Electricity production is central to climate change as it accounts for 20 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions. Too often, electricity decisions are made through closed processes with little scrutiny.
WRI’s Electricity Governance Initiative (EGI) is a civil society partnership promoting better governance in the electricity sector. Transparent, accountable, and a participatory decision-making processes will, in time, produce better decisions. When Thailand was privatizing its power utility, a report by in-country partners using the WGI toolkit highlighted the lack of a strong regulatory body to balance the interests of the public against those of a private power utility. The Thai courts halted the privatization, referencing our analysis that the privatization did not prevent abuses of power.
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.
For eight years, WRI and 160 partners in 40 countries have been working to open
up the channels of information on environmental decision-making. This effort –
The Access Initiative – is the largest global action network dedicated to ensuring
that people have the right and the ability to influence decisions about the natural
resources on which their communities depend.
How does it work? Coalitions of civil society groups assess the state of access to
information, public participation, and justice in their nation. Gaps in laws,
institutions, and practices are identified. The coalitions then engage their
government in a dialogue and develop campaigns to bring about reform.
It isn’t easy, especially in Southeast Asia where leaders have long kept
political control through information control. Eight years of work by
The Access Initiative, however, came to fruition recently when Indonesia
enacted a new Freedom of Information Act. The Access Initiative also
played a strong role in ensuring Thailand’s new constitution enshrines the
right of the public to have information about new development projects
that affect the environment and to participate in decisions concerning such
projects. Rights to remedies are provided when the government acts in
breach of these provisions.
Electricity production accounts for 40% of global CO2 emissions. Too often, electricity decisions are made through closed processes with little scrutiny. WRI’s Electricity Governance Initiative is a civil society partnership working in India, Indonesia, Thailand, South Africa, and the Philippines – five countries with rapidly growing emissions from power generation – to improve public participation in the energy decisions that affect their lives.
The Electricity Governance Initiative has played an important role in the development of Thailand’s new Energy Industry Act, provisions of which include: promoting adequate energy services while maintaining fairness for both consumers and businesses; protecting consumer interests with regard to tariffs and service quality while increasing competition and preventing abuses of power; and promoting fairness and transparency in the provision of energy without unjust discrimination.
Poverty maps not only identify the distribution of poor
populations, but pinpoint places where development lags and
highlight the location and condition of infrastructure and natural
resource assets that are critical to poverty reduction programs.
WRI has helped design and support poverty mapping efforts in
Kenya and Uganda. Kenya has used the maps to distribute critical
budget resources to its Constituency Development Fund (CDF)
which has allocated a total of approximately US$475 million for
development and poverty reduction efforts. Before the maps, funds
were based on population rather than on need. That has
changed, with a greater share of funds going to formerly
neglected rural areas.
Poverty maps were also used by the Kenya Water and
Sanitation Program, a five-year, US$65.3 million
effort to ensure resources reached poor communities
with low access to safe water and sanitation.
In a nationwide referendum in early 2009, Bolivia overhauled its federal
constitution. Among its sweeping changes are new legal rights for citizens to take
part in public policy planning and to be consulted and informed on decisions
that may affect environmental quality and natural resource use. The constitution
also establishes the country’s first environmental and agricultural court, giving
citizens and communities a forum to air grievances.
These provisions are largely the result of work by WRI and PRODENA, one
of Bolivia’s oldest environmental advocacy organizations. “Using a toolkit WRI
developed, together we identified weaknesses in Bolivia’s proposed new
constitution regulating public access to environmental information, participation,
and justice,” explains Lalanath de Silva, director of WRI’s Access Initiative (TAI).
PRODENA is a member of TAI, the world’s largest network of civil society
organizations working to ensure that people have the right and ability to
influence decisions about the natural resources that sustain their communities.
Based on these assessments, and with WRI support, PRODENA advocated
tirelessly for the inclusion of such rights, which Bolivia’s government adopted
into the text of the constitution.
“It’s a great result,” continues de Silva, “the type we envisioned when we launched
The Access Initiative a decade ago.”
Principle 10’s guidelines are fundamental pillars of good environmental governance. They cover critical areas, including freedom of information laws, state of the environment reporting, emergency planning and response, project planning, and environmental harms. Adoption of the guidelines will have several significant impacts:
The decision clarifies minimum legal standards for implementation of Principle 10.
The decision requires UNEP’s Executive Director to assist countries in implementing programs and policies around access — and thus ensures that UNEP has a mandate to continue advancing the implementation of Principle 10 at the national level.
The GC’s formal adoption of the guidelines will be critical in strengthening the case that officials and civil society can make for open information systems and decision-making processes.
WRI’s Access Team and partners played a significant role in leading the push to convince GC members to formally adopt the guidelines, rather than simply “note” them. Staff wrote online articles informing access proponents of the opportunity, and WRI sent staff and international partners to three UNEP meetings. WRI Staff Member Carole Excell participated in the Nairobi Expert Meeting in November of 2009 and played an important role in helping revise the guidelines.
Perhaps most critically, WRI successfully helped influence the U.S. delegation to the GC through communications with the USEPA and the U.S. Department of State. To our knowledge, no other U.S.-based NGO pressed the delegation on the issue of adoption. Ultimately reversing its earlier position, the U.S. delegation pushed strongly for adoption of the guidelines and successfully persuaded holdout countries to move toward a consensus for adoption.
UNEP’s poverty and environment division thanked WRI for its help in reaching this critical milestone.
Historically, the world has talked about climate change primarily as an environmental issue. We focus on the amount of greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere, rising seas, climbing temperatures, and other hard data. While this narrative is important, it’s missing a critical component — people.
After all, communities everywhere will be affected by climate change’s impacts. Those in impoverished, developing nations will likely be hit hardest. That’s why it’s necessary to talk about climate change not just as an environmental issue, but also as an issue of climate justice focused on the way in which people, especially the most vulnerable, are being affected.