UNITAR/UNEP Working Session Identifies Action to Strengthen Capacities for Effective Public Participation

19 June 2012, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - The need to advance implementation of Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration on access to information, public participation and access to justice in environmental matters is one of the themes debated in the framework of the 2012 UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20). In order to identify possible action for strengthening capacities of stakeholders and Governments for effective public participation, UNITAR and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) organized an interactive working session on “Capacity Development to Strengthen Participatory Environmental Governance”. The session took place within the Rio+20 workshop “Choosing Our Future: Open and Participatory Sustainable Development Governance”, 19 June 2012, Rio de Janeiro organized by the World Resources Institute (WRI), the Fundacao Getulio Vargas (FGV), The Access Initiative (TAI), and UNEP in collaboration with UNITAR and the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (UNECLAC). The workshop brought together around 300 participants from civil society, Governments, academia, the private sector, and the UN system.

Mr. Achim Halpaap, Associate Director, Training Department and Head, Environment Unit, UNITARIn welcoming participants to the working session, the moderator, Mr. Achim Halpaap, Associate Director, Training Department and Head, Environment Unit, UNITAR, highlighted: “Effective participatory environmental governance requires both, strengthening capacities within civil society as well within Governments. They are like two sides of one coin.” Against this background, participants identified the following ideas and recommendations for strengthening capacity development to implement Principle 10 and the “UNEP Guidelines for the Development of National Legislation on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision Making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters” (Bali Guidelines):

 

Developing Capacities within Civil Society:

Civil society comprises two constituencies, professional NGO as well as individual citizens, which encounter different challenges.

Professional NGOs:

Professional NGOs need to maintain stable funding. However, while funding from external donors is an important source it may not be stable. Therefore, Governments need to systematically think through how to assist NGOs including financial support to ensure a level playing field.

Individual Level:

In some cases, individuals can easily contribute to decision-making processes, for example, in local land use decisions. However, it is much more difficult for individual citizens to participate in technical processes such as air quality decision-making. It is not possible to turn every citizen in an air quality specialist. However, efforts should be undertaken to develop generic individual capacities through integrating environment and democracy issues into curricula at all levels.

Developing Capacities within Government:

Government may benefit significantly from effective civil society participation and win-win situations are possible, but government officials often hesitate to seek public engagement. It is therefore key to raise awareness in Government about the potential benefits of public participation through careful dialogues and capacity development support programmes. At the same time it is also important to enhance technical capacities of Government officials to design and manage participation processes (e.g. managing public hearings or consensus processes). Moreover, effective public participation processes require legal frameworks and formal structures, including judicial review of decisions.

Ms. Gabriela Burian, Sustainability Manager at Monsanto, Ms. Mara Silina, Coordinator of the Public Participation Campaign, European ECO Forum and Mr. Alexander Juras, Chief of the Major Groups and Stakeholders Branch, UNEP

UNEP and UNITAR are planning a 2-year global project to strengthen the implementation capacities of Governments, Major Groups and other stakeholders in developing countries that focuses on building legal capacities and providing hands-on training (e.g. on public participation techniques).

For further information please contact: envgov<at>unitar.org