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Environmental Democracy

The public needs to have a voice in environmental decision-making. This is the foundation of “environmental democracy,” a concept that united open government approaches following the Chernobyl Disaster and the 1992 Rio Summit for the Earth. In response, governments strengthened right to information laws, created pollutant registers, and implemented environmental impact assessments and other public oversight processes. This work is continuing at the local, national, and international levels, including through the Escazú Agreement and Aarhus Convention. (See the Guidance and Standards section for details.)

Open Gov Challenge: Climate and Environment

With OGP’s 2023-2028 Strategy, OGP members are set to work toward a number of aspirational thematic reforms through the Open Gov Challenge. This section of the Open Gov Guide addresses Climate and Environment.

Challenge prompt: Use open government to strengthen implementation of strategies or agreements on climate and environment.

Actions and reforms could include:

  • Implementing provisions in agreements such as the Escazú Agreement, Aarhus Convention, or Paris Agreement.
  • Implementing climate and environment roadmap or strategy, strengthened through open government approaches.
  • Ensuring public oversight and transparency for climate finance and greening existing fiscal and planning processes.

Key Terms

Definitions for key terms such as access to environmental information and environmental impact assessment.

  • Access to environmental information: This usually refers to rules, processes, and institutions that respond to information requests and allow for appeals of denial in the context of environmental democracy reform.
  • Access to redress and remedy: These terms refer to the public’s ability to access justice by enforcing their rights to information and participation, to address environmental harms, and to enforce environmental laws in the context of environmental democracy.
  • Environmental impact assessment (EIA): An EIA is a process of information gathering, analysis, and presentation of the effects of government action on the natural, built, and human environment. EIAs may be carried out at the project, program, or policy level. In many contexts, EIAs are the principal legally enforceable means of public input on government decisions.

The Evidence

Environmental democracy can provide necessary oversight to governmental and business activities that can negatively impact the environment.

  • Increasing access to information increases the effectiveness of public accountability by ensuring the public stays informed about activities that may result in environmental harms, especially when such information is shared proactively and in an accessible format.
  • Centering public participation early in the decision-making process can build trust and increase effectiveness by allowing the public to shape priorities and contribute to monitoring efforts, such as by participating in environmental impact assessments or protesting harmful projects.
  • Providing avenues for the public to appeal decisions or demand compensation is associated with increased access to justice.
  • Environmental democracy mechanisms, such as through the Escazú Agreement, are necessary to protect the rights of environmental defenders (especially women and indigenous communities) and other groups facing harassment, prosecution, and violence.

Reform Guidance

The recommendations below represent reforms that national and local governments, representatives of civil society organizations, and others can consider for their action plans and the Open Gov Challenge. The reforms are categorized according to OGP’s principal values: transparency, civic participation, and public accountability. Reforms should be adapted to fit the domestic context, and involve and coordinate with other levels and branches of government.

Reforms across policy areas are also tagged by the estimated degree of difficulty in implementation. Though progress is often not linear, the recommendations have been categorized using these labels to give the reader a sense of how different reforms can work together to raise the ambition of open government approaches.

Recommended Reforms Key

  • Transparency: Transparency empowers citizens to exercise their rights, hold the government accountable, and participate in decision-making processes. Examples of relevant activities include the proactive or reactive publication of government-held information, legal or institutional frameworks to strengthen the right to access information, and disclosing information using open data standards.

  • Civic Participation: When people are engaged, governments and public institutions are more responsive, innovative, and effective. Examples of relevant initiatives include new or improved processes and mechanisms for the public to contribute to decisions, participatory mechanisms to involve underrepresented groups in policy making, and a legal environment that guarantees civil and political rights.

  • Public Accountability: Public accountability occurs when public institutions must justify their actions, act upon requirements and criticisms, and take responsibility for failure to perform according to laws or commitments. Importantly, public accountability means that members of the public can also access and trigger accountability mechanisms. Examples of relevant activities include citizen audits of performance, new or improved mechanisms or institutions that respond to citizen-initiated appeals processes, and improved access to justice.

  • Inclusion: Inclusion is fundamental to achieving more equitable, representative, and accountable policies that truly serve all people. This includes increasing the voice, agency, and influence of historically discriminated or underrepresented groups. Depending on the context, traditionally underrepresented groups may experience discrimination based on gender, sexual identity, race, ethnicity, age, geography, differing ability, legal, or socioeconomic status.

  • Foundational: This tag is used for reforms that are the essential building blocks of a policy area. “Foundational” does not mean low ambition or low impact. These recommendations often establish basic legal frameworks and institutional structures.

  • Intermediate: This tag is used for reforms that are complex and often involve coordination and outreach between branches, institutions, and levels of government, with the public or between countries.

