The Access Initiative

Application des droits environnementaux en Afrique: Des principes à la pratique

WRI et The Access Initiative Africa ont lancé le projet sur les droits environnementaux en Afrique pour étudier la faisabilité et les options de voie pour améliorer la reconnaissance et la mise en œuvre effective des droits environnementaux en Afrique et soutenir l’élaboration d’une feuille de route pour l’action. Ce rapport présente notre évaluation initiale et nos recommandations basées sur un niveau élevé de cartographie des accords, des lois et des décisions de justice sur les droits environnementaux à travers l’Afrique et des études de cas détaillées en République démocratique du Congo (RDC), au Ghana, au Kenya et en Afrique du Sud.

The Road to Realizing Environmental Rights In Africa: Moving From Principles to Practice

WRI and The Access Initiative Africa has begun the Environmental Rights in Africa Project to investigate the feasibility and pathway options for improving the recognition and effective implementation of environmental rights in Africa and support development of a roadmap for action. This report presents our initial evaluation and recommendations based on a high level of mapping of environmental rights agreements, laws, and court decisions across Africa and detailed case studies in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Ghana, Kenya, and South Africa.


RELEASE: Is the Water Safe To Drink? Without Better Access to Pollution Information, Asia’s Poorest People Don’t Know

STOCKHOLM (August 30, 2017) — A new report from World Resources Institute’s (WRI) The Access Initiativereveals that Asian countries are not effectively telling people if the water they use for drinking, farming and fishing is polluted or dangerously toxic. Despite passing strong “right to know” laws, governments are still putting their poorest communities at risk by failing to release pollution information that they are legally required to disclose.

Launching at this year’s World Water Week that focuses on water and waste, the report Thirsting for Justice: Transparency and Poor People’s Struggle for Clean Water in Indonesia, Mongolia, and Thailand examines vulnerable communities’ access to water pollution information. WRI analysis shows that, although governments have passed laws that protect citizens’ right to environmental information and mandate public disclosure of this data, officials are failing to live up to their legal obligation—either proactively or upon request. For example, government agencies in Indonesia and Mongolia ignored 58% and 59% of information requests, respectively.

“The right to information about environmental threats is a human right in itself, and it is also critical to the protection of other human rights,” said John Knox, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment. “People have the right to know about hazardous pollution in the waterways on which they rely. Governments that fail to provide that information are violating their citizens’ human rights.”

Each year, industrial facilities release upwards of 400 million tons of hazardous pollutants into the worlds’ waters. Yet secrecy around the amount and type of chemicals that companies discharge is still the norm, especially in Asia. Worldwide, 80% of countries do not provide information on the amount of pollution that companies dump into the environment.

Thirsting for Justice analyzes data from state of the environment reports, water quality monitoring portals and other public databases to assess the availability of pollution information that governments are legally obligated to disclose. The report authors also tracked 174 information requests that local community members submitted and spoke with nearly 150 affected people about barriers they faced accessing pollution data.

“Governments’ failure to provide water pollution information is an environmental injustice,” said Elizabeth Moses, report author and environmental democracy specialist at WRI. “Without it, poor, marginalized communities cannot participate in decision-making, let alone hold governments and more powerful corporations accountable for contaminating their local water sources.”

In Thailand, a country with one of the most advanced environmental disclosure regimes in the world, residents of Map Ta Phut, a sprawling industrial estate that hosts more than 140 petrochemical facilities, still don’t know if their water is safe to use. Researchers from nearby organizations and international universities have discovered dangerously high levels of mercury and arsenic in the water, but as the report finds, public access to government pollution data is extremely limited in practice.

“All the government services — municipalities, public health, the Office of the Natural Resources and Environmental Policy and Planning, and the Industrial Estate Authority of Thailand — realize what has been happening with pollution in our community, but they don’t tell or give us the true information … I’ve never received correct and clear information about the water,” said Nangsao Witlawan, former oil refinery worker and Map Ta Phut resident.

When governments do release environmental data, officials often provide limited information that community members can neither access nor understand. For instance, Thai government officials frequently respond to information requests in English, which most Map Ta Phut residents do not speak. In Indonesia, many local fisherman cannot understand the highly technical wastewater information they receive from the government and need it translated into more straightforward formats like pictures or graphics.

