Technical Articles

International Journal of Government Auditing – July 2012


WGEA Grows, Evolves to Meet the Challenges of a Changing Environment

Reflecting on my experience at the initial April 1994 Working Group on Environmental Auditing (WGEA) meeting in Luxembourg City, I do not think any of the SAIs represented around the table would have guessed that their new, 12-member working group would soon grow into the globally diverse, 72-SAI body it is today. The transition mirrored an emphasis on environmental issues by the world’s governments—and their recognition of the need to look beyond individual borders to deal with their most pressing environmental problems.

Photo: Participants in the WGEA’s 14th Assembly in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 2011 reflected the working group’s extensive and globally diverse membership.
Participants in the WGEA’s 14th Assembly in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 2011 reflected the working group’s extensive and globally diverse membership.

Until the latter 20th century, many nations had yet to establish a lead environmental protection department or ministry. Those that had done so tended to direct their efforts primarily toward environmental issues within their own countries. Save the most blatant cases of transboundary pollution, environmental concerns largely were intranational in nature, focusing on efforts to protect national parks and other resources and clean up waste and polluted waters.

Governments’ local focus on environmental protection has since changed markedly—a trend spurred by highly publicized cross-boundary environmental crises, such as the Chernobyl accident in the Ukraine, and by the recognition that such geographically diffuse problems as acid rain, mercury contamination, cross-border water pollution, depleted fisheries, and so many others could only be addressed through international cooperation and action. Nations began to act accordingly. So did their SAIs, with INTOSAI transforming the provincial, 12-member WGEA of the mid-1990s into the worldwide body it is today.

At the same time, as governments increasingly looked beyond their own borders to solve environmental problems, SAIs too saw the value in cooperating with each other to examine environmental and sustainability issues at the regional, and even global, level. A key milestone along this path took place at the WGEA’s April 2000 meeting in Cape Town, South Africa. Reflecting a desire among many SAIs to promote environmental auditing through regional cooperation, the 22 members present voted to support the development and growth of regional Working Groups on Environmental Auditing (RWGEA) while retaining the global working group to support the regional efforts through training, exploratory studies, and other methods.

Photo: The WGEA’s meetings provide training to develop environmental auditing capacity in the participating SAIs.
The WGEA’s meetings provide training to develop environmental auditing capacity in the participating SAIs.

And so began the formal development and expansion of RWGEAs. EUROSAI’s RWGEA was initially the most active and today has over 40 member SAIs. But today, six of INTOSAI’s seven regions have active and vibrant RWGEAs that complement the work of the global working group. Collaborative environmental audits involving multiple SAIs—once a novel curiosity—are commonplace in the SAI community, often using methods developed by the WGEA to conduct coordinated and joint audits.

In fact, as the greatest environmental challenges have become global in nature, requiring cooperation among nations around the globe, so has the WGEA’s focus—manifested most recently by a unique and ambitious, 14-SAI coordinated audit on how their respective governments were responding to the challenges posed by climate change. Other collaborative WGEA projects to develop environmental audit guides, training projects, and links with other international environmental organizations reflect in microcosm the broader reality of the environmental issues facing the world’s nations today—we can accomplish more toward common goals through collaboration than in isolation.

For additional information, contact the author at elsteins@gao.gov.