Estonian Environmental Law Center (EELC) recently published the results of a study carried out in cooperation with a research company on public awareness of environmental issues and law.
According to the study, Estonian people do care about the environment, but only seldom participate in environmental decision-making. The major reason for this is low confidence in opportunities to meaningfully participate and influence the decision-making.
The results of the study indicate the need for thorough changes. Many respondents did not participate in decision-making processes affecting them, as they thought their actions could not influence anything. This kind of attitude can be called “alienation from participation”, caused by sense of powerlessness. Since the laws in themselves ensure good participation possibilities in decision-making about spatial planning and environmental permits, the changes should primarily take place in the awareness and behavior of the citizens and officials.
The solution to the situation is to increase the awareness of participation issues and offer more effective participation opportunities. Actions of public officials are of key importance. For example, newspaper notices about proposed activities and participation opportunities should be visible and clear in content, not hidden on tiny areas on the last page of the newspaper and full of technical and legal terms as they often are. Such notices do not create the feeling of being welcome to participate in the decision-making process. It is also important to give meaningful feedback to the participants to avoid the feeling that their proposals were just a futile effort.
In addition to participation matters, interest towards environmental issues, access to environmental information and awareness of environmental law in general was studied. According to the study, the interest of Estonian people towards environmental information is bigger than their actual knowledge and awareness on their rights to gain that information. Laws are, however, considered important measures in the environmental field.
The study was carried out by the research company OÜ Tartu Klaster. A representative selection of more than 330 respondents answered the online questionnaire; in addition to it persons that had previous thorough encounters with environmental decision-making were interviewed. The study was funded by Estonian Environmental Investment Centre (KIK).
More about the project: http://www.k6k.ee/activities/projects/awareness-of-environmental-law