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What is "environmental democracy"?

Access an overview of EDI in English or Spanish.

Environmental democracy exists when the public is able to freely access information around environmental impacts, participate meaningfully in decision-making, and demand enforcement of environmental laws or compensation for damage. These rights – often labeled procedural rights – are grouped into three areas: access to information, public participation and access to justice. They are widely cited as core principles of good governance; the United Nations Independent Expert on human rights and the environment adamantly has stated that they are human rights and should be protected as such. Environmental democracy has also been recognized by international institutions such as the United Nations Development Programme as essential to sustainable development, because it can improve information flow, lessen the likelihood of inequitable outcomes from closed-door decision-making, and enable essential accountability mechanisms if rules are not followed.

What is the Environmental Democracy Index?

Developed by The Access Initiative (TAI) and the World Resources Institute (WRI), the Environmental Democracy Index (EDI) will be the first comprehensive index designed specifically to measure procedural rights in an environmental context. The United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) Bali Guidelines for the Development of National Legislation on Access to Information, Public Participation and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters (hereinafter called UNEP P10 Bali Guidelines) provide EDI with an international standard against which national laws can be assessed.

EDI is an essential tool to help strengthen procedural rights given that the recent surge in laws on access has not been accompanied by a corresponding analysis of their quality, scope or implementation. In addition, the three fundamental ‘environmental democracy’ rights have not received equal amounts of political attention. Dozens of laws have been passed—in particular on right to information—but laws and regulations protecting citizens’ rights to participate in decisions that impact their environment are often weak, vague or absent. Public participation opportunities are usually confined to commenting on environmental impact assessments, and even then the public is seldom consulted until after the decision has been made. When these laws are not followed or are implemented ineffectively, citizens often struggle to find redress through accountability or access to justice mechanisms. Using the measurement EDI provides, citizens and governments around the world will be able to identify and understand the extent to which environmental democracy rights are being strengthened or weakened.

EDI is designed to help address such global environmental problems as air and water pollution, extractive industry impacts and biodiversity loss by establishing a centralized hub of legal analysis and implementation data on procedural rights. The results will help establish both best practices and areas for improvement.

What is unique about the Environmental Democracy Index (EDI)?

The index will be featured on an interactive web-based platform allowing users to compare and assess countries’ performances at aggregated and disaggregated levels. EDI has both a broad scope and valuable depth that will facilitate comparisons between countries as well as comprehensive analysis of a single country’s legal framework. The unique design and contributions of EDI include:

  • Comprehensive Evaluation of Environmental Democracy. There is no index that evaluates all the elements of Principle 10. Existing transparency-related indices measure only access to information; none of them assess and rank laws and practices relating to public participation and/or access to justice.

  • International Benchmarking Standard. EDI benchmarks rights against an international standard established by UNEP.

  • Actionable Evidence. The indicators are actionable and supported by legal evidence and stories on the ground.

  • Assessment of Laws in Practice. A set of practice indicators, piloted in the 2014 EDI, will provide a snapshot of legal implementation of access rights.

  • Up-to-date Scoring. EDI will be carried out every two years to ensure that the scores remain relevant and useful.

What are the UNEP P10 Bali Guidelines?

The UNEP P10 Bali Guidelines enhance and supplement Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration that was signed by 178 governments in 1992. Principle 10 (also called the environmental democracy principle) states that environmental issues are best handled with public participation, access to information and access to justice. These three rights are referred to as the three pillars of Principle 10.

EDI consists of indicators that compare national laws against 23 of the 26 UNEP P10 Bali Guidelines.

What form will the Environmental Democracy Index take?

  • An index made up of 99 indicators –published by the Access Initiative (TAI). Each indicator includes a guiding note and a scoring guide.

  • An interactive map with country scores, produced by the World Resources Institute (WRI). The map will be updated every two years to reflect the updated scores.

  • A separate page for each country with a breakdown of country scores by pillar, guideline and individual indicator, including the comments by participating environmental lawyers. The country pages will also include strengths and weaknesses of the legal framework.

How can EDI be used?

The analysis EDI provides for each participating country helps to identify legal gaps in the three areas of environmental democracy. In country “A” the index might show strong access to justice laws and weak public participation laws. In country “B”, the situation could be reversed. Comparison is easy when all the data is stored in one place on a user-friendly online platform.

A wide range of stakeholders will find EDI useful:

  • Civil society organizations (CSOs) – CSOs will be better able to target their campaigns to focus on areas where legal reform can bring about the most change.

  • Government – government officials will be able to easily identify where reform is most necessary and where they can to apply more effort to implement already-existing laws.

  • International Finance Institutions (IFIs) - Multilateral institutions and IFIs will be able to better assess progress towards commitments of good environmental governance.

  • Academics – The depth of the analysis will provide a valuable source of material to be further explored through academic research.

What will EDI measure?

For the 2014 Index, EDI is limiting its scope to legally-binding national laws and regulations as well as sectoral laws for air and water quality, extractives, forests and terrestrial biodiversity. Legislation for the energy, coastal, marine and fishery sectors is not being considered in the 2014 index, however it may be incorporated into future iterations of the index.

Thirteen countries were included in a pilot index in 2013. A TAI report written to follow-up on the pilot highlighted several aspects of the index that could be improved. In response, the 24 practice indicators were added to the 2014 index to add depth to the analysis of each country’s legal framework. While EDI does not yet comprehensively assess the implementation of the law, the 24 indicators that address practice serve as a snapshot of legal implementation in each participating country. Examples of practice indicators include: “Are real time air quality data for the capital city of your country made available online by the government?”

What is EDI’s methodology?

For each participating country, one environmental lawyer completes the research and provides indicator scores on a four-point scale (0-3). Then another environmental lawyer reviews the scores, clarifying and providing feedback on the researcher’s scores. Finally the TAI Secretariat conducts two separate reviews for each country, to bring the total analyses for each country to four.

The three pillars of environmental democracy – access to information, public participation and access to justice – were broken down into 26 guidelines in the UNEP P10 Bali Guidelines. EDI unpacks the 23 Guidelines on legislation into 99 indicators. The arithmetic average of the indicator scores for each guideline result in the guideline score. The average of the guideline scores make up the pillar score. The average of the three pillar scores provides the final country score.

EDI scoring is designed such that high indicator scores reflect national laws that are well-aligned with a single aspect of a UNEP P10 Bali Guideline, although implementation and practice may lag behind in some cases. In contrast, a low guideline score suggests that opportunities to access information, participate in decision-making, or access remedies or grievance mechanisms are inadequate and that major legal reforms are needed. The EDI practice indicators, although not comprehensive, add a degree of nuance to the scores by suggesting the state of implementation.

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