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How Civil Society Groups Improved Electricity in Thailand

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.

Ending the "Resource Curse": Canada Commits to Make Mining More Transparent

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).

Making the Right Choice on Indonesia’s Forest Moratorium

This piece originally appeared in the Jakarta Post. It was co-written with Dino Patti Djalal, Ambassador of the Republic of Indonesia and WRI Board member.

Ending months of uncertainty, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono of Indonesia made a courageous decision last week to extend the country’s forest moratorium. The new Presidential Instruction adds another two years of protection for over 43 million hectares of primary forests and peat land — an area the size of Japan.

This was a bold decision by a leader known for his commitment to sustainability. Extending the moratorium is a victory for the Indonesian people, business, and the planet.

The moratorium will directly benefit more than 80 million Indonesians who rely on forests for their livelihood. Many of these people are extremely poor and have struggled to gain recognition for their land rights. Extending the moratorium provides an opportunity to address these crucial issues.

Improving Freedom of Information in Uganda

Harriet Bibangambah, a Research Officer at Greenwatch Uganda, also contributed to this post.

Uganda is one of only 10 African countries with a national access to information (ATI) law. These types of laws are essential to human rights, providing citizens with legal access to the government-held information that directly impacts them—information on issues like mining permits, logging concessions, air quality data, and more. But as researchers are learning, ATI laws on the books do not necessarily guarantee freedom of information.

Investigating Access to Information in Uganda

The Access to Information in Africa project—a joint initiative with WRI and the Ghana Center for Democratic Development, Greenwatch Uganda, and Open Democracy Advice Centre of South Africa—evaluates transparency models and environmental accountability in Africa. The project’s research includes conducting a series of citizen requests for information in Ghana, Uganda, and South Africa.

Uganda passed its Access to Information Act in 2005, releasing an implementation plan and ATI regulations in 2011. The regulations establish procedures for citizens to request government-held information and for the government to respond to citizen requests. WRI and Greenwatch, a Ugandan environmental law and advocacy organization set out in August 2011 to investigate how the law works.

4 Issues to Watch: Recommendations for the Post-2015 Development Agenda

UPDATE 5/30/13: The High Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda released its final report on May 30th. Read the full report on the Panel's website.

Following an extensive global consultation process, the High Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda will present its final report to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon this week. Led by the heads of state of Indonesia, Liberia, and the United Kingdom, the panel is charged with producing a bold yet practical vision for global development beyond 2015, when the current Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are set to expire. While this is just the first round of what is sure to be a multi-year process, there has been no shortage of discussion about the Panel’s report and what it should say.

Here are four key issues that we will be looking at on May 31st:

1) Will sustainability be on the margins or at the center of the post-2015 agenda?

The MDGs focused primarily on poverty reduction and the social dimensions of human development, with one stand-alone (and largely ineffective) goal on environmental sustainability. There is growing recognition now that the twin challenges of environmental degradation and inequality are among the root causes of poverty, and thus are inextricably linked. The Panel has already acknowledged this in earlier pronouncements, but how and to what extent it takes a more integrated approach to environmental sustainability and equity issues will be a key test of the new poverty agenda. Will it propose another strengthened, stand-alone goal(s) on environmental sustainability, embed sustainability across a number of other goals, or put forth some combination of the two? How will environmental sustainability and poverty reduction be linked in the post-2015 agenda?

Indonesia Extends its Forest Moratorium: What Comes Next?

Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono made a bold and courageous decision this week to extend the country’s forest moratorium. With this decision, which aims to prevent new clearing of primary forests and peat lands for another two years, the government could help protect valuable forests and drive sustainable development.

Enacted two years ago, Indonesia’s forest moratorium has already made some progress in improving forest management. However, much more can be done. The extension offers Indonesia a tremendous opportunity: a chance to reduce emissions, curb deforestation, and greatly strengthen forest governance in a country that holds some of the world’s most diverse ecosystems.

Boosting Achievements from Indonesia’s Forest Moratorium

Indonesia ranks as one of world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitters, largely due to the clearing of forest and peat lands. The forest moratorium aims to address this problem by prohibiting the award of new licenses to clear or convert primary natural forests and peat lands to agriculture or other uses. This will encompass an area of over 43 million hectares of land. Forest users with existing licenses are still allowed to operate in these regions, and there are several exceptions to the rule.

