The Access Initiative

Guide on Access to Information and Participation in Environmental Issues in Colombia.

Posted by Lina Marcela Muñoz Posted: February 23, 2009

The Access Initiative Colombia in this guide presents a collection of tools for the right to information and participation in matters related to environment and natural resources. It is a contribution to progress in developing a participatory culture.

This guide aims to confront the challenges in the implementation of Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration (1992). The Guide provides the reader with a tool for approaching the issue of access to environmental information and participation from a legal point of view. It seeks to explain the importance of these issues in the context of national and international environmental issues.

The first part presents, in general terms, the most important aspects of access to environmental information, its legal nature, the principles that guide the national and international legal framework on the subject, the mechanisms for its effective implementation, the overview of the national Information system and agencies in the field. The following parts present different tools to access environmental information and to find out what information is available on the subject.

The second part of the document refers to participation in environmental decision-making, establishing not only the conceptual and regulatory framework, but the different forms and mechanisms for participation that exist in Colombia. The guide includes the formats to be used for general use and to exercise participatory rights under these mechanisms.

Convinced of the importance of information and social participation, the Access Initiative Colombia has atempted to contribute to achieve participatory democracy and a culture with regard to the environment, and has offered the reader a text which has been the result the joint work of academics and NGOs. Hopefully, this small effort effort will strengthen environmental management in Colombia.

Formación de Capacidades en Acceso: El caso ecuatoriano

Published: 2008

Este video muestra el proceso de fortalecimiento de capacidades que inició el Centro Ecuatoriano de Derecho Ambiental en el 2005, como resultado de la evaluación realizada por la Iniciativa de Acceso, donde se detectó que uno de los grandes vacíos existentes era justamente la falta capacidades en la ciudadanía y en los funcionarios gubernamentales respecto de los derechos de acceso.

Nuestro proceso de formación de capacidades aplica metodologías participativas apoyadas de materiales desarrollados con enfoque pedagógico, así como también con actividades de difusión y discusión de los temas de acceso en la agenda publica.

Citizen Voices in Water Sector Governance

Published: 2005

The Role of Transparency, Participation and Government Accountability

This brochure gives a summary of the findings of case studies chosen specifically to address a range of issues in the water sector. TAI partners started a new activity to evaluate access in the context of water sector governanceTAI will facilitate pilot application of TAI indicators to water sector cases in order to determine how they need to be modified or supplemented to capture sector-specific issues. TAI partners will share their findings this spring at the TAI global meeting and the World Water Forum in an attempt to influence the global dialogue on water governance and help countries work to achieve Millennium Development Goal 7, Target 10 (Millennium Development Goal 7 is to ensure environmental sustainability, Target 10 aims to reduce the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water).

UNEP Governing Council to Decide Future of Access Principles in Nairobi

By David Heller (Posted: February 6, 2009) 

At the upcoming United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) Governing Council meeting in Nairobi, Kenya, delegates will have the unprecedented opportunity to extend the adoption of important principles – a peoples’ right to access information, participate in their government’s decision making process, and seek redress in matters affecting the environment – to states around the world. But in preliminary negotiations, not all delegations were sanguine about committing to spread the codification of these principles globally.

In 2008, a select group of high-level external experts and judges, in consultation with the UNEP secretariat, was formed to draft principled guidelines that direct developing countries in the creation of national legislation protecting these access rights.

But alone, these guidelines can not compel state action. So the UNEP secretariat also drafted a complementary resolution, on how the Council should act upon the principles and work to ensure states reflect them in new law.

As it’s currently written, the draft resolution is that the Council:

Decides to adopt the guidelines for the development of national legislation on access to informationpublic participation and access to justice in environmental matters as set out in the [guidelines]… [Emphasis added]

Adoption of the guidelines by the Council would be a very positive, symbolic step for UNEP and the spread of the access principles. But, this language is not immune from alteration, and indeed, has already been compromised.

During preliminary discussions, several delegations, allegedly including the American contingent, expressed interest in replacing “adopt” with “take note of,”a subtle proposal with profound implications for the strength of UNEP’s commitment.

It is imperative that this change not occur.

