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A Guide to Open Government and the Coronavirus: Green Transitions – Climate and Environment

Guía de gobierno abierto y coronavirus: Transición verde - Clima y medio ambiente

Guide pour un gouvernement ouvert et le Coronavirus : Transitions vertes - Climat et environnement

Open Response Green

Recommendations | Examples | Resources | Partners | Back to Main

The economic, social, climate, and health crises of 2020 are undoubtedly costly. At the same time, they present an opportunity to build back more sustainably, more democratically, and to make communities more resilient – transitioning to a “green” economy.

The economic impacts of avoiding the worst effects of COVID-19 have resulted in the greatest global economic downturn since the Great Depression. Where the pandemic has raged unabated, the health and economic effects have fallen in particular on already vulnerable populations. To remedy the problem, governments and international financial institutions are undertaking economic rescue packages of a size and scale unseen in recent decades. These rolling packages are a mix of monetary, regulatory, and fiscal policies.

Building back requires more than just returning to business as usual. It requires building more resilient economies and represents an opportunity to shift toward more sustainable, healthy, and equitable alternatives. This requires bringing a broader diversity of voices to the decision-making processes for a resilient economy, voices that so far have been excluded or lacked influence. Open Government plays both a pivotal and instrumental role in this challenge.

Stimulus and relief packages could take two paths. They could invest in technologies, infrastructure, and institutions that create long term employment and are compatible with a low-carbon, climate resilient future. Alternatively, stimulus could overinvest in greenhouse gas- (GHG-) producing practices whether through assuming private debt, subsidizing polluting activities (through grants or tax abatement), or granting regulatory holidays. Nowhere is the risk of misallocation higher than in the fossil fuel sector, where plunging demand, abundant supply, and geopolitical rivalries have driven many operators into bankruptcy.

Policies will need to address carbon intensity of a variety of sectors including food and agriculture, fuel and energy, and infrastructure.

There are several principal policy levers that governments may take to address these issues. Each of these would benefit from an open government approach:

  1. Bailout transparency and oversight
  2. Investing in climate-smart infrastructure and human systems
  3. Promoting regulatory reform
  4. Reforming tax and subsidy policies
  5. Sponsoring research and development
  6. Enhancing institutions for adaptation and resilience.

The recommendations section examines open government approaches for each of these.

Colleagues from the World Resources Institute and OXFAM America have helped to review and develop a number of concrete steps that OGP members might take.

Recommendations

Open Recovery and Reform

Open recovery measures place transparency, accountability, and participation at the center of medium-term government efforts to rebuild in the wake of COVID-19. Similarly, open reform initiatives ensure that the public is at the heart of government in the post-pandemic world.

As governments invest in recovery from the public health and economic impacts of COVID-19, they can do so in a manner that helps move away from a pollution-based economy. The following recommendations are based on consultations with OGP’s colleagues working on this issue and can be adapted by governments, either as part of their OGP commitments or outside.

General oversight and planning

  • Sectoral greenhouse gas (GHG) accounting: While national and international bodies regularly publish projections and analysis for entire sectors – such as fuel and energy – other activities remain weakly monitored, especially at the national level. For example, fossil fuel subsidies are opaque in many OGP countries. A number of steps can be taken to rationalize and make this process more open.
    • Establish and publish sectoral reporting and data releases where they do not exist. Begin with most impactful sectors for the given polity.
    • Systematize subsidies data. Data should be structured and interoperable in such a way that it allows for consistent reuse and comparison between countries, sectors, and across levels of government. Such data should cover (a) direct transfer of funds; (b) tax expenditures: government revenue that is foregone or otherwise not collected; (c) government provision of goods other than general infrastructure; and (d) income or price supports. (An example of how such data could be made more interoperable is here.)
    • Systematize and publish impacts. Ideally such impacts are put in context of cumulative, life-cycle social, economic, and environmental impacts. Examples led by civil society and academics abound.
  • Participatory transitions. Citizens can play a significant advisory role in establishing priorities for the future,  balancing tradeoffs and identifying transitional supports for vulnerable workers, households, and communities. Ensure adequate participation in design and implementation of green transition plans. This work could build off of existing work, such as the citizens’ assemblies in Europe or Guatemala. These types of processes may be standalone or may be mainstreamed into regular planning or budgeting processes.
  • Regularly updated green stimulus centralized reporting and resources. This may be a website which covers the development and disposition of green stimulus support. In addition, it should cover the phasing out of “brown” stimulus for heavily polluting industries.

