The Access Initiative

No Equal Rights for “Outsiders”

By Carole Excell (Posted: April 8, 2016)

Members of the public participating in the 3rd Meeting of the Negotiating Committee on the Regional Agreement on Access to InformationParticipation and Justice in Environmental Matters in Latin America and the Caribbean in Montevideo, Uruguay received a blow during the penultimate day of the negotiations. The negotiations at its very core promotes public participation. To date, the process has not only encouraged the active participation of the public in shaping this regional instrument but persons outside of the Latin American and Caribbean region have been eagerly following and participating in the meetings. However, the 21 signatory countries in approving the Modalities for Public Participation in the negotiation process, agreed in paragraph 5 of the document that signatory countries can object to the participation of the public from other regions on a case-by-case basis. In order to maintain the inclusive and progressive nature of the process, the public suggested, the following amendment to the text “The public from other regions may participate in face-to-face and virtual meetings based on the criteria prescribed by ECLAC”. This proposal, which unfortunately did not receive support from any country is similar to other international processes (for example the United Nations Environment Programme…) which give accreditation privileges to the Technical Secretariat. Dr. Noriko Okubo, a Professor at Osaka University in Japan has been attending meetings for the process since 2014 because she hopes that a similar process can be modelled in the Asian region. Regarding the decision she said, “The process provides a good opportunity to share good Main Elected Representatives of the Public (L-R): Danielle Andrade-Goffe (Jamaica) and Andrea Sanhueza (Chile) at 3rd Negotiating Meeting in Uruguay. practices. Compared to the Aarhus Convention (Access Rights on Environmental Matters for the European Region), there is no such screening process and she is free to attend and participate in their meetings without a feeling of restraint and uncertainty”. Dr. Okubo also said, “I’m worried that the new screening process for the LAC P10 meetings might be too drawn out making it more difficult and expensive to participate”. Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development endeavours to ensure that every person has access to information, participates in decision-making and can access justice in environmental matters, in order to guarantee the right to a healthy and sustainable environment for present and future generations. All the relevant documents and information on this process as well as a link to view the live stream of the negotiations which culminates on April 8, 2016 can be accessed at -end- For information on civil society’s role in the regional process please contact: Danielle Andrade Goffe (Jamaica) Main Elected Representative of the Pubic (LAC P10) Andrea Sanhueza (Chile) Main Elected Representative of the Pubic (LAC P10)

Public Representative Submits Statements at LAC P10 Process

By Danielle Andrade (Posted: April 5, 2016)


I want to thank ECLAC and the Government of Uruguay for organising this meeting and the signatory countries for allowing the Elected Representatives of the Public this opportunity to make opening remarks. I am grateful for and support the remarks by my colleague Alberto Gomez and would like to use this opportunity to share thoughts on why this process is so important for the sustainable development of our countries. The UNDP’s Caribbean Human Development Report 2012 notes: “Caribbean countries have a long history of inequality and discrimination…..This historical pattern still affects the distribution of the protective power of the state and the way in which the rights of different groups, including the most vulnerable, are treated.” Further … “the legacy of deep social problems such as high levels of income inequality, high rates of unemployment, high rates of rural and urban poverty, and communities with histories of social exclusion has continued to exert an influence until today.” This regional process holds the promise to set standards for access rights that live up to the expectations of the first-ever environmental democracy agreement for the region. The number of LAC countries that have signed the Declaration now stands at 20 countries and is growing.

We start this second phase of negotiation after the passage of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and a new climate change agreement, both of which are almost entirely reliant on improving transparency, building more robust environmental information systems and improving the participation of the public to ensure a more responsive and inclusive institutions.

Having a binding instrument on access rights will allow the region to advance the implementation of the Post-2015 Agenda. The SDGs specifically incorporates Principle 10 and the targets that have been determined include to: • Promote the rule of law at the national and international levels and ensure equal access to justice for all. • Develop effective, accountable and transparent institutions at all levels. • Ensure responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making at all levels. • Ensure public access to information and protect fundamental freedoms, in accordance with national legislation and international agreements. • Promote and enforce non-discriminatory laws and policies for sustainable development.

