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.
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.
Communities dependent on natural resources have long faced injustice in both the Philippines and India. Now, thanks to the work of WRI and its national partners in The Access Initiative, victims of pollution and environmental degradation have a better chance in getting redress before special environmental courts and tribunals.
India: The National Environmental Appellate Authority (NEAA) of India is an administrative court that hears appeals against project approvals where an Environmental impact Assessment was legally required and which had a longstanding reputation for almost always siding with developers against communities. TAI partners challenged several NEAA decisions before the New Delhi High Court and were victorious. Not only did the Court agree with the criticisms leveled against the NEAA, but TAI’s efforts made it clear that the institution needed far reaching reform.
Independently, the Ministry of Forests and Environment introduced a Green Tribunal Bill in the Indian Congress which sought to abolish the NEAA and establish a green tribunal that would hear environmental disputes throughout the country. Concerned that some clauses would limit the scope of environmental dispute resolution, TAI partners successfully developed a critique of the bill and a nationwide campaign for its reform, resulting in ministerial level meetings and the incorporation of most of TAI’s proposed revisions in the final bill, passed in May 2010.
Philippines: In April 2010, the Philippine Supreme Court adopted official “procedures for environmental cases” to be used for civil, criminal and special civil actions brought before the country’s regional, metropolitan and municipal trial courts. This guidance has enabled the Philippines newly established network of environmental courts - the most extensive in any country worldwide - to avoid long-winded and expensive cases. The newly established procedures include provisions to simplify trials, make them speedier, and lower their cost, including by awarding fee waivers for the poor. They also enable courts to monitor and ensure enforcement of judgments.
TAI Philippines, a coalition of NGOs led by the Ateneo de Manila School of Government, drafted the groundbreaking “bench book” for the Philippines’ new environmental courts, supported by WRI which provided finance and training support. In an early demonstration of the effect of these new procedures, plaintiffs in 150 separate villages are filing a collective suit to compel the government to plan water use in the face of climate change.
With a lending portfolio of $18 billion in 2010, the International Finance Corporation (IFC) promotes private investment in developing countries. Its lending has been guided since 2006 by a set of Performance Standards on Environmental and Social Sustainability which the IFC applies to all investment projects to minimize their impact on the environment and on affected communities. Large-scale infrastructure projects, extractive industries operations, and other projects often pose serious environmental and social risks, including to human rights.
Over the past decade, WRI has been leveraging its expertise on ecosystems and biodiversity, climate change, and governance to help shape the environmental and social policies of international financial institutions like the IFC, and to promote sustainable private investment in client countries.
WRI actively advised IFC on its 2011 revision of the IFC performance standards which strengthened the environmental and social safeguards it applies to projects worldwide. IFC staff making a case for robust requirements to assess risks on ecosystem services, climate change, and indigenous peoples’ rights, also had access to the following WRI body of work:
Our effort to mainstream ecosystem services in decision-making and the documented use of our ecosystem services review tools within the private sector.
Our work demonstrating that the concept of “Free Prior Informed Consent” makes a good business case for large-scale, high-impact projects to ensure local civil society buy in.
IFC standards are globally influential among international project financiers seeking to manage the environmental and social risks of projects in the developing world. More than 60 leading international institutions have committed to adhere to IFC’s Performance Standards in their project-finance lending under the rubric of the Equator Principles. Banks in emerging economies including China and Brazil often refer to the IFC Performance Standards as they develop national environmental and social guidelines.
Decisions about how to generate, deliver and pay for electricity have a profound effect on people’s lives. WRI’s Electricity Governance Initiative (EGI) promotes transparent, inclusive and accountable decision-making in the electricity sector, with the goal of helping countries can develop more equitable and sustainable electricity policies. The partnership works in India, Indonesia, Thailand, South Africa, and the Philippines, five countries with rapidly growing emissions from power generation. Since 2005, we have worked with civil society organizations to complete national assessments of electricity governance and advocate for improvements. More than thirty organizations around the world are partners in the Initiative.
This breakthrough resulted from the opening up South Africa’s national electricity planning process, in which EGI played a key role.
Civil society organizations were invited to participate in a new open and consultative process to develop the Integrated Resource Plan for 2010-2030. EGI partners in South Africa produced and shared relevant and timely analyses of the draft plan, held public workshops with government officials, parliamentarians, and civil society groups, and drew media attention to key components of the plan. The result was the government’s heightened focus on the clean energy options of renewables and efficiency. In addition, the South African Department of Energy committed to develop a research agenda to address issues that arose during the public process.
The National Green Tribunal (NGT) Act, passed by the Indian Parliament in May 2010, established a court to deal with environmental disputes throughout the country. Though hailed as a progressive mechanism for victims of pollution and environmental degradation to seek redress, the government delayed putting in place the needed infrastructure, staff, and judges for over a year. The deadlock was broken when environmental groups that are part of The Access Initiative in India took the issue to the Supreme Court, which ruled in their favor, forcing the government to implement the tribunal.
This turn of events underlines the influence and effectiveness of The Access Initiative (TAI) which is co-led by WRI. Established in 1999, TAI is the largest network of civil society organizations in the world dedicated to ensuring that citizens have the right and ability to influence decisions about the natural resources that sustain their communities. TAI-India has become a visible and influential player in India’s environmental governance arena.
Following the Supreme Court’s intervention, India’s National Green Tribunal started functioning on July 4, 2011, hearing thirty-five cases in the first two weeks. TAI India members won another victory when they brought to the media’s attention a stipulation in the Act requiring petitioners, when filing for environmental damages, to pay one percent of the compensation claimed. Following media coverage, the Minister for Environment and Forests, immediately withdrew the regulation requiring fees, which would have deterred poor people from seeking the tribunal’s help.
Indian citizens will now have unfettered access to an environmental court – an important step in advancing environmental rights in the world’s largest democracy. Although the court now functions in only New Delhi, the government plans to expand its presence to five other locations.
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.