1. Bailout transparency and oversight

  • Recipient transparency and performance: Governments can begin with transparency of which firms are receiving bailouts and transparency on how the funds would meet criteria such as worker retention.
  • Recipient qualification and performance: Publicly available data on how firms meet equity metrics such as worker representation, stipulations on hiring as well as restrictions on executive bonuses or shareholder buybacks. For GHG-intensive industries, publicly available criteria should include additional metrics on emissions and energy efficiency.
  • Transparency and public oversight of bailout terms: Make clear the process and terms of industry-specific bailouts. This means publishing any stock or bond-buyback schemes, subsidized lending. Where there is opportunity for public comment and oversight, the government body administering such an action should solicit feedback from the public and publish results of lending or use of subsidy along with how the public feedback was used in final bailout decisions.

2. Investing in climate-smart infrastructure and human systems

  • Ensure public oversight and grievance mechanisms for any infrastructure banks or loan guarantee programs that will manage stimulus investments. Ensure that organizations and individuals have clear safeguard policies which allow them to use those mechanisms.
  • Gender: Track and publish gender-disaggregated data on recipients of stimulus as well as results.
  • Participatory budgeting and citizens’ assemblies: Develop means by which large parts of the public can help prioritize climate-smart investments.

3. Promoting regulatory reform

  • Enhance the scope of regulatory impact assessment processes, including strategic environmental assessment,  social and health impact assessment, and sectoral adaptation plans. Investment in strategic environmental assessment and adaptation planning documents can help accelerate the speed of individual project planning. Social and health impact assessment can inform better decision-making by describing a more complete picture of costs and benefits. In particular, strengthen mechanisms that facilitate deeper and greater participation from women and other marginalized groups. (See the examples of France and the West Midlands, UK below for examples of citizens assemblies developing strategic advice.)
  • Ending enforcement and monitoring holidays: Some governments have proposed “enforcement holidays” allowing polluting facilities to weaken controls due to stresses of COVID-19 and waiving public participation and oversight of major infrastructure spending and pollution rules more generally. Such holidays weaken oversight and create a gap in data and potentially lead to pollution that can increase vulnerability to respiratory infections like COVID-19. While such holidays should not take place, when they do, they must require documentation of justification on a facility-by-facility or project-by-project basis, and mandate an ex post public review of such claims at the end of the COVID-19 crisis as well as disclosure of exemptions.
  • Multi-stakeholder approach to regulatory changes: Many countries are considering changes to existing climate-related policies, such as the EU postponement of electric vehicle rules. At a minimum, such changes should take place through established, open processes.
    • Notice and comment processes. The most common arrangement for modification of rules would be through standard notice and comment processes, which allow any and all interested parties to comment on proposed rules.
    • Advisory committees: In many processes, such as developing a regulatory calendar, participation may be structured in such a way as to guarantee a seat at the table for a wide variety of interests to inform regulatory processes at ministry and agency level. Bringing a diversity of actors can gather better information about the costs and benefits of various actions. Advisory bodies may examine issues such as efficiency standards, land use, land tenure or transboundary electricity markets which have significant climate impact.
  • Risk disclosure: Governments can integrate climate risks into securities, prudential, and capital markets regulations. As an emerging example, which could be adopted and adapted at national level, the European Commission’s Technical Expert Group on Sustainable Finance, has published the Taxonomy for Sustainable Finance to guide implementation of the July 2020 Sustainable Finance Taxonomy Regulation. This taxonomy guides disclosure of climate risks for financial market participants, large companies required to publish non-financial statements, and government regulators establishing financial regulations. Regulated entities will need to publish their impacts and mitigations in their publicly available annual reports or dedicated sustainability reports.
  • Purchasing transparency: Governments may also use their significant procurement powers to procure greener alternatives.

