Worldchanging guest writers David Zaks and Chad Monfreda are graduate research assistants at the Center for Sustainability and the Global Environment at UW-Madison where they work on understanding how human activities affect the biological and physical systems of our planet.
Is your government's environmental policy transparent and accountable? Is it equitable? It should be if you live in one of the 178 countries that signed the 1992 Rio Declaration. Principle 10 of the declaration affirms citizens' access to three principles of environmental policy: information, participation in decision-making, and justice.
The Access Initiative (TAI) is the first and foremost project to create coalitions of civil service groups to conduct local and regional
assessments of countries' adherence to Principle 10. The assessment framework evaluates national law, capacity building, and case studies of the three access principles. At the heart of TAI is the Assessment Toolkit released in April at the initiative's first global meeting. The toolkit guides users through the assessment process and presents nine already completed reports; thirty-five more are in progress. The reports have already made a tangible impact, including the passage of a freedom of information act in Uganda, and the release of pollution data in Chile.
Looking at outcomes on the ground in addition to laws on the books is a step forward but isn't in itself worldchanging. 'Access' alone is passive. TAI, however, doesn't just look at outcomes, it creates them by drawing together citizens, lawyers, and activists to simultaneously produce and use knowledge for real change.
Granted the framework is not perfect. Glocalization's awkward incongruities are waiting to upset any standard methodology applied across diverse national contexts. Nevertheless, TAI and similar collaborative networks are not just models for individual problems, but also the ways around the fatalistic mindset stopping us from stepping up to planetary challenges of all stripes. These kinds of solutions - which may be the only solutions - need an open environment to thrive, making the recent push for net neutrality and the freedom to connect all the more critical.
Note that TAI's work has led to the Government of Indonesia pledging to make some improvements in their handling of environmental issues: