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An Action Plan for Environmental Justice in Latin America and the Caribbean

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.

Civil Society Groups Help Make Electricity Affordable and Sustainable

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 one of a four-part blog series, “Improving Electricity Governance,” which explores the key components involved in making electricity decision-making more open, inclusive, and fair. The series draws on the experiences of WRI’s Electricity Governance Initiative, which are documented in a new report, “Shining a Light on Electricity Governance.”

Access to electricity poses major challenges in India. Service varies considerably across the country. In some regions, fewer than 40 percent of people have access to electricity, while half of all rural households lack access to power. These issues will become more challenging as demand for energy is expected to double by 2020. The country will need to figure out how to provide affordable, reliable power in ways that benefit both people and the planet.

But India has a powerful ally in overcoming these electricity challenges: civil society organizations (CSOs).

People’s Monitoring Group on Electricity Regulation Steps In

In the state of Andhra Pradesh, the People’s Monitoring Group on Electricity Regulation (PMGER), a partner with WRI’s Electricity Governance Initiative (EGI), acts as an advocate for affordable, reliable power. The organization is a consortium of NGOs whose constituencies include farmers’ organizations, environmental and development advocacy groups, electricity advocacy groups, workers’ unions, and research organizations. PMGER ensures that Andhra Pradesh’s electricity decisions are fair, effective, and made with citizens’ best interests in mind.

Why Africa Needs Open Legislatures

This post was co-written with Gilbert Sendugwa, Coordinator and Head of Secretariat for the Africa Freedom of Information Centre.

Open government requires an open executive branch, an open legislature, and an open judiciary. Historically, however, global attention to government transparency and access to information has focused on the executive branch.

But this may finally be changing. In April of this year, 38 civil society organizations from around the world convened in Washington, D.C. and agreed to work together to advance open parliaments. In September, more than 90 civil society organizations from more than 60 countries launched the Declaration on Parliamentary Openness in Rome.

Civil society attention on lawmakers and legislatures is critically important—especially in Africa, where parliaments have long worked behind closed doors (most legislatures on the continent are parliaments). Transparency is needed for civil society to hold legislators accountable for their decisions and actions, and to ensure they are responsive to the needs and concerns of their constituents.

Interactive Forest Atlas of Congo - Atlas Forestier Interactif du Congo (Version 3.0)

Please see our Congo Basin Forest Atlases page for the latest versions of our Congo Basin Atlases, along with links to interactive maps, desktop mapping applications, GIS data, posters...

Expanding Environmental Democracy: Latin American Countries Move Forward with Principle 10

A number of Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) countries recently took a huge step forward in ensuring environmental democracy for their citizens. At a UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) meeting in early November, these countries agreed on a road map to ensure full implementation of Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration.

Principle 10, otherwise known as the environmental democracy principle, affirms that all citizens have a say in the environmental and development decisions that directly impact them. In one of the few bright spots of the Rio+20 sustainable development conference this past June, 10 LAC countries—Ecuador, Chile, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, and Uruguay—adopted and publicly signed the Principle 10 Declaration. This month’s ECLAC meeting in Santiago, Chile marked the first gathering of Government representatives after this historic Declaration. Most importantly, governments adopted an agreed-upon road map defining a process to draft a Principle 10 Action Plan, which will be submitted for adoption in early April 2013.

WRI Wins Award for its Environmental Justice Film, “Sunita”

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.

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Join Our Webinar: “Moving the Global Access to Information Agenda Forward”

A version of this post originally appeared on The Access Initiative's blog.

The World Resources Institute, The Access Initiative, Indonesian Center for Environmental Law, and Thailand Environment Institute invite you to an online seminar on October 25, 2012. Participants will learn how citizens in Indonesia and Thailand are using their countries’ freedom of information (FOI) laws to obtain data on environmental pollution in their communities.

“Webinars like this are so important because they enable people to reflect on developing country experiences in the implementation of right to information laws for citizens,” said Carole Excell, a Senior Associate in WRI’s Governance and Access program. “We hope to challenge the perspective that right to information laws are tools used only by sophisticated organizations and talk about their utility as tools for citizens and communities.”

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WRI’s Environmental Justice Video Selected as Finalist for Prestigious Award

WRI’s The Access Initiative created its “Sunita” video to bring attention to the environmental injustices that countless impoverished communities face. But recently, it’s the video itself that’s getting all the attention.

The World Business Academy, Ethical Markets Media, and the University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business recently announced that “Sunita” is a finalist for the group’s prestigious “EthicMark” video award. The award honors advertisements that “uplift the human spirit and society.” “Sunita” joins a video by Ten Thousand Villages as a finalist in the non-profit category.

[youtube wko4MxZGIus]

Using Partnerships and Governance to Solve the Energy "Trilemma"

This post was co-written with Sarah Martin, an intern with WRI's Electricity Governance Initiative.

The theme of today’s Blog Action Day is the “Power of We,” a celebration of people working together to make a positive difference in the world. The idea of partnership is at the core of WRI’s Electricity Governance Initiative (EGI), a network of civil society organizations dedicated to promoting transparent, inclusive, and accountable decision-making in the electricity sector. In honor of Blog Action Day, this post outlines some of EGI’s most recent work towards finding new responses to the emerging energy “Trilemma.”

The energy “Trilemma” is a newly developed concept outlining the main hurdles to achieving universal access to clean, reliable, and affordable energy. The Trilemma involves three interrelated challenges: meeting the growing demand for clean, affordable, and reliable electricity; ensuring economic growth and energy security; and developing a low-carbon growth strategy.

WRI’s Electricity Governance Initiative (EGI) is a network of more than 30 organizations from 10 countries dedicated to promoting transparent, inclusive, and accountable decision-making in the electricity sector. EGI recently held its annual retreat, where partners representing 10 countries discussed how good governance and collaboration can help tackle the energy Trilemma.

Interactive Forest Atlas of Cameroon - Atlas Forestier Interactif du Cameroun (Version 3.0)

Please see our Congo Basin Forest Atlases page for the latest versions of our Congo Basin Atlases, along with links to online interactive maps, desktop mapping applications, GIS data,...

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