4. Reforming tax and subsidy policies

  • Subsidy transparency: Many countries (and subnational governments) have fairly opaque subsidy structures at all phases of energy and fuel production – extraction, refining, and consumption. These subsidies include tax relief, tax exemption, lowered insurance requirements as well as other non-monetized supports such as clean-up costs. Making these fossil fuel subsidies publicly available at the corporate and license levels should be a minimum standard. In addition, governments will need to define the intended impacts of subsidies in clear and measurable terms. Finally, public disclosure of the impacts of those subsidies will be critical to assessing whether subsidies have had positive social and environmental impacts.
  • Cross-industry open data: Subsidy data should allow for economic and environmental accounting across an entire sector to allow for comparisons of subsidies between carbon-intensive and non-carbon intensive investments.

5. Sponsoring research and development

  • Ensure openness and with appropriate privacy protection of government-sponsored research. Time-limited protections may be put in place for researchers seeking to profit from research before the general public has access to the data.
  • Invest in data and tracking through stimulus and research and development grants, including supporting, participating in and contributing, Interoperable and consistent GHG accounting (a) within and (b) between sectors. This can prioritize the most GHG-intensive sectors, but also those with the highest return on investment.

6. Improving institutions to promote resilience and climate change adaptation. While some of the worst effects of climate change can be avoided, it is clear that the effects are already being felt around the world. Those with the least ability to bounce back from these shocks are also often the most vulnerable, unless institutions are built to support resilience.

  • Disclosure of climate risks, vulnerabilities, and resilience. Many governments are publishing climate vulnerability and assessment plans for key sectors (transport, fisheries, forestry), geographies, or populations. Continued, prioritized disclosure will be key to ensuring that people and communities are able to adapt practices, plans, and institutions to a changing climate.
  • Engaging stakeholders in vulnerability assessment, solutions identification, prioritization, coordination, and evaluation of adaptation efforts.
  • Improving legal measures for remedy and redress of climate-related harms. At least 28 countries have active litigation around climate change. Claims range from denial of procedural rights (e.g. denial of access to information or denial of participation) to non-enforcement of environmental statutes, and from constitutional claims (e.g. standing for future generations) to common law torts and shareholder actions against companies. Countries can undertake commitments to fortify rights and open standing, as well as to improve awareness of, enhance legal assistance for, and strengthen forums for resolution of such claims.

Examples

The following examples are recent initiatives in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and are drawn from our crowdsourced list as well as partner materials.

  • Canada: The government made corporate bailouts conditional on producing annual reports that state the company’s climate investments, plan to reduce their environmental footprint, and how their operations support Canada’s Paris Agreement commitments.
  • European Union: The EU’s Green New Deal has become the “motor” for Europe’s post-pandemic economic recovery. The EU has increased its commitment to EUR 40 billion for the Just Transition Fund, part of its 1.82 trillion long-term budget and near term recovery effort to be invested in a manner consistent with a green and digital recovery.
  • France: The government made a bailout for the airline AirFrance conditional on significant reduction of carbon emissions. Outside of government, the French Citizens’ Convention for Climate assembled 150 randomly selected volunteers to make recommendations for a greener economy.
  • Iceland: The government dedicated 2.2 million USD of its economic stimulus package to reducing energy consumption and reliance on fossil fuels.
  • Scotland, United Kingdom: The Scottish government is currently soliciting public online input to inform its Green Recovery plan.
  • South Korea: The government’s Green New Deal stimulus package includes renewable energy investment, a carbon tax, public sector phase out of coal financing, and the establishment of a Regional Energy Transition Centre to transition workers to the renewable energy field.
  • United States: Several U.S. Representatives proposed a bill that would extend public comment periods and suspend rulemaking related to oil and gas. It would also prevent fossil fuel companies from benefiting from bailout money intended for companies that contribute to national security or receiving bank loans through the CARES Act, and more.
  • United Kingdom
    • The Environmental Justice Commission proposed a Green Recovery Plan that would establish a Just Transition Fund to stimulate the economy post-COVID-19 through green energy jobs.
    • Climate Assembly UK also made recommendations on COVID-19 recovery.
    • The West Midlands Combined Authority has convened a citizens’ panel to define its recovery priorities.

