Advancing Community-Driven Solutions for Clean Air and Water
Ensuring that poor, vulnerable communities everywhere have the voice, power and information to protect their right to a safe, clean and healthy environment
More than 150 countries around the world now recognize the basic human right to live and work in a safe, clean and healthy environment. Many of these governments have also taken significant steps to safeguard it – enshrining environmental rights in national constitutions, establishing ministries to enforce environmental regulations as well as enacting laws to reduce pollution and its harmful impacts on human health.
Yet despite these strides forward, governments often lack the political will, funds or capacity to translate progress on paper into effective action in practice – a struggle that leaves millions of people exposed to toxic water, noxious air and contaminated land. Each year, this pollution kills more people than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined, and costs the world’s economies over $4.9 trillion annually. With more than 90 percent of these deaths occurring in low- and middle-income countries, it’s the world’s poorest communities and communities of color who continue to suffer the worst consequences – those with neither the political clout nor the power to demand change. Sidelined from environmental policymaking processes, these citizens have little say in the decisions that impact their lives and livelihoods.
Yet local communities have the right to develop and advance their own solutions to pollution. Supporting their capacity to meaningfully participate in policymaking processes and identify the right spaces in which to engage can go a long way in helping governments realize their environmental health commitments. Research shows that local communities can document pollution hotspots, track cumulative impacts, identify unlawful polluters and generate political momentum to enforce environmental laws. Residents in Khoroo 13, a village just outside of Mongolia’s capital, for example, have worked with officers to monitor mining activities, document illegal operations and protect the Tuul River, a drinking water source for 70 percent of Mongolians.
Through our Strengthening the Right to Information for People and the Environment project, WRI partners with local communities and civil society organizations to advance the right to a clean, healthy, safe environment for all by ensuring that everyone, everywhere has the voice, power and information to steer environmental decision-making. More specifically, we:
Assess countries’ legal commitments to environmental rights as well as their pollution control laws, standards and regulations. Our research analyzes countries’ regulatory frameworks, enforcement of pollution control standards and legal recognition of citizens’ rights to access environmental information, participate in decision-making and obtain justice when these rights are threatened.
Support local communities’ ability to transform environmental information into effective, evidence-based advocacy campaigns. We help community members understand their environmental rights as well as the regulations with which all companies and citizens must comply. We then work with local communities to monitor air and water pollution levels, identify sources of contamination and document poor compliance with pollution control laws – information that they can use to hold wrongdoers to account and advocate for stronger enforcement.
Identify opportunities for communities to shape environmental decision-making. We help citizens and civil society organizations voice their concerns – on companies’ failure to meet existing water quality standards, for example – with the right decision-makers. We also support locally led efforts to organize community events, meet with private companies and petition government officials for change.
Foster broad coalitions between government, civil society and communities. We bring together a cross-section of stakeholders, including community members, academic experts, journalists and civil society organizations, together with government officials at local, national and global levels. We are building a broad movement in which local communities have the information and power to call upon their elected officials to expand access to environmental data and more strictly enforce existing pollution controls.