How protected are protected areas? Coordinated audits on protected areas, led by the Brazilian SAI
Cooperation on the environment and climate change action is a global issue, also for auditors. In and between several regions in the world, public auditors are cooperating to provide independent and comprehensive assessments on how commitments and obligations are fulfilled and to what extent progress is being made. Such work is also being done on sensitive ecosystems which contribute to biodiversity. Recent examples of these efforts are the ongoing and previous coordinated audits of several Latin-American SAIs, led by the Federal Court of Accounts of Brazil, the TCU. Carlos Eduardo Lustosa da Costa — Director of the environmental audit area at the TCU — Adriano Martins Juras and Dashiell Velasque da Costa — both Federal External Control Auditors at the TCU — explain below how these audits in Central and South America were done, zooming in on some of the main results to date — because this audit cooperation is far from over.
By Adriano Martins Juras, Carlos Eduardo Lustosa da Costa, Dashiell Velasque da Costa, Federal Court of Accounts of Brazil
Public auditors bundling forces to look at cross-border issues relating to climate change
Supreme audit institutions (SAIs) play an important role in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and other international agreements, by assessing the efficiency and effectiveness of public policies, by ensuring sound use of public resources, and by promoting accountability, transparency and good governance in public administration. The importance of this work has been explicitly recognized by the United Nations General Assembly (Resolutions 66/209, 2011, and 69/228, 2014). This mission of SAIs goes beyond the more widely known audits of government accounts and extends to the evaluation of public policies.
Moreover, coordinated audits are a strategic mechanism to approach cross-border issues, such as environmental issues, involving several SAIs. In that context, the establishment and management of protected areas (PAs) is one central strategy within the measures related to biodiversity conservation and climate change mitigation, and such areas include relevant environmental assets that could benefit from the independent and systemic analysis conducted by SAIs.
18 SAIs in 17 countries are participating in the Coordinated Audit on Protected Areas, an ongoing project headed by the SAI of Brazil (the Federal Court of Accounts — TCU), under the Special Technical Commission on the Environment (COMTEMA) of the Latin American and Caribbean Organisation of Supreme Audit Institutions (OLACEFS). In addition to protected areas, COMTEMA’s strategic plan for 2020–2026 includes other high-priority environmental themes: biodiversity, climate change, sustainable public procurement, environmental accounting, Sustainable Development Goals, environmental liabilities and water resources.
We see the COMTEMA’s Coordinated Audit on Protected Areas as a contribution by SAIs to the implementation of the Aichi Biodiversity Targets and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Below we will provide, respectively, general information on the audit, the audit methodology, and contributions by Brazilian Amazonian PAs to conserving biodiversity and mitigating climate change, followed by some closing comments.
Coordinated Audit on Protected Areas
The establishment and effective management of a system of protected areas is the cornerstone of conservation policies aimed at preserving natural habitats and protecting biodiversity worldwide. The degradation of ecosystems, and consequently of the services they provide, has a direct impact on the lives of millions of people that depend directly on nature for their livelihoods and has serious consequences for climate change, global food security, and health.
In that sense, the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) has three main goals: conservation of biological diversity; sustainable use of its components; fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising from the use of genetic resources (CBD, Article 1). The CBD has a ten-year-long strategic plan (2011–2020) with 20 targets, also known as the Aichi Targets. The protected areas play a crucial role within this framework (CBD, Article 8), and the strategic plan addresses the conservation of 17% of terrestrial and inland water and 10% of coastal and marine areas through effectively and equitably managed, ecologically representative and well-connected systems of protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures (Aichi Target 11).
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is coherent with CBD objectives and the Aichi Targets. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 14 and 15 address the conservation of oceans and marine resources and the conservation and sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems and biodiversity, including fighting deforestation.
As part of the work to be performed during the 2018–2020 term of office, COMTEMA, presided over by the TCU-Brazil, decided to conduct a coordinated audit on protected areas, the main objective being to assess the management of protected areas in the participating countries using the Aichi and SDG targets as the main context, and national legislation as audit criteria. Through this audit, COMTEMA is seeking to carry out a systemic analysis of protected areas, to determine to what extent each country has met international targets, and to examine the integration of this public policy with other related ones.
This work builds on the previous audit on protected areas, led by the TCU-Brazil and the SAI of Paraguay in 2014 and 2015. At that time, 12 SAIs evaluated 1,120 protected areas, which allowed for the elaboration of an unprecedented diagnostic at a regional level regarding public policies for the conservation of biodiversity.
