WRI Criticizes UNEP Pilot Access to Information Policy

23 June 2014

The pilot access to information policy recently issued by  the United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) “falls far short of providing true transparency,” according to the World Resources Institute.

UNEP issued its pilot  policy last week. (See FreedomInfo.org report.) The policy, which was not released in draft form for comment, is to be the subject a one-year period of use and evaluation before a permanent policy is finalized.

WRI is calling for potential users to make requests under the new policy, which is criticized by WRI staff members Lalanath de Silva and Carole Excell in a June 23 blog post. 

Describing UNEP’s wide responsibilities, the bog post says:

In theory, UNEP therefore collects an assortment of data and research—much of which could be made publicly available through a strong access to information policy. This information is important not just to academics and researchers, but to government officials, the private sector, and civil society groups who work on ensuring environmental sustainability in decision-making.

Four Areas Criticized

“Four areas of the policy in particular are ripe for reform,” according to WRI.

First, the environmental group urges UNEP to be more innovative on releasing documents proactively rather than by individual requests and to disseminate information via “UNEP Live” and to release information its entire surface and ground water quality data sets over time.

WRI also says that UNEP’s new policy includes “very broad provisions that allow it to deny information requests, essentially defeating the purpose of the policy.” It states further:

One important example is clause 15: “UNEP does not provide access to any documents, memoranda, or other communications which are exchanged with Member States, with other organizations and agencies, where these relate to the exchange of ideas between these groups, or to the deliberative or decision-making process of UNEP, its Member States, or other organizations, agencies or entities.” This language is so broad basic communications which would cause no harm to UNEP’s internal deliberations—such as the planning of a conference—could be exempted.

The lack ofan independent appeals mechanism for people whose information requests are denied also is noted by WRI as a weakness.

A fourth problem, WRI said, is that UNEP’s policy does not obligate UNEP to provide a reason for denying someone’s information request.

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ABOUT IFTI WATCH

In this column, Washington, D.C.-based journalist Toby J. McIntosh reports on the latest developments in information disclosure in International Financial and Trade Institutions (IFTI).
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