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.
Governance & Access
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.”
United Nations Environment Programme’s Governing Council adopts guidelines for national legislation on access in environmental matters
UNEP’s Governing Council (GC) reached a major milestone in implementing Principle 10 of the 1992 Rio Declaration on Development and Environment when delegates agreed to adopt its guidelines for national legislation on access to information, public participation, and access to justice.
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.
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.
In 2010, the U.S. Congress passed, and President Obama ratified, a pioneering law that requires emissions targets and timetables for a U.S. government agency, and the development of a human rights policy for an export credit agency.
The legislation, a first of its kind, was incorporated into the 2010 Appropriations Bill and requires the U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) to take action on climate change and to develop - and publish - binding internal environmental and human rights guidelines.
They are also mandated to implement a revised climate change mitigation plan to phase down greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with projects and sub-projects they finance by at least 30% in 10 years and 50% in 15 years over 2008 levels. This marks the first time that a U.S. government agency has set a target and timetable on its emissions reductions. In August 2010, under the leadership of new president Elizabeth Littlefield, OPIC took this mandate one step further, and adopted progressive environmental and human rights guidelines that have set the gold standard for financial institutions worldwide.
WRI played a key role in the outcome, engaging with Congress on the issue over three years, along with a wider coalition of NGOs. WRI served as a key resource for legislators in the U.S. Congress who drafted the legislation. The legal requirement builds on WRI’s earlier work to get OPIC to adopt a voluntary greenhouse gas initiative in 2007 to reduce its emissions by 20% over 10 years as well as a February 2010 landmark settlement of a 2002 lawsuit filed against OPIC by Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and several U.S. cities affected by climate change, to which they alleged OPIC’s investments had made a substantial contribution.
The settlement required OPIC to establish a goal of reducing its emissions by 20% over the next 10 years, to conduct full environmental impact assessments for projects that emit significant amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) and to publicly report its emissions from these projects annually. In August 2010, OPIC released their environmental and human rights guidelines, which strongly reflect the inputs and recommendations of WRI.