In this process there has been trust and understanding built between governments and civil society. I have seen these productive relationships created, nurtured and developed since the beginning of this process with the road map and Lima Vision where countries expressed a common vision on the importance and benefits of access rights and the values and principles underpinning them and their implementation. We hope as we move forward to adopt the modalities and continue negotiations that we can build on this trust as we continue to progressively seek to improve implementation of access rights in the region.

The preliminary document for this Agreement as prepared by ECLAC is an opportunity to establish a regional standard that incorporates the best legislation in the region in the area of access rights. As we learned during the workshop yesterday on public participation, some countries have legislation on access rights that are well developed and comprehensive with some such as Colombia recently passing ATI and PP laws while in others legislation is lagging behind. We note that while the majority of countries are supportive of striving for this regional standard, there a few who have proposed language that would limit the application of some articles to what currently exists in their national legislation. We think that to do so would not be progressive and would in a sense defeat the purpose of striving towards a regional agreement with regional standards. We should as one speaker said today not strive for a minimum but strive for the essentials in this agreement. We believe that limitations and restraints to country implementation can be dealt with through cooperation and capacity-building partnerships and mechanisms as contemplated by Article 10.

I would like to say one thing about the potential of this instrument to address an issue that has caused much concern not only in the region but also globally. Vulnerable groups, above all others require special consideration in delivering appropriate mechanisms that facilitate their involvement in decision-making. The preliminary document includes provisions to ensure access rights and protection for those who are most vulnerable, such as indigenous people and environmental defenders.

A number of socio-environmental conflicts have been documented in the region. These conflicts undermine the social peace and good governance. Conflicts can arise from lack of information or complete, timely, understandable and culturally relevant information and from the lack of open forums for dialogue, and spaces for participation about infrastructure projects. The case of Berta Caceres, a Honduran human rights and environmental defender who fought tirelessly for the rights of Honduras’s Indigenous Peoples, including opposing the Agua Zarca Dam, and received death threats and lost her life in March of this year is one example of a tragic and senseless case. Cáceres famously said “Nobody heard our voices until we set up a roadblock to defend our territory.” This initiative could pave the way for achieving a regional standard for access rights that will mitigate social conflicts like this one by channelling public concerns about environmental issues through a framework that promotes good governance.

It is now imperative that we use the opportunity presented by this process to ensure that environmental defenders can be free to play their role in advancing the rights of citizens in our region. I would like us to have a moment of silence to recognise her life, her work and her contribution to this world.


The progressive path embarked upon by these countries carries the collective hopes and dreams for environmental and social progress in the region. The public stands ready to support and collaborate positively with the representatives of government in this process. And because I always want to leave you with something special when I have the opportunity to speak on these occasions, here is a quote from one of Jamaica’s famous musicians – no not Bob Marley but he was a singer in Bob Marley’s earlier band – the Wailers. This is from Peter Tosh’s song Equal Rights. Everyone is crying out for peace, yes None is crying out for justice I need equal rights and justice I need equal rights and justice I need equal rights and justice

The message – Without equal rights and justice how can we expect peace.

Thank you.

Taking Action: Mainstreaming Gender in the TAI Network

By Elizabeth Moses and Elizabeth Wilkinson (Posted: March 8, 2016)

Women have a vital role in the conservation and management of sustainable ecosystems. The translation of access rights into stronger natural resource governance must include careful consideration of the impacts to the empowerment of women, the protection of their rights, and their meaningful participation in decision making. With growing momentum around multiple global initiatives such as the SDGs, Open Government Partnership and the Paris Agreements the ability to meaningful include women’s voices has become even more critical.

The Access Initiative (TAI) is a global network of diverse national and local partners working to strengthen access rights on a range of environmental sectors on the international, regional, and national stage. WRI’s Environmental Democracy Practice acts as Secretariat of TAI. This wide breadth means TAI can provide a unique forum for dialogue and exchange of ideas around gender and environmental democracy and use our platform as a catalyst for change.

In November of 2015 the TAI secretariat conducted a survey (found at…) of the members in its network to determine whether TAI would benefit from a more comprehensive gender integration strategy. Our goal was to use the survey results to identify new opportunities to work together and to support development of robust strategies that incorporate gender disaggregated data and help bring attention to the importance to the gendered dimensions of access rights. The survey was completed in December and a number of important findings were gathered from the responses received.