The following examples are commitments previously made by OGP members that demonstrate elements of the recommendations made above.

Participatory environmental decision making

  • Austin, United States (2019-2021): Committed to creating a model for department and community co-creation that results in a city effort that meets community resilience needs in the context of a climate adaptation.
  • Brazil (2018-2020): Committed to increasing spaces for civic participation in climate policy making.
  • Colombia (2017-2019): Committed to creating an Intersectoral Committee for Environmental Democracy to facilitate inclusive climate governance.
  • El Salvador (2018-2021): Committed to designing procedures for public participation in the creation of a National Environmental Plan.
  • Germany (2017-2019): Committed to increasing citizen participation in national environmental policy making
  • Guatemala (2018-2020): Committed to open data and citizen participation in climate adaptation initiatives.
  • Liberia (2015-2017): Conducted public consultations on land and natural resource use and opened data on commercial land use rights.
  • Sri Lanka (2019-2021): Committed to consulting stakeholders to review and update the National Environmental Policy.

Energy sector and greenhouse gas emissions

  • Chile (2016-2018): Increased energy sector open data and standards for community and company dialogue to facilitate the creation of Local Energy Strategies.
  • Indonesia (2011-2013): Began publishing data on extractive industry government revenue and established a multi-stakeholder forum for spatial planning.
  • Israel (2017-2019): Committed to establishing a system to control and report on progress towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
  • United States (2013-2015): Created a process to publish government fossil fuel subsidies annually.
  • Uruguay (2018-2020): Committed to a monitoring, reporting, and verification plan for Nationally Determined Contributions made under the Paris Agreement.
  • Uruguay (2018-2020): Committed to publishing information related to the National Energy Efficiency Plan and creating channels for public participation.

Environmental open data and citizen oversight

  • Argentina (2017-2019): Committed to publishing open and interactive information related to climate change, including greenhouse gas emissions, in a centralized portal.
  • Colombia (2015-2017): Trained and empowered citizens to audit natural resource royalties.
  • France (2015-2017): encouraged innovative civil society use of climate data through the Climate Change Challenge.
  • Georgia (2016-2018): Increased public participation in environmental impact assessments.
  • Mexico (2013-2015): Opened data on climate change and the environment and enabled citizens to participate before, during, and after environmental impact assessments.
  • Morocco (2018-2020): Committed to creating a regional mechanism for sharing environmental information
  • North Macedonia (2018-2020): Committed to opening data related to national greenhouse gas use and climate change mitigation analysis.
  • Paraguay (2018-2020): Committed to sharing information and creating opportunities for citizen engagement in climate change policy making.
  • Peru (2019-2021): Committed to centralizing interoperable environmental data in a common and open database.
  • South Cotabato, Philippines (2018-2020): Committed to creating an Online Mining Portal and institutionalizing participation in quarrying and mining governance.
  • Uruguay (2016-2018): Established a system for citizen monitoring of air quality and report publication.

Other approaches

  • Guatemala (2012-2013): Implemented the Construction Sector Transparency Initiative.
  • Peru (2017-2019): Committed to participatory monitoring and design of urban transportation plans.

Resources

  • Fact sheet on natural resources and OGP action plans
  • OECD Policy Brief on COVID-19 and the low carbon transition
  • A number of organizations have released statements related to the right to information in the context of the pandemic including:
    • How to make climate commitments in OGP (WRI)
    • IIED has a growing list of case studies, resources, and issue briefs on how COVID-19 is changing sustainable development.
    • The World Bank has resources on how social protection and other COVID-19 investments also support climate resilience.
    • Climate Analytics has guidance on how COVID-19 investments will prepare us for a more sustainable future.
  • Guidance on integrating stakeholder participation into climate change planning from TetraTech ARD and USAID.

Partners who can provide further support and information

Thank you to our colleagues at World Resources Institute, Natural Resources Governance Institute, Involve UK, International Budget Partnership, Andrea Sanhieza, and staff members of the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Climate Action for sharing recommendations and reviewing this module. Any mistakes or misapprehensions are due to the OGP Support Unit alone.

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