Public’s help sought on environmental “right to know”
Published On Mon 10 Sep 2018 by Grant Hill
Researchers from the University of Dundee are seeking the public’s help with a project exploring the efficacy of laws surrounding the right of access to environmental information.
Legislation enshrines the right to access a range of environmental information held by Scottish public authorities but these laws are subject to considerable debate. While some denounce them as a pointless and costly burden on public authorities, others defend a valuable safeguard for the environment and argue that existing legislation does not go far enough.
The research team, from the University’s School of Social Sciences, are investigating how individuals and non-governmental organisations make use of their right to obtain environmental information. As well as analysing statistical data provided by collaborating public authorities, they have launched a survey asking for people’s experiences of accessing environmental information to evaluate whether the available information meets their requirements and whether it makes a difference.
Project lead Professor Colin Reid said, “Transparency is a vital component of a functioning democracy but only if the information actually filters down to the public. If this fails then individuals and groups are locked out of decision-making and authorities are not held to account as a result.
“Various claims are made about the public’s right of access to environmental information, so we want to analyse the operation of the laws to discover how this right to information is used by various members of society. This will allow us to assess the impact that the law has had on promoting better governance and achieving better environmental outcomes.
“Environmental information comes in many forms, ranging from cleanliness notices at beaches and air pollution data that authorities are obliged to publish to information that is not so readily available and that interested parties must request. Access to environmental information is empowering but we need to find out whether the existing laws achieve their intended results to or whether they are just an ineffective burden for authorities.”
The objectives of this project are to:
- Clarify the aims of the laws and the place of regimes governing access to environmental information in governance
- Discover how, and to what extent, citizens and non-governmental organisations use the right of access to environmental information and the environmental information obtained from Scottish public authorities
- Assess the impact that providing access to environmental information has had in promoting better and more democratic governance
The survey and more information can be found at https://sites.dundee.ac.uk/envinfo/.
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