The Access Initiative: a Network in Action
Over the past 10 years Access Initiative (TAI) partners from 50 different countries have played important roles in strengthening civil society and government capacity in order to build the foundations needed to move access rights forward. 2009 is proving to be no different. Partners from around the world are helping to open up the decision-making the processes for environmental issues, by widening the range of voices heard and improving the quality of policy choices available.
In the past year and a half, TAI partners have taken part in activities to reform transparency laws, train government officers to involve people in development planning, help build awareness among judges and media about the public’s ability to influence decisions that affect the environment. This work has lead to changes at the national and regional levels.
Access to participation in decision-making enhances the ability of a government to be responsive to public concern and demands, to build consensus, and to improve acceptance of and compliance with environmental decisions.
Access to justice allows people to hold government agencies, companies and individuals accountable.
Meaningful participation requires access to information that forms the basis for decisions, the opportunity to voice opinions and the ability to influence choice among possible outcomes.
Some specific changes resulting from the work of TAI partners include:
- Indonesia enacted a new Freedom of Information Act, with the help from our TAI Indonesia partners.
- The new constitution in Thailand ensures that the public has the right to receive information and participate in the decisions concerning new development projects that affect the environment.
- The TAI network has expanded its work in Argentina, Benin, China, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, India, Republic of Macedonia and Zambia by undertaking regional or national assessments of environmental laws in regards to access to information, access to justice, public participation and capacity building.
- TAI had its second annual Global Gathering of partners, hosted by our Irish partners at the Sligo Institute of Technology.
- In Cameroon, TAI partner Foundation for Environment and Development (FEDEV) litigated and won, as the main plaintiff, three high court cases. The implications of these cases have significant impacts on fundamental human rights, access to environmental justice and law enforcement in Cameroon allowing the public to sue to protect human life and environment.
- In Bolivia, partners helped advance access right (access to information, public participation access to justice and capacity building) to shape constitutional reform. The new Bolivian Constitution was approved by a referendum this year and now includes access to information, participation and tribunal for environmental issues, as well as other environmental provisions.
- Ireland established the Fifth Pillar of Social Partnership, the Environmental Pillar. This ensures Environmental NGOs are treated as equal partners with the Trade Unions, Employers, Farmers and the (wider) Community and Voluntary Pillars in researching, developing and monitoring the implementation of national policies on all aspects of society. As a consequence of the new status, NGO’s now have the right to regular constructive contact with all government departments at the highest level; seats on the National Economic and Social Council; and established our right to nominate people to seats on the advisory bodies at all levels of governance, local, regional and national.
- TAI Sri Lanka partner Public Interest Law Foundation has been working with Minister of Urban Development and Sacred Area Development to draft ministerial guidelines on information disclosure in the urban sector, as part of the recommendations from the TAI national assessment.
Here is a quick summary of the work already underway in 2009 for 22 TAI partner countries, as part of the work funded by the World Bank, Development Governance Grant:
The Center for Human Rights and Environment is prioritizing reforms by conducting Argentina’s first national TAI assessment.
The Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association is managing a regional exchange program for community leaders intended to develop a network of forest dwellers in South Asia and advance their capacity towards participatory governance. This includes a regional training workshop on access issues relating to the forest.
Eco Ecolo is prioritizing reforms by conducting Benin’s first national TAI assessment.
Bolivia: PRODENA - Bolivian Wildlife Society
PRODENA is developing the main indicators for the National System of Environmental Information (NSEI) recommended by the TAI assessment and advocating for its implementation. PRODENA is also advising the government environmental authority on how to organize the NSEI.
The Bioresources Development and Conservation Programme is working to create a task force to supervise public participation in the development of access and benefit sharing (ABS) policies. BPDC is also integrating civil society recommendations into a draft of the ABS policy framework.
The Foundation for Environment and Development is organizing and conducting workshops to train judges, magistrates, and lawyers on environmental law and access rights.
Participa is developing indicators to evaluate regional advocacy success. Participa is also prioritizing reforms by conducting Chile’s second national TAI assessment.
China (Guizhou): Center For Moutainous Resource Conservation And Development Study (CMCRDS)
The Center for Mountainous Resource Conservation and Development Study is prioritizing reforms by conducting the first regional Guizhou TAI assessment.
China (Yunnan): Centre For Montain Ecosytstem Studies (ICRAF-China)
TAI Yunnan partners are translating TAI indicator toolkit and concepts into Mandarin and conducting workshops to train Guizhou TAI coalition. TAI Yunnan is also advocating for public access to environmental information on water quality and pollution.
TAI Ecuador partners Coalicion Acesso and CEDA are conducting dialogues with government, civil society and the public to gather input on environmental concerns and access rights that can be used to draft a national strategy proposal for access to environmental information.
Croissance Saine Environnement is prioritizing reforms by leading Gabon’s first national TAI assessment.
India: Environics Trust
Environics Trust is prioritizing reforms by conducting India’s first national TAI assessment.
Macedonia: Florozon – Association For Protection Of Natural Environment And Sustainable Economic Development
TAI partner Florozon is organizing and conducting training workshops with government officials and civil society members as recommended by the 2008 TAI national assessment to increase attentiveness to access rights. Florozon is also launching a large media campaign to increase public awareness and demand for access rights.
The Centre for Environmental Policy and Advocacy is working to strengthen and implement proposed environmental and access bills that would provide improvements in access rights. CEPA is also publicizing proposed legislation and holding workshops to advance public participation and capacity building.
Nepal: Pro Public
Pro Public is advocating for the inclusion of access rights and good environmental governance in the proposed Constitution of Nepal through capacity building measures including the training of the writers of the constitution, government officials, civil society members, and the public.
The Environmental Law and Economics Institute is working to revise access to information legislation and will present a final draft to government officials, civil society members, and the public through a series of workshops intended to integrate their comments on the legislation before formally submitting them to Congress.
The Peruvian Society for Environmental Law is working with Latin American partners to organize a regional meeting and conduct workshops intended to compile a set of practical advocacy tools, strengthen advocacy capacity, and train civil society members on access issues.
Philippines: Ateneo School Of Government
TAI member ATENEO is developing a single-volume reference ‘bench book’ intended to provide judges on the recently established environmental courts with complete answers to frequently raised questions. ATENEO is also advocating for the passage of the freedom of information bill via media briefings, videos, workshops, and a website.
Sri Lanka: Public Interest Law Foundation (PILF)
Lawyers from the Public Interest Law Foundation are working closely with government officials to draft and implement guidelines for information disclosure PILF is also conducting training workshops on the new guidelines for relevant officials.
Thailand: Thailand Environment Institute (TEI)
The Thailand Environment Institute is advocating for the amendment and implementation of Thailand’s Official Information Act of 1997 through a multi-stakeholder dialogue that will publish recommendations.
The Environmental Management and Law Association is determining the capacities and receptiveness for a TAI assessment in Turkey. EMLA is conducting a workshop on TAI methodology for interested parties.
Lawyers from Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association are working closely with the Ministry of Environment to develop and implement guidelines for how information is released to the public.