Public Participation in International Conventions and Sustainable Development
In the Earth Summit in 1992, the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development was announced. The Rio declaration consists of 27 principles, and Principle 10 stated that:
Environmental issues are best handled with participation of all concerned citizens, at the relevant level1.
Rio Principle 10 addressed three pillars of sound environmental governance: access to information, access to public participation, and access to justice1.
Access to information grants citizens the right to wide and easy access to environmental information about their living environment. It also encourages citizens to participate in decision-making and policy-making process. Citizens should be informed about environmental matters and have the opportunity to participate in decision-making. Moreover, access to public participation promotes the adoption of policies and enforcement of laws and takes citizens’ rights into account. Access to justice enforces citizen rights to participate in environmental issues and ensures the transparency and accountability of the participatory process.
Twenty years later, the Earth Summit 2012 (Rio+20) reconfirmed Rio Principle 10. “The Future We Want”2 as the outcome document of Rio+20 encouraged actions at regional, national, sub-national, and local levels. In 2010, in order to accelerate the implementation of Rio Principle 10, the Guidelines for the Development of National Legislation on Access to Information, Public Participation and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters (Bali Guidelines) was adopted in Bali, Indonesia. In 2015, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) initiated an implementation guide – “Putting Rio Principle 10 into Action”3, to assist policy makers and decision makers to apply Rio Principle 10 in reality. The guide explains Bali Guidelines in detail, provides past real-life examples of the implementation from national law and practice, and gives potential ways for national adaptation.
Rio Principle 10 on the international level
On the international level, the international standards established for the application of Rio Principle 10 promote its implementation on the national level. With the objective of protecting the right of living in an environment that is sufficient to the health and well-being for every person, the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) has enforced the Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters, also as known as Aarhus Convention in 20014. The Aarhus Convention is an “advanced articulation” of Rio Principle 10. All EU Member States and the European Union are parties of the Aarhus Convention and have amended several EU legislation to apply the Convention.
Rio Principle 10 and sustainable development
Paragraph 46 of “The Future We Want” acknowledged that the achievement of sustainable development relies on the active engagement of the public and private sectors. Also, as stated in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in 2015, the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 16 is to “promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels”5. In other words, public engagement becomes critical on the sustainable development agenda. International organizations also recognize the need for effective public participation. The agenda leads to increased attention to the improvement of engaging strategies and techniques.
Aiming at improving the efficiency in communication and filling the communication gaps between decision makers and the public, WeSolve, as a technology-based engagement tool, serves decision makers and organizations to engage citizens better.
1 United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). Principle 10 and the Bali Guideline. URL: https://www.unenvironment.org/civil-society-engagement/partnerships/principle-10
2 United Nations (UN). The Future We Want: Outcome document of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. 2012. URL: https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/content/documents/733FutureWeWant.pdf
3 United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). Putting Rio Principle 10 into Action: An Implementation Guide. 2015. URL: http://wedocs.unep.org/bitstream/handle/20.500.11822/11201/UNEP%20MGSB-SGBS%20BALI%20GUIDELINES-Interactive.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y
4 United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE). Aarhus Convention. URL: https://www.unece.org/env/pp/introduction.html
5 United Nations (UN). Sustainable Development Goal 16. 2019. URL: https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/sdg16