Environmental democracy

Environmental democracy

Environmental democracy has three pillars: transparency, participation and justice. WFD supports a democratic response to global environmental crises by working with parliaments, political parties and civil society.
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There are strong links between action to address climate and environmental crises and action to strengthen democracy. Increased participation of all people in decision-making and strong environmental rule of law are crucial to delivering action on climate change. WFD works with local partners to address the urgency of the climate crisis in a way that facilitates ambitious action and includes everyone.

Why our planet needs democracy

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.

Failure to act is destabilizing democracies

Despite unprecedented international consensus on the urgency of addressing climate change and environmental degradation, most political systems have failed to general meaningful action.

Now, many people do not believe that democratic governments can deliver the necessary results for their citizens – against a background of worldwide democratic decline and climate emergency. Action on climate change is vital to stopping the destabilisation of democracies. Addressing the root causes behind the failure of democracies adequately respond to the climate emergency, too, will result in a strengthening of democracy.

Those most affected are excluded from decision-making

The groups who will be most severely affected by the resource scarcity, extreme temperatures and weather-related disasters 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.

Strong environmental rule of law, good information, and accountability are crucial

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.

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 them.

What is environmental democracy?

Environmental democracy has three pillars:

  1. Transparency: Openness and transparency are required to help citizens, civil society, media, businesses, the courts and the international community understand what is happening in relation to the environment and how their governments are responding.
  2. 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.
  3. 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

WFD's environmental democracy programmes

WFD works with local partners to address the urgency of the climate crisis in a way that facilitates ambitious action and includes everyone. Delve into some examples of our programmes below.


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Our expertise

Rafael Jimenez Aybar - Environmental Democracy Adviser

Rafael leads on giving technical and expert advice on matters related to environmental democracy.