detail - Rule of Law Programme Asia
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Energy and water matters are typically the source of numerous frictions between science/technology and society. Development projects, such as construction of power plants and dams, have often had significant impacts on human health and the environment. Transparent and democratic decision-making instruments in these fields are therefore an urgent issue.
As Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration of 1992 states, environmental issues are best handled with the participation of all concerned citizens, at the relevant levels. Public participation contributes to the protection of the Basic human right to live in a healthy environment. It is also an important instrument of ‘environmental democracy’. The Aarhus Convention and the Bali Guidelines are international instruments that seek to accelerate action in terms of implementing Principle 10. It requires parties to guarantee the procedural rights of access to information, public participation in decision-making, and access to justice. We refer to them jointly as ‘Green Access Rights’. Effective public participation also depends on full, accurate, and up-to-date information. Access to justice ensures that participation occurs in practice. Therefore, it is important to guarantee 'Green Access Rights' in an integrated manner.
In Asia, there have been remarkable developments in environmental law over the last twenty years. Despite such advancements, however, the problem of deficient implementation of laws still persists in many countries of this region. Some of the reasons cited are the lack of detailed regulation, insufficient financial resources, and corruption among officials.
Due to the limited resources of public administration, public participation is indispensable for better policy decision-making and effective implementation of environmental laws. Environmental litigation often contributes to ensuring environmental rule of law. In addition, public participation from an early stage promotes public acceptance of environmental policy and leads to a reduction in conflicts in future. In other words, Principle 10 contributes to ‘environmental rule of law’, a concept first promoted by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
Despite the fact that there is a relatively standardized legal framework on, for example, environmental assessment for issuing a permit, and for matters like energy strategy and environmental planning issues, public participation instruments vary considerably according to the country. We have also identified the role of non-governmental institutions and non-official initiatives, as well as recognize that issues such as ensuring democratic legitimacy and effectiveness as areas of major concern. These issues emphasise the necessity for systematic international and collaborative research on such public participation issues.