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  • Blog post

    An Inside Look at Latin America’s Illegal Logging – Part Two

    This post was co-authored with Eduardo Arenas Hernández Jr. and Ana Domínguez, who work for Reforestamos Mexico.

    This is the second post in a two-part series on illegal logging in Latin America, with key insights coming from the Forest Legality Alliance’s recent event, “Legal Forest Products and International Trade: A Regional Perspective.” The first installment focuses on the causes of illegal logging in Latin America, while the second highlights potential solutions to this problem.

    Latin America faces significant challenges in addressing illegal logging. As we noted in our previous blog post, several Latin American countries struggle when it comes to ensuring the legality of their forest products. Plus, there are claims that wood from countries with illegal logging problems is imported to Mexico to be processed and re-exported to other nations, including to the United States.

    Combating Illegal Logging in Latin America

    Participants at the Forest Legality Alliance’s (FLA) recent event in Mexico City, “Legal Forest Products and International Trade: A Regional Perspective,” discussed the causes of Latin America’s illegal logging. They also identified potential ways to boost forest protection and sustainable management in the region. These strategies included the following:

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  • Blog post

    An Inside Look at Latin America’s Illegal Logging – Part One

    This post was co-authored with Eduardo Arenas Hernández Jr. and Ana Domínguez, who work for Reforestamos Mexico.

    This is the first post in a two-part series on illegal logging in Latin America, with key insights coming from the Forest Legality Alliance’s recent event, “Legal Forest Products and International Trade: A Regional Perspective.” The first installment focuses on the root causes of Latin America’s illegal wood trade, while the second highlights potential solutions to the problem.

    Mexico exports a significant amount of wood, especially to the United States. In fact, based on data from the U.S. International Trade Commission, the United States imported an estimated $1.4 billion worth of paper and timber products from Mexico in 2011.[^1]

    But Mexico—and Latin America as a whole—struggle when it comes to ensuring legality in forest activities. Illegal logging is documented throughout several Latin American nations and prevalent in some, and there is a risk of importing products to the United States that are tainted with illegality.

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  • Blog post

    Improved Governance Needed in G20's Report on Infrastructure Development

    A few months back, I attended the US-China-Brazil Forum on Sustainable Infrastructure and Development, organized by the International Fund for China’s Environment. I was joined by a few other development experts, including representatives from the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development, Pacific Environment, the Brookings Institution, and the Heinrich Böll Foundation of North America. Our “Infrastructure Investment Strategies and Project Selection Criteria” panel provided an opportunity to discuss the final report of the G20 High-Level Panel (HLP) on infrastructure.

    The HLP report, “High Level Panel on Infrastructure Recommendations to G20-Final Report,” acts as a guide for infrastructure project selection in the developing world. While the report successfully draws attention to the important topic of infrastructure development in developing countries, it has been criticized by civil society groups for failing to include effective governance strategies and for focusing too much on large-scale projects.

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  • Publication
  • Publication

    Case Study: Communicating Modeled Information for Adaptation Decision Making

    By examining the HighNoon project in north India, this case study explores how adaptation-relevant information can best be packaged and disseminated to different users and audiences at the state, district, and block levels. It also explores what kinds of information are of most interest to...

  • Blog post

    Open Government Partnership: African Nations Commit to New Levels of Transparency

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

    The Open Government Partnership (OGP) boasts some pretty lofty and much-needed goals. The global initiative aims to secure concrete commitments from governments to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption, and harness new technologies to strengthen governance. It was officially launched September 20, 2011 by eight founding governments: Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, Norway, Philippines, South Africa, United Kingdom, and United States.

    Now that the OGP is nearly one year old, it’s a good time to analyze how it’s faring—most notably in Africa, which has a long history of secrecy in government and lack of effective public participation.

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  • Blog post

    India’s Blackouts Highlight Need for Electricity Governance Reform

    India recently experienced one of the world’s worst blackouts, with 670 million citizens directly impacted. While media reports have focused on the repercussions from two days of outages, this incident illustrates a much larger, more systemic problem: the need for improved electricity governance.

    India’s History of Power Problems

    India has the world’s fifth-largest electrical system, with an installed electric capacity of about 206 gigawatts (GW). India initiated power sector reforms in the early 1990s through a range of legal, policy, and regulatory changes. Over the last two decades, some of these reforms have been impressive, but several others weren’t taken. This lack of follow-through has resulted in a growing gap between electricity demand and supply throughout the country. Recent blackouts may have shined a spotlight on this gap, but it’s a situation that’s widespread in India: Not only do 400 million Indians lack access to electricity, but electricity supply is unreliable and of poor quality even in large parts of “electrified” India. In addition to the existing demand, Indian consumers, businesses, and industries seek more electricity to power appliances, processes, and products, further exacerbating the demand-supply gap. By 2035, India’s power demand is expected to more than double.

    In looking at the recent blackouts and India’s power supply situation in general, three major governance issues jump out:

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  • Publication
  • Blog post

    Rio+20 in the Rear View: Why We Need to Connect the Grassroots to the Grasstops

    Sarah Martin and Gayatri Gadag also contributed to this blog post.

    Rio+20 may have ended more than three weeks ago, but the environmental and development communities are still feeling the disappointment. One of the biggest shortcomings was the lack of collaboration between citizen groups (the “grassroots”) and the policy research organizations that influence policymakers (the “grasstops”).

    As WRI’s Manish Bapna points out, “A gap and lack of coordination between grassroots and grasstops institutions was evident during the Rio+20 summit. Advancing sustainable development in a meaningful way hinges on bridging this gap.” In other words, creating political will and building the constituency necessary to support the policy changes being advocated for requires collaboration between different segments of civil society.

