Transparency and Accountability

Transparency and Accountability are two of the central pillars of good governance. Transparency is also a necessary precondition for the exercise of accountability since without access to clear, accurate and up-to-date information, it is impossible to judge whether the standard promised has been met.

IISD is examining how to improve transparency—and especially accountability—in key international processes fundamental for sustainable development. We are, for example, part of the ENTWINED (Environment and Trade in a World of Interdependence) research consortium on trade and environment seeking, through targeted and practical research, to identify ways in which the World Trade Organization (WTO) might achieve its goal of a multilateral, rules-based trading system that contributes to sustainable development. Our work began by examining how the WTO uses transparency measures in its regular operations—what works, what doesn’t and why. In the present phase of work, we are looking at what accountability mechanisms are at play and how they can be improved and extended.

Another part of our work under ENTWINED relates to building transparency in the field of voluntary sustainability standards and initiatives. For the past two decades, ecolabels and other certification schemes have been growing in number and market size, but with little attention to the market trends, specific characteristics or the actual field-level impacts associated with individual initiatives. To begin addressing some of the information gaps, IISD has launched two initiatives, the State of Sustainability Initiatives and the Committee on Sustainability Assessment seeking to gather and disseminate information on the “vital statistics” and the impacts of voluntary initiatives operating on global markets. By providing this information, IISD believes that it can facilitate greater accountability in the development and implementation of voluntary initiatives and, ultimately, international trade.

We are also looking at accountability in the context of international environmental governance reform, contributing to the reform process of the UN, and that will culminate in a high-level meeting held at the 20th Anniversary of the Rio Earth Summit. Key to success will be to strengthen accountability in ways that are equitable among rich and poor countries. Given the fact that both are falling short of full compliance with their international obligations, this is a delicate matter. And yet it is one on which the success of sustainable development depends absolutely.

Accountability in Standards

World Trade Organization