Laws that ensure access to information provide citizens with the right to crucial facts and data, including those about natural resources that are critical to livelihoods. These transparency laws are the cornerstone of good governance, which all governments have a duty to respect, protect, and fulfill. With the goal to improve governance, The Access Initiative (TAI) successfully influenced a model African Union access-to-information law, as well as a new United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) access-to-information policy.
WRI is the Secretariat of TAI, the largest network in the world dedicated to ensuring that citizens have the right and ability to influence decisions about the natural resources that sustain their communities.
International and regional institutions, such as UNEP and the African Union, have wide-reaching effects that shape national policies. However, without robust access-to-information policies, UNEP and the African Union lacked practical means of ensuring that their decisions consider sustainable development concerns and the interests of the poor.
WRI has a long history of shaping legal, institutional, and practical reforms to improve transparency, inclusiveness, and accountability around environmental decision-making. This history lay the groundwork for WRI and TAI partners to effectively campaign for UNEP and African Union reforms.
Before Rio+20, WRI and TAI partners presented strong arguments to delegates and helped draft language, which were incorporated into UNEP’s final decision to adopt an “access to information” policy. Simultaneously, WRI worked with partners to review and comment on an African Union model access-to-information law. WRI submitted official comments and provided recommendations to reduce exceptions to the law and include new provisions to better guide implementation and promotion of the policy. The majority of our specific recommendations were adopted in the final model law.
Today, UNEP is finalizing its access-to-information policy and working with WRI to enhance stakeholder participation in decision-making. When the policy is finalized and implemented, UNEP will be one of the most transparent and inclusive organizations in the United Nations system.
The African Union (AU) passed a strong model law, which provides a template for all African countries to write access-to-information acts. It provides legislators a tool to address issues specific to the African context, such as requirements to improve record-keeping and provisions for oversight and monitoring by an independent enforcement body. Currently, of the 54 African countries, only 13 have access-to-information laws. This new, model law encourages the 41 other countries to pass similar legislation.
WRI and TAI are building on our success with UNEP and the AU in new ways, such as working to influence the Open Government Partnership on high-level transparency and accountability policies.
Land and natural resources lie at the heart of social, political, and economic life in much of rural Africa. They represent fundamental assets—primary sources of livelihood, nutrition, income, wealth, and employment for African communities—and are a basis for security, status, social identity, and political relations. For many rural people, land and resources such as water, trees, and wildlife also have significant historical, cultural, and spiritual significance.
The issue of "loss and damage" will be a critical component of the discussions at COP 19 in Warsaw. These negotiations could be contentious and emotional—and not surprisingly, given what is at stake. Losses and damages under scenarios well below four degrees of warming could, over time, include the submergence of mega-cities, the collapse of major ecosystems, and the loss of entire island nations. But the loss and damage (L&D) negotiations need to succeed for COP 19 to succeed—and for the global community to get on track to achieve an ambitious, effective, and equitable climate change agreement in 2015.
U.S. public financing for overseas coal-fired power is likely coming to an end.
That’s the clear signal from the U.S. Department of Treasury’s announcement earlier this week. At institutions like the World Bank, where the United States is the largest shareholder, this decision holds real significance.
Parties to the UNFCCC established the Adaptation Fund in 2008[^1] to help developing countries adapt to the impacts of climate change. The Fund has gradually evolved since then, and it’s about to embark on its newest development: a safeguard policy to ensure that its investments do not have unintended negative consequences for people or the environment.
The move represents potential progress in the effort to promote climate justice and adaptation. The Adaptation Fund holds a small but important share of global climate finance, distributing more than US$ 180 million to adaptation activities spanning 28 countries. An Environmental and Social Policy—which the Board recently released a draft of—can help ensure that that these funds do not support projects that generate unintended environmental or social impacts.
Under the new leadership of Dr. Jim Yong Kim, the World Bank Group continues to reinvent itself to meet the challenges of global development. That reinvention will continue this Saturday, when the Board of Governors is expected to endorse a new strategy for the institution. If properly implemented across the Group, the strategy could help boost the institution’s contribution to equitable and sustainable development. Two areas of focus will be especially important, including how the Group handles its work on climate change and selects its investments.
Imagine if you didn’t know how your Senator or Representative voted on particular bills. Until recently, that was the case in Uganda. Now, based on the recommendations from a WRI-sponsored study in Uganda with the Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment on legislative environmental representation, the Ugandan Parliament will record legislators’ votes. Ugandan citizens, journalists, academics, and companies can now monitor how the nation makes decisions impacting the environment and can hold legislators accountable for their votes.
Seventy-five percent of the world’s poor live in often ignored and neglected rural areas. National systems for education and health care, for example, don’t always reach the most needy. In many cases, national governments do not clearly know where their poor populations reside. WRI’s poverty maps are providing governments with powerful visual information about where the poor live and where their federal resources are being spent. With these maps, governments can see the problems and better direct scarce financial resources to where they are needed most. Kenya’s Constituency Development Fund was created in early 2005 to channel development funds to the grassroots level through locally-based initiatives. Relying on poverty maps that WRI helped create, a Poverty Index has been developed by the Kenyan government to ensure that funds are guided to areas that will have immediate gains for the poor.
Indonesia is the world’s fourth largest country, and, potentially, the largest in terms of biodiversity. Environmental and development choices made by Indonesia have far reaching consequences, not just for its citizens, but for the health and well-being of the world. Indonesia recently joined Partnership for Principle 10, a growing coalition of governments, civil society organizations, and international organizations committed to giving citizens an “environmental voice.” For Indonesia, this means increasing public involvement in the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process, incorporating public participation guidelines in new local environmental regulations, responding to public grievances in environmental cases, and publishing more environmental information on the Internet and in environmental regulation booklets. The Ministry of the Environment is incorporating these commitments into the country’s revised Environmental Management Act.