Safeguards in a Changing Landscape

Perspectives from the Global South

21 April 2012 | Minutes

Organiser: World Resources Institute (WRI)

Panelists:  Henry Mugisha Bazira (Water Governance Initiative, Uganda), Mark Grimsditch(China/Cambodia), Bernadinus Steni (HuMA, Indonesia), Roland Widmer (OneAdvisory, Brazil), Stephen Lintner (World Bank)

Chair:  Gaia Larson (WRI)

The landscape of safeguards is in a state of transition. One significant trend is a growing emphasis on the use of national systems to meet safeguard needs. The discussion included the World Bank’s experiment with a country systems approach, the negotiations around REDD+ safeguards, and the emergence of China and Brazil as significant actors, including particular emphasis on the relationship of these developments to the use of national laws and institutions to protect people and the environment, and the search for proper balance between ownership and accountability for all actors involved.

Gaia Larson, WRI:

  • There is a growing trend of developing countries becoming increasingly involved in development assistance, increased use of national systems – country systems approach
  • Increased funding for policy loans, which are not as linked to safeguards
  • Outside of the bank, emerging actors are increasing, such as India, China Brazil and Russia, feeding more and more money into development projects, but largely without safeguards, relying on in country systems
  • Direct access for funding also involve new conversations around safeguards, what does it mean when bypassing multilaterals and their safeguards?
  • This raises questions on how to balance responsibility and accountability for national governments and international institutions. Also around power dynamics, governments and international institutions. And how to capture potential benefits of this shift.
  • WRI commissioned four case studies to examine this further, including on Uganda and Cambodia.

Bernadinus Steni, HuMA, Indonesia:

  • Working on national strategy on REDD+ including safeguards, but standards were set up in 2010 before the Cancun agreement – the process was not related to the international discussion at that time and the principles now need to be harmonised
  • Since international negotiations, national political process is going faster with the language of Cancun
  • To some extent the government is open to talk about safeguards, the process has gained good political momentum, now discussed directly under presidential control
  • Country also has ratified some human rights conventions
  • Civil society called for these instruments and national laws and policies to be integrated in the design of REDD+
  • Gov responded by discussing social aspects of REDD, but terms of social aspects have change to safeguards
  • There is a reluctant to put safeguards into the process of national strategies, which includes mining and farming expansion
  • Safeguards one of the key challenges to decrease the destruction process
  • There is a challenge that since forest related issues are under the control of the ministry of forestry – 20% is state forest and indigenous peoples have no right to access, and are deemed illegal if they do, they use military and policy to kick them out out
  • Therefore human rights safeguards needed to be reflected in policies, REDD+ standards need to implemented
  • There are also challenges from ministry of forestry itself, as one of the targets of safeguards is to reform this institution
  • Corruption is also still there, despite WB collaboration
  • To make national safeguards stronger the next stage in the process needs support from the international process, to avoid ministry of forestry to operating as business as usual

Henry Mugisha Bazira, Water Governance Initiative, Uganda:

  • Working on safeguards for dam projects, eg the civil society role of WB safeguards in relation to the Bujagali dam, the Inspection Panel has reviewed this case
  • Also worked with national REDD working group, to develop a national REDD strategy, and  involved with the parliament, e.g. on climate change
  • Safeguards are there to protect citizens, there is an opportunity for national governments to upgrade their systems – some countries has week institutions or lack safeguards
  • WB has provided leadership, it should not go back on this kind of leadership now
  • WB has said that they are loosing opportunities due to the new emerging economies – the strategy seems to be to tone down, not minding the impact, and focus on spending their loan portfolios, but this will give states the opportunity to do whatever they want
  • The fear of the emerging economies taking over loan portfolios is real, e.g. mining companies coming in that doesn’t need money from the Bank
  • Need to ensure that if we go by national systems, then they need to be raised to a comparable level, so that investments can be checked that come from other sources
  • Need to create awareness, even the concept of safeguards is not well know,  not many citizens understand the opportunities they bring
  • Strategic partnerships are needed between international institutions and citizens, and put pressures on emerging economies to comply
  • There is only now interaction between WB and civil society, need a new shift in strategic partnerships