“Villagers who fish Indonesia’s Ciujung River need to know what pollutants companies are releasing into their water sources, how these chemicals will impact their health, which companies are responsible and what steps their government has taken to prevent further contamination,” said Henri Subagiyo, Executive Director at the Indonesian Center for Environmental Law. “Yet our government rarely provides such local, facility-specific information, and even when officials do, it’s often so technical that we have to translate it into pictures that the fishermen can understand.”

WRI’s report calls for a radical shift in information sharing to protect people from using contaminated water that could harm their health and economic livelihoods. It recommends that governments release information in non-technical formats, create centralized systems for responding to communities’ information requests and encourage companies to disclose pollution information.

Civil society organizations and international donors also have a role to play. They should invest in building local communities’ capacity to understand water pollution information, advocate for greater government transparency and participate in decision-making.

The full report is available at

President Trump’s First Week: Is Environmental Democracy in Jeopardy?

During the new president’s first week in office, the Trump administration took actions that could threaten inclusive decision-making on environmental issues—what we refer to as “environmental democracy”—in the United States:

  • On Monday, the administration instituted a “media blackout” at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), prohibiting staffers from publishing news releases, blogs, social media posts and new web content.
  • Similar actions were taken at other agencies, including curtailing of communications at the Department of Agriculture, Department of Interior, Department of Health and Human Services and with the National Parks Service.
  • On the same day, the president stated that he plans to “cut regulations by 75 percent, maybe more” to make it faster for businesses to move projects forward.
  • On Tuesday, he issued an executive order to revive the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, without consulting with the State Department and bypassing further public consultations.
  • On Wednesday, after proposing and then rescinding a directive to remove EPA’s climate change webpage, a spokesperson for the EPA transition team announced that political appointees must review scientific findings on a “case-by-case basis” before releasing them to the public, including routine pollution monitoring data.
  • These actions could not only undermine the government’s ability to protect the environment and public health, but they also erode the foundations of good governance: transparency, public participation and accountability.


Citizens can neither understand nor participate in environmental decision-making without having access to objective, scientific information and data. Sound and effective policymaking within government should be based on the best possible information and evidence. Further, the free flow of information is essential for allowing people to reveal wrongdoing and hold officials to account. As a public institution, the EPA is legally required to provide access to critical environmental information, such as air and water pollution monitoring reports, Environmental Impact Assessments, compliance and enforcement data and climate data. Doing so ensures that Americans “have access to accurate information sufficient to effectively participate in managing human health and environmental risk.”

Beyond communications, it is problematic to require that political appointees review the agency’s scientific data—including regarding climate change—before releasing it to the public. This will be the first time that an administration’s appointees will screen such studies.

This directive undermines the EPA’s established Scientific Integrity Policy, which “prohibits all EPA employees, including scientists, managers, and other Agency leadership, from suppressing, altering, or otherwise impeding the timely release of scientific findings or conclusions.”

The administration’s actions also obstruct an integral component of democratic policymaking. To meaningfully engage in political processes, citizens must have access to accurate information that has not been editorialized or modified. Only with unbiased facts can they understand and shape key decisions that impact their local environments.

Public Participation and Accountability

Public participation is the bedrock of environmental democracy; yet the new administration’s plans may undercut this pillar of good governance. While meeting with business leaders during his first day in office, President Trump declared that the government must eliminate regulations and expedite permitting processes for large development projects. Effective, efficient rule-making should be a goal for policymakers, but it must not come at the cost of public participation.

Many of the EPA’s and other agencies’ procedures—such as air and water discharge permits, waste cleanup plans and Environmental Impact Assessments—require a public consultation process. Soliciting public participation allows policymakers to consider the needs of all stakeholders who may be affected by projects like oil and gas extraction and mining and road construction, and enables them to better identify unintended consequences. Long-term, policies developed with community input often get more public support and less resistance because citizens perceive these decisions as fair and legitimate.

