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Participation & Sustainable Development in Europe

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BENEFITS AND LIMITS

Benefits of environmental mediation

In Austria environmental mediation has proved its worth for resolving long-drawn-out conflicts. Experience reveals that it is best to take those affected on board at an early stage (before project approval is applied for / before the conflict escalates). In this case approval procedures go quicker, because most of the objections and appeals do not take place. Those involved are saved the trouble and expense of long-drawn-out legal proceedings and planning revisions; the results of mediation are incorporated in the project to be approved. So as a general rule a mediation process should take place in advance of any official approval procedure. In certain special cases it may make sense to conduct a mediation process subsequently, e.g. if a conflict becomes virulent during an environmental audit. Mediation processes can interrupt an official approval procedure and contribute to defusing a confrontation and returning to matter-of-fact discussion; this opens the way to improved solutions in the interest of all concerned.

Limits of environmental mediation

In any given case it makes sense to ask whether environmental mediation is a suitable instrument with which to handle the particular conflict or can be used to prepare a planning assignment. Even with environmental mediation, strategic political decisions cannot be delegated – nor can politically loaded conflicts. Environmental mediation is not a way of achieving general acceptance for a decision that has already been taken! A mediation process has little chance of success in cases where fundamental issues involving social values arise, e.g. in connexion with nuclear power or genetic engineering. If the stakeholders are not seriously interested in reaching a consensus and achieving results, or if there is not enough leeway for negotiations, environmental mediation will not get off the ground.