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The Internet can help implementation of environmental democracy

by , 24 June 2008

Source: BlueLink Information Network, Bulgaria.

Information and communication technologies (ICT) have potencial for implementing environmental sustainability and justice is not fully utilized. ICTs can contribute to more inclusive participation in public policy processes, including ones that can lead to policy and regulatory decisions that promote environmental sustainability. However ICT applications to enable Access to Justice are so far very limited. Click on the article head to read more!

Based on the European Eco Forum report on Aarhus Convention implementation, out of 24 countries, only few used the government’s websites to consult with the public the national implementation reports (Armenia, Austria, Bulgaria, France, Georgia, Kazakhstan, and Poland). Most of the others didn’t use the information and communication tools (ICT) to communicate with the citizens. Even the ones who used them are using only small part of their potential – e.g. displaying information on the websites.

None of the countries implemented more interactive tools for communicating with the public.

With more than one billion computers in the world, we can’t keep pretending that we haven’t entered the information age. The ICTs can be implemented widely for ensuring access to information, access to participation in decision making and access to justice on environmental matters as it is required by the Aarhus Convention.

Why this happens so slowly or doesn’t happen at all in some countries? Are the authorities afraid of implementation? What is lacking?

These and other issues were discussed at the side event “Greening Information Technology” held by BlueLink Information Network at the Third Meeting of the Parties of the Aarhus Convention (MOP-3) on June 11th, 2008 in Riga, Latvia.

The participants at the side event confirmed that the potential of the ICT for implementing environmental sustainability and justice is not fully utilized. ICTs can contribute to more inclusive participation in public policy processes, including ones that can lead to policy and regulatory decisions that promote environmental sustainability. ICT applications to enable Access to Justice are so far very limited.

“A gap between the market economy and democracy components of transition in Eastern Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia hampers good governance, access to information and access to justice and brings in environmental devastation. The effective use of ICT by civil society can decrease this gap”, stress Pavel Antonov, co-founder of BlueLink and chief editor of Green Horizon, an environmental quarterly for Central and Eastern Europe.

One of the reasons for poor ICT utilization, highlighted by Dmytro Skrylnikov from Bureau of Environmental Investigation, Ukraine, is the growing digital divide between eastern and western countries.

Another reasons, shared by the participants from the pan-European region, is the lack of capacity to use the ICTs. There is a need for capacity building for governmental and municipal servants as well as for the NGO activists on how to use modern on-line tools. The language barrier was also mentioned.

Michael Stanley-Jones from the Aarhus Secretariat announced, that the mandate of the Task Force on Electronic Information Tools will be extended and now it will work not only on access to information, but also on implementing e-Public Participation and e-Justice.

Obviouse are the need for improving the quality of authorities’ websites (including the ones of international organizations, such as European Commission and UNECE) in order information posted there to be easily accessed and the need for more interactive tools supporting on-line communication and public participation in the work of intergovernmental and governmental organizations.

The participants at the MOP-3 should be aware that e-services, such as utilization of ICTs for distant meetings and e-procurement, will reduce the footprint on the environment from travel and transport. The future organization of such conferences needs to consider these opportunities and give an example to the world that we not only talk about environmental protection, but we also act in an environmentally friendly way.

BlueLink proposed to the conference organizers to use more intensive ICTs tools at the conference venue. For instance, instead of printing so much paper, the multimedia screens can be used for viewing all discussed documents there, so delegates can follow the process easily and immediately see on-screen the proposed changes. Another ICT tool to be used is the instant transfer of voice into text on the screen, which can also assist in better understanding of the discussion going on.

At the end let’s not forget that the ICTs have a long way to go to become more environmental friendly. The internet revolution is putting direct stress on the planet by generating waste (UN Environment Programme (UNEP) estimates that ICT industry is generated 50 million tones of e-waste worldwide every year). ICTs also consume a lot of natural resources and energy. This is another area where governments together with the civil society and the business can find solutions by greening the information technologies.

One possible decrease of the ICT environmental footprint is by linking the network of networks that exist in different parts of the world and work on various environmental topics. In this way their effectiveness can improve tremendously, they will be able to share resources and joint their effort for environmental sustainability.

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