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Update on our work on transparency in environmental governance

4 March 2013 at 12:14 pm

Barricading the DoorsThe Centre for Environmental Rights is today publishing two new reports on our work on transparency in environmental governance. The first, Barricading the Doors, is an update on our April 2012 Unlock the Doors report, reporting on the results of our ongoing efforts to promote greater disclosure of environmental information since that report. The primary finding of our  update is that, although both public and private bodies are responding more actively to requests for information than before, both types of bodies are increasingly using the law to avoid disclosure, rather than to facilitate it.

Turn on the FloodlightsThe second report is entitled Turn on the Floodlights: Trends in Disclosure of Environmental Licences and Compliance Data. This document, which arose out of our struggles to access environmental permits, considers both other domestic legal requirements and international legal requirements and practices in relation to licences. By comparing the levels of disclosure by the same corporate group in different jurisdictions with different legal requirements for disclosure, it powerfully demonstrates how companies tailor their disclosure according to the prevailing legal requirements. Key findings of Turn on the Floodlights are:

  1. Although South African environmental laws acknowledge the importance of transparency in environmental governance, few statutes compel disclosure of licences and compliance data. Where such disclosure is envisaged, it often has not yet been implemented by the authority in question.
  2. Disclosure provisions in non-environmental South African legislation could justifiably be imported into environmental laws. There is no obvious reason why workers exposed to safety risks, or investors exposed to the risks of unscrupulous operators, deserve greater protection than individuals, communities, or the South African public at large, faced with the risks posed to a compromised environment.
  3. Mandatory disclosure of, or at least easy public access to, environmental licences is common in many jurisdictions in both developed and developing countries.
  4. Large multinational companies operating in South Africa disclose environmental licences and compliance data only in those jurisdictions that require it.
  5. Public registries of environmental licences and public recognition programmes would incentivise greater voluntary disclosure by licence-holders. A number of databases of environmental licences already exist, but are, in all but one instance, designed to give access to authorities themselves, and often also to licence applicants and holders, while excluding members of the public, communities and civil society organisations.

Read more about our work on transparency in environmental governance here. See a list of and download all CER publications here.

For more information, contact our Executive Director Melissa Fourie on 021 447 1647 or [email protected].