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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.

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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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Extreme Weather: A Mixed Bag for Dead Zones

This post was co-authored with Bob Diaz, a WRI partner and professor at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science.

This year’s extreme weather events—a warm winter, even warmer summer, and a drought that covered nearly two-thirds of the continental United States—has certainly caused its fair share of damages. But despite the crop failures, water shortages, and heat waves, extreme weather created at least one benefit: smaller dead zones in the Chesapeake Bay and Gulf of Mexico.

On a normal year, rain washes pollutants like nitrogen and phosphorous from farms and urban areas into the two bodies of water, fueling algae growth. When this algae dies, it consumes oxygen and creates hypoxic areas, or “dead zones,” which can kill fish and other marine life. Less rain this year meant fewer pollutants making their way into the Chesapeake Bay and Gulf of Mexico. The Chesapeake Bay’s summer dead zone was the smallest since record-keeping began in 1985, and the Gulf of Mexico’s covered one of the smallest areas on record.

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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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In response to President Obama’s State of the Union speech, following is a statement from Manish Bapna, Interim President, World Resources Institute:

“In his speech tonight, President Obama reiterated his vision for American’s energy future—a vision based on expanded energy production at home and less dependence on energy from abroad.

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