Landmark report urges governance reforms to arrest decline of world's environment

A landmark report released recently calls for fundamental changes in how decisions are made concerning the world's natural resources.

LONDON and WASHINGTON, DC, July 18, 2003 -- A landmark report released recently calls for fundamental changes in how decisions are made concerning the world's natural resources. The report, World Resources 2002-2004: Decisions for the Earth - Balance, Voice, and Power , stresses the urgent need for such changes to arrest the accelerating deterioration of the world's environment and to address the crisis of global poverty.

The report calls on governments to include the public in decisions that affect ecosystems, and for integration of environmental impacts into economic decision-making. It also identifies public access to information from governments, business, and non-governmental organizations as a necessary precursor to improved environmental performance. The report argues that greater transparency and accountability can lead to fairer and more effective management of natural resources.

Great strides have been made and successes achieved in melding different sectors of society, different stakeholders, to a common cause of saving planet Earth," said Klaus Toepfer, executive director of the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) in releasing World Resources Report 2002-2004: Decisions for the Earth: Balance, Voice, and Power . "Governments, businesses, civil society and the individual citizen are more aware of what needs to be done and are certainly taking action. But, as evidenced by the continued erosion and collapse of so many of the planet's life support systems, it is not nearly enough and more concerted, focused, action is urgently needed."

Statistics from World Resources 2002-2004 indicate an overwhelming human dependence on rapidly deteriorating ecosystems, the systems that support all life on earth. One out of every six humans depends on fish for protein needs, yet 75 percent of the world's fisheries are over-fished or fished at their biological limit. Nearly forty-one of every 100 people live in water-stressed river basins. Some 350 million people are directly dependent on forests for their survival, with global forest cover declining by 46 percent since pre-agricultural times. Nearly half of the world's population lives on less than $2 a day.

"Poor communities are particularly vulnerable to failed environmental governance,since they rely more heavily on natural resources for subsistence and income," said Dr. Kristalina Georgieva, director of the Environment Department of The World Bank. "They are less likely to share in property rights that give them legal control over these resources."

World Resources 2002-2004 asserts that the best way to force government action is to empower citizens to demand it through increased public access to information, participation, and justice in environmental decision-making. When constituencies for the environment and for the poor have a seat at the table, the resulting decisions are more likely to promote ecological sustainability, social equity, and lasting conflict resolution.

"Democratization of environmental decision-making is one of the most direct routes to better environmental decisions," said Jonathan Lash, president of the World Resources Institute (WRI). "It is also a powerful lever for better governance more generally, because people are willing to engage their governments on decisions that bear so directly on their health and well-being."

A study of nine countries by The Access Initiative, a collaboration of WRI and 24 civil society groups, indicates that while some progress has been made in promoting transparency, inclusiveness, and accountability in environmental decision-making, much remains to be done to improve both law and practice.

UNDP, UNEP, The World Bank, and WRI have committed to improve environmental governance through the Partnership for Principle 10, in collaboration with the European Union, the World Conservation Union, the governments of the United Kingdom, Chile, Hungary, Italy, Mexico, Sweden, and Uganda, and non-governmental organizations from around the world. The coalition is named after the section of the 1992 Rio Declaration that called for increased public participation in decision-making that affects the environment.

World Resources 2002-2004 describes how corporations are responding to demands for transparency and accountability in the context of economic globalization. It also documents the increasing number and expanding role of civil society groups in addressing environmental challenges, both locally and globally. The report asserts that improving public access to information and decision-making is a way to ensure that environmental and social considerations are fully integrated into economic development policies.

"For UNDP, human development and the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals depend upon fair and effective governance. It is a central tenet of UNDP's work to strengthen the voices of civil society, in particularly the poor and the marginalised in shaping the policies that impact their livelihoods and the environment," said Mark Malloch Brown, administrator of the United Nations Development Programme.

World Resources 2002-20004: Decisions for the Earth is the 10th in a series of biennial reports on global environment and development issues published since 1984. Since 1988, it has been published jointly by the World Bank, the United Nations Development Programme, the United Nations Environment Programme, and the World Resources Institute.

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