The Dakota Access pipeline project showcases the importance of public participation. In July 2016, the Standing Rock Tribe filed a complaint against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the agency that grants permits needed to construct the pipeline. They claimed that, by crossing under the Missouri River, the pipeline posed a serious threat to the community’s clean water and sacred burial grounds. Their complaint further alleged a breach of the National Environmental Policy Act and the National Historic Preservation Act on the grounds of failure to consult with affected parties, adverse effects on water health and failure to assess scared sites.

In December, following weeks of public protests, the Corps decided it would delay the project in order to conduct an Environmental Impact Statement, which would explore alternative routes for the pipeline. This result shows the power and necessity of public participation—people’s involvement is critical for protecting communities and for finding the safest, most appropriate options for infrastructure projects.

But on his second day in office, Trump ordered the Corps to “review and approve [the pipeline] in an expedited manner,” without considering alternative routes or conducting a public consultation. His directive effectively thwarts the public participation process to resolve what has become the biggest joint protest of Native American Indian tribes in decades.

The Way Forward

The United States has long been recognized as a global leader in establishing rights to environmental information, to accurate and objective scientific resources, and to public participation in decision-making processes. It currently holds the third-highest ranking on WRI’s Environmental Democracy Index, which scores countries on their ability to provide these fundamental rights.

The EPA and other government agencies’ mandate to use science to inform policies, to conduct extensive public consultations, and communicate openly with people plays a foundational role in protecting people’s health and the environment. Pursuing and sharing scientific data and evidence is integral to this process. The Trump administration, its agencies and their staff have an obligation to protect and continue America’s strong leadership on environmental democracy.

Voices from the Global Gathering

Last week the Access Initiative hosted its sixth Global Gathering, Open Government for Climate Action, on 5 December – 6 December, 2016, in Paris, as part of the lead up to the Open Government Partnership (OGP) Paris Summit. The Gathering brought together over 95 people from climate, open data, and open government civil society communities to expand new spaces for action and build momentum around implementation of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

TAI asked a number of the participants how they can use open government to foster strong climate action in their work moving forward. This is what they said:

Carole Excell, Director, The Access Initiative

You have heard it said before: climate change remains one of the greatest challenges of our times. It affects all future generations. The Paris Agreement brings climate policies down to the national and local sector level in the “real world” where citizens can understand such as decisions around coal power plants, transportation, coastal structures to deal with sea level rise, land restoration, pipelines and adaptation requirements to deal with floods. However in many countries citizens do not a voice or seat at the table when these decisions are being made. To achieve accountability, people need rights that go to the heart of accountability. This requires strong transparency rules to facilitate understanding of power dynamics and culpability that people can participate in decision-making processes in a timely fashion, and that forums exist to address environmental justice demands. Good climate governance requires open and accountable government actions.  The Global Gathering built communities of actors who often work in silos, together for the first time to springboard greater and more effective climate action.  

Augustine B NJAMNSHI Executive Secretary Bioresources Development and Conservation Programme Cameroon & National Coordinator The Access Initiative Cameroon

Although as humans we all have common responsibility to take action to address climate change, some are more responsible than others. This is not only based on the fact that the current climate crises has been principally caused by the past and present production and consumption systems practiced by the global North, but also that they have benefited from it and have the capacity to withstand the shocks of climate change. They therefore owe greater responsibility not only to do more to stop the climate crises, but also a duty to help those who are suffering more from the effects of climate change in the global South.

Now the talking is over, and we need action. Equity and justice have to be translated into national action in every aspect of the climate regime. The farmer on the ground has to see equity and justice in every climate decision made by the government at all levels. There is no need to fight for climate justice at the international level, and then turn to deny the local population what has been fought for and demanded from the global north. After all, it is said he who goes for equity must go with clean hands! The global gathering was an opportunity for us, climate justice and governance advocates to pave the way on how to take the struggle at the national and local levels.

Eco Matser, Hivos, Global Coordinator Climate, Energy and Development

Hivos has been working with civil society organizations in countries such as Malawi, Kenya, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Indonesia, Nicaragua and Costa Rica on ensuring that governments follow up on their commitments towards ending energy poverty as detailed in the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement. Our main focus is on ensuring that decentralized renewable energy – a key component in establishing universal energy access – has the right policy and regulatory environment as well as access to finances from international and domestic climate finance. In many countries CSOs will keep a close eye on national energy budgets and are advocating for policy changes while in others such as in the Indonesian island of Sumba Hivos works in a multistakeholder approach with communities, governments and businesses to ensure the whole island gets powered by renewable energy.