Roland Widmer, OneAdvisory, Brazil:

  • Involved in eco finance programme, has also looked at hydro power, also involved in BankTrack, private finance and how it relates to sustainability
  • There is a question regarding where the Development Policy Loan money has gone, whether it has gone to dams or not
  • There is also a question regarding the role of WB safeguards on technical assistance
  • Safeguards can be found in Brazilian laws, but it’s not just what is written on paper, its about whole institutional arrangements, to know whether a safeguards regime will actually be applied on the ground
  • Case studies around dams, all three in the north of Brazil in the Amazon and pretty massive, including assessment of effectiveness and efficiency of national safeguards regime, including many interesting and good parts – but it has been ineffective and also little scope to mitigate negative impacts which are often irreversible and indirect by nature
  • It’s far from being disastrous, there is room for improvement
  • Most important to keep up the rule of law, participatory democracy and transparency
  • Improvements on specific themes, participation and community support, large infrastructure projects almost consistently run into problems with consultation – e.g. lacking FPIC. Broad community support can’t be taken for granted
  • Illegitimacy leads to poor conduct of projects e.g. reduction in construction time, which increase return of investment
  • Environmental Impacts Assessments (EIA) in Brazil mainly looks at direct impacts, but most impacts are indirect and irreversible, should look at strategic environmental impact assessments instead
  • There are other aspects too, e.g. the effectiveness of courts, cases lasts very long and are ineffective – when the decision has been made the dam has already been built and the next one is planned
  • Currently Brazil’s safeguard regime is not a viable alternative to WB safeguards

Mark Grimsditch, China/Cambodia:

  • Tracking Chinese investments abroad, e.g. Cambodia in the hydropower sector assessing how the national system provided safeguards and how guidelines were applied
  • Cambodia has a huge shortfall of electricity, it’s unreliable and expensive, so development of generation and distribution of electricity is prioritised by the government with a focus on dams –  one dam that will force eviction of indigenous people
  • China has always relied on national system with respect for national sovereignty, so mainly national laws are used as safeguards
  • There are some good laws in Cambodia, but also gaps and poor laws, the main problem implementation, institutions very lax
  • There is no hydropower law, other laws include water, such as on water resources management, but is inconsistent in content and application
  • Chinese developers funded dam by SINOHYDRO, which is now largest hydro company in the world
  • There are no coordinated safeguards for Chinese operations, but an increasing awareness on the need to bring in guidelines, e.g. there are now 9 principles on overseas investments, also green credit guidelines, ministry of forestry guidelines on forestry, etc.
  • There are no mechanisms for complaints, but at least this is a start and a recognition business as usual can’t continue.
  • There is generally negativity about investments, these are government to government negotiations and the citizens not consulted
  • SINOHYDRO guidelines are in development, including some consultation, since there are concern at the top about its reputation, but it’s also a huge company with subsidiaries all over the world and there is difficulty in monitoring
  • There are risks in relying on national systems since the legal framework in Cambodia is incomplete, in particular regarding land, no proper process with dealing with people who are illegal settlers – huge number of people being forcefully evicted – this is also a very complex context with owners, possessors rights, illegal settlers, renters, badly defined state land, etc
  • There is a broader problem with governance in Cambodia and safeguards can reduce these problems
  • On the EIA process, it’s crucial in particular with huge projects like hydro power, including sensitive ecosystems. Cambodia has 4 dams approved and 8 in development. Last EIA in 2006 didn’t include proper consultation. The final report was released in 2011 but again without proper consultation. Finally in September this year, there will be full consultation.
  • National systems usage will fall into traps of poor consultation, poor EIAs, issues around land, etc
  • It’s promising that China is improving its guidelines, it’s not seen as interfering, but as complementing Cambodia’s development

Stephen Lintner, World Bank:

