Public Participation in Energy and Natural Resources Development: A Theory and Criteria for Evaluation

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Canadian Institute of Resources Law
The paper focuses on the theoretical foundations of public participation in environmental decision-making and natural resources management, and develops general criteria to assess the effectiveness of both processes and results of participatory proceedings. The foundations of public participation and the justifications for its application are outlined. Habermas’ theory of communicative action is used to describe an ideal model of public participation. The author’s concepts of fairness and competence are used to shape the notion of effective participation. The study concludes that public participation is one important instrument to improve public policies related to environmental conservation and natural resources management. The proposed criteria incorporate ideas such as previous consensus on the rules of the debate, the increase of citizens’ social and political capital, the enhancement of participants’ autonomy, and the use of traditional and community knowledge. The appendix includes an analysis of the European Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-Making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters (the Aarhus Convention), based on the criteria proposed in the paper.
This paper is part of a larger project regarding public participation in Alberta’s energy and natural resources development. My part in the project was made possible due to the support of the Alberta Law Foundation, which is gratefully acknowledged.
environmental decision-making, natural resources management
Occasional Paper #34, (Calgary: Canadian Institute of Resources Law, 2010)