Evaluation of the public participation process in promoting better environmental decision-making

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University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg
Public participation gives interested and affected parties a chance to engage in environmental governance issues. The NEMA principles state that: ‘The participation of all interested and affected parties in environmental governance must be promoted, and all people must have the opportunity to develop the knowledge, skills, and capacities necessary to achieve equitable and effective participation, and participation by vulnerable and disadvantaged persons must be ensured’. This study assesses the effectiveness of the public participation process in promoting better environmental decision making and analyses South Africa’s environmental legislative framework to determine whether the country has good law or if existing law needs to be revised to promote effective public participation. Environmental decisions made by administrators have recently been challenged in court, raising the possibility that these decisions are not always consistent with good environmental governance. Good environmental governance would entail considering the role of each participant who has an impact on the environment, from the state to NGOs, civil society, and the private sector. Achieving good governance will necessitate a collaborative effort, paving the way for long-term development. The case of Sustaining the Wild Coast was selected for analysis to demonstrate that the environmental legislative framework appears sufficient to promote effective public participation; however, the challenge lies in the implementation, where the competent authorities and project proponents seems hesitant to genuinely engage with the affected and interested parties. The case also demonstrates that for interested and affected parties to be successful in advancing sustainable projects, they need substantial funding because they will need to gather scientific evidence; without such evidence, their chances of failure are increased. This was demonstrated in the Border Deep Sea Angling Association case, which the applicants lost due to a lack of exhaustive scientific evidence. The case of South Durban Community Environmental Alliance highlighted the issue of access to administrative and judicial proceedings. If NGOs are penalised with cost orders despite the sincerity of their litigation, the proceedings may prove costly. Poverty-stricken communities will not be able to afford access to legal instruments and this renders public participation ineffective. As a result, sustainable development will not be realised. The study concludes by proposing techniques for improving the effectiveness of the public participation process
A research report submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Laws by Coursework and Research Report at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, 2023
Environmental governance, Environmental decision making, Environmental decisions, UCTD
Ethel, Shumani. (2023). Evaluation of the public participation process in promoting better environmental decision-making [Master’s dissertation, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg]. WireDSpace. https://hdl.handle.net/10539/38714