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.
China, Indonesia, Japan, Mongolia, and Thailand have all adopted Freedom of Information (FOI) laws that guarantee a right of access to information. But while these laws are on the books, they’re not making enough of an impact. The meeting concluded that more must be done to ensure practical access to environmental information. Some conclusions include:
In Japan, NGOs’ need more capacity to use the FOI law.
In Indonesia, government agencies could make data on air and water—including Environmental Impact Assessments—available electronically and in user-friendly language on their websites.
In Mongolia, a program is needed to support citizens’ participation in decisions on the mining sector and to raise public awareness on the importance of the new FOI law.
In Thailand, the government needs to reform the FOI legislation, providing administrative regulations to improve implementation. Part of this process could include designing programs to improve the capacity of government officials to implement the law.
In the Philippines, the government could development a Pollutant Release and Transfer Register that discloses data on corporate emissions.
The Jakarta Declaration on Strengthening the Right to Environmental Information for People and the Environment
The Jakarta Declaration also outlines ways that Asian nations can improve transparency, access to information, and public participation. It includes 16 guiding principles. A few of the major findings and recommendations include:
Significant barriers exist that impair local communities’ access to environmental information across Asia. Some of these barriers include costs; limited information available at local, public authorities; and highly technical information that is difficult for the public to understand.
The public has a right to participate in establishing the types of environmental information to be released, including, but not limited to: planning applications, environmental impact assessments, permits, air and water quality monitoring information, and inspection reports.
Information must be made available to local communities in a wide range of formats, including internet, TV, radio, newspaper, paper records, and via mobile phones. This information must be systematically provided, timely, reliable, comprehensive, user-friendly, accessible, inexpensive, and accurate.
Access to information on corporate, facility, and state-owned enterprise’s pollutant discharges and their impacts on the environment is limited in many countries in the region. Corporate sector emission and discharge data must be provided to the government to enable environmental monitoring. This information directly relates to the environment and public health, and therefore, should be released in the public interest.
The Jakarta Declaration marks an important step forward for improving access to information about air and water. This comprehensive Declaration provides governments with concrete ideas for boosting access to information and safeguarding citizens from projects that may negatively impact air and water quality.
But a roadmap is only worthwhile if it’s actually used. Prioritizing proactive transparency is worthwhile for both the government and the public. Releasing environmental information can have long-term impacts on the health and well-being of communities across Asia.