Environmental Performance Reviews


The OECD Environmental Performance Reviews Programme: Why?


The original programme mandate comes from the OECD meeting of Environment Ministers (Paris, January 1991). Ministers agreed that it was desirable to review systematically the environmental performance of individual OECD countries in meeting domestic policy objectives and international commitments. The Ministers endorsed the redirection of efforts by the OECD to start environmental performance reviews of Member countries. This was subsequently confirmed by the OECD Council meeting at Ministerial level in June 1991, and supported by the London G-7 economic summit one month later. The first cycle of OECD Environmental Performance Reviews is now completed with 33 reviews: all Member countries and a few non-member countries such as Russia.

In 1999, the Environment Policy Committee approved the work plan for a second cycle of OECD Environmental Performance Reviews. In May 2001, EPOC and the Council meetings at ministerial level approved an "OECD Environmental Strategy for the first decade of the 21st Century", the implementation of which is to be monitored by OECD environmental performance reviews. Also, the communiqué of the Ministerial Council meeting (May 2001) called for the OECD to assist governments "by developing agreed indicators that measure progress across all three dimensions of sustainable development, including decoupling of economic growth from environmental degradation, with a view to incorporating these into OECD's economic, social and environmental peer review processes".


The principal aim of the OECD's environmental performance reviews is to help Member countries improve their individual and collective performances in environmental management. The primary goals for this programme are:
  • to help individual governments judge and make progress by establishing baseline conditions, trends, policy commitments, institutional arrangements and routine capabilities for carrying out national evaluations;
  • to promote a continuous policy dialogue among Member countries, through a peer review process and by the transfer of information on policies, approaches and experiences of reviewed countries;
  • to stimulate greater accountability from Member countries' governments towards public opinion within developed countries and beyond.
Programme efforts are directed at promoting sustainable development, with emphasis on developments in domestic and international environmental policy, as well as on the integration of economic, social and environmental decision-making.

Building on the OECD Experience

The review of trends, policies and countries’ performance is a basic OECD function and is at the heart of the "trade" of the OECD. The Economic Surveys are the longest-standing OECD reviews programme, and the best known to the general public. Other reviews programmes exist in such fields as energy, agriculture and development assistance. The environmental performance reviews programme has extended this approach to the environment.

The environmental performance reviews programme has benefited from the experience and methodology of other OECD review processes. It differs, however, in a number of ways, for instance:
  • the fact that reviewing countries are directly involved with the Secretariat in the elaboration of the report;
  • the number of reviews per year;
  • the national representation on the WPEP (which comes from the capitals);
  • the Ministerial press conferences (at publication time) and the formal government responses (one or two years later).

The General Process of a Review

Preparation Stage

Preparation begins with the formulation by the Secretariat, in consultation with the country under review, of the outline of the review, i.e. the choice of topics to be examined. This outline includes mostly topics standardised for all countries in a given cycle, but also speciality topics selected for each specific country review.

The Secretariat assembles a review team, which typically includes experts from 3 reviewing countries, Environment Directorate staff and prominent consultants, and often an observer (e.g. from a different OECD directorate, UN-ECE, a non-member country).

This stage also includes data and information gathering by the Secretariat in co-operation with the reviewed country, as well as consultation with country desks within the OECD. The periodic environmental data collection effort by the WGEIO and the OECD core set of environmental indicators effectively provides internationally harmonised environmental data. Relevant and available information and documentation are also gathered from the reviewed country for the benefit of all team members who can familiarise themselves with the situation in the reviewed country well before the review mission. In the second cycle a country memorandum is prepared by reviewed countries.

A set of discussion themes is prepared for each review for use as a kind of agenda during the team mission. It covers each of the sessions of the mission. It is circulated to participants in the country being reviewed, a month before the start of the visit, and it assists in preparation for the meetings.