  • Advanced: This tag is used for reforms that close important loopholes to make existing work more effective and impactful. Specifically, “Advanced” reforms are particularly ambitious, innovative or close important loopholes to make existing work more effective, impactful or sustainable. They are often applied in mature environments where they seek to institutionalize a good practice that has already shown results.

  • Executive: The executive branch of government is responsible for designing, implementing, and enforcing laws, policies, and initiatives. It is typically led by the head of state or government, such as a president or prime minister, along with their appointed cabinet members. The executive branch’s functions also include overseeing the day-to-day operations of the government, managing foreign affairs, and directing the country’s armed forces. In democratic systems, the executive branch is accountable to the legislature and the electorate, with its powers and limitations outlined in the constitution or legal framework of the respective country.

  • Legislative: The legislative branch of government is responsible for making laws and regulations and overseeing the functioning of the government. It typically consists of a body of elected representatives, such as a parliament, congress, or assembly, which is tasked with proposing, debating, amending, and ultimately passing legislation. The legislative branch plays a crucial role in representing the interests of the people, as its members are elected to office by the public. In addition to law-making, this branch often holds the power to levy taxes, allocate funds, and conduct certain investigations into matters of public concern. The structure and powers of the legislative branch are usually outlined in a country’s constitution or legal framework, and it serves as a check on the executive and judicial branches to ensure a system of checks and balances within a state.

Examples of Reforms from OGP and Beyond

The following examples are commitments previously made within or beyond OGP that demonstrate elements of the recommendations made above. The Americas leads all other regions in the number of environment-related OGP commitments, in areas such as human rights and access to justice.

OGP Reforms
  • ARGENTINA Public Participation in Environmental Decision-Making: Committed to creating the conditions for broad, inclusive, informed, and accessible public participation in environmental decision-making, in line with the Escazú Agreement.
  • DOMINICAN REPUBLIC Transparency and Accountability in Waste Management: Committed to creating the first national platform to register and monitor the management of special waste, including educational resources and a public complaint mechanism.
  • INDONESIA Protections for Human Rights Defenders: Committed to preparing recommendations that will serve as the foundation for the legal protection of environmental defenders.
  • IRELAND Access to Environmental Information: Began training public bodies on responding to environmental information requests and published a database that records the number of requests granted and refused.
  • MENDOZA, ARGENTINA Platform to Co-Create Local Solutions to Climate Change: Launched the Climate Change Laboratory, a multi-sector platform for co-creating local solutions to help the city shift to a more sustainable future through the implementation of concrete climate actions.
  • MONGOLIA Transparency of Extractive Industries: Committed to passing a law to implement international transparency standards, such as disclosing contract and beneficial ownership data and guaranteeing civil society participation in decision-making.
  • PANAMA Access to Environmental Information: Committed to strengthening the National Environmental Information System to comply with Article 6 of the Escazú Agreement.
  • PEÑALOLÉN, CHILE Public Participation in Environmental Decision-Making: Committed to co-creating environmental regulations, promoting public education efforts in the community, and using environmental impact assessments, among other reforms.
  • SANTO DOMINGO DE LOS TSÁCHILAS, ECUADOR Inclusive Decision-Making to Prevent Deforestation: Co-created a provincial plan to prevent deforestation by engaging traditionally excluded communities, such as the Tsáchila ethnic group and Afro-Ecuadorians. Also created an open data inventory of forest species and an online system to streamline requests for reforestation and to receive environmental complaints. Won the OGP Accelerator Award in 2021.
  • SCOTLAND, UNITED KINGDOM Citizen Climate Assembly: Created a Climate Assembly of 100 citizens chosen through a lottery system as a deliberative space to expand the range of initiatives to respond to the climate emergency and to support the transition to net zero.
  • UNITED STATES Access to Justice and Environmental Data: Committed to designing an Environmental Justice Scorecard that enables the public to hold federal programs accountable for environmental justice investments. Also created the world’s first pollutant register and a historical database of enforcement and compliance with regulations.
Beyond OGP Action Plans
  • COLOMBIA Proposed Bill on Environmental Democracy: Presented a bill in the House of Representatives on environmental democracy issues (such as strengthening access to environmental justice) related to the country’s implementation of the Escazú Agreement.
  • INDIA National Tribunal for Environmental Cases: Created a National Green Tribunal, which has the mandate to make a judgment on environmental civil cases on an accelerated timeline.

The Role of Local Governments

Local governments play an essential role as stewards of the environment and the principal interface between government and the public.

