When Concerned People Produce Environmental Information: A Need to Re-Think Existing Legal Frameworks and Governance Models?

Paper by Anna Berti Suman, Mara Balestrini, Muki Haklay, and Sven Schade: “When faced with an environmental problem, locals are often among the first to act. Citizen science is increasingly one of the forms of participation in which people take action to help solve environmental problems that concern them. This implies, for example, using methods and instruments with scientific validity to collect and analyse data and evidence to understand the problem and its causes. Can the contribution of environmental data by citizens be articulated as a right? In this article, we explore these forms of productive engagement with a local matter of concern, focussing on their potential to challenge traditional allocations of responsibilities. Taking mostly the perspective of the European legal context, we identify an existing gap between the right to obtain environmental information, granted at present by the Aarhus Convention, and “a right to contribute information” and have that information considered by appointed institutions. We also explore what would be required to effectively practise this right in terms of legal and governance processes, capacities, and infrastructures, and we propose a flexible framework to implement it. Situated at the intersection of legal and governance studies, this article builds on existing literature on environmental citizen science, and on its interplay with law and governance. Our methodological approach combines literature review with legal analysis of the relevant conventions and national rules. We conclude by reflecting on the implications of our analysis, and on the benefits of this legal innovation, potentially fostering data altruism and an active citizenship, and shielding ordinary people against possible legal risks…(More)”.