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Private Sector and Civil Society

Governments need to provide incentives for the private sector, to become an advocate of environmental improvement, and engage more with civil society on these issues. Indeed, attention to the environmental and social aspects of private sector development is increasingly seen as an integral part of sustainable development. Examples of proactive private sector participation in environmental improvement in the EAP region include;

  • The number of ISO 14000 certifications in Asia has grown exponentially and Asian companies represent 20 percent of global participation in the Global Reporting Initiative, which encourages firms to report on their environmental and social performance.
  • The increasing participation in other environmental programs such as voluntary corporate disclosure initiatives, and industry-wide codes of conduct. 
  • In October 2003, the Mizhuo Corporate Bank in Japan became the first bank in the region to espouse the Equator Principles. These principles, which were proposed by the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and first adopted in June 2003, set forth common standards employed by private banks for managing the environmental and social impact of projects they finance.

While these are welcome new trends, declining environmental quality and natural resource degradation in the region indicate that such efforts should be broadened and deepened. Private sector accountability and environmental initiatives need to be harnessed and further encouraged by public information disclosure programs, and enhanced monitoring and enforcement of environmental laws and regulations.

In many countries, civil society is demanding the opportunity to participate in decision making processes, including decisions about development programs and projects with significant environmental and social implications. The increasing role of a vocal and active civil society in demanding and practicing improved environmental management has been an important element in environmental change in the region. In the Philippines, for example, the active environmental NGO community is one of the country’s greatest potential assets in the drive toward sustainable development. In Indonesia, the financial crisis resulted in an animated public debate about many critical issues facing the country, including the state of the environment. In China and Vietnam, there is growing pressure to allow more public participation and disclosure of environmental information. Overall, however, there are large differences among countries in access to environmental information, the role of NGOs, and procedures for public participation in decisionmaking.

Government bureaucracies need to become more responsive and open to dialogue with civil society on major policy and development issues. Environmental education, awareness building programs, and the disclosure of environmental information are important elements of building informed constituencies to support necessary government and public action. The power of information, importance of transparency, and engagement of civil society have been recognized only recently as important elements of public policy. For example, Article 290 in the new constitution in Thailand advocates a stronger role for civil society in environmental management, and the government is gradually increasing its support to community-based initiatives.

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