  • Local governments often have primary or exclusive jurisdiction over land use, permits, and infrastructure development and maintenance.
  • They often can address major pollution issues, as they are often responsible for waste management and household water usage.
  • They also serve as the principal interface between the public and government more broadly. As such, their role in ensuring the involvement of local communities and organizations is essential. They can have a particular role in ensuring that citizens, scientists, and other experts can talk with one another and decision makers.
  • Local courts hear most first instances of environmental violations and play an essential role in dispute resolution and access to information.

Who is working on this topic?

Albania Albania
Anloga District, Ghana
Argentina Argentina
Austin, United States
Australia Australia
Banggai, Indonesia
Banská Bystrica, Slovak Republic
Brazil Brazil
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Bulgaria Bulgaria
Burkina Faso Burkina Faso
Canada Canada
Chile Chile
Colombia Colombia
Corrientes (City), Argentina
Costa Rica Costa Rica
Côte d'Ivoire Côte D'ivoire
Croatia Croatia
Denmark Denmark
Detmold, Germany
Dominican Republic Dominican Republic
Ecuador Ecuador
France France
Georgia Georgia
Germany Germany
Greece Greece
Guatemala Guatemala
Gwangju, Republic Of Korea
Gyumri, Armenia
Honduras Honduras
Indonesia Indonesia
Ireland Ireland
Israel Israel
Italy Italy
Jamaica Jamaica
Jordan Jordan
Kaduna State, Nigeria
Kenya Kenya
Khmelnytskyi, Ukraine
Malta Malta
Mendoza, Argentina
Mexico Mexico
Mongolia Mongolia
Morocco Morocco
Nigeria Nigeria
North Macedonia
Panama Panama
Paraguay Paraguay
Paris, France
Peñalolén, Chile
Peru Peru
Philippines Philippines
Plateau, Nigeria
Portugal Portugal
Quintana Roo, Mexico
Republic of Korea Republic Of Korea
Republic of Moldova Republic Of Moldova
Romania Romania
Rosario, Argentina
Rustavi, Georgia
Santo Domingo De Los Tsáchilas, Ecuador
Scotland, United Kingdom
Sekondi-Takoradi, Ghana
Senegal Senegal
Shama, Ghana
Sierra Leone Sierra Leone
South Africa South Africa
Spain Spain
Sri Lanka Sri Lanka
Tunisia Tunisia
Ukraine Ukraine
United States United States
Uruguay Uruguay
Vanadzor, Armenia
Wassa Amenfi East, Ghana
Yerevan, Armenia

Active OGP Partners

The following organizations have recently worked on this issue in the context of OGP at the national or international level. They may have additional insights on the topic. Please note that this list is not exhaustive. If you are interested in national-level initiatives, please contact

Benchmarking Data

The OGP 2023-2028 Strategy sets out the Open Gov Challenge and aims to provide clear benchmarks for performance through reliable data.

While benchmarks for individual countries and Open Gov Guide recommendations are not yet integrated, for this chapter, interested individuals may rely on the following data sets:

Guidance & Standards

While the list below is not exhaustive, it aims to provide a range of recommendations, standards, and analysis to guide reform in this policy area.

  • The OGP Support Unit has several resources related to environmental democracy, such as a fact sheet on how the OGP platform can help implement the Escazú Agreement and guidance on justice reforms related to the environment.
  • UNECE tracks compliance with the Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters (also known as the Aarhus Convention). The UNECE created a guide to assist with implementation.
  • The United Nations Environmental Programme created the Bali Guidelines to specifically help countries fill legislative gaps at the national and local levels.
  • The Regional Agreement on Access to Information, Public Participation and Justice in Environmental Matters in Latin America and the Caribbean (also known as the Escazú Agreement) affirms environmental democracy principles and practices as necessary to protect both the environment and human rights defenders, including those people and communities working for clean air and land. UNECLAC created a guide to assist with implementation.
  • The Action for Climate Empowerment (ACE) refers to work done under Article 12 of the Paris Agreement and Article 6 of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. ACE has six overarching elements that can be used as a guide for promoting environmental democracy: climate change education, public awareness, training, public participation, public access to information, and international cooperation.
  • The International Institute for Sustainable Development, through its SDG Knowledge Hub, collects resources related to standards—such as the recent decision by the UN General Assembly to recognize the right to a healthy, clean, and sustainable environment—and guidance on environmental democracy standards, such as case studies on tools like environmental impact assessments.
  • ParlAmericas offers several resources related to environmental democracy, such as their guide for engaging parliaments in the implementation of climate change commitments for the Paris Agreement.
  • ICNL publishes resources related to climate change and civic space, including a toolkit on defending environmental defenders.
  • The Knowledge Network on Climate Assemblies (KNOCA) provides guidance materials and in-depth briefings on the design, implementation, follow-up, and evaluation of climate citizens’ assemblies.

This list reflects members with commitments in the “Environment & Climate” policy area of the Data Dashboard.

Open Government Partnership