Remarks by Frances Seymour, Director, Institutions and Governance Program, WRI, July 10, 2003 at the launch of World Resources 2002-2004
July 10, 2003
More than five years ago, World Resources Institute was the first mainstream environmental organization to establish a policy research program explicitly focused on environmental governance. I believe that the publication of this report � in collaboration with the UNDP, UNEP, and the World Bank � provides welcome affirmation that we were onto something when we decided to make an institutional commitment to this area of work.
What�s environmental governance? It�s about who gets to make decisions that affect the environment. It�s about how we apportion the benefits of exploiting natural resources, and the costs of protecting ecosystems. It�s about whether the actions of public agencies and private corporations that affect the environment are open to public scrutiny: What information do they have to disclose? Who do they have to consult? And how can they be held accountable?
We believe that a focus on governance is “the next big thing” when it comes to addressing environmental challenges. Despite decades of commitments to do so, the world community has failed to reverse the rapid degradation of the Earth�s environment. The previous edition of the report, World Resources 2000-2001, documented the decline of many ecosystems� abilities to provide the goods and services we rely on for economic and cultural well-being, even while human demands are increasing.
This report asserts that the best way to force action is to empower citizens to demand it. How we decide and who gets to decide often determines what we decide. When constituencies for the environment and for the poor have a seat at the table, decisions are more likely to promote ecological sustainability and social equity, and the process is more likely to avert conflict.
In the Sixties and Seventies, we looked to science and technology to solve environmental problems. And in the Eighties and Nineties, we focused on environmental economics � getting the prices right to align incentives for better environmental management. But increasingly we understand that while science and technology can tell us what management options would be most effective, and economics can tell us what would be most efficient, only getting the governance right can tell us what�s fair.
Questions of what�s fair in environmental decision-making are among the most controversial that we face today, both internationally and here in the United States: How should industrialized and developing countries apportion responsibility for reducing the emissions that cause climate change? What standards of transparency and inclusiveness should apply to our own government�s formulation of a national energy policy? How do we balance citizens� right to know about risks from nearby chemical manufacturing plants, and concerns that posting such information on the web will help terrorists choose targets?
But even though these issues are very much alive today, commitments to improve environmental governance are not new. In the Rio Declaration that resulted from the Earth Summit in 1992, 178 governments agreed to promote the principles that are the focus of this report. For example, they agreed that environmental protection should be integrated into development decision-making. But as the chapter on international environmental governance demonstrates, we have a long way to go before environmental considerations are mainstreamed into trade, finance, and investment decisions. Governments also agreed that environmental issues are best handled at the relevant and appropriate level, but as the chapter on decentralization shows, governments only rarely devolve meaningful authority to local communities for the management of valuable natural resources.
Perhaps most importantly, governments agreed in the Rio Declaration that citizens should have access to information about the environment, the opportunity to participate in decision-making processes, and access to judicial and administrative proceedings to seek redress and remedy. But preliminary assessments conducted by The Access Initiative, and reported in this book, indicate that there�s a large gap between those commitments and actual practice around the world more than ten years later.
- In most places, it�s hard to find out what chemicals are in your drinking water, which ones are emitted by nearby factories, and what the implications may be for your health.
- In most places, communities don�t find out about new roads or logging concessions until the bulldozers arrive, or in any case, are not invited to comment until it�s too late to change the decision.
- And in most places, access to justice is constrained by a lack of awareness of what the law says � on the part of the public and judicial officials alike � high costs, and long delays.
Perhaps this explains the results of a Gallup Poll that we commissioned for this report. Only about 40 percent of people worldwide are satisfied with their current supply of information about environmental problems and opportunities to participate in decisions that affect environmental quality. At the same time, more than 70 percent are willing to spend more of their time using such information, and contributing to decision-making processes. Not surprisingly, in developing regions, such as Africa and Asia, people were most interested in increasing their ability to influence economic development decisions that could affect the environment, while in more developed regions, there was more concern about industrial pollution and accidents.
To respond to this demand for more openness and participation in decisions that affect the environment, the four organizations involved in publishing the World Resources report launched the Partnership for Principle 10 at the World Summit on Sustainable Development last September in Johannesburg. The governments of Chile, Hungary, Italy, Mexico, Sweden, Uganda, and the United Kingdom are also participating, as is the European Union, the World Conservation Union, and civil society groups from all over the world.
The Partnership is significant as a vehicle for assisting governments to enhance public access to information, participation, and justice through improvements in law and practice. But it is also significant that all partners are working to improve their own performance as well in such areas as transparency and inclusiveness. So, in addition to “talking the talk” of good environmental governance with this report, we are trying to “walk the talk” within our own organizations as well.
Accountability is the bottom line for good environmental governance, whether we are talking about national governments, private corporations, international banks, U.N. organizations, or environmental think tanks based in Washington, D.C. This report describes both the challenges and the opportunities for improving environmental governance, as a necessary step toward meeting human needs while protecting the ecosystems that we all depend on.