The Open Government Partnership (OGP)—which held its most recent summit about three weeks ago—has made tremendous progress in its two years of existence. The OGP, a voluntary partnership between governments and civil society, aims to make governments more open, accountable, and responsive to citizens. Discussions at the summit made it clear that the partnership is already demonstrating impact. Sixty-two governments have now joined OGP, making 1,115 commitments to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption, and harness new technologies to strengthen governance.
The Summit provided a real sense that there’s a growing community who really “gets” the importance of open government to meeting development goals. Yet there was still a gap in the discourse in one particular area—the environment.
Open Government and the Environment
While it’s encouraging that OGP governments have made more than 1,000 commitments to transparency and accountability, as of this month, only 29 of these commitments—or 3 percent— pertained to environmental and natural resource management. We define ”environmental” commitments as those which specifically mention environmental issues or natural resource management and have a direct impact on ecosystems, land use practices, or resource extraction.
The gap in environmental commitments is particularly troubling, given that climate change, air pollution, water risks, use of toxic and solid waste, extractive sectors, the growth of cities, and land use change are of fundamental importance to present and future generations. Without government transparency and accountability, development decisions can come at the expense of communities and the land, water, and resources they rely on for their livelihoods.
Learning from the Leaders
The health of citizens and ecosystems relies on transparent, engaging, and accountable governance in the environment and natural resource sector. There’s a clear need for governments to create and nurture a space in OGP to discuss these issues.
They can learn from the 29 environmental commitments that a handful of countries have already made. These commitments span environmental democracy, environmental and natural resource management, extractive industries, and corporate sustainability. For example:
- Chile has embraced leadership on a Regional Principle 10 agreement that will ensure the development and implementation of rights to information, participation, and accountability, which can help local communities protect themselves from environmental injustices. Chile has promoted this commitment throughout the Latin American and Caribbean Region, and 17 governments have now committed to engage in a process to improve these rights through national and regional action.
- Indonesia has also made an impressive commitment to develop what is called the “One Map Portal” to promote efficiency on forestry management. The initiative will digitize data and information related to primary and secondary forests on a single portal base map for the use of all sectoral ministries dealing with land tenure, land concessions, and land-use licensing. This commitment will streamline licensing of all concession types in Indonesia ( logging, palm oil, mining etc.) It will also, according to the Independent Reporting Mechanism (IRM) report, set the basis for “central-regional collaboration to build trust and a foundation towards better natural resources governance and bureaucratic reform.”
- Finally, Ghana’s commitment to continue building a strong, legislative framework to manage oil revenues and to promote the independence of the committee that will monitor the use of such revenues is commendable. The fact that this commitment will be monitored by Ghanaians and the IRM highlights the strength of utilizing this partnership to achieve national and international goals for accountability.
Integrating Environmental Issues into the Open Government Partnership
The OGP has the potential to make a big difference in how participating countries address environment and development challenges, but only if it integrates this topic into its process. At the summit, countries made 37 new, ambitious commitments, but only one of them was environmentally focused. The OGP has launched Working Groups around specific themes—one of them being extractives—but there is a huge emphasis on revenue management and benefit-sharing rather than natural resources and environmental management. The OGP should continue to pursue a sectoral approach to commitments, but should open this process up to develop a key focus on environment and natural resources, perhaps with a lead government like Indonesia or Brazil. Networking opportunities should be encouraged formally and informally between civil society and governments. The OGP should also make room for designing smarter, more ambitious environmental commitments that address both government and corporate accountability.
The opportunity to advance in this direction is now, when new countries are joining OGP and current members are drafting their second action plans. OGP must broaden its reach in the coming years to address critical environmental governance problems.