FoI not adequate in holding governments accountable for environmental decisions

While many national governments have made real progress in honoring their 1992 Rio Earth Summit commitments to better include the public in environmental decisions, a new book released in conjunction with World Environment Day concludes that all the countries studied have fallen short in some aspect.

“Access to information is essential, but in order to act on the information they get, people need to be able to participate in a fair and open process,” said Jonathan Lash, president of the World Resources Institute (WRI), which produced the book.

"Voice and Choice: Opening the Door to Environmental Democracy" is based on reviews of national law and compiles findings from more than 200 case studies in 26 countries.

Governments - simply by improving public participation - could have more successfully managed or prevented unhealthy levels of lead in Washington, D.C. drinking water; spills of sulphuric acid and petroleum in Chile; and the disposal of hazardous military waste in Bulgaria, to name just three examples.

The book identifies innovative solutions being tested around the world to improve public participation, including Mexico’s cabinet-level agency to handle freedom of information requests, public environmental education in South Africa, and training of judges in Indonesia.

“Without meaningful public participation and access to justice, freedom of information alone does not enable the public to hold governments accountable for decisions affecting the environment,” said Joseph Foti, associate at WRI and lead author of Voice and Choice.

The authors recommend that governments must take more active steps to involve the public in decision-making. Additional recommendations include building and strengthening programs to help the public demand and use opportunities for public participation.

Freedom of information not enough to hold governments accountable on environment (, 6 June 2008)