Global environmental crises – a democratic response

Home/Our approach/Global environmental crises – a democratic response

Global environmental crises – a democratic response

Home/Our approach/Global environmental crises – a democratic response

Huge changes to all levels of society, politics and businesses are required to avoid the most devastating effects of climate change and environmental degradation. This means we need durable, effective and responsive democratic institutions, accountable systems of governance, and strong political will.

Overwhelming evidence shows that human activity has a dangerous impact on the climate and our ecosystems. Yet, most political systems have failed to address climate and other environmental crises. Strong environmental governance and rule of law is crucial to supporting sustainable development as well as inclusive democratic governance.

The UN 2030 Agenda, the Sustainable Development Goals and the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement represent an understanding that human wellbeing is dependent on the planet’s life-support systems as well as an unprecedented international consensus on the urgency of addressing climate change and environmental degradation. However, the fact that this has not led to enough meaningful action has meant many people do not believe that democratic governments to deliver the necessary results for their citizens – against a background of worldwide democratic decline.

Government decisions on the design of COVID-19 economic recovery packages arrive at a critical juncture for global environmental governance: during the 2020s, greenhouse gas emissions need to start falling fast if our planet is to stay within the 2°C limit of global warming needed to avoid catastrophic climate change.

WFD recognises that there are strong linkages between action to address climate and environmental crises and action to strengthen democracy.

Political voice

The groups who will be most severely affected by the resource scarcity caused by climate change and environmental degradation are the same groups commonly excluded from political decision-making – the poorest, slum residents, subsistence farmers, rural women, minorities, indigenous groups, and young people. Ensuring that they are included in political processes and that decision makers listen to their political voices is critical.

Policy development

Realising international environmental treaties such as the Paris Climate Agreement requires the translation of these commitments into domestic laws and regulations by democratic means. Citizens, political parties, journalists, and parliaments need the capacity and resources to use the extensive evidence available on climate change and environmental degradation to inform and influence policy development.

Policy delivery

Almost every country in the world has legislation dedicated to the protection and preservation of the environment. However, the implementation and enforcement of these laws does not go far enough to address environmental challenges. Globally, laws are poorly enforced and access to legal remedies and environmental justice is severely limited. Few parliaments effectively hold their executives to account for failure to deliver on environmental commitments. Countries and their institutions of governance need support to make sure they deliver on environmental commitments.

For more information, download our environmental democracy information pack.

Environmental democracy

Environmental democracy has three pillars:

  • Transparency: Openness and transparency are required to help citizens, civil society, media, businesses, the courts, and the international community understand what is actually happening in relation to the environment and how their governments are responding.
  • Participation: The public – particularly those most affected by climate change and environmental degradation – need to be able to voice their concerns and influence policy-making for the right decisions to be made, and for these choices to have legitimacy.
  • Justice: If enforcement of environmental legislation and treaties is to have meaning, and people’s human rights are to be respected, then there must be effective mechanisms for challenging the action – or inaction – of governments in acting as environmental stewards for current and future generations.
How WFD supports environmental democracy

WFD’s operating ethos is to be responsive to local contexts and the needs and priorities of those with whom it works. WFD supports inclusive democratic governance institutions and has a deep understanding of the dynamics involved in democratic transition.

WFD is uniquely placed to collaborate with technical environmental specialists and provide leadership on issues that sit at the nexus of sustainable environmental governance and the democratic process.

WFD works with parliaments, political parties and civil society, as well as on elections. We focus on supporting those institutions that hold the government to account through horizontal (parliaments and independent bodies), vertical (citizens), and mixed (political party and electoral) mechanisms operating at local, national, regional, and global levels.

Given its existing relationships, capabilities and access to critical political actors, WFD’s work on Environmental Democracy prioritises the following:

  • Environmental coalitions for change

  • Open data on the environment

  • The passage and enforcement of environmental laws and treaties

  • Political parties and environmentalism

  • Environmental rights

  • Natural resource management

  • Research on Environmental Democracy

For more information, download our environmental democracy information pack.

Case study: Morocco

In 2017 WFD’s Morocco programme supported committees to scrutinise Morocco’s fulfilment of its international commitments, particularly in relation to the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement.

This included a Workshop on “Harmonising national legislation on climate change with the requirements of the Paris Agreement.” As a result of this workshop, the House of Councillors identified nine laws that needed to be amended in order to be aligned with international conventions and commitments.

Case study: Georgia

In 2018-19, WFD supported the Georgian parliament through two separate programmes to establish the practice of holding thematic inquiries and to conduct post legislative scrutiny (PLS), with the overall intention of improving the legislature’s oversight function. Both of these programmes had an environmental focus.

WFD provided assistance to the Environmental Protection and Natural Resources Committee (EPNRC) of the Georgian parliament to conduct two separate thematic inquiries on ambient air pollution and municipal waste management, while one of the components of the PLS programme was to assess the effectiveness of existing regulations concerning electric vehicles.

Through its support for these processes WFD has also helped to improve the participation of citizens in environmental decision making by supporting parliament to produce recommendations based on well-structured, transparent and solution-oriented collaboration with civil society organisations (CSOs) and individual citizens, in addition to other stakeholders, such as government and the private sector.

Case study: Venezuela

In Venezuela WFD supported dialogue on energy reform and the development and drafting of a cross party bill on climate change, which was raised in the National Assembly in early 2018.

Study visits for MPs to hear about the Scottish and British experience of passing climate change legislation was instrumental in gathering support as were insights from Mexico, Canada and Argentina. Unfortunately, the bill has yet to be passed and given the current political situation is unlikely to be progressed anytime soon.