During the Global Gathering Hivos explored the relevance of OGP for tracking international and national climate finance streams (both from donors and from national sources) as well as develop concrete ideas with the transparency and climate movement to increase transparency of climate finance and how to shift investments to be more focused on creating real energy access for the poor.

Renato Morgado, Public Policy Coordinator, Imaflora

Imaflora is one of the organizations responsible for the Brazilian Greenhouse Gas Emission Estimate System (SEEG) promoted by Climate Observatory, a coalition of 35 NGOs. Such initiative provides transparency to Brazilian GHG emissions, disseminating calculation method, database used on national inventory and results per sector, which allows a better comprehension and incidence on Brazilian public policies and climate compromises. We are also developing a web platform for visualization and monitoring of Amazonian timber flows, from harvest to consumption. The platform will allow better transparency in wood sector as well as to improve the combat to illegal logging and Amazon deforestation, main factor to GHG emissions in Brazil.

The Global Gathering helped enhance our performance, enabling an interaction with community of open government and knowledge of transparency, participation, accountability and technology initiatives and tools, which can be applied to the Brazilian context.

Leah Good, Programme Coordinator (Asia Pacific), Transparency International

Transparency International works with our partners around the world to make sure that actions to address and adapt to climate change are free from corruption. TI partners are tracking climate finance to figure out how much money is flowing and make sure it is spent properly. In Bangladesh and the Maldives, two of the most climate vulnerable countries in the world, our partners are working with beneficiaries of adaptation projects to assess their effectiveness. When problems are identified, our teams ensure local voices are heard. In forest-rich countries in Africa and South America, we are promoting governance reforms that will support successful REDD+ schemes to protect forests. Where investments in renewable energy are huge and growing, we are ensuring civil society plays a role in monitoring public contracts.

At the OGP Summit and beyond, we want to see governments commit to address the climate crisis transparently and openly. By bringing together such a broad range of actors and expertise, the Global Gathering helped TI partners forge new alliances, learn from other approaches, and build even more momentum towards a cleaner, greener future.

Using Open Government for Climate Action

Countries made many national climate commitments as part of the Paris Agreement on climate change, which entered into force earlier this month. Now comes the hard part of implementing those commitments. The public can serve an invaluable watchdog role, holding governments accountable for following through on their targets and making sure climate action happens in a way that’s fair and inclusive. But first, the climate and open government communities will need to join forces.

Historically, open government and climate groups have worked in silos, operating in different forums, using different terminology and meeting with different stakeholders. Yet the NGOs, academics and other non-state actors focused on transparent governance and accountability are critically important in the climate arena, especially now that countries must address numerous governance hurdles, including the need for national level institutional coordination, capacity building and political buy-in. Bringing together the open government and climate communities offers an opportunity to develop new strategies that enhance accountable and inclusive climate policy decision-making.

Here are four areas where these communities can lean in together to ensure governments follow through on effective climate action:

1) Expand access to climate data and information.

Open government and climate NGOs and local communities can expand the use of traditional transparency tools and processes such as Freedom of Information (FOI) laws, transparent budgeting, open data policies and public procurement to enhance open information on climate mitigation, adaptation and finance. For example, Transparencia Mexicana used Mexico’s Freedom of Information Law to collect data to map climate finance actors and the flow of finance in the country. This allows them to make specific recommendations on how to safeguard climate funds against corruption and ensure the money translates into real action on the ground.

Civil society NGOs can also provide alternatives to online portals to ensure information is actually reaching local communities. One group in Indonesia, Yayasan Lembaga Konsumen Indonesia (YLKI), uses its weekly consumer radio show to provide a forum around electricity issues in Jakarta. This allows them to directly share information about public rights around electricity services, provide a forum to answer questions, and increase the ability of local residents to address grievances about power cuts and service reliability.

2) Promote inclusive and participatory climate policy development.

