access to information
Despite its small size, Ecuador is one of the world’s most biodiverse countries. Political instability, though, has led to weak environmental laws and few opportunities for citizens to participate in decisions about the management of the country’s rich natural resources. A new law now requires the government to consult citizens on environmental matters. It’s the result of a long process undertaken by WRI and Ecolex, a non-profit organization in Ecuador focused on sustainable development. Together we identified weaknesses in Ecuador’s laws regulating public access to environmental information, participation, and justice. This assessment was followed by multi-stakeholder workshops which led to the creation of draft legislation approved by the Ministry of Environment and signed into law by the president.
In 2007, the Interfaith Coalition on Corporate Responsibility, a group of 275 faith-based institutional investors with a combined market portfolio of more than $10 billion, filed a shareholder resolution requiring Newmont Mining Corporation to produce a report addressing community-based opposition to its operations around the world. Activists have criticized Newmont, one of the world’s largest gold miners, for environmental problems in indigenous communities. In an unprecedented move for a U.S. mining company, Newmont’s directors and shareholders approved the resolution. It’s the first step toward Newmont developing new procedures for involving local communities in determining how its development projects might affect their land or way of life. WRI worked with the Interfaith Coalition to help members better understand how the informed consent of a community affected by development projects makes good business sense and leads to more equitable, environmentally-friendly results.
In a nationwide referendum in early 2009, Bolivia overhauled its federal constitution. Among its sweeping changes are new legal rights for citizens to take part in public policy planning and to be consulted and informed on decisions that may affect environmental quality and natural resource use. The constitution also establishes the country’s first environmental and agricultural court, giving citizens and communities a forum to air grievances.
These provisions are largely the result of work by WRI and PRODENA, one of Bolivia’s oldest environmental advocacy organizations. “Using a toolkit WRI developed, together we identified weaknesses in Bolivia’s proposed new constitution regulating public access to environmental information, participation, and justice,” explains Lalanath de Silva, director of WRI’s Access Initiative (TAI). PRODENA is a member of TAI, the world’s largest network of civil society organizations working to ensure that people have the right and ability to influence decisions about the natural resources that sustain their communities. Based on these assessments, and with WRI support, PRODENA advocated tirelessly for the inclusion of such rights, which Bolivia’s government adopted into the text of the constitution.
“It’s a great result,” continues de Silva, “the type we envisioned when we launched The Access Initiative a decade ago.”
In January 2013, the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility approved USD $3.6M to fund Cameroon’s Readiness Preparation Proposal—a roadmap detailing how Cameroon will develop a national REDD+ strategy to help protect its forests. Cameroon, like many other REDD+ countries, now faces the challenge of delivering on commitments made in its Readiness Preparation Proposal (R-PP). Doing so will require significant efforts to address historical forest sector challenges, including weak governance. I recently participated in the National Dialogue on REDD+ Governance in Yaoundé, Cameroon, where these challenges were at the top of the agenda. The Dialogue, co-sponsored by Bioresources Development and Conservation Programme-Cameroon (BDCPC), Cameroon Ecology, the Ministry of Environment, Nature Protection, and Sustainable Development (MINEPDED), and WRI’s Governance of Forests Initiative (GFI), provided a forum for government and civil society members to talk frankly about strengthening governance as part of Cameroon’s REDD+ program.
Giving citizens a voice is essential to environmental and development progress - from reducing greenhouse gases to curbing deforestation to achieving the Millennium Development Goals.
At the June 2012 UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio +20), nine Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) governments took a giant step in this direction. Together, they pledged to begin negotiations leading to a groundbreaking Regional Convention that will enshrine public rights of access to environmental information, public participation, and justice.
As coordinator of The Access Initiative (TAI), an international network of hundreds of civil society groups, WRI played a pivotal role in the agreement by Chile, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, and Uruguay. Since then, Ecuador and Brazil have also joined the pledge.
Building Environmental Democracy
The rights of all citizens to information, participation, and justice on environmental issues that affect their lives were enshrined at the 1992 “Earth Summit” in the form of Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration. But in many countries, these principles have not been converted into practice, including in parts of Latin America and the Caribbean.
Much of the region is plagued by escalating conflicts over natural resources, mining, and new infrastructure such as highways and dams. In such situations, legally binding international agreements play an important role in strengthening citizens’ access rights, driving the development of national legislation and practices.
Making Change Happen: WRI’s Role
With Rio+20 providing an ideal launch pad for such an agreement, WRI created an international task force to promote a LAC Regional Principle 10 Convention.
In our role as TAI Secretariat, we made submissions to the United Nations that were reflected in the draft declaration by heads of state. WRI and our partners also engaged LAC governments and regional bodies such as the U.N. Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean and the U.N. Economic Commission for Europe, both of which declared their support.
Following our high-level advocacy efforts, Jamaica and Chile took the lead in publicly calling for a regional, binding legal instrument to implement access rights.
The nine countries announced their agreement at a TAI event at the Rio+20 summit, underlining our key role. Chile hosted the regional governments in November 2012 to develop a road map to achieve the convention.
A regional convention in Latin America, following on one in Europe, will also promote the spread of access rights worldwide. TAI seeks to scale such regional models into global learning and action.
Promoting effective, informed decision making on climate change adaptation.
Worldwide, one out of every five people lacks access to modern electricity. Affordability, quality of service, and social and environmental impacts pose great challenges in providing people with the power they need for lighting, cooking, and other activities. Good governance involving open and inclusive practices is essential to overcoming these pressing obstacles.
This is part three of a four-part blog series, “Improving Electricity Governance,” which explores the key components involved in effective electricity governance. The series draws on the experiences of WRI’s Electricity Governance Initiative, documented in a new report, “Shining a Light on Electricity Governance.” Read more posts in this series.
Until recently, the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT) held a monopoly on Thailand’s power generation and transmission since the 1970s. While EGAT provided a relatively stable supply of electricity to consumers, it was unregulated, leading to inefficiencies in the sector, such as wrongly estimated fuel supply. Consumers experienced high prices, while new power projects moved forward with little public consultation, sparking social conflict and concerns over environmental impacts.
The situation worsened in 2003, when Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra set forth a plan to restructure Thailand’s electricity sector and privatize EGAT. Rather than improving Thailand’s electricity sector in the public interest, the plan for privatization was designed to increase capital for powerful stakeholders and upper management employees. It called to maintain EGAT’s unregulated monopoly in order to maximize profits, even at the expense of public needs and environmental vulnerabilities.
Thailand’s electricity sector seemed poised to worsen--until civil society groups stepped in.
Canada’s Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, took a significant step toward promoting transparency and reducing global poverty. He announced yesterday that Canada will implement mandatory reporting requirements for Canadian extractive companies operating both in-country and abroad.
This mandate will require Canadian extractive companies to publicly disclose the payments they make to foreign governments in exchange for permission to operate on their soil. This development will help promote transparency in the mining sector and, if implemented effectively, could help combat the “resource curse.”
Fighting the Resource Curse through Access to Information
Tackling the “resource curse” is a challenge of global proportions. The term applies to situations where, despite a country’s mineral or oil wealth, poverty is exacerbated in part by weak or corrupt institutions, government mismanagement of revenues, and a failure to re-invest into projects that benefit the public—such as infrastructure, education, and healthcare. Often, citizens of resource curse countries aren’t able to hold their governments accountable for this abuse of power because they lack information about their country’s revenues and expenditures (see Box).