Strong Interest in Gender

There is high interest and a prevalence of gender-related projects within the network, although the majority of respondents have only recently begun to incorporate gender into their work. In fact over half (56%) of the respondents only have 0-5 years of experience working on gender issues.

Many TAI members emphasized that they are seeing overwhelming success with women’s participation in projects and to a lesser extent around economic empowerment and dialogue around women’s issues. Participation successes ranged from getting women together to discuss issues impacting them in Madagascar to actively having women participate on court cases in Argentina.

Challenges for Mainstreaming Gender

Yet major obstacles such as culture and marginalization still need to be overcome. This included overcoming difficult political and social climates around issues of gender and women’s empowerment. Other TAI members mentioned outside organizations and donors questioning their legitimacy to work on these issues and internal obstacles such as the lack of staff expertise on gender.

Almost all partners (65%) listed difficulty finding and receiving funding for gender-responsive projects. Reasons provided include a decrease in donors funding gender work, minimal focus on gender by partner organizations, and the lack of priority on gender issues in national government good governance programs or strategic plans.

The types of issues that women are facing in TAI countries are the typical issues being worked on in gender and development globally. Lack of education, participation, economic empowerment, health and reproductive issues, land grabs/property rights, public transportation access, climate change, and natural resource management and ownership were all mentioned as the major issues facing women.

But Many Opportunities to Continue Gendered Focus Work

TAI partners identified a wide range of local, national, and international opportunities for furthering work that responds to gender issues, including the SDGs, the Paris Climate Change agreement, and multiple in country and community initiatives but there was no major coalescence around what the priority gender issues are within the network. For example • In Bolivia, where violence against women is a major problem, they focus much of their work on the prevention of violence and reframing masculinity. • Other Latin American partners are interested in the impact of pesticides on reproductive health. • In Africa, many of the partners are working on women engaged in agriculture, and on economic empowerment.

The survey results clearly indicated members’ interest in working together to further a gender-responsive approach to our work. Respondents identified issues around fundraising assistance, donor identification and knowledge and information sharing as key areas where the Secretariat could better assist the members. A comprehensive overview of the TAI Survey can be found here (… ).

Next Steps

Based on these findings, we confirm a widespread interest in strengthening TAI’s commitment to inclusive and empowering access rights and a need to support efforts to put this goal into practice. In response, the TAI Core team has agreed to form a TAI Gender Working Group led by Olimpia Castillo (, Comunicación y Educación Ambiental, Mexico and Elizabeth Moses (, TAI Secretariat, WRI. The working group will finalize development of TAI’s gender strategy to provide an overarching framework for bringing a gender-responsive approach to our work and to define our next steps. This strategy will be rooted in the ideas taken from the survey and will focus on:

• Catalyzing changes in policy and practice through integration and transformative change. This requires removing gender biases from legal frameworks and ensuring that they are enforced, and the inclusion of actions to close gender-based gaps and disparities into policies, planning, and implementation that are sector specific.

• Building alliances both vertically and horizontally. Survey respondents emphasized the desire to collaborate with other organizations who are working on similar issues, particularly within their region. The goal of this objective will be to also expand the types and number of groups in the TAI network and build credible multi-stakeholder coalitions.

• Making the case through evidence-based advocacy and research. There is a lack of sex-disaggregated data and this goal hopes to produce such information, as well as to promote gender-inclusive participation.

• Building network capacity. Capacity building will focus on organizing and collaborating nationally, internationally, internally and across TAI’s network, to strengthen gender-inclusive stakeholder engagement.

TAI is excited to move forward. We hope sharing our learning process and plans for action will inspire other environmental networks and organizations to consider how gender should be priority in their work as well.

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.

Conservation and Management of Protected Areas in Madagascar

In Madagascar, the Protected Areas Law (COAP) mandates the manager of national parks (MNP) to manage and run conservation activities within and outside the park. Two decades ago, the manager enacted an internal decision by the Board of the Directors, that local communities can benefit 50% of the park entrance fees and can use the funds to development or agricultural activities. 20 years later, the MNP changed its mind and stopped allocating the 50% to the local communities stating that the funds need to be used to support the creation and extension of other protected areas. This change has had negative impacts on the development of local communities. The object of our Campaign is to ensure that the benefit of 50% from the park entrance fees would be recognized by the Protected Areas Law (COAP) and its implementing decrees as a right and not as a favor to assure an equitable sharing of the benefits from the conservation of protected areas. When the local communities utilize their rights, they contribute positively to the conservation of the protected areas.