  • Involved in this area since early 1970s
  • Good to see diversity here on the panel, good to have dialogue
  • Economic development is taking off, growth is fast, within a much more dynamic economy
  • But traditional sources of donors are reducing, private sector is growing its involvementand new actors coming in
  • Aware that there are some holes in Cambodia
  • How do countries get better control, how to increase ownership and responsibility
  • WB is continuing to engage with these governments, through policy dialogue, project level lending, programme support and capacity building
  • There are several key challenges, such as good legislation has to be realised on the ground
  • What is the role of the citizen, how do the government work with external parties, how to created greater engagement with citizens and transparency.
  • Safeguards policies review slowed down, as we needed more time to look and listen
  • WB has a broad based team working with this, and there will probably be some documentation available in late fall, but the new president coming in so there will be a lot of changes
  • WB not interested in diluting the standards, but evolving them, making them more contemporary, efficient and effective
  • There are already 20 projects using country systems
  • Concerns re DPL and new approach on P4R noted, but safeguards is areality in terms of large scale infrastructure, no intention to move away from the frameworks we have.
  • ADB has also been engaging on this.
  • Challenge how to come up with a verification of systems, reasonable including implementation and not exposing peoples to risks
  • WB doesn’t delegate review of documents on environment to the government, it’s still reviewing, but relying on the country systems with gap fillings and also continues to do field based reviews.
  • Will continue to see an increase in country systems, need to find balance


In theory it could be good with country systems, but how, what do we want them to look like? It’s not just about national systems. PforR, not even pretend to use principles and objectives of safeguards, just references to standards but wedon’t know what they are. Need some consistency in the WB on safeguards – need to consider all forms of lending in the review.

Stephen Lintner:

  • I’ll see this question as a recommendation

Question regarding no policy dilution in the safeguards review, this has been mentioned several time, but we need to see this in writing

Stephen Lintner:

  • The new president probably won’t take this challenge on his first month, but the team will look at the words very clearly. But remember that the president is not the only decision maker, there is the Board of Executive Directors
  • We’re prepared to work with you and others once there is a draft, but can’t make any commitments since president not yet in place and also need agreement from ED’s. No dilution is clear, but no decision can be made yet – but why would we want to dilute our policies?

This changing landscape is a challenge for all of us, many countries rely on international best practice. Can review process engage new actors in the process, is there a country level dialogue?

Stephen Lintner:

  • Multiple consultations planned with two phases, face to face and interactive media.
  • New actors need to decide for themselves for how they engage, we’re interested in having a level playing field.
  • Want to take out the guess work, biggest differences in terms of involuntary resettlement, rights of indigenous peoples – main question is how robust implementation is.
  •  Process often as important as the product, have seen process failures in the presentations.

WB comment from floor, Director of operations:

  • There is no proposal or discussion of dilution. With PforR, as it’s new we will be very cautious with conscious implementation and have update on how it is going on.
  • There is no pressure to reduce safeguards to increase loans, WB’s main constraint is having capital to lend, lack of headroom. Question is how we can get more impact from what we lend? Where is the private sector is going in terms of investment, how can we work with them to ensure its done with safeguards?

Summary comments:

Bernadinus Steni, HuMA, Indonesia:

  • Corruption need to be stopped. Need to change the substance, WB need to support consent, not just consultation

Henry Mugisha Bazira, Water Governance Initiative, Uganda:

  • Take advantage of civil society to build pressure, in particular in the emerging economies. Take the opportunity to upscale country systems

Roland Widmer, OneAdvisory, Brazil:

  • Look at effectiveness of national systems, look at indirect impacts, including EIA – move from project to programme level, hydro to basin level

Mark Grimsditch, China/Cambodia:

  • Lot of fear of China in communities, there is lack of information, more need to be done to understand what mechanisms China is using. There is work to improve the guidelines, China is a growing player and will continue to be so

Stephen Lintner, World Bank:

  • Good conversation, talked about what is going on, not just the WB, need to reflect on the complexity of what we do