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RELEASE: Major New Index Ranks Environmental Democracy in 70 Countries

Top ten countries are: Lithuania, Latvia, Russia, United States, South Africa, United Kingdom, Hungary, Bulgaria, Panama and Colombia.

Launch event will be live streamed on May 20, 2015 at 09:30 EDT.


WASHINGTON (MAY 20, 2015)–World Resources Institute (WRI) and partners in the Access Initiative launched the Environmental Democracy Index (EDI), the first publicly available, online platform to track countries’ progress in enacting national laws to promote transparency, accountability, and citizen engagement in environmental decision making. The index evaluates environmental democracy in 70 countries, including 75 legal and 24 practice indicators, based on recognized international standards.

“With a number of critical moments in environment and sustainability in 2015, advancing good governance and environmental rights are essential. This index is a powerful lever that will help governments to become more transparent and ordinary citizens to advocate for more rights,” said Mark Robinson, global director, Governance, WRI. “For the first time, we have an objective, common index to understand the state of environmental democracy for countries around the world, which is essential to strengthen laws and public participation around environmental issues.”

The Environmental Democracy Index draws on national laws and practices that were assessed and scored by more than 140 lawyers and experts around the world.

The top ten countries based on national laws are: Lithuania (EDI rank #1), Latvia (2), Russia (3), United States (T-4), South Africa (T-4), United Kingdom (6), Hungary (7), Bulgaria (8), Panama (9) and Colombia (10).

“Environmental democracy isn’t just about making environmental information available to the public; that’s an essential first step, but governments must also allow citizens to be a meaningful part of the environmental decision-making process,” said Avi Garbow, general counsel, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Key findings from the index include:

  • Being part of a legally binding convention on environmental democracy matters. Five of the top ten countries are signatories to the Aarhus Convention.

  • Most countries assessed (93%) have established the right to environmental information. However, almost half of these countries (45%) do not have strong protections to ensure that access to information is affordable and timely.

  • Laws on public participation lag behind: the vast majority of countries assessed (79%) earned only fair or poor ratings for public participation.

  • But, many countries lag on providing citizens basic environmental information. Nearly half (46%) of countries assessed do not provide any ambient air quality data online for their capital cities.

  • In most countries assessed (73%), courts will hear environmental cases. But very few countries assessed have assistance for marginalized groups. For example, few countries assessed (14%) have legal mechanisms that help women access courts to obtain redress when their environmental rights are violated.

“Until now, there was no public, readily available means to analyze and compare environmental rights.” said John Knox, UN special rapporteur on human rights and the environment. “For the first time the Environmental Democracy Index allows anyone to determine the extent to which environmental democracy is being legislated in 70 countries.”

The index also found that wealth is important, but it’s not the only factor. In fact, several lower income countries are leading the way. Lower income countries with scores in the upper half of the index include: Indonesia (EDI rank #17), El Salvador (18), and Cameroon (22), India (24), Nicaragua (28), Ukraine (29), Mongolia (30) and Zimbabwe (33).

“The Environmental Democracy Index provides strong evidence to what many have long suspected: being party to a legally binding convention leads to stronger laws,” said Constance Nalegach, P10 focal point, Chilean Ministry of Environment. “Better environmental laws tend to lead to better protection for environmental democracy and rights.”

The index will provide governments, businesses, civil society leaders and ordinary citizens with new tools to evaluate environmental democracy in their region and compare rankings across countries. The index also offers insights as to how environmental laws and rights are being enacted on the ground, under the “practice area” assessments.

The Environmental Democracy Index includes several unique features:

  • In-Depth Country Information: Country pages provide in-depth information and scoring, including a summary of strengths and areas for improvement.

  • Country Comparisons: Users can compare countries’ performances at multiple levels and download data on environmental democracy measures.

  • Rankings: Countries are ranked based on their national laws according to their progress in achieving environmental democracy.

  • Government Feedback: Each country page provides a space for the government to respond to their country’s assessment. All countries in the index have been invited to provide feedback.

  • Public and Civil Society Engagement: The platform creates a free, public space for sharing information and dialogue.

The EDI website is publicly available and includes feedback from government representatives about the assessments. Country assessments were conducted in 2014 and will be updated every two years.

The Environmental Democracy Index is available at: https://www.environmentaldemocracyindex.org/

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