Public participation in environmental decision-making and implementation has become a cornerstone of environmental governance. Cited benefits of public participation include, for example, improving the quality of decision-making, facilitating policy implementation, and enhancing accountability of institutions. Yet, diverging perspectives and experiences exist on how to best implement the concept in practise. At the international level, Agenda 21, the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) Johannesburg Plan of Implementation (2002), as well as Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration and the 1998 UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters (Aarhus Convention) provide important driving forces for participatory environmental governance. Given these developments, many countries have enhanced their efforts to engage the public in national, regional and local environmental governance, taking into account their political, social and cultural circumstances. More recently (and increasingly), public participation is also taking place within the context of corporate environmental governance. Finally, the growing importance of multilateral institutions has catalyzed a debate on how to best engage the public in international environmental governance.
Questions and Challenges
A growing number of institutions and scholars conduct research on participatory environmental governance. Yet, knowledge gaps remain concerning how and under what conditions participatory institutions can foster environmental sustainability, in addition to democratic values. Unresolved questions include, for example:
- Does public participation correlate with and promote environmental sustainability? If so, why, how and under what conditions? Vice-versa, can public participation hinder environmental performance?
- How do institutional settings affect the inclusiveness of participation and recognition of diverse forms of knowledge? Are there “best practices” for public involvement from an environmental sustainability perspective?
- To what extent are the capacities of civil society organizations sufficient to ensure consistent, equal and effective public participation?
- How do the above questions play out at various levels of environmental governance? How do they play out in the context of newly emerging and consolidating democracies?
Given the dispersion of research in various academic disciplines and the absence of common terminology, little interdisciplinary analysis and knowledge-sharing (both within and across levels of environmental governance) has taken place to date. Similarly, few interactions take place between the academic community and environmental governance practitioners.
Taking the above into consideration, the two-day event aims to:
Initiate a network of organizations interested in sharing research and knowledge on the democracy-environment interface.
- Take stock of existing research approaches and knowledge gaps concerning the interface of institutions, public participation and environmental sustainability.
- Identify research gaps and develop a research agenda linking theory with real word applications, within and across various levels of environmental governance.