Box 1- COMTEMA and coordinated audits
In order to approach cross-border audit topics, COMTEMA conducts coordinated audits where a group of SAIs simultaneously carry out audits according to an integrated planning approach and a common audit methodology. The core outcome is a regional panorama of the audit topic, with consolidated results, main findings and good practices, and each SAI produces its own audit report. In addition, coordinated audits are valuable for strengthening SAIs’ capacities, reinforcing oversight of environmental issues, developing cooperation amongst SAIs, and establishing professional networks.
Coordinated audits involve capacity building actions to guarantee a standardized language. As to the Coordinated Audit on Protected Areas, the capacity cycle was concluded in 2019 and consisted of three online courses and one in-person workshop. The courses, offered by TCU-Brazil, comprised online training in performance audit, SAIs and the SDGs, and auditing protected areas. After taking those courses, the audit teams took part in the in-person Planning Workshop to discuss, standardize and validate the audit work papers; this workshop included presentations by prominent experts from international organisations (UN, CBD, IUCN, GAO, INTOSAI WGEA, Bird Life).
The communication strategy is another important aspect of coordinated audits. Besides the individual reports of each SAI, the coordinator team elaborates communication products in different formats in order to present the consolidated results of the work to different audiences. Examples of communication products are executive summaries (such as the image at the left), two-pagers, videos, and infographics.
COMTEMA has conducted several coordinated audits so far on environmental topics, such as water resources, protected areas, climate change, environmental liabilities, and preparedness of governments to implement the 2030 Agenda. Links are provided in Box 2.
18 SAIs are taking part in our ongoing coordinated audit: 15 Latin-American SAIs –11 of which participated in the previous coordinated audit, two European SAIs (Portugal and Spain), and one subnational audit institution. The audit is coordinated by the TCU-Brazil and has technical and financial support from German cooperation through the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, under the OLACEFS-GIZ Project ‘Strengthening of external financial control in the environmental field’.
The planning phase of the audit has been concluded, and all participating SAIs are at the execution phase. Currently, the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemics on the coordinated audit are under assessment by the TCU-Brazil. Under these new circumstances, the results of the coordinated audit are expected in the first semester of 2021, including an Executive Summary with consolidated data and results, individual audit reports for each SAI, a global INDIMAPA showing all participating countries (see example in Figure 2), as well as individual INDIMAPAs for each SAI; among other communication products, such as infographics, two-pagers and videos (as mentioned in Box 1).
Audit methodology: INDIMAPA and FSDL
Participating in a coordinated audit is important not only for comparing data and results, but also for sharing knowledge and experience, especially regarding audit methodology. Through international cooperation, auditors are invited to work in a collaborative environment and learn from one another, taking back home new perspectives on their daily duties. In the ongoing coordinated audit on protected areas, we decided to use two innovative methodologies: the INDIMAPA and the FSDL Analysis.
INDIMAPA stands for Index of Implementation and Management of Protected Areas and is a geospatial presentation tool for the consolidated results of the audit, allowing simple and quick understanding. This methodology makes use of indexes and indicators relating to the implementation and management of protected areas, which help evaluation, communication and monitoring of the results. INDIMAPA allows individual evaluations for each PA, by means up to 13 indicators (see Figure 1) that reflect different aspects of the management and the implementation of PA. These results are shown in georeferenced maps to indicate the stage of management and implementation of each PA in three colours: green, yellow and red (see Figure 2).
Figure 1- INDIMAPA’s 13 indicators
INDIMAPA was used in the 2014/2015 coordinated audit by the 12 participating SAIs (see Figure 2), 11 of which will be able to compare those results with the ones obtained in the ongoing audit, thus being able to carry out objective monitoring of how public policy has unfolded and whether previous recommendations have been implemented by governments. The other seven participants will use the same methodology to assess their own protected areas, adding their results to the systemic picture and establishing a baseline for future evaluations.
Figure 2 — INDIMAPA 2014 results for Latin American protected areas
INDIMAPA was created by the TCU-Brazil, based on other tools for evaluating PAs, such as the Rapid Assessment and Priorisation of Protected Area Management (Rappam) developed by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), and the Management Effectiveness Tracking Tool (METT) developed by the World Bank.