If the Council were to merely “take note of” the guidelines, then they would be sending the wrong message to member countries: that it would be sufficient for all to do the same. While “adoption” implies an unequivocal recognition that the guidelines are desirable and binding, “taking note of” is pleasantly ambiguous and leaves far too much room for them to be ignored. The Council, by “taking note” of the guidelines, would simply be recognizing that they exist; a far cry from guaranteeing that the guidelines serve their namesake’s purpose and direct future action: a small but far from trivial distinction.

This proposed change will not go unopposed. The Access Initiative (TAI) has been working hard to leverage its influence and keep the language unmolested. Attending the meeting in Nairobi and advocating on TAI’s behalf will be Mr. Augustine Njamnshi, TAI coordinator in Cameroon, and part of the official UNEP Cameroonian delegation.

TAI has also harnessed support from its allies in the Irish and Argentine delegations, who share its concern over the dilution of the original language and will be advocating for the Council to remain committed to adoption, as the initial draft explicitly recommends.

The American delegation’s alleged complicity to the proposed change was particularly alarming. Given the Obama administration’s newfound commitment to promoting transparency and public participation in its own government, it appears as though the sea change in U.S. politics has not yet filtered down to affect the composition nor stance of its Nairobi delegation. But surely they must have been briefed on their new boss’s priorities. It’s baffling as to why the State Department Officials, representing the new administration, might be willing to water down stronger language when they arrive at the negotiating table.

Not only would U.S. support of weak language be inconsistent with its existing commitments, the U.S. delegation should consider its snowballing effects. Other nations, particularly China, will be emboldened by any U.S. disapprobation of the existing recommendations, making efforts to spread access principles beyond parties to the Aarhus Convention that much more challenging.

If any change is to be made to the initial draft of the proposed action document, it should include language that commits delegates towards creating a proper convention in the future – similar to the existing Aarhus Convention, but global in scope. Because the Aarhus parties are strictly European and Central Asian in origin, creating a similar scheme in Nairobi, where both developed and developing countries will have a presence, would be a step towards globalizing access principles. And that is an ideal that all delegations ought to be striving towards.

The Calabash Project

Published: 2005
Tools for Effective Participation in the EIA Process


Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) has existed for 30 years. During its evolution, public involvement in the EIA process has become a key criterion that distinguishes EIA as a participatory decision support tool. Consequently, EIA is a suitable and appropriate platform from which to build participatory decision making approaches for the southern African region. Environmental Impact Assessment is one window through which the public has the opportunity to engage a government in decision-making.

However, in southern Africa, there is insufficient public access to information and there are inadequate or weak mechanisms for public participation in decision-making. The Southern African Institute for Environmental Assessment (SAIEA), through support provided by the World Bank TFESSD (Trust Fund for Environmentally and Socially Sustainable Development) and Canadian CIDA, undertook 2-year project to develop a process to enhance participation in decision-making in the SADC region Africa. Calabash was not designed to actually do public participation, but rather was structured so that regulators, private sector, practitioners and civil society had the capacity, knowledge and tools to better undertake respective public participation programs on individual projects and programmes.

Governance in its simplest forms describes the relationship among institutions, processes and ideas. It is about the exercise of power, accountability and relationships in pursuit of an organization’s mission or a nation’s goals. In Africa, achievement of a country’s goals are severely challenged due to such issues as resource degradation, HIV/AIDS, water scarcity and conflict. EIA of projects and Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) of policies plans and programmes, are evolving rapidly to address wider sustainability objectives beyond biophysical concerns. The evolution of these planning tools is recognizing that the public has a significant role to play in the EIA or SEA process to assist a government to achieve its objectives, while at the same time advancing democratic reform and good governance practices. How a respective government engages civil society with respect to decision-making is one measure of how a government is reforming its governance and democratic reform processes. The recent Commission for Africa report concluded that governance is one of the key issues to be addressed by Africa if poverty reduction is to occur.

Many African countries have well written EIA statutes that require the involvement of the public or civil society in the project decisions that affect them. To date, the application and success of public involvement in EA has been most variable due to lack of capacity, information, knowledge and networks in many stakeholder groups. Regardless, EIA presents a very effective and practical tool for African governments to show to the international investment community and the African democratic review teams that democratic principles at the project/programme level are being applied. EIA is one big “window” through which democratic reform can be realized by more participation.