Civil society and community groups already play a crucial role in advocating for climate action and improving climate governance at the national and local levels, especially when it comes to safeguarding poor and vulnerable people, who often lack political voice. Public survey research has also found that people want civil society NGOs included in climate policymaking decisions, and believe the process is more legitimate when civil society is involved. Open government and climate civil society groups can use their links with local communities to strengthen the number and type of initiatives used to feed public input into wider policy debates and secure a seat for both men and women at the decision-making table. This can include mobilizing youth awareness, training indigenous leaders on proposed and negotiated climate change legislation and their rights around the principle of “free, prior, and informed consent,” or strengthening NGO participation in government-led roundtables on national climate change agendas.

3) Take legal action for stronger accountability.

Accountability at a national level can only be achieved if grievance mechanisms are in place to address a lack of transparency or public participation, or address the impact of projects and policies on individuals and communities. Civil society groups and individuals can use legal actions like climate litigation, petitions, administrative policy challenges and court cases at the national, regional or international levels to hold governments and businesses accountable for failing to effectively act on climate change. In the Netherlands, for example, the Hague District Court determined the country must further reduce CO2 emissions to adequately address the impacts of climate change and meet their obligation to protect people and the environment. The case was brought by the Urgenda Foundation, a Dutch NGO, and 886 individuals concerned about the country’s ongoing contribution to climate change.

4) Create new spaces for advocacy.

Bringing the climate and open government movements together allows civil society to tap new forums for securing momentum around climate policy implementation. For example, many civil society NGOs are highlighting the important connections between a strong Governance Goal 16 under the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and strong water quality and climate change policies. WRI is hosting the sixth Global Gathering of The Access Initiative, called “Open Government for Climate Action,” organized in connection with the December Open Government Partnership Summit (OGP). This event will bring together leading thinkers in open government, open data and climate to exchange ideas on how civil society can best engage in implementing national climate policy.

The Gathering will also inform future open government commitments made by OGP member countries, including many of the countries responsible for the largest emissions of greenhouse gases, such as the EU, United States, Mexico, Indonesia and Brazil. The Gathering and Summit offer exciting opportunities to bring together the separate worlds of open government and climate. Together, they will help spur accountable and inclusive climate action that improves the lives of local communities.

Why Are Environmental Rights So Hard to Assess?

This blog was originally posted on WRI Insights on June 11, 2015.

By Nicholas Tagliarino and Lalanath de Silva

WRI and the Access initiative (TAI) recently launched the Environmental Democracy Index (EDI), the first online platform that tracks and scores 70 countries’ progress in enacting national laws that promote transparency, accountability and citizen engagement in environmental decision-making. These three “environmental democracy” principles are foundational elements for sustainable development and for ensuring basic human rights. While EDI resulted in a comprehensive ranking of countries, the story doesn’t end there. Truly evaluating environmental rights in countries around the world is a lot more complicated than one might think.

The Environmental Democracy Index

EDI assesses national laws against a set of 75 legal indicators designed to show whether a country’s laws conform with the UNEP Bali Guidelines, a set of principles meant to guarantee environmental democracy. EDI’s scores provide insight on the best and worst countries for environmental democracy. National laws establish a foundation on which environmental advocacy can take place. Laws often provide the public and the environment with a set of guaranteed protections. They also serve as a point of reference when the public wishes to challenge government and private actor decisions that harm the environment. While the legal language of environmental democracy laws is important to assess, it also matters whether these laws are actually being implemented, and if there is an enabling environment for citizens to fully capitalize on opportunities set out in these laws. This more comprehensive assessment of environmental democracy depends on broader questions, such as: Are laws enforced and respected in a particular country? Are governments behaving corruptly? Is there an enabling environment for citizens to exercise these rights? Are human rights being violated? EDI has a limited set of 24 practice indicators that provide insight into discrete aspects of law implementation, but these are not yet comprehensive, and practice indicator scores are not accounted for in EDI countries’ overall scores. Viewing EDI’s results together with other global indices provides deeper insights on the extent to which environmental democracy is practiced around the world.

