Quantcast

10 Best (and Worst) Countries for Environmental Democracy

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.

Lithuania is the best country for environmental democracy.
Photo credit: Shutterstock

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, while 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.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

Pipeline Spews 21,000 Gallons of Oil Along California Coast

Second Largest Island in U.S. Goes 100% Renewable

​Why Desalination Can’t Fix the Drought

Show Comments ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Mizina / iStock / Getty Images

By Ryan Raman, MS, RD

Oats are widely regarded as one of the healthiest grains you can eat, as they're packed with many important vitamins, minerals, and fiber.

Read More Show Less
JPMorgan Chase building in New York City. Ben Sutherland / CC BY 2.0

By Sharon Kelly

A report published Wednesday names the banks that have played the biggest recent role in funding fossil fuel projects, finding that since 2016, immediately following the Paris agreement's adoption, 33 global banks have poured $1.9 trillion into financing climate-changing projects worldwide.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Sriram Madhusoodanan of Corporate Accountability speaking on conflict of interest demand of the People's Demands at a defining action launching the Demands at COP24. Corporate Accountability

By Patti Lynn

2018 was a groundbreaking year in the public conversation about climate change. Last February, The New York Times reported that a record percentage of Americans now believe that climate change is caused by humans, and there was a 20 percentage point rise in "the number of Americans who say they worry 'a great deal' about climate change."

Read More Show Less
The head of England's Environment Agency has urged people to stop watering their lawns as a climate-induced water shortage looms. Pexels

England faces an "existential threat" if it does not change how it manages its water, the head of the country's Environment Agency warned Tuesday.

Read More Show Less
Pexels

By Jessica Corbett

A new analysis revealed Tuesday that over the past two decades heat records across the U.S. have been broken twice as often as cold ones—underscoring experts' warnings about the increasingly dangerous consequences of failing to dramatically curb planet-warming emissions.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
A flock of parrots in Telegraph Hill, San Francisco. ~dgies / Flickr

By Madison Dapcevich

Ask any resident of San Francisco about the waterfront parrots, and they will surely tell you a story of red-faced conures squawking or dive-bombing between building peaks. Ask a team of researchers from the University of Georgia, however, and they will tell you of a mysterious string of neurological poisonings impacting the naturalized flock for decades.

Read More Show Less
Fire burns in the North Santiam State Recreational Area on March 19. Oregon Department of Forestry

An early-season wildfire near Lyons, Oregon burned 60 acres and forced dozens of homes to evacuate Tuesday evening, the Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) said, as KTVZ reported.

The initial cause of the fire was not yet known, but it has been driven by the strong wind and jumped the North Santiam River, The Salem Statesman Journal reported. As of Tuesday night, it threatened around 35 homes and 30 buildings, and was 20 percent contained.

Read More Show Less
Edwin Hardeman is the plaintiff in the first U.S. federal trial claiming that Roundup causes cancer. NOAH BERGER / AFP / Getty Images

A second U.S. jury has ruled that Roundup causes cancer.

The unanimous verdict was announced Tuesday in San Francisco in the first federal case to be brought against Monsanto, now owned by Bayer, alleging that repeated use of the company's glyphosate-containing weedkiller caused the plaintiff's cancer. Seventy-year-old Edwin Hardeman of Santa Rosa, California said he used Roundup for almost 30 years on his properties before developing non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

The decision comes less than a year after a jury awarded $289 million to Bay-area groundskeeper Dewayne Johnson over similar claims. The amount was later reduced to $78 million.

"Today's verdict reinforces what another jury found last year, and what scientists with the state of California and the World Health Organization have concluded: Glyphosate causes cancer in people," Environmental Working Group President Ken Cook said in a statement. "As similar lawsuits mount, the evidence will grow that Roundup is not safe, and that the company has tried to cover it up."

Judge Vince Chhabria has split Hardeman's trial into two phases. The first, decided Tuesday, focused exclusively on whether or not Roundup use caused the plaintiff's cancer. The second, to begin Wednesday, will assess if Bayer is liable for damages.

"We are disappointed with the jury's initial decision, but we continue to believe firmly that the science confirms glyphosate-based herbicides do not cause cancer," Bayer spokesman Dan Childs said in a statement reported by The Guardian. "We are confident the evidence in phase two will show that Monsanto's conduct has been appropriate and the company should not be liable for Mr. Hardeman's cancer."

Some legal experts said that Chhabria's decision to split the trial was beneficial to Bayer, Reuters reported. The company had complained that the jury in Johnson's case had been distracted by the lawyers' claims that Monsanto had sought to mislead scientists and the public about Roundup's safety.

However, a remark made by Chhabria during the trial and reported by The Guardian was blatantly critical of the company.

"Although the evidence that Roundup causes cancer is quite equivocal, there is strong evidence from which a jury could conclude that Monsanto does not particularly care whether its product is in fact giving people cancer, focusing instead on manipulating public opinion and undermining anyone who raises genuine and legitimate concerns about the issue," he said.

Many regulatory bodies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, have ruled that glyphosate is safe for humans, but the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer found it was "probably carcinogenic to humans" in 2015. A university study earlier this year found that glyphosate use increased cancer risk by as much as 41 percent.

Hardeman's lawyers Jennifer Moore and Aimee Wagstaff said they would now reveal Monsanto's efforts to mislead the public about the safety of its product.

"Now we can focus on the evidence that Monsanto has not taken a responsible, objective approach to the safety of Roundup," they wrote in a statement reported by The Guardian.

Hardeman's case is considered a "bellwether" trial for the more than 760 glyphosate cases Chhabria is hearing. In total, there are around 11,200 such lawsuits pending in the U.S., according to Reuters.

University of Richmond law professor Carl Tobias told Reuters that Tuesday's decision showed that the verdict in Johnson's case was not "an aberration," and could possibly predict how future juries in the thousands of pending cases would respond.