Vertical integration in a multi-level governance system using the example of the German Resource Efficiency Programme


Global resource use trends show clear evidence of the challenges that have to be addressed urgently if society is to be prepared for the future. One of the most critical tasks is to preserve natural resources, especially in connection with climate protection. This is, inter alia, reflected in the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). For example, target 8.4 requires to ‘improve progressively, through 2030, global resource efficiency in consumption and production and endeavour to decouple economic growth from environmental degradation' (United Nations 2019). Furthermore, several other subtasks also indirectly refer to the use of natural resources.

A considerably more efficient if not markedly reduced use of resources and its negative environmental impacts are major challenges of our modern western societies which have to be tackled by policy immediately (Bringezu 2014). Germany is among the few countries that have achieved an absolute decoupling of economic growth of raw material consumption during the period 1995 to 2014. However, the per-capita resource use in Germany in 2014 (measured as raw material consumption) was 15.8 tonnes. Therefore, Germany is still a stable resource-intensive nation with an above-average per capita use compared to Europe (13.4 tonnes) and is also well above the global average, which has been growing to about 12.3 tonnes in 2017 (Eurostat 2019).

Against this background, the German Resource Efficiency Programme (ProgRess) was launched in 2012 and advanced in 2016 and 2020 (BMU 2012; BMUB 2016; BMU 2020). The ultimate goal of ProgRess is to make the extraction and use of natural resources more sustainable and reduce associated environmental pollution as much as possible. By doing this — also with responsibility towards future generations — the programme should create a prerequisite for securing a long-term high quality of life. To bring the policy approaches formulated in ProgRess to reality, efforts to implement resource efficiency measures have to be increased at all levels — from international to regional to local.

The chapter intends to provide an impetus for the current debate on ProgRess policy development. The chapter identifies, analyses and describes deficits and possibilities of vertical integration of the German programme in particular and derives recommendations for action which may also serve as indications for other strategies. The following sections are based on results of the advisory report ‘Vertical integration of the national resource efficiency programme ProgRess (VertRess)’ (Verbiicheln & Bahn-Walkowiak unpublished), conducted by the German Institute of Urban Affairs (Difu) and the Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy on behalf of the German Environmental Agency (UBA) and the Federal Ministry of the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU).

The German federal system and the present structure of ProgRess

Within the debate on policy coherence and policy integration, a distinction is usually made between horizontal and vertical integration (Howlett, Vince & del Rio 2017; Bahn-Walkowiak & Wilts 2017; Candel & Biesbroek 2016; Jordan & Lenschow 2010). Horizontal integration strives for better networking and connection between the various policy areas such as the economy, finance, social affairs, or in environmental policy areas such as climate protection, mobility, energy. Vertical integration seeks better coordination and cooperation between the levels of action and actors in a specific topical field. Both aspects are eminently important, but this chapter will focus on the vertical dimension, which is often neglected. Based on the theoretical policy integration approach, a thorough analysis of the relevant documents, the legal responsibilities and subsequent influences of the governance levels is conducted and the architecture of the governance elements of the programme studied to identify deficits and potentials in the current structure.

Germany is considered to be a pioneer in developing a national resource efficiency agenda (EEA 2016; EEA 2020). With the publication of the ‘Programme for the sustainable use and conservation of natural resources’ (ProgRess I) in 2012, the German Federal Government has set a milestone for the development of a dedicated policy mix in this field. ProgRess was updated in 2016 (ProgRess II) and recently in 2020 (ProgRess III). The implementation process is challenging, and aspirations differ from reality, thus calling for new action and approaches.

Construction of the federal system in Germany

The German Federal system is complex. In addition to the Federation, the German Federal Republic consists of 16 partly sovereign Federal States (Lander), which — according to the German constitution — have to fulfil their state tasks. The concurrent legislation assigns different legislative tasks to the federal government and the federal states.

In practice, various areas with a high resource relevance are regulated at Lander level (e.g. the innovation policy, public support programmes, public procurement, sustainability agreements with individual companies or voluntary commitments in specific sectors or industries, construction and regional planning and the expansion and optimisation of waste management and recycling (infra-)structures as well as waste prevention and re-use strategies and measures). At the same time, important resource-relevant policy areas in which the federal states have outstanding competencies are not (yet) part of ProgRess or are addressed in other strategies (e.g. mobility/traffic, land management, water balance).

Following the federalism reform in 2006, nature and landscape conservation, soil distribution, spatial planning, and water management are jointly regulated areas by government and federal states, which, of course, also have great municipal relevance (see below). Accordingly, the resource efficiency programme assigns tasks to the respective levels and the 2016 update reports on the specific level activities.

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