Public participation is key to Bosnia and Herzegovina’s environmental development process

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Public participation in environmental matters is important, both intrinsically as part of a democratic society and to help improve the quality and effectiveness of environmental decision-making. It can identify environmental challenges and innovative solutions, enable policy makers to draw on valuable and unique local knowledge, build a sense of ownership of policy developments, reduce conflict by building legitimacy and acceptance of decisions and empower disadvantaged groups.

Public participation does not improve environmental policies if public input is not considered by decision makers or if those with unique and relevant knowledge are not involved. This may be the case for disadvantaged groups who often remain excluded from public spaces due to a combination of barriers such as availability of time due to family responsibilities, access to information and financial limitations. However, the inclusion of these groups in the development of environmental policies is essential to meet their needs and benefit from the solutions they can offer.

SEI supports the environmental authorities of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) in the development of a new environmental strategy and action plan (BiHESAP). BiH is a signatory to the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe CConvention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-Making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters (Aarhus Convention ). The environmental protection laws of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Republika Srpska and Brčko District stipulate that every individual and organization can participate in environmental decision-making processes. However, the analyzes of the European Commission showed that in practice, the participation of civil society organizations in the formulation and development of environmental policies still faces certain challenges. There is also room for improvement in terms of broader public participation in strategic environmental assessments and environmental impact assessments in Bosnia and Herzegovina as well as public access to information. Participation is a key theme of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s ESAP process, both in terms of how it developed and what it contained.

The Bosnia and Herzegovina ESAP project recognizes the participatory challenges and proposes several goals and measures to improve public participation over the next decade. Public participation is emphasized in the Bosnia and Herzegovina level action plan in several priority areas, such as biodiversity and chemicals, where regular consultation and cooperation with the civil sector is envisaged, including citizen awareness campaigns. The Draft Action Plan for the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Republika Srpska and Brčko District aims to improve the inclusion of citizens in environmental decision-making, particularly in environmental assessment processes. environmental impact and issuance of environmental permits. They also include measures to increase the participation of disadvantaged groups. This is particularly important given that disadvantaged groups are less represented among public officials, leaving their needs and contributions more likely to be overlooked. For example, although not necessarily socially disadvantaged, women and Roma citizens are under-represented in political circles in BiH.

These objectives and measures of the ASPP Bosnia and Herzegovina are the result of a participatory process in which a wide range of stakeholders were involved in the development of the project, including 13 members of civil society organizations and 16 members of associations. Draft components of ESAP Bosnia and Herzegovina were also subject to public consultation. Once the Bosnia and Herzegovina ESAP is approved, the real work begins with implementation. The bulk of the work will be carried out by environmental institutions, but public participation will also play an important role at this stage. It is essential to keep authorities accountable, to call for timely, relevant and high-quality projects and investments, and to raise levels of ambition for the further development of environmental policy.

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