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“Environmental democracy” now has its own global rankings


At the crossroads between global sustainability rankings and indices relating to the human rights situation and democracy, a new index illustrating countries’ environmental democracy has just been launched. Developed by US think tank WRI (World Resources Institute) and the TAI (The Access Initiative) network, this new tool seeks to measure and compare countries in the light of their legal arrangements to support environmental conservation, transparency of information and the ability for citizens to have their say in decision-making.

By launching the EDI (Environmental Democracy Index) on 20 May, the WRI (World Resources Institute), a think tank that has been working on methods of reconciling economic development and environmental conservation since 1982, makes no secret of its ambitions. “The EDI will be an essential tool in helping to solve the world’s environmental issues, such as air quality, water pollution and biodiversity loss”, it announced. Nothing less. In the light of recent advances made possible by the mobilisation of public opinion on environmental issues, this new index could play an important role in the years to come. Its design is based on the idea that the active participation of the citizens of each country in environmental protection is a guarantee of progress. Yet, in order for them to be able to take part, we must give them the possibility to do so. Enter the notion of “environmental democracy”.

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For the WRI, this is reliant upon three basic rights: that of free access to information about the environment, that of meaningful participation in decision-making and, lastly, the right to demand enforcement of the law and compensation for environmental damage through independent and equitable justice.
For this, each country must have an arsenal of regulatory and legal measures in place. But it is also important to ensure that they are actually applied in reality. These are the two aspects that the EDI is designed to measure.
The WRI therefore bases its conclusions on around 100 indicators. 75 of them are of a legal nature and are based on standards established by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) at the Bali Summit in 2010. 24 other indicators look at how the countries apply them in practice. To establish its ratings that will be updated every two years, the think tank called upon two lawyers and specialists in environmental law in each country.

To date, the first 70 countries have been assessed against the indicators with some surprising shortcomings; as such, most countries of old Europe are not classified as “lacking data”. Other major countries are currently being assessed, such as China and India. As regards who is leading the way, there are also some surprises. The Top 10 countries are, in descending order, Lithuania, Latvia, Russia, the United States, South Africa, the United Kingdom, Hungary, Bulgaria, Panama and Colombia.

While questions must be asked regarding the scores of some countries, the results, freely accessible to all online, offer a wealth of information. As such, while many countries have defined a right to environmental information, access to it remains difficult in 45% of them. Likewise, 75% of the countries score badly on the criterion of public involvement in decision-making. In addition to the overall results, the site also offers fact sheets for each country. They contain detailed notes on each country, their best practices, the progress that still needs to be made and the government’s response to its rating. The site also allows users to compare several countries in order to encourage those with the lowest scores to strengthen their “environmental democracy”.