Furthermore, while democracy has been widely embraced by many African governments, regional bodies and international gatherings, it is difficult to assess the extent to which democratic practices have genuinely taken root One fact is clear – a county’s citizens rather than outsiders are best placed to undertake a comprehensive and critical identification of the challenges confronting their country on the path of democracy development and consolidation. And their participation in decision-making is key to democratic reform. Citizens, informed and active EIA can act as advocates for its use in decision-making processes affecting their lives to their political leaders who will then require it of regulatory bodies. Sustainable development can hardly be achieved without stakeholder involvement in the EIA process. EIA with public consultation is an essential part of the process and system needed to make sustainable development happen.

The Calabash project is one step of many to assist the SADC region to move forward on democratic reform by using EIA as a catalyst for participatory decision-making by providing appropriate tools, knowledge and networks to regulators, civil society, practitioners and industry of the SADC region.

Heavy Metals in the Water of Kriva Reka, Macedonia

By Kiril Ristovski (Posted: October 13, 2008) 

The waters that are close to the mine have indicated pollution of a level-5 category, and the concentrations of lead have been above the allowed maximum level.

Presence of the heavy metals above the maximum allowed level can be found in the waters of Kriva Reka. This is a clear assessment of the results under the State Inspectorate Kumanovo, even though the assessment is late by a few months. The pollution is closest to the manufactured capacity and to the arid part of the ROC “Toranica,” according of the toxicological analysis that has been obtained from the Institute for Health Protection on the Initiative of the Fishery Organization, “Mrena” from Kriva Palanka. Measurements were taken from the location across the mine, the exact spot of the waters of Toranicka Reka.

The presence of lead was 144 000 mg,kg, which is 5 times over the maximum allowed concentrations of 30 000. These examples correspond with level-5 category of water quality. The measurements of the Kriva Reka around the arid place were showing classification on waters that belong to level-3 and level-4 water quality category .But there is one important missing part in this analysis, which is there have not been measurements of lead or zinc. The waters of Kriva Reka that are close to the pumps for drinking water are in correspondence with level-2 category of water quality.

The State Inspectorate for the Environment has announced information about results which were showing much higher presence of heavy metals on the river around the mine Toranica, but they did not give more detailed answers about the pollution. The company, “Indo minerali I metali,” will be supplied agreements, with directions about the methods and procedures regarding the regulation and taking sanctions on the pollution in that region. This was the last response directly from the State Inspectorate for the Environment.

This company has claimed that from the beginning of the pollution of the river, they had been working under regular ecological standards, taking care of the environment protection, and that their analysis has been regular. They also said that if anything goes wrong by cause of their work, they would take care of everything to protect the natural resources.

The Governmental Institutions have been inaccessible for information The residents have been reacting for three months, and they did not have adequate official information. Also, Florozon, the NGO from Skopje (under the project TAI assessment in Macedonia), has been conducting assessment for the impact of the biggest polluters of the environment in Macedonia, and ROC “Toranica” has been taken under examination through this project.

Their assessments were focused on the public access to information, public participation and access right to justice, national transparency and Government contribution regarding the environmental protection and peoples’ rights. This initiative is the biggest net in the entire world and has commitments for citizen’s insurance regarding their rights and opportunities for participations in the decision making processes related with environmental issues.

The State Inspectorate for the Environment did not respond on the official request letter regarding the results from the conducted measurement and results of the water quality of Kriva Reka. They did not act according to the law, and after one month, no one has managed to get information from the State Inspectorate for the Environment. This kind of non-compliance is not acceptable because Macedonia is party to the Aarhus Convention. This convention is based on the access right to information, public participation in the decision-making process regarding the environmental issues, according to Florozon.

According to Florozon, the assessment for the access right to information, which have been obtained by Octa, Feni, Sasa and Pollution of Kamenicka Reka, has had a bad experience, so their final report that will be delivered to the European Institutions will contain negative values.

The next step after this assessment, according to Florozon, will be the implementation of the recommendations from the TAI assessment, with an aim for capacity building of the government and of the civil associations, in order for a strong national capacity to be built. The legal recommendations are directed toward changing the law’s articles and changing government practice.

