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UPDATE, 4/19/13: Fourteen Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) countries adopted an ambitious Plan of Action to improve access rights on April 17, 2013. Read WRI's press release for more details about the Plan of Action for the LAC Principle 10 Regional Declaration.

Without the right laws and safeguards in place, development can come at the expense of the environment and local communities. This point is especially evident in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC). Newspapers across the region regularly document conflicts over land and natural resource use, hydroelectric power development, oil exploitation, expansion of agriculture into virgin forests, and the disruption of indigenous practices.

Many of these conflicts occur because countries lack strong laws and practices that encourage the public’s access to information and early participation in government decision-making. Without these laws in place, citizens can’t legally obtain information on projects like proposed oil wells or highways—or engage in the decision-making processes about developing and approving these projects. Governments can then make decisions without considering the impact on local citizens. The resulting social, environmental, or health costs often fall disproportionately on the affected communities. (See our video, "Sunita," for more information on the need for access to information laws).

But the situation in the LAC region could be poised to change, depending on what happens at a meeting this week. Representatives from 13 countries and two observer countries will meet with civil society groups in Guadalajara, Mexico, to finalize a two-year action plan on implementing the LAC Principle 10 Regional Declaration. If attendees come up with a strong plan, several LAC countries will come closer to adopting a plan for improving environmental justice and public participation rights across the region.

Rural farmers depend on land and natural resources for food, income, and their physical well-being. But what happens when national or local governments prevent rural people and communities from farming their land?

All governments have the authority to restrict the use of private land, usually for public interest purposes, such as environmental management or biodiversity conservation. In these cases, the affected individuals should be compensated for their losses even though the land remains theirs. Problems arise when governments routinely restrict the use of private property for ordinary government business or for meeting short-term political ends. With weak rights to their property and insecure tenure arrangements, local people stop investing in their land and natural resources. In many countries, governments restrict the use of private property without consulting the landholders or providing compensation. With courts too expensive to access, poor people have few opportunities for recourse.

I spent the recent U.N. climate negotiations in Doha trying to reconcile two injustices. The first is captured by Nicholas Stern’s “brutal arithmetic.” This is the simple, unavoidable fact that bold greenhouse gas emissions reductions will be needed from all countries to hold global temperature increase to 2°C above pre-industrial levels, thus preventing climate change’s most dangerous impacts. Developing nations, many of which are battling crippling poverty and inequality at home, are being told that the traditional, high-carbon pathway to prosperity is off-limits, and that they, too, will need to embrace aggressive mitigation actions. This is a glaring injustice – the product of two decades of missed opportunities in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), inadequate domestic action in industrialized countries, and substantial geopolitical changes in major emerging economies.

But the second injustice is even greater – one that is manifest and which must be avoided. As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has illustrated, breaching the 2°C threshold would seriously degrade vital ecosystems and the communities who depend on them. This, itself, is an issue of justice, as climate change undermines the realization of human rights, including the right to food, health, an adequate standard of living, and even the right to life. Those same developing countries who are home to the poorest and most vulnerable members of our global community—and who are now compelled to act on reducing emissions—will be hit first and hardest by climate change’s impacts.

Implementation Strategies for Renewable Energy Services in Low-Income, Rural Areas

This is the first in a series of three issue briefs, based on a three-day workshop held by WRI and the DOEN Foundation in March 2012. Through the workshop and subsequent interviews, WRI brought together the experiences of 25 socially oriented energy enterprises, organizations, and financiers who...

Consider this blog post to have been written hastily on the back of a cocktail napkin. Not really, of course, as my handwriting is increasingly poor in this digital age. But I’m in acceptance-speech mode, as WRI just won the 2012 EthicMark Award for its environmental justice film, Sunita.

This award, which I recently accepted at the Sustainable Brands London conference, is given for advertisements that “uplift the human spirit and society.” WRI tied for first place in the non-profit category, along with Ten Thousand Villages’ fantastic film, World Fair Trade Day 2011. We at WRI are incredibly thankful to the folks who honored us with this award—the World Business Academy, Ethical Markets Media, and the University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business—and I’m thrilled to be returning to Washington, D.C. with our first-ever award for communications.

While the story of winning this award is certainly a pleasure to share, it’s nothing compared to the story of creating Sunita.

[youtube wko4MxZGIus]

This post was co-authored with Vinod Thomas, Director-General of Independent Evaluation at the Asian Development Bank.

Can extreme poverty be eliminated in the next 20 years? With much of the world still mired in an economic slump, the question might seem ill-timed. Yet, as heads of state arrive in New York on Monday for the 67th United Nations General Assembly, this goal should be at the top of the agenda.

There are two compelling reasons why world leaders should seize this moment. First, this is a crucial chance to build on the hard-won progress in reducing poverty over the past two decades. With the UN-led Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) as a galvanizing force, the number of people living below $1.25 a day fell from some 43 percent in 1990 to about 22 percent in 2008. But far more still needs to be done.

The main focus of the formal negotiations at Rio+20 is the outcome document, “The Future We Want.” The text, which was approved earlier this week and will likely be agreed upon by heads of state and U.N. officials, outlines a global framework for sustainable development and building a green economy. The text will have an impact on areas ranging from climate change to business to transportation, but the document’s biggest implications for governance is its references to Principle 10. By including this Principle and modest action, the outcome document offers glimmers of hope that citizens—including poor and marginalized communities across the globe—will no longer fall victim to environmentally degrading, exploitative development projects.

This is a Q&A with Manish Bapna, WRI's interim president. The story originally appeared in the Brazilian publication, "Revista Epoca," and was written by Luciana Vicaria.

LV: In your opinion, what are the biggest environmental problems?

MB: Today’s environmental challenges are largely interconnected. Two-thirds of the ecosystem services (the benefits that people derive from nature that underpin economies and livelihoods) are degraded . This degradation is expected to accelerate in the first half of the 21st century, exacerbated by the effects of climate change. By 2025, up to two-thirds of the world’s people are projected to live in water‐stressed conditions. Food security is another pressing concern. To feed the world’s nine billion people (which we’re expected to pass by mid-century), the U.N. Food and Agriculture (FAO) organization projects that food availability needs to increase by at least 70 percent.


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