Technical Articles

International Journal of Auditing – April 2004

Current Trends in Environmental Auditing: Waste and Water

Audits of Freshwater Issues

Editor’s note: In response to a request from the INTOSAI Working Group on Environmental Auditing (WGEA), the SAIs of Norway and the Netherlands summarized current environmental auditing trends in two key areas: freshwater issues and waste management. The following two articles highlight recent SAI reports in these areas.

Source: Department of Water Affairs and Forestry, South Africa

Photo of child drinking water

In 2001, the WGEA decided to summarize SAIs’ collective experiences in audits of freshwater issues, the working group’s first central environmental theme. SAIs had conducted more than 350 audits on this topic from 1996 through 2001. The Netherlands Court of Audit reviewed a large number of these audit reports and produced the paper Auditing Water Issues–Experiences of Supreme Audit Institutions. Many other SAIs also contributed to this report, which was adopted by the WGEA in June 2003.

The Court’s review of water audit reports revealed that SAIs had chosen a wide variety of topics and approaches in their work. These included the water quality of rivers and lakes, flood prevention and recovery, the protection of wetlands, the treatment of wastewater and sewage, the supply of drinking water, leakages related to unaccounted for water, the
prevention of marine pollution, and the costs of water-related infrastructure work. Within these varied topics, one problem was a recurring theme: the basic information required for key management and policy decision making on environmental issues often proves to be inadequate.

The many water-related treaties between nations reflect the fact that the subject of water is in itself very international. This, in turn, influences SAIs’ approach to the topic and their audit work. It struck us that more and more water audits are cooperative efforts. Auditing water issues cooperatively seems to be something we do not because it is new andexciting, but because it has become a matter of common sense and adds value to the audits. The fact that the WGEA chose water as its central theme was fortunate in more than one way. It not only reflected the obvious importance of water as an environmental subject, but it also encouraged SAIs to work together more.

For a copy of the complete report on auditing water issues, see the WGEA Web site (


Audits of Waste Management

Source: Bente S. Meen, OAG Norway

Photo of garbage

The United Nations Environmental Programme has rated contamination caused by waste as an important global environmental issue. If waste is not handled in a satisfactory manner, it poses a great danger to the environment and to the health and well-being of humans and animals. At the 1992 Rio World Summit on Sustainable Development, waste was made a priority of Agenda 21. The Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002 focused on initiatives to accelerate the shift to sustainable consumption and production and the reduction of resource degradation, pollution, and waste.

Auditing Waste Management

The paper Towards Auditing Waste Management, prepared by a team from the SAI of Norway, has been adopted by the INTOSAI Working Group on Environmental Auditing. It contains chapters on

. a description of the waste problem,

. the classification and definition of waste,

. the public's responsibility,

. the role of SAIs,

. how to choose the audit focus and start auditing, and

. examples of completed audits.

The paper proposed a four-step procedure for carrying out the fifth step mentionedabove, how to choose the audit focus and start auditing:

Step 1: Identify main problem areas and the risks they pose for health and environment.

Step 2: Identify the various actors and their responsibilities.

Step 3: Determine the stage in the waste process where the case in question islocated.

Step 4: Consider audit topics and choose the focus.This paper is available on the WGEA Web site.

SAIs have already recognized that they have a role to play in helping to improve the quality of waste management, which will, in turn, improve the environment at both the national and international levels. From 1997 through 1999, INTOSAI members produced more than 100 audit reports on waste. In 2000, as many as 20 percent of SAIs reported that they were planning audits on waste in the next 3 years. The INTOSAI Working Group on Environmental Auditing aims to stimulate the use of audit mandates and audit instruments in the field of environmental protection policies. At its eighth meeting, the working group adopted a paper (see box) promoting the audit of waste management by giving examples of different types of audits that demonstrate good auditing practices. Based on this paper, the working group recommended that SAIs consider auditing waste management and the systems used to regulate and control it.

In December 2003, members of the EUROSAI Working Group on Environmental Auditing met in The Hague for a seminar on waste auditing. At that time, a number of recent audits in this area were presented (see

These included an audit on medical waste carried out in 2002 by the SAI of China that found that waste collection and disposal as well as the control system were inadequate. Another was the Austrian SAI audit regarding the Basel Convention on transboundary movements of hazardous wastes that considered the notification system, goal achievement, and control mechanisms. Another recent audit was on protecting the public from waste. In it, the United Kingdom’s National Audit Office looked into regulating the management and disposal of mainstream waste; health impacts and pollution incidents; and licensing, inspection, and enforcement processes. In 1999, the SAI of Chile audited the management of waste from households, industries, and hospitals. The audit revealed that 72 percent of the landfills did not have the required authorization and 41 percent did not have registers showing the kind of waste they had received.

The SAI of Sweden is currently auditing waste incineration and harmful substances in bottom ashes or residues containing hazardous substances. It is also auditing the supervision of landfills where the bottom ash is disposed of.

All these cases demonstrate the continuing development of environmental auditing as well as the broader experience that SAIs are accumulating in this field.