Technical Articles

International Journal of Auditing
– April 2004

Getting Started: A Brazilian Perspective on Environmental Auditing

In the past, environmental conservation in Brazil was the concern of a number of different sectors. However, different parts of the government are now addressing this issue from a systematic point of view, rather than looking only at the direct environmental impact of public and private ventures.

A number of initiatives in environmental auditing have been taken worldwide: legislation establishing national environmental management systems, government agendas that include actions needed to promote sustainable development, and strategic environmental evaluation of government policies, plans, and programs. Brazil, for example, has a national environmental management system and a Brazilian Agenda 21 plan to implement the principles adopted at the 1992 World Summit on Sustainable Development. In addition, the Brazilian Congress is currently examining a draft bill aimed at making strategic environmental evaluation mandatory.

External auditors must follow these trends and work within this framework. SAIs should ensure that the actions of public agencies responsible for environmental goods and services and environmental protection are coordinated. SAIs should also monitor how the strategic environmental evaluation tool is being implemented.

The Brazilian Court of Audit (TCU) has made every effort in both of these areas. After a detailed audit survey, the TCU established priorities for systematically auditing the topics identified. A work plan was developed listing the fields in which coordinated environmental audits will be carried out, such as forest policy, the interface between agriculture and forest policy, water resources, and sanitation.

For forest policy, the TCU will investigate whether the actions to promote sustainable use of environmental goods and services are appropriate. Work has started with the evaluation of conservation units, which are centers for disseminating successful experiences. Later, the TCU will evaluate the performance of government agencies in regulating agriculture in forest areas, as this is an activity that causes great environmental impact.

Water resources will also be a priority due to their importance in the life of the population and in economic development. Since untreated sewage has a major effect on the quality of bodies of water, auditing efforts to deal with it will be one of the priorities of our work. It is worth noting that in 2002 and 2003, the TCU carried out a comprehensive diagnosis of the status of water resources management and made several recommendations to the appropriate public managers.

Furthermore, on work related to programs with potential environmental impacts, the TCU has included audit questions designed to evaluate how the strategic environmental evaluation tool is being used. When these audits are concluded, they will provide technical information for the Parliament to use when drafting related environmental laws. They will also assist the executive branch in implementing these norms.

Results of these efforts to the present confirm the value of this type of environmental auditing and indicate a trend to continue its implementation. There are certainly challenges to be faced. Nevertheless, the joint efforts of SAIs and the INTOSAI Working Group on Environmental Auditing are contributing greatly to the search for ways to overcome the obstacles.