In connection with the decisionmaking process on environmental matters, access to information for individuals and NGOs is acceptable. It is common practice that proposals on policy, laws and plans are sent out to a wide range of interested NGOs.
The NGOs have the right to submit comments and proposals to the government officials, and this right is widely used. Within some areas however there is a gap between having a right to be heard and actually gaining influence on the final outcome. Today the comments and proposals of the NGOs affect the authorities' final decisions only to a small extent.
Access to information is a primary condition for the involvement of the public and the NGOs. Another important premise for the strengthening of the NGOs' participation is the NGOs' organizational and technical ability. With its many local chapters, the Danish Society for the Conservation of Nature is a good example of how a relatively well organized NGO can take a strong position in policymaking in general. But even a well-established local and national NGO still lacks resources to cover all the activities expected by the authorities and the members of the organization.
Policymaking on chemical substances and materials is one of the most time- and resource-consuming fields of interest. Access to considerable resources is necessary if one wishes to stay updated on the development of chemicals and their consequences on the environment in the future. The fact is that it is a very uneven race between industry and the NGOs, which means that even if the right to participate does exist, the reality is that most of the NGOs are not able to use this right fully. This makes it even more important that the NGOs have access to any information that the public authorities hold.
With the implementation in 1994 of the EU directive on freedom of access to information on the environment, there ensued some improvements regarding the rights of the public. In particular, they concern the right to request information on the environment from semi-public enterprises. The directive stated that enterprises under governmental control were obligated to provide information on the environment if they were approached. But the reality is that in some situations it has proven difficult to get the information requested, as is the case with extensive infrastructure projects where the government establishes a joint-stock company to control the project.
In connection with Danish rules on access to justice, there is a need to implement some statutory rules in the administrative appeal system that would substantiate the NGOs' right to legal standing. Similar actions need to be taken in relation to the NGOs' appeal rights in the Danish Courts.
Since the European Single Market went into force 1987, an increasing number of directives on environmental issues have derived from the European Union. Due to the fact that it is more difficult for the Danish NGOs to influence the decisionmaking process inside the EU system, it has become increasingly harder for them to affect the elaboration of the environmental legislation.
Looking at the environmental decisionmaking procedures from an international perspective, the challenge lies in identifying mechanisms and opportunities that enable people in general to participate in the process of designing environmental policies.
Some of these mechanisms might include the well-established hearing processes that exist in Denmark, whereby the interested NGOs are approached with proposals on environmental issues and thereby have a chance to participate or at least comment on them. The EU Special Committee on Environmental Issues is a step towards strengthening the role of the NGOs in the EU policymaking process, though it is far from enough.
An example is the standardization process in the international standardization organizations, which has a significant influence. But at the same time the process is without any public participation, influence or control. The committees in which the standardizations are elaborated are dominated by the industries, and it is impossible for the NGOs to keep up with their resources. The result is that industry can implement standards without taking public opinion into account. This is not an acceptable development because it is going to weaken the public participation in environmental decisionmaking.
However, this approach is not adequate for the environmental challenges facing us now and in the years to come. A cross-sectoral approach as outlined in the conception of sustainable development is needed. To obtain sustainable development, an integration of the environment into all other policy areas is required. Focus also has to be shifted from information to active participation.
This survey only addresses public participation in relation to decisionmaking. But in relation to sustainable development, new modes of public participation must be developed. In fact public participation is just as crucial in the implementation process as in the decisionmaking process.
Individuals, NGOs, industry and trade associations must cooperate in mutual projects to carry out sustainable solutions. To change production and consumption patterns in a sustainable direction, there is need for active participation of the population as well as industry and agriculture.
One of the recent attempts to improve public participation at the local level is the introduction of Agenda 21 in 1992. The objective of Agenda 21 is sustainable development. In Denmark the municipalities have the responsibility for implementation without any national guidelines.
The consequence is a lack of an overall direction and established indicators for what sustainable development implies. This means that the efforts of the municipalities are scattered and without any measurable effect. Out of all the municipalities in Denmark, 50 percent (in 1997) were active in connection with Agenda 21, and out of these only very few chose to focus on public participation and thereby the involvement of local citizens.
The national authorities have been criticized for their work in connection with Agenda 21 as being too "academic" and less concrete, and that there is a need for a plan of action which can guide the future work of the municipalities.
The Planning Act, Promulgation Order No.563 of June 30, 1997.
The Environmental Protection Act, Promulgation Order No. 625 of June 10, 1997.
The Nature Protection Act, Act No. 9 of 3 January 1992 as amended by Act No. 439 of June 1, 1994 and Act No. 19 of January 13, 1997.
The Danish Public Administration Act, Act No. 571 of 19 December 1985, as amended by the Act No. 347 of June 6, 1991.
The Access to Public Files Act, Act No. 572 of December 19, 1985, as amended by Act No. 347 of June 6, 1991.
The Ombudsman's Annual Reports 1994-96.
Mogens, Moe "Environmental Administration in Denmark", July 1995, The Danish EPA.
Mogens, Moe "Environmental legislation Environmental protection", 1992, Gad.
The Danish Society for Conservation of Nature "The Handbook 1997-98".
The Parliament's Rules of Procedure, October 1997.
Hallo Ralph, "Freedom of Access to Information on the Environment A Users Guide." Stichtiing Natuur en Milieu 1993.
CASA and Stichtiing Natuur en Milieu 1994 "Freedom of Access to Information on the Environment A Users Guide," The Danish version.
European Environmental Bureau "Your Rights under European Union Environment Legislation," 1994.
TekSam "Working environment a technical trade barrier?" 1994, Roskilde University.
The Danish EPA "Environmental Impact Assessment," May 1995.
Report No. 1272 by the Danish Parliament "The Law on the Ombudsman," 1994.
Knud Flensted, The Danish Ornithological Society
Kim Carstensen, World Wildlife Foundation
Michael Leth Jess, DSCN
Bo Haakanson, DSCN
Jan Eriksen, The Opendoor Council
By telephone Eva Juul Jensen, The Danish Environmental Protection Agency
By telephone Ellen Magrethe Basse, CeSaM, School of Law, Aarhus University
By telephone Jan Sondergaard, Greenpeace Denmark