The environmental democracy rights of access to information, public participation, and access to justice in environmental matters have gained currency as key drivers of informed, accountable decision making and citizen empowerment. They were first recognized as Principle 10 in the 1992 Rio Declaration on Environment and Development. There has also been notable progress at the national level in the past two decades through the passage of right-to-information laws, environmental impact assessment (EIA) regulations, and expanded rights for civil society to seek justice.
However, WRI, in partnership with the Access Initiative, has conducted research in dozens of countries that reveals that legal and institutional gaps remain, undermining information accessibility and quality, full participation of marginalized groups, and access to adequate remedies. As decision makers seek solutions to urgent environmental problems and to balance development needs, ensuring that the public has a voice in decisions that impact their health and the environment is a necessary step that is critical for sustainable development. While these principles are often endorsed in broad terms at international fora, the qualities of these rights are less commonly discussed in specific legal and institutional terms. Laws that integrate provisions that support good practice—such as timely, affordable, and proactive information disclosure—can create better enabling conditions for environmental democracy. Individuals are better able to hold decision makers accountable when there are effective review measures through independent and impartial courts and administrations.
WRI and the Access Initiative have developed the Environmental Democracy Index to measure the extent and degree to which national laws in 70 countries promote environmental democracy rights. In an attempt to limit subjectivity from the legal researchers, the indicator scores are accompanied by specific criteria that must be met.
In addition to the legal indicators that create the index scores, there is a supplemental set of “practice indicators” that provide insights into the implementation of these rights in practice. The indicators use the framework of an internationally recognized set of voluntary guidelines that were negotiated and adopted by the United Nations Environment Programme’s Governing Council in 2010. This technical note describes the background to the development of the Environmental Democracy Index, indicator development, scoring, and how the results may be used governments, civil society, lending institutions, academics, and the private sector.
EDI launched for the first time in May 2015 with results disseminated on a publicly available online platform designed to allow users to better understand the state of national laws in 70 countries that support these rights. This platform provides in-depth country information, freely available data, rankings of countries at various levels of granularity, and enables sharing of good practices for environmental democracy. The EDI scores are provisional until the end of August 2015 while they are being reviewed by stakeholders and governments.