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Governance & Access

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  • Blog post

    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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  • Blog post

    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:

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  • Blog post

    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.

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  • Blog post

    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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  • Blog post

    Climate Finance in East Africa: Stories and Lessons

    This post originally appeared on the Climate Development and Knowledge Network's (CDKN) website.

    Having recently left the bustling streets and warm hospitality of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, I’m taking a moment to reflect on all that I have learned at CDKN’s workshop on “Climate Finance in East Africa.” Representatives of government departments and research institutes from Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda--as well as members of the donor community and international think-tanks--reflected on their experiences and the challenges faced in mobilizing and effectively deploying climate change finance.

    I was inspired by the sense of optimism and confidence among participants as they discussed the ways in which their countries are tackling the climate change challenge. And I was struck by the effort and considerable progress that these East African countries have already made, despite limited resources and numerous obstacles.

    Climate Action in East Africa

    For example, last month Kenya launched a holistic national climate change action plan, following a comprehensive planning process that brought together all key government ministries, subnational governments, civil society, the private sector, and development partners.

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  • Blog post

    5 Steps to Improve the World Bank’s Social and Environmental Safeguards

    The World Bank’s annual spring meetings take place this week in Washington, D.C. One big topic on the agenda is how to update the World Bank’s “safeguard” policies. Created in the early 1990s, these policies ensure that the Bank considers the social and environmental effects of proposed projects. For example, the safeguards require those borrowing money to assess the project’s environmental impacts and to compensate households who are negatively affected.

    The full suite of safeguards is now under review for the first time. Among other things, the Bank hopes to make its safeguard policies reflect changes in the global economic and political landscape that have occurred in recent decades.

    World Bank Safeguards vs. National Safeguards

    One question on the table is how the World Bank safeguards should interact with national systems already in place in recipient countries. Since the creation of the Bank’s safeguards, many countries have strengthened their own rules and institutions to ensure that large-scale projects are implemented in a manner that protects people and the environment. These include, for instance, laws requiring environmental impact assessments, or government agencies to oversee land use changes. Relying on these domestic systems can potentially improve protection of people and the environment. National laws, for example, allow governments and citizens to work within their own familiar structures, and they’re sometimes more appropriate for local circumstances than Bank policies.

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  • Blog post

    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.

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  • Blog post

    Without Land, What Would a Farmer Do?

    Rural farmers depend on land and natural resources for food, income, and their physical well-being. But what happens when national or local governments prevent rural people and communities from farming their land?

    All governments have the authority to restrict the use of private land, usually for public interest purposes, such as environmental management or biodiversity conservation. In these cases, the affected individuals should be compensated for their losses even though the land remains theirs. Problems arise when governments routinely restrict the use of private property for ordinary government business or for meeting short-term political ends. With weak rights to their property and insecure tenure arrangements, local people stop investing in their land and natural resources. In many countries, governments restrict the use of private property without consulting the landholders or providing compensation. With courts too expensive to access, poor people have few opportunities for recourse.

    How do governments balance the benefits to the national public with the rights of local citizens? Can these national benefits be achieved without restricting rural people’s land use? To find out, watch WRI’s new animated video, “A Farmer in Africa.”

    [youtube j6nra7SYPNM]

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  • Blog post

    3 Ways to Unlock Climate Finance

    Ministers and senior officials from developed countries will gather this Thursday in Washington, D.C. to tackle one of the world’s foremost challenges: how to mobilize private sector capital to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in developing countries and help them adapt to climate change’s impacts. The meeting, organized by the U.S. State Department, comes on the heels of another meeting of climate finance experts and researchers in Paris, organized by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

    This global attention on climate finance comes at a critical moment: Research shows that the world will need to invest at least $5.7 trillion in clean water, sustainable transport, renewable energy, and other green infrastructure annually by 2020 in order to keep global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius, thus preventing climate change’s worst impacts. We’re currently directing only about $360 billion annually toward these activities.