Review Mission Stage

During this stage the expert team meets with government and non-government representatives of the country under review, including industry, trade unions, NGOs, experts and local government representatives. As the team is already well informed about the situation in the country being reviewed, the review mission is not a fact-finding mission, but discussions focus on the evaluation of environmental performance. Each team member prepares a first draft of a chapter of the review report during the mission. Participation of reviewing country’s experts in the teams themselves brings transparency and invaluable experience.

Further drafting, compilation (incl. preparation of statistics,tables & figures), harmonisation and editing of a consolidated draft text are done by the Secretariat. This document is circulated for comments to all reviewing country experts, to the Environment Directorate and to all other relevant parts of OECD. A minimum of 4 months is needed from the review mission until the completion of the document.

Peer Review by the WPEP

The report is then sent to all capitals 6 weeks before the WPEP peer review meeting. At the meeting, a full day is allocated to the examination of a given country. The Delegation of the reviewed country is usually headed by a Deputy Minister or Secretary-General of the environmental administration, and includes representatives of other relevant administrations. The reviewing countries take a lead in opening the debate about specific parts of the review. All countries participate in the debate. The peer review meeting of the WPEP is one of the two main “products” of a review. Pursuant to the second specific aim of the programme (i.e. policy dialogue), no minutes are taken in order to encourage a free and frank exchange of views. This exchange of views concentrates on issues that are significant or sensitive. It helps deepen the understanding of the main issues under discussion, probe the ground of any draft conclusions that are challenged, look for a balance between criticisms and recommendations and aims for fairness in judgement between one review or another. The "Conclusions and Recommendations" chapter is amended and approved by the WPEP. A very important "by-product" of the programme is the benefit that Member countries derive from serving as reviewers: country experts have the opportunity to draw first hand on the experience of the reviewed country, to the advantage of their work back home.

Publication Stage

Publication of the completed report under the responsibility of the Secretary-General constitutes the last step of the review process. Amendments are requested from the reviewed country concerning factual matters. An updating of some facts and figures is also done by the Secretariat, together with possible changes in line with the WPEP Conclusions and Recommendations.

The reports are first aimed at decision-makers, a number of those are present at the peer review meeting. Their role in further "promoting" the report, and making the best use of the results of the peer review meeting, is crucial. The reports are also aimed at a wider audience (general public, NGOs, industry, government at different levels) in the country under review, and therefore help to achieve the third specific aim of the programme, i.e. to stimulate greater accountability of governments towards public opinion. Publication of the reports attracts attention in the press in the country under review and in other countries as well.

A press conference, usually given by the Environment Minister with participation of OECD, is given in the capital of the reviewed country to reach public opinion and decision-makers. Accompanying seminars, special distribution efforts in the national language are also very common.

Follow-up and Monitoring

Importance is attached to feedback from countries on the use they have made of the OECD EPRs. This feedback can take the form of formal voluntary "government responses" (such responses have now been provided by 2 countries out of 3) and of informal oral reports by reviewed countries to the WPEP (at its subsequent meetings).

Reference Framework

Environmental Strategy

The reviews are to further the principal goals of the "OECD Environmental Strategy for the First Decade of the 21st Century", as set forth by OECD Environment Ministers and the OECD Council.

In accordance with the outline discussed in the previous section, reviews include a number of standard chapters and speciality chapters and sections. Reviews present recommendations by the WPEP; these recommendations largely reflect the body of policy orientations already commonly agreed by member countries in a range of programmes and Council Acts within OECD; they also reflect common views in the WPEP on the way forward or new directions adopted within OECD (e.g. greening of government operations).

Environmental Performance

Achieving objectives

Whether objectives are being met is the essence of appraising environmental performance. More precisely, performance should, as far as possible, refer to three main questions relating to the achievement of national objectives or international commitments:
  • to what extent is the objective achieved? Retaining a clear distinction between intentions, actions and results, the emphasis being on results), is central to assessing performance.
  • is the objective ambitious or modest? In other words, how does the objective itself relate to the country-specific context, i.e. to the past and current state of the environment, natural resource endowment, economic structure and development levels, and demographic trends? Objectives are chosen and priorities are set through a country’s decision-making process on the basis of scientific, ethical and economic considerations. Environmental performance reviews therefore include a systematic review of the context (physical, human, social, economic, legislative and institutional/ administrative). This introduces an element of standardisation and readily accessible comparability in the review process.
  • are results achieved in a cost-effective way?

