People who may be directly or indirectly affected by a proposal will be a focus for public involvement. First and foremost are the individuals and groups who are likely to be directly and adversely affected. Usually, their identification is relatively straightforward. The intended beneficiaries of the proposal are often more difficult to identify because the benefits of the proposal may be generalised across a large population (which may be regional or national). In some cases, the interest of beneficiaries may be represented by government agencies, private sector groups and NGOs, which support the proposal on economic and social grounds.
A variety of other individuals and groups may be indirectly affected by a proposal or have some interest in its outcome. Often, the representation of the interests of indirectly affected parties will coincide with those of other stakeholders, such as local community, private sector and environmental organisations. However, this relationship cannot be assumed automatically. For example, certain major projects may affect such an extensive area that identifying a representative and manageable range of participants is difficult. In such cases, it may be helpful to systematically â€˜mapâ€™ the stakeholders and differentiate among their interests.
Every effort should be made to seek a fair and balanced representation of views. Often, an inclusive approach to public involvement is taken. A common rule of thumb is to include any person or group who expresses an interest in the proposal. However, particular attention should be given to those â€˜at riskâ€™ from the impact of a proposal. World Bank guidance indicates this group should have the most active involvement.
Most EIA systems make some type of provision for public involvement. The legal and procedural requirements for this purpose vary. In developing countries, the EIA procedure established by the development banks will take precedence for projects carried out with their assistance. All of the major development banks consult the public during the EIA process carried out on their operations.
Their specific requirements differ regarding timing and scope of consultation and the type and amount of information disclosed. For example, World Bank Operational Policy (4.01) specifies that consultation with affected communities is a key to the identification of impacts and the design of mitigation measures. It strongly recommends consultation with affected groups and NGOs during at least the scoping and EIA review stage. In projects with major social components, such as those requiring voluntary resettlement or affecting indigenous peoples, the process should involve active public participation in the EIA and project development process.
The provision made for public involvement should be consistent with principles established by international law and policy (see table below). The most comprehensive treaty in this regard is the Aarhus Convention, although this applies only to UNECE countries and only entered into force in 2001 (by ratification by a sufficient number of signatory countries). However, it is likely to set important new precedents for standards of public involvement.
|International legal instruments||Reference to public participation||Source: adapted from Stec and Casey-Lefkowitz (2000)|
|UNECE Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment in a Transboundary Context (Espoo, 1991)||Provides for the participation of the public in the areas likely to be affected by a proposal (article 2, paras 2 and 6, and article 4, para 2)|
|Framework Convention on Climate Change (1992)||Requires Parties to promote and facilitate public participation in addressing climate change and its effects and developing adequate responses (article 6 (a) (iii)).|
|Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development (1992)||States that each individual shall have the opportunity to participate in decision-making processes, facilitated by the widespread availability of information.|
|UNECE Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision Making and Access to Justice in International Environmental Matters (Aarhus 1998)||The most comprehensive legal instrument relating to public involvement. It describes how public participation should work in cases of decision-making. The main text indicates that public participation should be effective, adequate, formal, and provide for information, notification, dialogue, consideration and response.|
Key principles for public involvement, which are widely agreed, are outlined as:
- inclusive – covers all stakeholders;
- open and transparent – steps and activities are understood;
- relevant – focused on the issues that matter;
- fair – conducted impartially and without bias toward any stakeholder;
- responsive – to stakeholder requirements and inputs; and
- credible – builds confidence and trust.