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[NAIROBI]  A new interactive online tool is helping countries assess their progress in having national laws to address challenges in environmental decision-making.
The tool was developed by the US-based World Resources Institute (WRI) and Access Initiative, a global network of civil society organisations for promoting access to information that protects the environment.

Carole Excell, the project director of the Access Initiative, says the platform is the first-ever interactive public platform that assesses countries’ progress in establishing national laws to promote transparency, accountability and public participation in environmental decision- making.

“There is an urgent need to create a platform for benchmarking the best practice on environmental stewardship.”

Kiama Gitahi, Wangari Maathai Institute for Peace and Environmental Studies


Excell says conserving the environment is the backbone of society and that the main objective of the tool is to strengthen the rights of the public to participate in environmental decision-making through evidence-based advocacy.
The platform, which was launched in Kenya on 27 May by the WRI and Kenya-based Institute for Law and Environmental Governance (ILEG), evaluates 75 legal indicators based on objective and  standards  as described in the United Nations Environment Programme’s Bali guidelines — national legislations on  access to Information, public participation, and access to justice in issues that affect the environment.
The Environmental Democracy Index, which has been used to assess 70 countries in the world, has features that enables up to three countries to be compared in terms of legal indicator scores. For example, Cameroon and Nigeria have higher scores than Malaysia in indicators such as access to information, public participation and access to justice.
Excell says that the platform ensures relevant environmental information is publicly available and accessible while also guaranteeing accountability and grievance mechanisms to enforce laws.
According to Excell, the platform enhances the capacity of governments and civil society to establish, enforce, monitor and protect people’s right to create a more equitable and sustainable world for all, noting that the tool can help civil society organisations hold their leaders accountable.
Researchers can use the freely downloadable results to support their research and analyses, Excell added.  
Benson Ochieng, executive director at the ILEG, says that there are a number of challenges identified when implementing EDI including the lack of national legislative and policy tools in some countries and inadequate capacity of governments, the civil society and citizens.
He adds that there is also corruption, impunity as well as lack institutionalised democracy and institutional weaknesses.
Kiama Gitahi, an environmental director at the Wangari Maathai Institute for Peace and Environmental Studies in Kenya, welcomes the platform, saying that “as environmental stewards, lack of positive ethics, values and practices towards the environment continue to threaten our common existence.” He tells SciDev.Net: “There is an urgent need to create a platform for benchmarking the best practices on environmental stewardship. Sustainable environment is the businesses of each and every person in Africa.”
According to Gitahi the tool could help raise awareness on the values of public participation, sustainable environment and culture of peace.
This article has been produced by SciDev.Net's Sub-Saharan Africa desk.