A hierarchy of objectives

Environmental objectives may be more or less explicit and may refer to different types and levels of commitments:
  • aims at the general level (e.g. preserving and improving environmental quality, sustainable development);
  • qualitative goals at the intermediate level (e.g. preserving the ozone layer, reducing acidity);
  • specific quantitative targets or a commitment to the implementation of a set of policy measures at a more specific level. Such targets or commitments are determined by technical, administrative and economic criteria.

A historical perspective

The historical perspective adopted should also examine the evolution of environmental policy (e.g. the trend away from purely curative approaches towards preventive and integrated approaches) and the development of innovative approaches, emerging policy directions and related objectives. Reviewing performance requires looking at past achievements and difficulties as well as future progress.

A range of policy instruments

Pursuing environmental objectives requires the development of mechanisms and incentives that will enhance the efficiency of environmental resource use. Policy instruments therefore play an essential part in environmental performance. It is suggested that a broad range of policy instruments be considered in environmental performance, notably: regulatory (standards, licensing, zoning, etc.); economic (charges, financial incentives, market creation, subsidies, etc.); institutional (administrative and legal reform); educational and information related; public investment (in infrastructure, R&D, etc.); enforcement and compliance.

While the nature and scale of such instruments are important in determining performance, it should be noted that in practice, policy initiatives involve packages of instruments drawn from a wide portfolio.

Executive Summary of Second Cycle Work Plan (as endorsed by WPEP and EPOC)

The principal objective of the review programme is to help Member countries to improve their individual and collective performances in environmental management with the goal of achieving sustainable development. Based on the overall assessment of the first cycle of reviews and the changes considered necessary for the second cycle, the basic guidelines adopted by the WPEP and Environment Policy Committee for the second cycle of reviews are:


  • the second cycle will respond to the changing policy context and demands after 2000 (e.g. OECD Sustainable Development Initiative, OECD Environment Strategy for the decade);
  • the second cycle will build on the baseline and recommendations set for each country during the first cycle;
  • the performance orientation (with respect to national objectives and international commitments, with review of the challenges accepted, with focus on results achieved) will be strengthened.


  • environmental issues, such as air, water, waste and nature management, will continue to be covered, with more input from the reviewed country to assess progress made since the first review;
  • sustainable development issues will be covered, with a focus on the integration of environmental concerns within economic and social policies, including sectoral ones;
  • the monitoring of performance with regard to international commitments (including within OECD) will be strengthened;
  • reviews will be selective in their emphasis and coverage of sectors and issues with highest relevance to the sustainable development of the country; reviews will include forward-looking aspects of performance.


  • both increased standardisation (methodology, report outline, use of indicators, inter alia to increase international comparability) and more country-tailored features (recognition of different contexts, speciality chapters, specific indicators) will be needed;
  • the existing core set of environmental indicators will be further developed and more use will be made of indicators, in the review reports wherever feasible.

Process and Products

  • the peer review approach and pressure will be maintained as a strong point of the programme through WPEP examination meetings;
  • contributions by both the reviewed country’s officials and other stakeholders (business, farmers, NGOs, independent experts, local government) to the review process will be increased;
  • ways to shorten the cycle of reviews will be systematically investigated;
  • co-ordination with other OECD reviews (e.g. economic surveys, energy reviews) will be strengthened, particularly in the context of the OECD Sustainable Development Initiative;
  • co-operation with the UN/ECE review programme will continue and reviews of a few nonmember countries may also be conducted;
  • efforts will be made to stimulate greater accountability from Member countries and to increase the influence of the review products with stakeholders.
As a result, environmental performance reviews of the second cycle are planned to have a substantive environmental focus reflecting concerns with sustainable development in an era of globalisation, a strengthened approach of performance and peer review, more streamlined approach and format, and a reinforced influence.


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