Is environmental protection a question pertaining exclusively to governments and legislative bodies that regulate and implement environmental laws? Or is there space for others, as is civil society and environmental non-governmental organizations (ENGOs)? If so what is their place in contemporary environmental governance and in which way can they contribute to nature protection and conservation? Environmental governance is a topic of great interest for policy and practice and in recent times it is understood to be a political space where a number different organizations meet to talk about, and agree on, environmental objectives. However, those encounters are not always smooth and coordination over shared agreement an easy way forward.
Many have reported on when, to what end, and how ENGOs contribute to environmental governance and often that is characterised by a clash of views over how given environmental issues should be managed, or natural resources used. ENGOs often would advance a position that defends the need to protect natural resources, and address environmental issues in favour of strong sustainability.
The Slovene case where ENGOs objected to the placing of wind-mills on the Volovja reber ridge is one of such examples. In that case our study shows that the way ENGOs mobilised was strategic, and the steps they took essential to generate influence.
Volovja reber is an area where natural reforestation occurs due to the abandonment of agricultural activities. This area belongs to an extensive karstic landscape and is one of the designated protection sites within Natura 2000 ecological network, which means that this area has a high ecological value. (Natura 2000 is a network of natural areas designated for the purpose of protection and conservation of rare and threatened species and natural habitat types across all the EU countries).
Despite of the fact that the Volovja reber was considered to be an important area for EU Habitats Directive (through the inclusion of it in Natura 2000 network), in 2006 Volovja reber area was removed from the Natura 2000 site list by the minister at that time; it entailed the reduction of the area recommended by Natura 2000 from 54 906 ha to 48 522 ha. The justification for the subtraction was the potential of the area for the development of the plan for infrastructure and the attractiveness that it represented for investors in renewable energy, in this case, for the installation of a wind park. This project began in 2003 but it was not until 2006 when the Slovenian environmental agency granted the permission for the installation of the first 33 windmills in the area (33 of the 88 windmills initially suggested by the project).
Taking into account the ecological value of the area, the ENGOs considered this project as being detrimental to local flora and fauna; therefore in 2003 the Slovene bird-watching association Društvo za opazovanje (DOPPS) manifested in a press release the reasons why the Volovja reber was not suitable for the installation of such infrastructures. This was the beginning of a mobilization that reached international instances and involved numerous actors. DOPPS put in place a coalition of ENGOs which have mobilized in a multilevel context and exerted pressure on national policy-making by appealing to EU Law and institutions.
The strategies for mobilization, the integration of several social actors, the use of social and cognitive resources, and the coordination of ENGOs exhibit how processes at different levels, multifaceted interaction and how local issues could overcome national nodes of power – the so called Boomerang effect. This particular case shows us that despite the difficulties, with regard to unfavourable political opportunities and scarcity of resources, did not prevent ENGOs and civil society from taking action and to manage to orchestrate strategies that allows them to influence and change governmental decisions concerning the protection of nature and their own future.
Rodela, R., Udovč, A., Boström, M., 2017. Developing Environmental NGO Power for Domestic Battles in a Multilevel Context: Lessons from a Slovenian case. Environmental Policy and Governance. https://doi.org/10.1002/eet.1735