The “resource curse" describes the paradox where countries rich in oil, gas, and minerals remain largely impoverished. Better transparency—both in how governments spend extractive revenues and how natural resource decisions are made—could help tackle this problem. While some new initiatives are making progress on this front, more needs to be done to ensure that drilling and mining doesn’t come at the expense of communities and the land, water, and wildlife they rely on.
access to justice
More than 70 percent of Samarinda’s land (the capital of Indonesia’s East Kalimantan province) is allocated to mining concessions, and little information is provided to citizens on companies’ compliance to safety and environmental health rules.
In the hopes of preventing mining fatalities, the Mining Advocacy Network (JATAM), a group of Indonesian NGOs and community organizations, requested information from the Indonesian government to determine what companies were doing to mitigate mines’ environmental and health impacts. This process prompted the STRIPE project, which will focus on building strong civil society coalitions to advocate for corporate disclosure of information.
Land and natural resources lie at the heart of social, political, and economic life in much of rural Africa. They represent fundamental assets—primary sources of livelihood, nutrition, income, wealth, and employment for African communities—and are a basis for security, status, social identity, and political relations.
Given the importance of land and natural resources to local livelihoods and well-being, rural people and communities need strong, secure rights over their property. Property rights issues, however, can be complex. They’re often misunderstood, even by many policymakers and development practitioners.
Equity and Justice Informing a New Climate Agreement
This paper explores the links between climate change and justice. It establishes why climate change is an issue of justice, analyzes the potential role of justice in the agreement currently being negotiated for 2015, and explores climate justice narratives. This paper is written for climate...
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.
Communities dependent on natural resources have long faced injustice in both the Philippines and India. Now, thanks to the work of WRI and its national partners in The Access Initiative, victims of pollution and environmental degradation have a better chance in getting redress before special environmental courts and tribunals.
India: The National Environmental Appellate Authority (NEAA) of India is an administrative court that hears appeals against project approvals where an Environmental impact Assessment was legally required and which had a longstanding reputation for almost always siding with developers against communities. TAI partners challenged several NEAA decisions before the New Delhi High Court and were victorious. Not only did the Court agree with the criticisms leveled against the NEAA, but TAI’s efforts made it clear that the institution needed far reaching reform.
Independently, the Ministry of Forests and Environment introduced a Green Tribunal Bill in the Indian Congress which sought to abolish the NEAA and establish a green tribunal that would hear environmental disputes throughout the country. Concerned that some clauses would limit the scope of environmental dispute resolution, TAI partners successfully developed a critique of the bill and a nationwide campaign for its reform, resulting in ministerial level meetings and the incorporation of most of TAI’s proposed revisions in the final bill, passed in May 2010.
Philippines: In April 2010, the Philippine Supreme Court adopted official “procedures for environmental cases” to be used for civil, criminal and special civil actions brought before the country’s regional, metropolitan and municipal trial courts. This guidance has enabled the Philippines newly established network of environmental courts - the most extensive in any country worldwide - to avoid long-winded and expensive cases. The newly established procedures include provisions to simplify trials, make them speedier, and lower their cost, including by awarding fee waivers for the poor. They also enable courts to monitor and ensure enforcement of judgments.
TAI Philippines, a coalition of NGOs led by the Ateneo de Manila School of Government, drafted the groundbreaking “bench book” for the Philippines’ new environmental courts, supported by WRI which provided finance and training support. In an early demonstration of the effect of these new procedures, plaintiffs in 150 separate villages are filing a collective suit to compel the government to plan water use in the face of climate change.
The National Green Tribunal (NGT) Act, passed by the Indian Parliament in May 2010, established a court to deal with environmental disputes throughout the country. Though hailed as a progressive mechanism for victims of pollution and environmental degradation to seek redress, the government delayed putting in place the needed infrastructure, staff, and judges for over a year. The deadlock was broken when environmental groups that are part of The Access Initiative in India took the issue to the Supreme Court, which ruled in their favor, forcing the government to implement the tribunal.
This turn of events underlines the influence and effectiveness of The Access Initiative (TAI) which is co-led by WRI. Established in 1999, TAI is the largest network of civil society organizations in the world dedicated to ensuring that citizens have the right and ability to influence decisions about the natural resources that sustain their communities. TAI-India has become a visible and influential player in India’s environmental governance arena.
Following the Supreme Court’s intervention, India’s National Green Tribunal started functioning on July 4, 2011, hearing thirty-five cases in the first two weeks. TAI India members won another victory when they brought to the media’s attention a stipulation in the Act requiring petitioners, when filing for environmental damages, to pay one percent of the compensation claimed. Following media coverage, the Minister for Environment and Forests, immediately withdrew the regulation requiring fees, which would have deterred poor people from seeking the tribunal’s help.
Indian citizens will now have unfettered access to an environmental court – an important step in advancing environmental rights in the world’s largest democracy. Although the court now functions in only New Delhi, the government plans to expand its presence to five other locations.
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.