There is a general movement within industrialized countries for the public and NGO's to play a more active role in environmental management. The monitoring of NGO and general public participation in the development and implementation of a National Environmental Action Plan (NEAP) provides important information on this area of environmental intervention. A NEAP should note existing government and NGO interactions; draft documents and programmes under development; levels of participation at national and local levels, and identify key problem areas that prevent further public and NGO participation in environmental management.
The development of a "green lobby" among NGOs in a country is seen as an important measure for environmental protection. The NGO community, comprising academic and technical groups along with community and affected parties groups represent an important lobbying device to campaign for increased control of pollution and encourage increased resource use on environmental problems. NGO relations to politics, media and the business sector enable the environmental NGOs to build up public support for necessary environmental actions which may otherwise prove difficult to implement.
Citizens usually need to organize themselves into groups to participate effectively in larger-scale decision-making processes. Thus public participation frequently takes the form of NGO participation. This can lead to some ambiguity, because the concept of a "nongovernmental organization" embraces a wide range of bodies with differing interests, motivations and resources, some of which are genuine grassroots citizens' organizations.
It is therefore crucial to distinguish between public participation and stakeholder participation, and between public-interest NGOs and other stakeholders. Involvement of all stakeholders is desirable in environmental decision-making processes, with account being taken of their different needs and motivations. However, special attention should be paid to encouraging the participation of public-interest NGOs which are promoting environmental objectives, and to overcoming obstacles to their participation, including resource limitations.
The Ã…rhus Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-Making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters was signed on June 25 1998 by 36 countries and the European Community. Ministers hailed the move as a watershed in environmental policy, which would have a grassroots effect. Governments should continue and strengthen their efforts to involve the public and NGOs in decision-making on environment and health matters. Special attention should be paid to encouraging the participation of public-interest NGOs which are promoting environmental or health objectives, and to overcoming obstacles to their participation, including resource limitations. In particular, public participation in the development and implementation of NEHAPs, LEHAPs and related initiatives under Agenda 21 should be provided for, taking into account the REC guidelines, the recommendations from the Michelstadt consultation and the NEHAP Task Force's guidance.
The public and NGOs can: (a) identify concerns and problems at national and local levels, indicating their relative priorities; (b) raise awareness and create "bottom-up" pressure for solutions to problems; (c) provide a counterweight to potential bias in central views; (d) promote an integrated approach to problems; (e) identify local sources of funds and be effective fund-raisers; (f) play a valuable role in monitoring; and (g) spread experience from one area or project to another. In some countries, this last activity is new. Such states require the transfer of knowledge from those with greater experience.