    Expanding Clean Energy Access

    Bridging the grassroots-grasstops divide is especially necessary when it comes to clean energy access, an issue that received much attention at Rio+20 as a result of U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s Sustainable Energy for All (SE4A) initiative. SE4A is a global initiative that aims to mobilize action from all sectors of society to support universal access to modern energy services, improve energy efficiency, and increase the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix. However, actually expanding clean energy access will require cooperation between think tanks, institutions, governments, and the citizens who are most in need of sustainable energy access.

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  • Blog post

    Rio+20 in the Rear View: Countries Commit to Improve Environmental Governance

    More than a year ago, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon likened Rio+20 to a “free-market revolution for global sustainability,” calling for the event to inspire innovations that move the world toward more sustainable pathways to economic growth and development. Later in the year, U.N. Commission for Sustainable Development Chair, Sha Zukang, explained that the main difference of Rio+20 from earlier conferences “will be the sharp focus on renewing political commitments and on implementation…” Said Sha, “My message is: come to Rio ready to commit.”

    The Rio+20 conference wrapped up on June 22nd, so the big question is: Did governments come through with these serious commitments?

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4 Grand Challenges to Energy, Food, and Water

The world is on track to become a very different place in the next two decades. Per capita income levels are rising, the global middle class is expanding, and the population is set to hit 8.3 billion people by 2030. At the same time, urbanization is happening at an accelerated pace—the volume of urban construction over the next 40 years could equal that which has occurred throughout history to date.

While these projections would bring benefits like reduced poverty and individual empowerment, they have serious implications for the world’s natural resources. Global growth will likely increase the demand for food, water, and energy by 35, 40, and 50 percent respectively by 2030. Add continued climate change to the equation, and the struggle for resources only becomes more intense.

These are just a few of the estimates included in the new Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds report from the U.S. National Intelligence Council (NIC) that was released last month. The assessment, which the NIC puts out every four years, reflects in-depth research on trends and geopolitical changes that may unfold in the next 15-20 years—everything from urbanization to conflict to resource scarcity.

Assessments like the NIC’s are invaluable in providing decision makers with forward-looking insights and analysis. But while the report offers a glimpse into the future, what’s more important is how we respond today to the questions these “megatrends” raise.

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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.

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A Closer Look at China’s Overseas Investment

When it comes to overseas development finance, China is definitely a country to watch. Due to the country’s unprecedented economic growth, China’s overseas investments have increased exponentially in recent years. Between 2009 and 2010, two Chinese state-owned banks lent more money to other developing nations than the World Bank did. In fact, between 2002 and 2011, China’s outward foreign direct investment (OFDI) stock grew from $29 billion to more than $424 billion.

But what factors are driving all of this growth? What areas of the world are on the receiving end of China’s OFDI flows? And what sorts of social and environmental standards are in place for banks’ and enterprises’ investments? WRI seeks to answer these questions and provide additional background information in its recently updated slide deck, “Emerging Actors in Development Finance: A Closer Look at China’s Overseas Investment.”

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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.

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Silence on Climate Change Is Deafening

This post originally appeared in the National Journal's Energy Experts blog as a response to the question: "What Is Climate Silence Costing Us?"

The recent silence on climate change in the U.S. political discourse is extremely troubling. As we can see from the recent spate of extreme weather events, the costs of inaction are clear in terms of both environmental and economic impacts. If we are going to meet the challenge of the global climate threat, we need to have a real, rational discussion about climate change. Having that discussion requires national leadership on this issue.

The irony is that despite the relative silence on the campaign trail, U.S. public opinion on climate change is shifting, with a growing number of people recognizing that more needs to be done to address this issue. As WRI’s president Andrew Steer said in a recent New York Times interview, “On climate change, the political discourse here is massively out of step with the rest of the world, but also with the citizens of this country. Polls show very clearly that two-thirds of Americans think this is a real problem and needs to be addressed.”

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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.

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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,...

WRI Annual Report 2011-2012

2011/2012 was a transition period as WRI said goodbye to President Jonathan Lash and welcomed new President Andrew Steer. With ample wind in our sails from 18 years of Jonathan’s leadership, the Institute’s accomplishments—many captured in this report—reflect both the strength and versatility he...

Can Access to Information Protect Communities from Pollution? A Lesson from Map Ta Phut, Thailand

This post was co-authored with Elizabeth Moses, an intern with The Access Initiative.

Today is International Right to Know Day, a global initiative to share ideas and stories on right to information (RTI) laws and transparent governance. This blog post provides an inside look at how citizens from one Thai community are seeking access to information in order to protect themselves from environmental pollution.

On May 5, 2012, 12 people were killed and 129 injured in Thailand’s Rayong Province. The devastation occurred when a holding tank containing toluene exploded at the Bangkok Synthethics petrochemical factory in Map Ta Phut Industrial Estate, an area housing nearly 150 industrial facilities. The very next day, a mixture of hypochlorite and hydrochloric acid gas leaked from Map Ta Phut’s Aditya Birla Chemical Plant, sending 138 people to the hospital.

As the Bangkok Post noted, the more than 49,000 residents in areas surrounding Map Ta Phut received no warnings about the industrial accidents. They were not told if it was safe to remain in the region or if they should evacuate. In fact, details about the toxic chemicals released during the accidents were not even immediately provided to community members.

Leaving residents in the dark about the dangers they faced undeniably threatened their health. But what would have happened if community members already had information about the chemicals regularly used and emitted by Map Ta Phut’s industries? What if they understood the risks of being exposed to these chemicals and how to cope with these dangers should accidents happen? Would having easy access to information about the industrial estate help them protect themselves from industrial accidents and pollution?

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