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Access Initiative

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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.

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At its core, environmental democracy involves three mutually reinforcing rights: the ability for people to freely access information on environmental quality and problems, to participate meaningfully in decision-making, and to seek enforcement of environmental laws or compensation for damages

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The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) released its first-ever access to information policy last week. The pilot policy—which will be revised after its first year—aims to “enhance transparency and openness” in the organization’s work. But despite its noble aspirations, the policy falls far short of providing true transparency.

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More than 70 percent of Samarinda’s land (the capital of Indonesia’s East Kalimantan province) is allocated to mining concessions, and little information is provided to citizens on companies’ compliance to safety and environmental health rules.

In the hopes of preventing mining fatalities, the Mining Advocacy Network (JATAM), a group of Indonesian NGOs and community organizations, requested information from the Indonesian government to determine what companies were doing to mitigate mines’ environmental and health impacts. This process prompted the STRIPE project, which will focus on building strong civil society coalitions to advocate for corporate disclosure of information.

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Increased industrialization in Asia has created countless hurdles for communities to protect themselves from pollution. Important government information—such as the amount of pollutants being discharged by nearby factories or results from local air and water quality monitoring—still isn’t readily accessible in user-friendly formats. This practice often leaves the public entirely out of decision-making processes on issues like regulating pollution or expanding industrial factories. In many cases, the public lack the information they need to understand and shield themselves from harmful environmental, social, and health impacts.

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Laws alone are not enough to ensure environmental protection. Civil society organizations often play a critical role in bringing those laws to life. In Uganda, Greenwatch has done exactly that for the country's laws on access to environmental information, the first of which passed in 1998.

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The Access Initiative (TAI) and its partners are launching the first of its kind assessment of environmental governance in China. It is the first step towards engaging civil society organizations and government agencies to promote the public transparency, participation, and accountability that are essential foundations for sustainable development.

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A Right to Information request in India has revealed that an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for a bauxite mining project in Ratnagiri, Maharashtra, was copied at least in part from a Russian EIA for a bauxite mine.

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