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A Community Action Toolkit: A Roadmap for Using Environmental Rights to Fight Pollution

Pollution is the leading cause of disease, disability and premature death around the world. But its impacts are not evenly distributed. Poor and marginalized communities often bear the brunt of the environmental, health, and socioeconomic impacts, especially in middle- and low-income countries. Far removed from powerful decision-makers, these communities face multiple barriers in their efforts to fight pollution. Many are unaware of their rights to access pollution information or participate in policymaking decisions, and often lack the advocacy skills needed to form strategic partnerships and effectively engage government officials.

Access to information, public participation and justice are environmental rights that not only are fundamental to good environmental governance, but also offer an important tool for improving the development, implementation and enforcement of pollution laws. Strategically applying these rights can enable civil society and local communities to evaluate the environmental and social justice aspects of pollution, demand better compliance with laws and help build a pollution accountability movement.

Developed in partnership with more than a dozen civil society organizations across six countries, this toolkit offers practical guidance on how to use environmental rights to fight air, water and solid waste pollution. Designed to support civil society, local community activities and those concerned about pollution, the toolkit enables everyone, everywhere to conduct policy research, collect and use pollution information in decision-making processes, form coalitions and develop advocacy campaigns. Its eight modules feature important concepts, research indicators, worksheets and templates, which can be modified to fit a country’s context and downloaded to complete as a workbook.

From Thailand to Morocco to Jamaica, civil society organizations and local communities have already used this toolkit to strengthen their right to a clean, healthy and safe environment. In Indonesia, for example, the Ministry of Environment and Forestry passed a new List of Public Information regulation that required over 111 documents, maps, and reports to be made proactively available. And in Morocco, there is growing civil society engagement with government officials over a newly passed Right to Information law. Communities around the world can follow in their footsteps and use this toolkit to protect lives, livelihoods and the environment from pollution.

Key Findings

Executive Summary

Pollution is a leading cause of death and disease all over the world. But the impacts of pollution are not evenly distributed. Poor and marginalized communities bear the brunt of the environmental, health and socioeconomic impacts, especially in middle- and low-income countries. Children are especially vulnerable.

Contaminated air, water and land limits the quality of life and livelihood opportunities of poor and marginalized communities, which often face multiple barriers to addressing the problem. Far removed from powerful decision-makers, they are often unaware of their rights to access information and participate in the policymaking process and lack access to strategic partnerships and advocacy skills needed to effectively engage government and private sector actors. Civil society organizations work to support these communities, but they often lack the needed tools, funding, or support to build evidence-based advocacy campaigns and analyze policy and implementation gaps to tackle such obstacles at scale.

To help ensure that those experiencing the impacts of pollution can create locally based and owned solutions, more must be done to support the ability of civil society and local communities to engage with decision-makers. Access to information, public participation and access to justice are environmental rights fundamental to good environmental governance when properly implemented and enforced. They offer an important tool for improving the development, implementation and enforcement of pollution control laws, norms and guidelines. They provide essential mechanisms for achieving the right to a healthy environment and clean air and water for all people. Strategically applying these rights can enable civil society and local community members to evaluate the environmental and social justice aspects of pollution, demand better compliance with laws and regulations and help build a pollution accountability movement. As the space for civil society leadership (civic space) shrinks around the world, it is critical that these rights be strengthened to ensure that civil society can remain an essential sustainable development partner.

How This Toolkit Was Developed

The toolkit was developed as part of the project Strengthening the Right to Information for People and the Environment (STRIPE). STRIPE seeks to highlight the challenges faced by communities in polluted areas around the world and empower them to utilize their legal rights to obtain and use environmental and public health information and participate in formal decision-making forums to demand accountability. The project enables policy reforms and builds the capacity of civil society and local communities to use their environmental rights to advocate for their pollution concerns. Launched in 2011, STRIPE projects have been carried out in Indonesia, Thailand, Mongolia, Jamaica, Morocco and Tunisia. A team of partners in each country piloted the toolkit methods and used the elements in their pollution campaigns. Examples from their work are included throughout the document.

About the Toolkit

This toolkit offers civil society organizations and local community activists practical guidance on how to use their environmental rights to fight air, water and solid waste pollution. It is designed to support civil society, local community activists and those concerned about pollution with the knowledge and tools needed to:

  • conduct policy research,
  • collect and use pollution information in relevant decision-making forums,
  • work together to develop advocacy campaigns, and
  • use an environmental rights approach to engage government and the private sector about their concerns.

The toolkit provides background information on the regulatory concepts needed to address pollution, including government-based standard setting, environmental impact assessment (EIA), monitoring and enforcement processes used to control pollution. It also explains environmental rights concepts and why they are relevant to people concerned about pollution. The section on country experiences highlights how the toolkit modules were applied in STRIPE campaigns and provides key lessons learned that should help toolkit users adapt the modules to their own country context and pollution priorities.

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