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.

Protect Our Elephants and Save the Pangolin

Protect Our Elephants

The Uganda Wildlife Authority is mandated to ensure sustainable management of wildlife resources and supervise wildlife activities in Uganda both within and outside the protected areas. Yet during an audit at the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), it was found that some of the ivory that had been seized from poachers and wildlife traffickers since 1990 and stored in UWA strong rooms was missing. A total of 1,335kg of ivory which was estimated to be worth $1.1m (sh3b) was stolen.

President Yoweri Museveni upon receiving reports of the eminent ivory thefts asked the Inspector General of Government (IGG) to investigate the disappearance of the ivory. “We support the President’s decision for the IGG to takeover investigations of the 1,335kg of ivory that was stolen from the Uganda Wildlife Authority’s strong room. The report of the stolen ivory that has been in UWA’s possession for years is a sign that the governing body meant to regulate wildlife conservation in Uganda has not been spared by the corruption scandals that have marred many government institutions.” Investigations revealed that there were loopholes within UWA and some of the staff was involved in the ivory scam leading to the suspension of the Executive Director Mr. Andrew Seguya.

This action was supported by Greenwatch. It illustrates why implemention of the UWA is essential to the protection of Ugandan elephants.

The investigations are still ongoing and Greenwatch has created an online campaign to generate pressue to ensure the UWA does a better job in fulfilling its mandate.

Save the pangolin

Unfortunately it is not just elephants that are facing danger. A few weeks after the ivory scandal, New Vision carried a feature showing that UWA and the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities was issuing, export licenses to one Smith Ewa Maku and Smico Skin Craft industries to export seven tonnes of pangolin scales worth $4.2m (shs11b). The export of seven tonnes of pangolin scales came at a time when concerns are rising that the pangolins, which are regarded as rare animals (under Appendix2 of CITES) are being pushed into extinction.

The willingness of UWA to issue a license for export of pangolin scales of such magnitude showed the institution’s reluctance in fulfilling its mandate of preserving, protecting and conserving wildlife in trust for the people of Uganda. For one to acquire pangolin scales, they have to have killed the animal; therefore UWA licensing the export of these scales would tantamount to licensing the killing of the pangolins which contravenes the provisions of Articles 39 and 237(b) of the constitution of Uganda. It is absurd that instead of UWA fighting such people, it was working with them.

Greenwatch sued UWA in order for court to issue a permanent injunction stopping UWA or its agents from issuing licenses for export of pangolin scales. Uganda Wildlife Authority should have desisted from participating in matters that encourage depletion of our wildlife resources. Licenses should only be issued to preserve, protect and conserve wildlife and not the reverse.

Part of the suit read that, “Upon carrying out further investigation, we found that a licence to purchase game trophy had been issued to Smith Ewa Maku,” “The Convention on International Trade, to which Uganda is a signatory, prohibits trade in pangolin scales. The Game Act lists pangolin as endangered species and as such the entity has no power or authority to issue licences or export of their scales. A kilogramme of pangolin scales which can only be obtained from one adult or two young ones is worth Shs1,704,000 and has a very attractive market in China and other Asian countries.”

The matter is still in court.  However, due to the advocacy work around the issue by concerned citizens and environmentalists like Greenwatch and media the license was canceled.

Holistic and Integrated Approach to Access Rights (HIAAR)

The main objective is to create networks of NGOs/CSOs that will leverage on each other strength while synergizing on its purpose. Pilot projects initiated under this campaign will always focus on creating a strong value chain between all actors that will institutionalize solutions between NGOs, Communities, and Local Governments. This network will provide a stronger advocacy voice that will result in better policies and action plans by authorities and government.