Case study: Lebanon

With the discovery of offshore oil and gas in Lebanon, oversight of the energy sector has become a crucial issue for the government.

Since March 2016, WFD’s programme in Lebanon has focused on strengthening parliamentary oversight of Oil & Gas in Lebanon and providing support and technical advice to the Public Works, Energy, Water and Transport Committee (PWEC) and the Research and Information Department.

The support has, among other things, improved the capacity of MPs and staff to manage the Oil & Gas sector in an effective and transparent way, enhanced institutional capacity of parliamentary committees; and improved access and openness to Parliament for CSOs engaged in the oil & gas sector.

In September 2018, the Parliament ratified the Transparency of Oil & Gas law.  The law ensures the disclosure of information amongst all the relevant administrative bodies and prevent conflicts of interest. It also gives the CSOs legal powers in monitoring the management of Oil and Gas sector. WFD’s programme contributed positively towards the adoption of the law and ensuring its compliance with international standards.

Case study: Pakistan

WFD Pakistan, under its Inclusive and Accountable Politics Programme, is supporting evidence-based policy making by fostering and applying an environmental democracy approach. WFD provided technical support to the Standing Committee on Climate Change (CCC), including developing a guide for the committee to proactively develop systems to engage with civil society organisation.

In addition to the guide, WFD’s technical assistance included developing online public engagement tools such as public petitions, public hearings, an expert database, and an opportunity to share research on matters related to environment and climate change. These tools were made available on the website of the CCC. 

WFD also supported the CCC to design extensive civil society organisation support networks, especially with the relevant subject experts in academia. In Pakistan’s parliamentary culture, such wide and in-depth consultation remains unprecedented and resulted in the formation of an active support network for the parliament.

Equipped with these new tools, techniques and network of experts, the National Assembly’s Committee on Climate Change has become a leading institution to bring together people and expert voices to develop policy initiatives. It is creating opportunities for experts to voice their concerns or share their data on issues related to climate change. The CCC has achieved a landmark achievement in Pakistan’s parliamentary history with two major accomplishments: First it has developed a year-long plan which highlights the structured parliamentary approach for oversight while creating avenues for collaboration with a civil society organisations, secondly, for the first time ever, the agenda of  the parliamentary committee has been proposed and voted upon by the experts of the field taking in account the voices from academia, think-tanks, and community groups. Moreover, the Speaker of the National Assembly acknowledged the initiatives of the CCC committee as a role model for other committees and highlighted the intention of the house to improve parliamentary systems in Pakistan for effective oversight, inclusion and transparency.

Pakistan's Climate Change Committee Chair (left) Hon. Munaza Hassan and fellow Committee members

Pakistan’s Climate Change Committee Chair (left) Hon. Munaza Hassan and fellow Committee members

Case study: Albania

Albania’s rich ecosystems and biodiversity were preserved by the country’s political isolation up to the 1990s. However, as Albania develops an open economy and becomes more prosperous, the country’s natural assets are at risk from pressures including air and water pollution, poor waste management infrastructure, adaptation to a drier, warmer climate in the coming decades, soil degradation and deforestation.

Environmental civil society organisations (CSOs) in Albania often face difficulties in accessing decision-makers and being included in consultation processes. WFD’s ongoing cooperation with Albanian CSOs is set to expand and include leading environmental CSOs across a wide range of topics and help consolidate evidence-based policy input on the most pressing environmental problems that Albania is facing. These will inform local and national roundtable debates facilitated by WFD airing local and national TV channels, bringing together political candidates running for the 2021 elections and environmental CSOs, citizens and media. The focus of these discussions will be a review of past electoral promises on the environmental and the ones that are part of current party programmes.

WFD will also prepare a database recording all the electoral promises done in the past on environmental issues as the basis of post-election follow-up activities.

A group of people taking part in a workshop outdoors

WFD’s ongoing work in Albania seeks to facilitate access to decision-making to environmental CSOs

Case study: Indonesia - Conservatives WFD Programme

Beginning the second year of its implementation, the Conservatives WFD Programme in Indonesia is extensively promoting the inclusion of environmental issues in political party policy priorities as part of the next 5-year outlook. A selected number of political parties are assisting in developing research that highlights specific environmental topics which will be included in relevant national laws.

At present, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (Partai Demokrasi Indonesia Perjuangan) is investigating the issue of managing clean water access for poor-urban communities which will be included in a sub-national government regulation. The United Development Party (Partai Persatuan Pembangunan /PPP) has chosen to document feedback from SMEs regarding business permits that are easy to access and are environmentally friendly. This will be included in government regulation of laws on job creation. The National Awakening Party (Partai Kebangkitan Bangsa /PKB) has chosen to engage civil society organizations to map environmental issues in a recently enacted law on job creation so that the government can prepare regulations that promote environmental sustainability.  

By early 2021, the findings of the three party’s research will be disseminated to relevant government stakeholders.  In addition to this, the Indonesia Conservatives-WFD programme has started including environmental topics in relevant sub national government regulations. Recently in a district government province of Indonesia, the programme facilitated dialogue between sub national leader candidates and their constituencies which scrutinized the environmental policy planning that the candidates are campaigning for.

A woman speaking on a video call

Candidate of Head of Lamongan District presenting her environmental policy


Latest publication Cover of a WFD's event on parliamentary oversight of environmental governance and lgeislation
In the first publication in our environmental democracy series, William Wilson examines parliamentary oversight of environmental governance and legislation


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