The OGP and What It Can Mean for Rio+20
The July 11th inaugural Open Government Partnership (OGP) meeting touted the importance, relevance, and value of open governments. Secretary Hillary Clinton and Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota extoled the benefits of transparency and collaboration, saying governments in the modern world are far more likely to succeed when they implement the principles of open government.
Secretary Clinton, said that “when a government invites people to participate, when it is open as it makes decisions and allocates resources, when it administers justice equally and transparently, and when it takes a firm stance against corruption of all kinds, that government is…far more likely to succeed in designing and implementing effective policies and services.” She was explaining what is meant by “open government”. These basic principles have been known to the environmental movement ever since the 1992 Earth Summit when 178 governments adopted the Rio Declaration. Principle 10 of that Declaration recognized that transparency, citizen engagement and accountability were indispensable to sustainable development governance. Nevertheless, hearing it re-branded was within the context of OGP was heartening.
Mr. Patriota recognized that a generic template of transparency and accountability cannot be implemented in every country - “We do not seek to develop a one-size-fits-all approach…We are here to assist each other as equal partners joined by common objectives.” His recognition that every state and every region faces unique challenges and opportunities is encouraging for The Access Initiative’s call for regional conventions similar to the Aarhus Convention. However, Mr. Patriota missed an opportunity to make a connection between OGP and the Rio 2012 Conference being hosted by Brazil (his own country) – where the entire UN community will consider what reforms are needed to improve sustainable development governance. Transparency, accountability and citizen engagement (Principle 10) looms very large in that agenda – at least for millions of people around the world and their civil society colleagues who will be at that meeting.
The OGP can serve as a pilot for collaborative international governance that can be scaled up at Rio+20. The governing model of OGP can be a template for regional conferences focused on implementation and protection of Principle 10. Access rights, public participation, accountability are fundamental to sustainable development.
Twenty-first century technologies, such as social media, mobile phones, and social networks, are heralded as “tools to work on behalf of … governance” that illuminate government decision-making and engage citizens in the political process. Using these tools, governments can open a two-way dialogue with civil society and private sector, which can lead to an open economy that will improve the living standards of citizens and generate trust of the government.
Recognizing the challenges of implementing such an ambitious agenda, Secretary Clinton stated, “Now the hard part starts: to translate that promise into reality; to sign on the principles of the Open Government Declaration; to make concrete commitments to do more to ensure openness and accountability within our governments and societies; and then do the difficult, but I believe very rewarding, work of fulfilling those commitments in the months ahead.”
The call for open government is growing louder by the day, from citizens and government officials alike. This partnership provides an excellent opportunity to demand – and hold accountable – environmental decision-making. Environmental advocates and TAI partners must exploit this moment to push our agenda . Six of the thirteen sample templates provided to participating governments and civil society groups at today’s meeting were from the environmental sector – fisheries, forestry, general environmental openness, electricity governance, extractive industries and low carbon development. Sadly though there were no resource people or speakers among the panelists today. Nor are any environmental conservation and management civil society groups included on the ad hoc steering committee that has shepherded the process so far.
TAI applauds this efforts and hopes that from now on the process of decision-making leading the drafting of the OGP Declaration and country plans will include a broad spectrum of stakeholders and participants. TAI also hopes that environmental conservation and management groups will be included on the steering committee and at the national level consultation process.