The Best and Worst Countries for Environmental Democracy

By Jesse Worker (Posted: May 20, 2015)

The environment and human well-being are inextricably linked. When governments, businesses and others make decisions about land and natural resources, they inevitably impact the health, livelihoods and quality-of-life of local communities. So it stands to reason that the public should have a right to be involved in environmental decision-making—specifically, to know what is at stake, to participate in the decision itself, and to have the ability to challenge decisions that disregard human rights or harm ecosystems. These three fundamental rights are known as environmental democracy—and not all nations provide it to their citizens. The new Environmental Democracy Index (EDI) is the first-ever online platform that tracks and scores 70 countries’ progress in enacting national laws that promote transparency, accountability and citizen engagement in environmental decision-making. The analysis, based on 75 indicators, identifies the best and worst countries for environmental democracy. The results may surprise you.

The Top Countries with Strong National Laws for Environmental Democracy

The top three countries are all former Soviet states—Lithuania, Latvia and Russia. Many of their relevant national laws were enacted as part of democratization reforms in the 1990s and the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe’s (UNECE) legally binding Aarhus Convention on access to information, public participation and access to justice in environmental matters. Lithuania and Latvia have both ratified this convention and strengthened their legislation after doing so, such as Lithuania’s amendments to its Law on Environmental Protection and Latvia’s passage of its Environmental Protection Law. Russia in particular may stand out to some as surprising, especially in light of several environmental activists recently fleeing the country out of fear for their freedom and safety. Therein lies a powerful lesson: Countries’ national laws may be quite progressive on paper, but the enforcement of those laws is oftentimes weak or subject to corruption. All of the top 10 performers have statutes to support the public’s right to access government-held environmental information such as forestry management plans or mining permits, and all of them require at least a majority of government agencies to place environmental information like air and drinking water quality information in the public domain. While public participation scored the lowest across the index, all of the top 10 countries provide the public with the right to participate in major, national environmental decisions, such as infrastructure projects, forest management planning, pollution permitting and more. Lithuania stands out for having the highest score on the justice pillar. Its Civil Procedure Code and Law on Environmental Protection provides for communities to bring environmental cases in the public interest. What’s also interesting about the top 10 performers is that wealth is not necessarily the defining factor of strong environmental democracy laws. Panama and Colombia are resource-strapped nations, and South Africa is an upper middle income country; nevertheless, they’ve committed to enacting strong environmental laws.

The Lowest-Scoring Countries for Environmental Democracy

Haiti, Malaysia and Namibia scored lowest on the index. Of the bottom 10 countries, some had right-to-information laws, but most lacked provisions requiring that government agencies proactively make environmental information public. In countries like Philippines, Republic of Congo and Pakistan, citizens need to go through time-consuming or expensive information requests to obtain crucial information like statistics on air or drinking water quality. The government may or may not honor these formal requests. Many of the bottom performers also lacked requirements on collecting environmental information and monitoring compliance. National governments in Ethiopia, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Bangladesh and Thailand do not actually ensure that factories, mines and other facilities aren’t harming people or the planet. And requirements for public participation in these countries are almost always limited to environmental impact assessments, leaving out other important decisions such as the development of forest management plans, protected area policies or environmental protection laws. One positive note is that even at the bottom of the list, Saint Lucia, Nepal, Sri Lanka and the Republic of Congo allow an individual to file lawsuits in the public interest. Otherwise, the right to challenge or appeal government or private sector decisions is not as well established in these countries.

There’s Room for Improvement Across the Board

Even in countries that scored relatively well, there’s still room for improvement. Almost 50 percent of the countries assessed, for instance, are not making real-time air quality data available online for their capital cities. And while nearly half of the countries require agencies to monitor environmental compliance, 64 percent of those with laws on the books do not release any information to the public on emissions or wastewater discharges, pollutants that can impact human health and the environment. And even if countries have strong laws on the books, it doesn’t mean that they are adequately enforced. EDI measured countries based on the existence of national laws, not implementation. However, supplemental to the legal index, EDI includes 24 indicators on environmental democracy in practice. These indicators are not comprehensive, but they do provide some key insights to allow some comparison with legal scores. National laws aren’t the only way to improve environmental democracy, but they’re an important first step. EDI can help governments who want to promote transparent, inclusive and accountable environmental decision-making by providing an index to benchmark progress, as well as examples of good practices from around the world. It’s time to give citizens a voice—for the good of the planet, and for the good of communities around the world.