Rapid development in Asia has transformed the economic environment for many countries. Unfortunately it has also brought a corresponding threat to the environment and public health. Since the 1992 Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, the international community has recognized that sustainable development depends on good governance including the right of access to information, public participation and access to justice. However, sustainable development cannot happen in secret nor without dynamic, meaningful citizen participation.
The Strengthening the Right to Information for People and the Environment (STRIPE) project focuses on empowering communities to improve their environmental health through the use of their rights to access information. STRIPE provides an effective method for utilizing Freedom of Information laws to access information and opportunities for strategic public participation and peer learning that focus on transforming information into action. STRIPE has highlighted the challenges faced by communities in heavily polluted areas to obtain information in Indonesia, Thailand, and Mongolia. By expanding the capacity of civil society and local communities to use information STRIPE encourages citizens to take action and address the broad range of health and social justice impacts resulting from environmental contamination
Overall the project objectives include:
- Empowering communities in the target countries to improve their environmental health through improved access to information and public participation.
- Improving the implementation of the Freedom of Information (FOI) laws and Proactive Disclosure Policies by strengthening domestic constituencies demanding environmental information.
- Strengthening or accelerating the collection, analysis, and dissemination of data on environmental conditions and point source pollution releases in formats easily understood by a wide a variety of individuals and groups.
- Shifting popular definitions of access to information from “reactive” to “proactive” release of information, emphasizing availability, publicity, and usability.
- Encouraging strategic public participation and peer learning to take advantage of the new access rights and expand opportunities for citizen involvement in critical government decision making processes and policies.
- Further enhancing regional transparency efforts by providing advocacy tools and best practice policy models that can be utilized by a broad range of access rights stakeholders.
UNEP and the World Resources Institute (WRI) are developing an Implementation Guide for the 2010 UNEP “Bali Guidelines for the Development of National Legislation on Access to Information, Public Participation and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters” (Bali Guidelines), scheduled for release The guide will be a practical tool that may be used by policymakers, legal professionals, decision makers and civil society to aid them in their work to enact reforms to strengthen access to information, public participation, and access to justice. It will account for the diverse range of systems of law throughout the world, with examples that will represent various legal, political and institutional contexts. These may include, for example, Right to Information laws, Environmental Impact Assessment legislation, or the creation of courts or tribunals to ensure access to environmental justice. By helping practitioners, advocates, and policy-makers identify gaps and prioritize actions, it increase the likelihood of timely and substantive legal reforms for procedural rights supporting Principle 10.
Forest Concessions, Public Participation and Gender
The Forest Concession, Public Participation, and Gender Project is rooted in the existing Riau Province forest fire work of WRI’s Indonesia Forest and Landscapes Project. This work highlighted the lack of transparent, up-to-date timber, logging, and palm oil concession data and the impact this had on determining the origin of the forest fires and the ability to monitor or hold companies accountable.
The lack of available comprehensive concession data, however, is just one small piece of a much larger, complex picture surrounding Indonesia’s land use. Issues involving weak spatial planning, problematic land tenure policies, ineffective forest management, poor governance, and weak law enforcement have not only added to the challenges of forest degradation and deforestation, they have exasperated land conflicts and accusations of corruption.
The granting of concessions is a key axis in this picture. Regulations for issuing licenses function as an important instrument for implementing land use policy and creating strong forest governance. However, the complex regulations categorizing the different types of forests and ownership as well as the rules specifying which level of government is authorized to approve the variety of timber, logging, palm oil, and mining concessions creates a system that lacks transparency and accountability. It also limits the ability of community members to effectively engage in concession allocation processes that directly impact their livelihoods and welfare.
Strong forest governance includes the process of how decisions are made. It must be rooted in the availability of accurate information, meaningful opportunities for public participation, and access to appropriate forms of conflict resolution. Indonesia’s Ministry of Forestry states that approximately 30 million people depend directly on forests, and more than 16 million people live in the country’s 15 largest watersheds. A lack of open and inclusive decision making often contributes to the marginalization and impoverishment of forest-dependent communities and indigenous peoples.
Gender is another important component of this inclusive decision-making process that shapes access to and control over forest resources. However, very little data on women’s participation has been collected.
Intentionally engaging both men and women is vital for proper forest conservation. Men and women use and manage forest resources differently. They have different access to the decision-making opportunities and contribute different knowledge, skills, and experience. Policy solutions that ignore these unique roles can reinforce existing inequalities and risk the development of poor policy changes that do not result in positive social, developmental or environmental benefits.
While research exists on gender and broader issues of forest governance (such as the REDD+ process), there is a dearth of research related to men and women’s participation in the concession allocation process. The Forest Concession, Public Participation, and Gender Project offers an opportunity to begin an initial investigation into two important elements of transparent and accountable forest governance: (1) the availability and access to concession data and (2) opportunities for formal and informal public participation with special emphasis on gender and the inclusion of women.