Other Assessments of Environmental Democracy

Transparency International’s 2014 Corruption Perception Index (CPI) assesses public perception of government corruption at the national level. When combined with EDI results, this index sheds light on whether corruption might be undermining the practice of environmental democracy. For instance, Russia, Colombia and Panama ranked in the top 10 on EDI, but in the bottom half of the 175 countries CPI assessed (Russia ranked 136th, Colombia and Panama ranked 94th). These results suggest that corruption levels are perceived as high in these nations, which may undercut national environmental democracy laws. On the other hand, seven of the top 10 EDI countries (Lithuania, Latvia, United States, South Africa, United Kingdom, Hungary and Bulgaria) ranked in the top half of the CPI; the United States and United Kingdom ranked in the top 20. Corrupt governments may be less likely to disseminate environmental information to the public or consider public feedback in environmental decision-making. With lower corruption levels, these countries may be more likely to achieve environmental democracy. Environmental democracy laws are also more likely to be implemented in countries where the law is respected and enforced equally. The World Justice Project’s Rule of Law Index (ROLI) uses survey research to determine how well the laws are respected and enforced (rule of law) in everyday life around the globe. Russia, Colombia and Panama—top-ranked countries on EDI—ranked in the bottom half of the 99 countries ROLI assessed, while the United States and United Kingdom ranked in the top 20. Comparing EDI and the ROLI rankings provides insight on whether countries are likely to follow laws that recognize environmental democracy rights. Environmental democracy rights are also rooted in basic human rights. For instance, the right to free speech must be realized before the public can meaningfully participate in environmental decision-making. Maplecroft’s Human Rights Risk Atlas 2014 (HRRI) rates countries based on their susceptibility to human rights abuses, such as torture, illegal arrests and freedom of speech. Whereas the United Kingdom is rated as having low human rights risks, Russia and Colombia are rated as “extreme risk,” meaning there is a high likelihood of human rights violations in these countries. Until human rights are better respected in Russia and Colombia, it is unlikely that citizens will fully attain the environmental democracy rights that national laws set out.

Improving Environmental Rights Around the World

Because protection of the environment and human rights share common ground, EDI holds an important place among global indices that address human rights concerns. Ultimately, what EDI and these global indices have in common is they establish a benchmark for progress: EDI shows the current state of national environmental democracy laws, the starting point for ensuring citizens’ rights to information, public participation and justice. Other global indices show us whether an enabling environment exists that will allow environmental democracy laws to be fully implemented. It’s important to examine both sides of the coin—the existence of laws as well as their enforcement—so that citizens can exercise their environmental democracy rights and hold governments and private actors accountable.

Empowering indigenous communities of Villarrica and Licanray

A Mapuche settlement in the Cautin Province, IX Region of Chile, has been affected by the emission of pollutants into the river channel, the management of the disposal of solid construction waste and the use of medication for the fish. This community is unprotected and uninformed about how can enforce their rights. Therefore, FIMA developed a campaign to advise the indigenous communities in the area of Villarica and Licanray on the drafting and presenting of an injunction before the Environmental Agency (SMA). As a result, every verified infraction was reported to the SMA and an extensive investigation is carried out. In addition, during November 2014, FIMA developed a two-day training workshop in environmental education and empowerment for the community, which was very successful.

The objectives were:

  • To ensure the awareness of the legal instruments available for the community.
  • To guarantee the protection and the safeguarding of their environmental and indigenous rights.
  • To include the community in the process and encourage the participation.

At the end of the course a forum was held to discuss all the topics, make questions and reflect about further directions. In addition, regulation and indigenous consultation were covered.

This campaign will continue with the aim to inform all the communities, and it is expected another session will be organized dedicated to the knowledge of water rights and how to protect them, and the paths available for environmental justice.


#GreenAlert encourages active citizenry, by providing the public with actionable information about development plans, along with tools for citizens to formally engage with the public review and policy formation processes and to connect with citizen or watchdog groups to lobby for citizen inclusion in decision-making processes.

#GreenAlert encourages greater transparency among governments and corporations by reducing secrecy in the decisions that are made about the use of natural resources.

#GreenAlert encourages greater public discourse and greater public participation in development issues, by creating demand-driven platforms for public comments and sharing of expert research or opinions on development by the general public, experts, civil society, media and community members.