    While these discussions are necessary, what’s more important is whether or not ministers and officials are talking about the right issues and asking the right questions. Addressing three questions—on the correct investment figures, the most effective policy and financing tools, and the importance of collaboration—will be critical to ensure that the April 11th Ministerial Meeting on Mobilizing Climate Finance achieves meaningful results.

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  • Blog post

    Why Is Climate Finance So Hard to Define?

    This is the first installment of our blog series, Climate Finance FAQs. The series explores the often nebulous world of climate finance, providing clarity on some of the key terms and current issues. Read more posts in this series.

    Surprising as it may sound, there is no standard definition of climate finance. In fact, there are many differing views on what type of funding constitutes climate finance, how it should be delivered, and how much money developing nations will need to mitigate climate change and adapt to its impacts. This vortex of information can be confusing to navigate. Here, we'll do our best to break down all of the components that define “climate finance.”

    Defining Climate Finance: Broadly to Narrowly

    In its broadest interpretation, climate finance refers to the flow of funds toward activities that reduce greenhouse gas emissions or help society adapt to climate change’s impacts. It is the totality of flows directed to climate change projects—the same way that “infrastructure finance” refers to the financing of infrastructure, or “consumer finance” refers to providing credit for purchases of big-ticket household items.

    The term is most frequently used in the context of international political negotiations on climate change. In this context, climate finance—or international climate finance—is used to describe financial flows from developed to developing countries for climate change mitigation/adaptation activities, like building solar power plants or walls to protect from sea level rise. This interpretation builds off the premise that developed countries have an obligation to help developing countries transform their economies to become less carbon-intensive and more resilient to climate change.

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Strengthening Cameroon’s Forest Governance: 3 Key Challenges for Cameroon’s REDD+ Process

In January 2013, the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility approved USD $3.6M to fund Cameroon’s Readiness Preparation Proposal—a roadmap detailing how Cameroon will develop a national REDD+ strategy to help protect its forests. Cameroon, like many other REDD+ countries, now faces the challenge of delivering on commitments made in its Readiness Preparation Proposal (R-PP). Doing so will require significant efforts to address historical forest sector challenges, including weak governance. I recently participated in the National Dialogue on REDD+ Governance in Yaoundé, Cameroon, where these challenges were at the top of the agenda. The Dialogue, co-sponsored by Bioresources Development and Conservation Programme-Cameroon (BDCPC), Cameroon Ecology, the Ministry of Environment, Nature Protection, and Sustainable Development (MINEPDED), and WRI’s Governance of Forests Initiative (GFI), provided a forum for government and civil society members to talk frankly about strengthening governance as part of Cameroon’s REDD+ program.

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Helping Clean Energy Entrepreneurs Turn on the Lights in Poor Countries

A social entrepreneur invests the little working capital she has to bring solar electricity to a community that –like 1.2 billion people worldwide– lacks access to electricity. The community used to use dirty, expensive and choking kerosene for light to cook by and for children to learn by. The entrepreneur knows she can recoup her costs, because people are willing to pay for reliable, high-quality, clean energy – and it will be even less than what they used to pay for kerosene. Sounds like a good news story, right?

Three months later, the government utility extends the electrical grid to this same community, despite official plans showing it would take at least another four years. While this could be good news for the community, one unintended consequence is that this undermines the entrepreneur’s investment, wiping out their working capital, and deterring investors from supporting decentralized clean energy projects in other communities that lack access to electricity.

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A Look at China's New Environmental Guidelines on Overseas Investments

Few countries are unaffected by China’s overseas investments. The country’s outward foreign direct investments (OFDI) have grownfrom $29 billion in 2002 to more than $424 billion in 2011. While these investments can bring economic opportunities to recipient countries, they also have the potential to create negative economic, social, and environmental impacts and spur tension with local communities.

To address these risks, China’s Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM) and Ministry of Environment (MEP)—with support from several think tanks—recently issued Guidelines on Environmental Protection and Cooperation. These Guidelines are the first-ever to establish criteria for Chinese companies’ behaviors when doing business overseas—including their environmental impact. But what exactly do the Guidelines cover, and how effective will they be? Here, we’ll answer these questions and more.

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