Guest Article #11

Participation and Citizen-driven Accountability 20 Years after Rio

At the Earth Summit in Rio back in 1992, over 180 countries affirmed the importance of civil society engagement and called for strengthening its participation in development. This year's Rio+20 Conference seeks to reaffirm and reinforce international commitment to sustainable development under the banner of “green economy.” While there is an urgent need to improve food security and management of land, water and energy, global development is not without risks for poor and vulnerable communities. The call for strong citizen involvement that resonated in Rio twenty years ago, enshrined in Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration, has the same validity today.

Indeed, Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration, providing for concerned citizens' participation in environmental issues, access to information and effective access to redress and remedy, is one of the key building blocks of the institutional framework for sustainable development.

In the wake of Rio and in response to widespread concerns about impacts of projects financed by the World Bank, the Inspection Panel was created in 1993 as an independent accountability and recourse mechanism of the World Bank. In response to complaints from project-affected persons, the Panel investigates World Bank-financed projects to determine whether the Bank has complied with its own policies and procedures (including social and environmental safeguards), and to address related issues of harm to people or the environment.

The Panel represents a pioneering approach of “citizen-driven accountability.” It provides a channel for citizens affected by projects to raise concerns at the highest levels of decision making in the Bank about social and environmental harm linked to Bank-financed operations. All the major International Financial Institutions (IFI) have since established their own independent accountability mechanisms (IAMs).

Twenty years on, the IAMs have made substantial contributions to the evolution of the IFIs' social and environmental performance. Their work has stimulated broad participation of various stakeholders in development. The concerns of affected citizens have been heard and acted upon by IFI management, local and national decision makers, and public and private sector operators. Significant improvements have been made to the design of development projects, by giving affected communities a voice.

Through these mechanisms, affected communities have sent a clear message about the critical importance of disclosure of information, participation, and access to redress in ensuring the success of development projects.

As a contribution to the Rio+20 agenda, the IAMs took stock of their collective experiences and looked at the trends and types of social and environmental concerns brought to them by affected communities. This analysis is summarized in the recently released joint IAMs' publication “Citizen-Driven Accountability for Sustainable Development: Giving Affected People a Greater Voice – 20 Years On” to be presented in Rio. We believe that Rio+20 offers an important opportunity to discuss how citizen-driven accountability and public participation can be strengthened as a part of improving governance for sustainable development at the international, regional, national and local levels.

Moving forward, the role and responsibilities of IFIs will change. New and innovative financial instruments to fund sustainable development will emerge. The international aid architecture is evolving towards greater emphasis on country ownership, balanced with results orientation and mutual accountability. In this context, the issue of ensuring accountability and people's access to recourse mechanisms, as well as safeguarding Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration more generally, are gaining increasing importance.

To find our more and to register for the IAMs side event in Rio on 18 June 2012, please visit: http://sd.iisd.org/events/citizen-driven-accountability-for-sustainable-development/

For more information about the Inspection Panel, please visit: http://www.inspectionpanel.org