Public Participation Needed to Save Environment

WASHINGTON, DC, July 10, 2003 (ENS) - Increased public participation is needed to stem the deterioration of the world's environment and to slow the growth of global poverty, according to a new report released today. Greater transparency and accountability can lead to fairer and more effective management of natural resources, finds the report, which calls on governments to reach out for local community input in decisions that affect ecosystems and to integrate environmental impacts into economic decision making.

"Democratization of environmental decision making is one of the most direct routes to better environmental decisions," said Jonathan Lash, president of the World Resources Institute.

The report, "World Resources 2002-2004: Decisions for the Earth - Balance, Voice and Power," was published jointly by the World Resources Institute, the World Bank, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), and the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP).

It notes that great strides have been made and successes achieved in convincing different stakeholders that protection of the environment is critical, but warns that these efforts must be sustained and built upon if global poverty and environmental degradation are to be tackled. urban

The world's poor must be given a greater voice in policy decisions, according to the new report. (Photo courtesy United Nations)
"Governments, businesses, civil society and the individual citizen are more aware of what needs to be done and are certainly taking action," said UNEP Executive Director Klaus Toepfer. "But, as evidenced by the continued erosion and collapse of so many of the planet's life support systems, it is not nearly enough and more concerted, focused, action is urgently needed."

Statistics from report indicate an overwhelming human dependence on rapidly deteriorating ecosystems that support all life.

For example, one out of every six humans depends on fish for protein needs, yet 75 percent of the world's fisheries are over-fished or fished at their biological limit.

Some 350 million people are directly dependent on forests for their survival, with global forest cover declining by 46 percent since pre-agricultural times.

The report notes that global poverty appears to be on the rise - nearly half of the world's population lives on less than $2 a day.

"Poor communities are particularly vulnerable to failed environmental governance, since they rely more heavily on natural resources for subsistence and income," said Dr. Kristalina Georgieva, director of the Environment Department of The World Bank. "They are less likely to share in property rights that give them legal control over these resources."

Poverty can not be overcome without sustainable management of ecosystems, the report says, and ecosystems can not be protected from abuse without holding those with wealth and power accountable for their actions.

The report identifies public access to information from governments, business, and non-governmental organizations as a necessary precursor to improved environmental performance. Its authors contend that greater transparency and accountability can lead to fairer and more effective management of natural resources - and to fairer governance in general.

"People are willing to engage their governments on decisions that bear so directly on their health and well-being," Lash said. indiawomen

The world's poor often struggle the most with the impacts of failed environmental governance. (Photo by G. Bizzarri courtesy UN Food and Agriculture Organization)
A nine country study compiled by The Access Initiative - a collaboration of the World Resources Institute and 24 civil society groups, indicates that while some progress has been made in promoting transparency, inclusiveness, and accountability in environmental decision-making, much remains to be done to improve both law and practice.

The four organizations that joined forces to produce the report have committed to improve environmental governance through the Partnership for Principle 10, in collaboration with the European Union, the World Conservation Union, the governments of the United Kingdom, Chile, Hungary, Italy, Mexico, Sweden, and Uganda, and non-governmental organizations from around the world.

"It is a central tenet of UNDP's work to strengthen the voices of civil society, in particularly the poor and the marginalized in shaping the policies that impact their livelihoods and the environment," UNDP Executive Administrator Mark Malloch Brown said.

The coalition is named after the section of the 1992 Rio Declaration that called for increased public participation in decision making that affects the environment.