New Jakarta Declaration Aims to Strengthen Rights to Environmental Information in Asia

Increased industrialization in Asia has created countless hurdles for communities to protect themselves from pollution. Important government information—such as the amount of pollutants being discharged by nearby factories or results from local air and water quality monitoring—still isn’t readily accessible in user-friendly formats. This practice often leaves the public entirely out of decision-making processes on issues like regulating pollution or expanding industrial factories. In many cases, the public lack the information they need to understand and shield themselves from harmful environmental, social, and health impacts.

This state of affairs recently prompted a group of government officials, NGOs, local community representatives, and academics to demand government action to change the status quo. Last week, representatives from China, Indonesia, Japan, Mongolia, the Philippines, and Thailand released the Jakarta Declaration for Strengthening the Right to Environmental Information for People and the Environment. The Declaration urges governments to improve access to information on air and water quality pollution in Asia—and offers a detailed road map on how to do so.

The Declaration stemmed from a meeting organized by WRI’s the Access Initiative and the Indonesian Center for Environmental Law, held last week in Jakarta. Representatives will now bring the list of findings and recommendations to government officials in their home countries and ask for commitments on increasing transparency.

How Are China’s Overseas Investments Affecting the Environment?

Chinese overseas investments are rapidly increasing. As of 2011, China’s outward foreign direct investments (OFDI) spread across 132 countries and regions and topped USD 60 billion annually, ranking ninth globally according to U.N. Conference on Trade and Development statistics. A significant amount of this increasing OFDI goes to the energy and resources sectors—much of it in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

But there are two sides to China’s OFDI coin. On the one side, these investments can benefit China and recipient countries, generating revenue and improving quality of life. However, like any country’s overseas investments, without the right policies and safeguards in place, these investments can fund projects that harm the environment and local communities.

WRI‘s new issue brief surveys the progress and challenges China faces in regulating the environmental and social impacts of its overseas investments. I sat down with WRI senior associate and China expert, Hu Tao, to talk about China’s overseas investment landscape. Before joining WRI, Tao worked as a senior environmental economist with China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP). Here’s what he had to say:

The End of Poverty? The World Bank and the Shared Prosperity Agenda

Within our lifetimes, the world could be free of widespread, extreme poverty, replaced instead with shared prosperity and environmental and fiscal balance. That was the vision World Bank President Jim Yong Kim outlined at his first Spring Meetings in Washington, D.C. last week.

In a period of economic uncertainty, social exclusion, and climate and environmental crises, these goals hold immense promise. At the same time, for an institution already grappling with its redefined role in the coming decades, the Bank’s current capacity to support this vision will be tested.

The Common Vision for the World Bank Group that was approved by the World Bank’s Development Committee on April 20th includes two goals the Bank will work towards:

  • alleviating extreme poverty by dropping the percentage of people living on less than U.S.$ 1.25 a day to 3 percent by 2030, and

  • promoting shared prosperity by fostering income growth of the bottom 40 percent of the population in every country

These two core goals are supplemented by the Bank’s understanding that they cannot be achieved without credible action to ensure environmental sustainability, especially on climate change.

More Transparency Needed to End Kyrgyzstan Energy Crisis

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 two 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.

Three years after a political uprising overthrew the president of Kyrgyzstan, challenges still exist in the country’s energy sector. Before the revolution, the central Asian country suffered rolling blackouts, poor service, and skyrocketing prices, ultimately leading to nationwide revolts and the ouster of President Kurmanbek Bakiyev. Again this past winter, half of the people in the nation’s capital experienced a major blackout, leaving them without access to electricity during the coldest months of the year. The city still faces 900 outages per week.

High energy demand, outdated transmission equipment, and power theft all put increasing stress on energy supplies, but issues of corruption and basic transparency exacerbate the crisis. Civil society groups are turning their attention to these issues to help improve Kyrgyzstan’s energy situation.

These groups are working with a government initiative to open up the decision-making processes in a sector that has traditionally hidden behind closed doors. Their efforts to increase transparency are essential to creating meaningful reform in the Kyrgyz energy sector.

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