UNEPGEO-2000 Next: Environmental information and education -->
Previous: Financing environmental action 
Chapter Three: Policy Responses - Latin America and the Caribbean

Public participation

 Inter-American Strategy for Public Participation

The Plan of Action of the Second Summit of the Americas in Santiago, Chile, 1998, calls for dialogue and partnership between the public sector and civil society, and entrusts the Organization of American States (OAS) with encouraging support among governments and civil society and promoting appropriate programmes to carry out this initiative.

OAS, in compliance with the Bolivia Summit of the Americas (1996) mandate, is formulating the Inter-American Strategy for Public Participation (ISP) to identify mechanisms for securing transparent, accountable and effective participation by individuals, civil society and governments, and promoting participatory decision-making in environmental and sustainable development issues. The strategy is being formulated by conducting demonstration studies, analysing relevant legal and institutional frameworks and mechanisms, sharing information and experience, and establishing a basis for long-term financial support for public-private alliances. The work is being supported by the Global Environment Facility in collaboration with UNEP, OAS, USAID, UNESCO, IDB, and other donors and institutions. Several consultations and meetings have been held and technical studies are being conducted to review lessons learned and identify best practices for public participation mechanisms. The first draft of the ISP is available on the Internet at http://www.ispnet.org/strategy.htm.

Source: ISP 1998


Public participation has grown over the past few years, mainly in tune with a greater public awareness of threats to the quality of life and with the restoration of democracy in some countries. In most countries, however, institutional and legal participation is restricted to a few areas, such as EIA procedures, where public hearings are part of a formal process. Bolivia's Popular Participation Law grants important rights and roles to all citizens, unions and community organizations, the most important role being the watch kept by Vigilant Committees on the use of public funds by municipalities. In contrast, in Argentina environmental rule-making at the national level does not require formal consultative mechanisms; however, newly-created sectoral regulatory entities (electricity, natural gas and water) have institutionalized mechanisms for consultation on draft regulations or permits, and public hearings are called regularly as part of their decision-making processes (IDB 1996). In Chile, Supreme Court rulings have backed environmental groups that object to projects promoted by the government, thus creating important legal precedents (IDB 1996). Environment-related controversies in Argentina, particularly at the provincial level, have also confirmed the validity of resorting to the courts (IDB 1996).

Citizens' participation has also materialized in a more direct way through formal representation of individual and bodies with environmental interests on numerous councils. In Mexico, for example, these councils include the National and Regional Consultative Councils for Sustainable Development, Basin Councils, the Consultative Council on Environmental Normalisation, Metropolitan Areas Councils on Air Quality Management, the National Council on Protected Wilderness Areas and the National Technical Consultative Councils on Forestry and Soil Rehabilitation and Conservation (Chacón 1997).

Bolivia's Council on Sustainable Development (created in 1996) has a consultative role and includes representatives of government, NGOs, the private sector, the press, the academic sector, indigenous people and trade unions. The National Council of Environment in Brazil and CONAMA's Consultative Council in Chile advise their governments on the policy-making process at national and regional level.

 Public participation initiatives in the Caribbean

In many Caribbean countries, the changed perception of the role of civil society in achieving the objectives of the Earth Summit has resulted in close collaboration between governments, NGOs, community organizations and the private sector in setting standards and preparing environmental policies and action plans. In some countries, this collaboration is formalized in moves to decentralize governance to the community level.

NGOs have made significant contributions in the creation and management of protected areas such as the Kingshill Forest Reserve in St Vincent and the Grenadines, the Montego Bay Marine Park in Jamaica, and in Trinidad and Tobago where concerned individuals and NGOs, with government support, introduced a 'co-management' arrangement entrusting responsibility for the management of beaches where turtles nest to villagers.

Public participation is also becoming institutionalized through legislative requirements. St Lucia, for example, has included special provisions for public participation in amendments to its National Trust Act and the St Lucia National Trust, along with the Caribbean Natural Resources Institute, is spearheading nation-wide participation in protected area management.

Source: UNEP/UWICED/EU 1999


Citizens' demands for broader and institutionalized legal participatory channels are expected to increase. Decentralized actions to deal with environmental conflicts locally or at the provincial level may offer an effective way of channelling public participation.

At recent regional summits, governments have recognized that the strong engagement of civil society in decision-making is fundamental for enhancing democracy, promoting sustainable development, achieving economic integration and free trade, improving the lives of people, and conserving the natural environment for future generations. In the areas of sustainable development, the 1996 Declaration of Santa Cruz de la Sierra specifically endorses this principle, and commits the signatories to supporting and encouraging broad participation by civil society in designing, implementing, and evaluating policies and programmes. The Bolivia Summit Plan of Action entrusted the Organization of American States with the formulation of a strategy to promote public participation in decision-making for sustainable development (see box).

Some public participation initiatives in the Caribbean are described in the box below.

UNEPGEO-2000 Next: Environmental information and education -->
Previous: Financing environmental action