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  • Blog post

    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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  • Blog post

    WRI Wins Award for its Environmental Justice Film, “Sunita”

    Consider this blog post to have been written hastily on the back of a cocktail napkin. Not really, of course, as my handwriting is increasingly poor in this digital age. But I’m in acceptance-speech mode, as WRI just won the 2012 EthicMark Award for its environmental justice film, Sunita.

    This award, which I recently accepted at the Sustainable Brands London conference, is given for advertisements that “uplift the human spirit and society.” WRI tied for first place in the non-profit category, along with Ten Thousand Villages’ fantastic film, World Fair Trade Day 2011. We at WRI are incredibly thankful to the folks who honored us with this award—the World Business Academy, Ethical Markets Media, and the University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business—and I’m thrilled to be returning to Washington, D.C. with our first-ever award for communications.

    While the story of winning this award is certainly a pleasure to share, it’s nothing compared to the story of creating Sunita.

    [youtube wko4MxZGIus]

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  • Blog post

    What’s the Future of the Climate Investment Funds?

    The committees governing the $7 billion Climate Investment Funds (CIFs) – the Clean Technology Fund (CTF) and the Strategic Climate Fund (SCF) – will meet in Istanbul this week. Alongside these meetings, a range of stakeholders from civil society, indigenous groups, and the private sector will participate in a series of events organized as part of the annual Partnership Forum, which takes place from November 4-7, 2012.

    Decisions made at these meetings are critically important for the funding of climate mitigation and adaptation activities in developing nations. They’ll have important implications for meeting the immediate investment needs of developing countries, as well as for long-term global climate finance. The meetings will mark the start of discussions on how to sunset the CIFs and transition to a new global climate finance mechanism—the Green Climate Fund.

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  • Blog post

    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.”

    [youtube jc9pPrZhh_Y]

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  • Blog post

    The Green Climate Fund Board Meeting: Highs, Lows, and a Host Country

    The Green Climate Fund (GCF) Board wrapped up its second meeting on Saturday with a major decision: selecting Songdo City in South Korea to host the Fund. The decision, which was adopted by consensus of the Board, was greeted with joy by the Koreans, who spared no effort to provide an offer of the highest quality to earn the confidence of the Board. The UNFCCC Conference of Parties will have to endorse this decision at its next meeting in Doha later this year to confirm the selection.

    The Host Country Will Play an Important Role

    The GCF is expected to be instrumental in distributing the funds that will help developing nations adapt to and mitigate climate change. As the host country, South Korea now has the opportunity to play an important role in ensuring that the GCF fulfills this responsibility.

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  • Blog post

    WRI’s Environmental Justice Video Selected as Finalist for Prestigious Award

    WRI’s The Access Initiative created its “Sunita” video to bring attention to the environmental injustices that countless impoverished communities face. But recently, it’s the video itself that’s getting all the attention.

    The World Business Academy, Ethical Markets Media, and the University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business recently announced that “Sunita” is a finalist for the group’s prestigious “EthicMark” video award. The award honors advertisements that “uplift the human spirit and society.” “Sunita” joins a video by Ten Thousand Villages as a finalist in the non-profit category.

    [youtube wko4MxZGIus]

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  • Blog post

    Why Is Choosing a Host Country for the Green Climate Fund Such an Important Decision?

    The second meeting of the Green Climate Fund (GCF), the institution that’s expected to become the main global fund for climate change finance, will take place tomorrow in Songdo, Korea. While the Board will discuss several issues—everything from criteria for its executive director to hammering out a work plan—one is likely to take center stage: choosing the Fund’s host country.

    Six countries are currently vying for the role: Germany (Bonn), Korea (Songdo), Mexico (Mexico City), Namibia (Windhoek), Poland (Warsaw), and Switzerland (Geneva). The decision is an important one—the appointed country will be tasked with providing a home for one of the main vehicles to help the world’s most vulnerable nations mitigate and adapt to climate change.

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  • Blog post

    Scaling Up Climate Finance: Why We Need to Invest in Institutions

    Addressing global climate change requires huge investments. In order to keep global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius and protect vulnerable communities from climate change’s impacts, experts estimate that developing countries will need between $110 and $275 billion annually to mitigate and adapt to climate change. The International Energy Agency estimates that for developing countries to transition to low carbon energy, approximately $10 trillion dollars in energy investments by 2050 is required. In addition, another $ 1.5 trillion per year will be required by 2030 for adaptation action.

    Unfortunately, there’s a huge gap between the funding we have and the funding we need: According to experts, developing countries’ climate change financing needs exceed current and prospective flows by at least five to 10 times. While many policy analysts focus on the need for more money and a greater availability of technology to bridge this gap, there’s another issue that’s less talked about but equally important: investing in institutions and capacity development.

    By “institutions,” I mean countries’ national structures, mechanisms, and related arrangements to effectively implement climate policy and administer climate finance, such as a national climate change commission, an inter-agency committee on climate change, a national climate change adaptation fund, or national climate change trust funds. “Investing” in these institutions means creating the necessary policy, institutional, industry, and financial conditions that can help scale up investments in climate action. Building these strong and effective institutions will also require capacity and knowledge-building.

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  • Blog post

    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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  • Blog post

    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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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?

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Strengthening Ownership and Effectiveness of Climate Finance

The Climate Investment Funds (CIFs), one of the world’s largest dedicated funding facilities for climate change mitigation/adaptation projects, have now been in operation for five years. It’s a good time to step back and evaluate what lessons we’re learning from these important sources of climate finance.

WRI recently did just that, inviting a group of representatives from countries accessing CIFs funding to speak at our offices. It became clear from the discussions that while some valuable progress has been made, there is still plenty of room for improvement. In particular, lending institutions involved with the CIFs could deploy climate finance more effectively by fostering a stronger sense of country ownership over mitigation/adaptation projects.

The Good News: Climate Investment Funds Are Contributing to Change on the Ground

We’re starting to see some countries make progress on implementing climate change mitigation and adaptation projects with funds from CIFs programs (see text box). Panelists at the WRI event highlighted a few examples:

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Emerging REDD+ Programs Need Additional Emphasis on Land Tenure

Since 2009, more than 30 countries have submitted proposals for REDD+ readiness grants to start addressing the social, economic, and institutional factors that contribute to forest loss. Many countries have made encouraging strides in defining their plans to become “ready” for REDD+.

Yet, in a new WRI analysis of 32 country proposals, we identify the need for stronger commitments and strategies to address land and forest tenure challenges. While most countries identify secure land tenure as critical to successful REDD+ programs, relatively few outline specific objectives or next steps to address weaknesses in land laws or their implementation. Lack of clear strategies to address land tenure challenges could significantly hinder efforts to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation.

The new working paper from WRI’s Governance of Forests Initiative reviews 32 readiness proposals submitted to two grant programs supporting REDD+ readiness: the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF) and the UN-REDD Programme. We reviewed these documents to assess how REDD+ countries plan to address eight core issues (see Box 1 below). The analysis sheds light on how REDD+ issues are understood and prioritized, as well as where more technical and financial support is needed.

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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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