Kiril Ristovski Skopje 02.10.2008

See Also:

Zinc and Lead Flowing Into the River of Kamenicka Reka

Assessing Access in Yunnan, China

Posted by Monika Kerdeman

The Yunnan coalition started their TAI assessment process during a training workshop from Jan 13-15, 2008, led byTAI core team partner Thailand Environment Institute. The coalition of civil society groups includes Eco-WatchYunnan Academy of Social Science (YASS)Yunnan Institute of Environmental Science (YIES)Yunnan Environmental Science Society (YESS) and Centre for Mountain Ecosystem Studies ICRAF-China, the coalition’s lead organization.

At the workshop, coalition members were trained on the TAI Assessment Toolkit. Since the training, the Yunnan TAI coalition translated the indicators in the TAI Assessment toolkit into Chinese, and gathered information and relevant documentation, laws, regulations and guidelines for review.

As part of their research, Yunnan coalition members met with the Provincial Water Bureau, Yunnan Provincial Environment Protection Bureau, Agricultural Bureau, Yunnan Provincial Forestry Department, Vegetative Protection Station, Air Quality Monitoring Station, local agricultural stations, environmental protection stations and other related sectors to acquire more information. Interviewees included experts, villagers, and consumers as well as local authority staff.

The Assessment in Yunnan examines eight case studies on access to information. These studies are on various environmental issues including; the state of environment report of Yunnan Province, air quality monitoring in Kunming city, accidental explosion at a sulfur depot and vitriol factory of the Sanhuan chemical company, noise quality monitoring in Kunming city, environmental information of Yuntianhua International Chemical Company in Yunnan, monitoring of drinking water quality in Songhuaba reservoir in Kunming, GMO information monitoring in Yunnan, and paraquat herbicide accidents in Yunnan.

Five case studies on public participation are: public participation in environment protection decisions in eco-tourism policy in Diqing prefecture, public participation in the urban agglomeration development plan in south of Yunnan, public participation in the extension project of the 2nd hospital of Kunming, public participation in the water saving regulatory of Kunming city, public participation in decision-making of Provincial Forestry Development Strategy and public participation in the environmental impact assessment of the construction of Honghe Steel Factory..

The research also looks at access to justice. The access to justice case studies are on pesticide residue information in food – claimed by people to the people’s congress, public’s claim on the dam building on Salween River, local residents’ collective claim on old trees felled by a company in Baiyu Village, Xishan District of Kunming, and the claim on the pollution accident of Longma Phosphorous Chemical Company in Xundian, Yunnan.

Chile Enacts Access to Public Information Law

Posted By Daniel Barragan (August 19, 2008) 

Last week, President Bachelet of Chile enacted the Law for Civil Service Transparency and Access to Informationof the State Administration Organs. Under the new law, all state administration agencies -at the central, regional or community level- will be obliged to provide, within a maximum of twenty days, information requested by any citizen.

State agencies are also required to publish on their websites, in a mandatory, permanent and updated form, information relating to their internal structure, functions, powers, performing contracts, staffing, salaries, fees, acquisitions, transfers of funds and results of audits.

Corporación Participa, our lead Chilean TAI partner, had participated in the lobbying through: generating public discussions, drafting a proposal for the counselors’ selection process and promoting opinion and analysis in the media.

Additionally, Participa had trained public officials, media and civil society organizations in access rights, with the goal of building capacity to implement the Law.

Chile promulga Ley de Acceso a la Información Pública

La semana pasada, la Presidenta Bachelet promulgó la Ley sobre Transparencia de la Función Pública y Acceso a la Información de los Órganos de la Administración del Estado. De conformidad con la nueva ley, todos los organismos de la administración estatal -sean del nivel central, regional o comunal- estarán obligados a entregar en un plazo máximo de veinte días la información solicitada por cualquier ciudadano.

A la vez, los organismos públicos deben publicar en sus sitios web, en forma obligatoria, permanente y actualizada, información relacionada con su estructura interna, funciones, competencias, contratos que realizan, dotación de personal, remuneraciones, honorarios, adquisiciones, transferencias de fondos y resultados de auditorías, entre otros antecedentes.

Corporación Participa, nuestro socio TAI en Chile, ha participado en el proceso de cabildeo mediante: la generación de debates públicos, la redacción de una propuesta para el proceso de selección de los consejeros y promoviendo opinión y análisis en los medios.

Adicionalmente, Participa ha capacitado a funcionarios públicos, prensa y organizaciones de la sociedad civil en esta materia, con el propósito de crear capacidades para la aplicación de la Ley.

Fuentes / sources:…