To protect the environment, activists need the protection of the law. Some countries provide legal rights to transparency, accountability, and citizen engagement in environmental decision-making. Others do not.
The new Environmental Democracy Index, organized by the World Resources Institute (WRI), offers a window in environmental rights in 70 countries. Compiled by two legal experts in each nation, it covers 26 guidelines and 75 indicators, such as whether activists have the right to challenge state and private actors or whether there is public input in environmental reviews.
The upshot is that Lithuania and Latvia are said to have the best overall systems, with the United States in fourth. Haiti and Malaysia come out on the bottom. “This index is a powerful lever that will help governments to become more transparent and ordinary citizens to advocate for more rights,” says the WRI’s Mark Robinson.
There are two big weaknesses to the index. One, it only recognizes laws at a national level. For the U.S., for instance, it says nothing about state or municipal regulations (which are sometimes stronger, but sometimes much weaker). Two, it doesn’t assess how those laws are enforced. That explains why a country like Russia, which is in third place overall, scores highly despite a reputation for flouting its own environmental laws. Many Eastern Bloc countries introduced stringent environmental laws after communism, but enforcement is as important as rule-making.
More positively, the index has in-depth information for each country and you can compare up to three nations side-by-side. If you care about the environment and you want to stand up for yourself, that could definitely be useful.