beginning of GTF. SAI India as committed to WGEA held the first course in iCED in November 2013. GTF adopted in WGEA work plan for 2011-13 was extended up to 2013-16.

iCED aims to be a global Centre of Excellence for improving accountability and governance in the area of environment and sustainable development. Accordingly its mission has been identified which is development of high quality products in training and research to enrich environment audit through an inter-disciplinary approach enabled by valuable partnerships. iCED intends to work with professional excellence, objectivity, concern for environment for achievement of following objectives:

  • Be a knowledge centre that fosters learning and builds capacity for audit of issues relating to environment and sustainable development
  • Undertake research that informs the processes in audit as well as governance structures related to these issues
  • Be an information hub on environment, sustainable development and audit related issues for wide dissemination and use.
  • Build partnerships with SAIs and other organisations working in this area for knowledge and experience sharing
  • Develop a modern institution which is efficient, effective and adaptable, adopting best management practices
  • Promote mainstreaming environment concerns among government agencies and public auditors

iCED intends to learn through collaborative approach and achieve an unique status of being model centre in its core themes of operation viz. training, research and advocacy in the area of environment audit and sustainable development.

5.    iCED – the gap filler

SAI India conceptualized iCED as a world class facility at its inception and decided to establish matching infrastructure as a new green field project. New state of the art and modern green campus where iCED is located today at Jaipur is established in 6.49 Ha area which is 240 Kms away from New Delhi, the national capital of India.

There are two training halls which can accommodate 40 to 75 persons simultaneously. One of these halls have state of the art audio-visual arrangements where any big conference can be held with effective communication between the delegates. The training halls have adjoining meeting rooms, a VIP Lounge, sit out areas for inter-session breaks. A modern auditorium with capacity to accommodate 175 can be used for bigger events like conferences and mass communications. All training facilities are customized for various methods of training delivery thus making a perfect environment for any kind of adult learning needs. The training infrastructure is backed up by a library which is working on conventional method as of now and is being strengthened for its content in the form of quality and quantity. The whole campus is Wi-Fi enabled.

The training infrastructure is backed up by matching residential facilities in the form of 60 guest participant rooms supported by dining facility along-with common support facilities and entertainment areas. All rooms are provided with facilities matching with those offered by any modern day hotel to its guests for a short stay. All rooms are provided with wireless internet, LAN and in-room entertainment. The facility is accessible by a physically challenged person and couple of rooms are also customized to accommodate such person. In addition to participant rooms there are 20 rooms which can be provided to visiting faculties. If need arises the same can also be used for participants.

The campus also takes care of additional requirements of visiting guests as it offers variety of sports facilities which as of now include badminton, table tennis, swimming pool and a well-equipped gymnasium. Additional facilities like tennis, squash and billiards are in various stages of planning and development. An open air amphitheater is also provided for social gatherings of formal and informal nature.

iCED has extensive green features like sensor-based lighting, solar water heaters, rain water harvesting system, use of local and eco-friendly materials, double glazing etc. It also incorporated features in its design like use of fenestrations, large windows etc., to cut down on energy requirements of the building. A part of power consumed is also sourced from a solar power plant operationalised in the campus.

6.    Contribution to Capacity Building

The location of iCED offers advantages like reasonably good domestic air, rail and road connectivity. Jaipur is connected to few international airports directly and has direct flights to all major international airports of India. Its proximity to the national capital offers it geographical proximity to national and international organisations working in the field of the environment. The surroundings also provide a good demonstrative features prevalent in the state of Rajasthan which is known for its pro-environment communities, traditional knowledge of the environment, diversified economic activities and tourism potential of world repute.

iCED in its operation of three years in new campus at Jaipur has been able to garner support of institutions and individuals of repute for its capacity building efforts and its faculties have been of diverse backgrounds from diverse institutions – Public and Private, NGOs and universities. Both the facts that India has environmental diversity with exposure to all kinds of environmental problems as well as solutions and SAI India’s wide experience of environmental auditing at the federal and provincial levels has worked in favour of establishing the centre as a strong institution in its area of operation.

WGEA had set up a sub-committee to develop the course module to be offered to SAIs as a product of iCED – the Global Training Facility which comprised of Norway, Estonia, USA, India and Finland. All these SAIs also committed their course developers to deliver the course in iCED Jaipur. This course has been unique as its development and delivery are shared by various SAIs. We believe that this is a unique model and will offer participants different perspectives of how environment systems are managed and audited across the world. So far three International Training Programmes have been conducted since 2013 wherein 28 SAIs have trained their 68 Environmental Auditors at iCED.

In the year 2015 iCED conducted a specialised training on environment audit for SAI Bangladesh. The course was conducted over 20 days wherein 20 officers / auditors of various levels and backgrounds from SAI Bangladesh participated.

Methodology adopted for other trainings at iCED is also unique in its approach as trainers are selected from experienced personnel within SAI India combined with the domain experts from the environment and related sectors from amongst the reputed institutions and individuals. All major trainings are designed with components of field visits and study tours for better training impacts. Many environmental friendly practices are also demonstrated in the ‘green campus’ of iCED itself.

In addition to training activity iCED has also taken up research activities at national and international level. iCED has been the nodal office of SAI India for its participation in WGEA activities and has worked for the WGEA research projects in its Work Plan 2014-16. iCED was actively associated with and contributed to two research projects viz. Greening SAIs (Leader) and Environmental Assessments (Co-Lead with SAI Canada).

7.    Eyes on Future

iCED has made a modest beginning and it strives to achieve higher goals with strong institutional support from SAI India, its senior management and international SAI community. iCED envisions to become a model organisation in its area of operation through demonstrating ongoing relevance to its stakeholders and leading by example.

iCED would be a part of world class knowledge sharing platform – ‘National Knowledge Network’ soon. It would engage itself in development of e-learning tools and other innovative training methodologies. It would increase its demonstrative value by additional solar power generation for self-sustainability and further improvisation of waste and water management practices in the campus. It aspires to be a platform where workshops / seminars involving eminent persons in the field of environment audit and sustainable development from national and international levels would participate. iCED is going to be the venue of SAI India for hosting forthcoming workshop of ASOSAI WGEA in October 2016.

iCED while proposing to continue its ITPs for WGEA is also open for ideas of working together with other SAIs especially those in the region for country specific capacity building programmes. It has learnt lessons from its operations as GTF and built up its processes on the basis of multinational feedback for improving successive training programmes. The calm and unpolluted physical infrastructure to facilitate quality learning, cost effectiveness and its strong international standard infrastructure provides a unique capacity to iCED to become a world class training facility. The iCED is gearing up to host fourth consecutive International Training Programme for WGEA during 21st November 2016 to 4th December 2016.

Going beyond training, capacity building in Environment Audit could encompass experience sharing. This could be achieved through active collaborations with SAIs. As is well known “Environment” transcends national frontiers for effective “Environment Audit”. SAIs would need to think globally while auditing nationally. iCED may well aspire to be a platform for such global thinking.

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