On the other hand, the FSDL Analysis is a tool used to evaluate relations between different public policies. FSDL stands for fragmentation, overlap, duplication and gaps, according to the respective words in Portuguese and Spanish. This methodology was first used in the coordinated audit on the preparedness of Latin American governments to implement the SDGs (see Infographics, Two-pager, and Executive Summary). FSDL was adapted by the TCU-Brazil based on the guide for identifying and evaluating instances of Fragmentation, Overlap, and Duplication developed by the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO).
In a wider perspective, the INDIMAPA helps analyse the protected areas, whereas the FSDL Analysis enables us to examine the relations between the protected areas public policy and other public policies. Combining the results of both methodologies, the audit team will be able to assess this public policy from different and complementary angles.
The role of Brazilian Amazonian protected areas in conserving biodiversity and mitigating climate change
In the 2013 audit on protected areas (PAs) in the Amazon biome, besides evaluating implementation and management of these areas in Brazil — used as input for the 2014/2015 coordinated audit — the TCU aimed to understand how successful PAs were in protecting biodiversity and contributing to climate change mitigation. To achieve this, we assessed deforestation and greenhouse effect gas emission in the Amazon biome in the previous years. We assessed deforestation warnings in the Amazon biome between 2008 and 2012, utilizing data produced by the then Brazilian Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation. We compared deforestation rates from both inside and outside PAs and found that the probability of deforestation occurring outside PAs in that timespan was 5.3 times as high as inside PAs.
As for greenhouse effect gas emission, the TCU assessed anthropic carbon dioxide (CO2) flows in the Amazon biome between 1996 and 2006 caused by changes in land use and land cover above the ground. The assessment showed that most of the Brazilian PAs in the Amazon biome removed CO2 from the atmosphere during the period analysed, contributing to mitigating the gas released from areas outside those territories. Whereas PAs removed an average of 1.9 tC/ha (tons of carbon per hectare), external areas released an average of 7.11 tC/ha. The assessment was carried out by comparing land use and cover information produced by the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics in 1996 and 2006 and by following methods from the Good Practice Guidance for Land Use, Land-Use Change and Forestry, by the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
In our audit we concluded that protected areas are an effective strategy for preventing deforestation and reducing greenhouse effect gas emission, thus contributing to climate change mitigation. We also advised that the Brazilian government should keep existing policies for deforestation prevention and even strengthen them, or risk reducing Amazonian biodiversity and losing the climate-related benefits provided by the forest.
The results of these analyses are illustrated by the maps in Figures 3 and 4, which can be found in the Executive Summary of this audit, see also Box 2.
Figure 3 — Deforestation warnings 2008–2012
Figure 4 — Carbon flow 1996–2006
Box 2 — COMTEMA references
Further information on COMTEMA can be found at the commission’s website (https://www.olacefs.com/environment-comtema/?lang=en/), and questions may be addressed to firstname.lastname@example.org. More details on the 2014–2015 Coordinated Audit on Protected Areas can be consulted in its communication products, especially the Executive Summary (https://www.olacefs.com/auditorias-coordinadas/?lang=en). Further questions about the ongoing Coordinated Audit on Protected Areas can be addressed to AreasProtegidas@tcu.gov.br.
Coordinated audits improving oversight and impact information on cross border issues
Cross-border topics, such as climate change mitigation and conservation of biodiversity through protected areas systems, require collaborative efforts to improve oversight, and independent assessment in order to obtain a regional panorama with consolidated results. In that sense, coordinated audits are an effective strategy to boost cooperation between SAIs and to strengthen oversight on cross-border issues, such as the environmental ones.
Coordinated audits are also useful for developing SAIs’ capacities, especially through capacity building cycles. It is worth mentioning that the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on SDGs is currently available in English, Spanish, and Portuguese on an on-demand basis.
Moreover, SAIs play an important role in promoting transparency, accountability and coherence in public policies, and can provide valuable inputs to more coherent and integrated public policies, avoiding duplication, fragmentation, overlapping and gaps in governments’ activities and projects. It is important to stress that SAIs are at the core of effective, accountable and inclusive action for sustainable development, and can support the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and other international commitments, such as CBD, the Aichi Targets and future targets yet to be set.
This article was first published on the 2/2020 issue of the ECA Journal. The contents of the interviews and the articles are the sole responsibility of the interviewees and authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the European Court of Auditors.