Accessing Redress: Public interest law organizations, communities and grievance redress mechanisms

  • Article type News
  • Publication date 06 Dec 2021

 A new global agreement on climate change was adopted at the climate summit in Glasgow two weeks ago. World leaders and climate negotiators signed up to maintain the 1.5C degrees global temperature ceiling and committed to provide more funds to developing nations for climate adaptation and mitigation. They also agreed to phase down coal. Seasoned diplomats and negotiators hailed the agreement as good progress. Civil society groups criticized it as insufficient and no more than “blah, blah”. History will judge the impact of this agreement. One thing though is clear. More funding is likely to be made available for developing countries for climate change projects.

Much of those funds will flow through international and national financial institutions as well as the climate financial mechanisms such as the GCF, GEF and the adaptation Fund. More funding will become available for mitigation projects such as for renewable energy, energy efficiency, and carbon capture. Likewise, more funding will become available for adaptation projects, such as shoreline protection, water conservation, climate resilient agriculture, early warning systems and flood protection schemes.

With the growing number of project interventions, communities everywhere, including indigenous communities will have an opportunity to benefit from these development interventions. Whether they benefit from these projects will partly depend on whether they are proactively provided with meaningful opportunities to participate in the design and implementation of these projects. Sadly, meaningful community participation in project design and implementation is still a rarity. Though participatory project design and implementation is required by many financial institutions, the reality on the ground is very different. Marginalized communities complain that they are often not consulted, and that community participation has become a tick-the-box exercise.

As a result, more often than not, communities have little to no say in project design and implementation, even when they are supposed to be the beneficiaries. In some cases, this leads to conflict. Conflicts can arise simply because communities don’t have the information they need to understand the project and its benefits. They can also arise because communities feel they had no voice in project design and implementation. Finally, conflicts can arise because of adverse project impacts. Where can a community turn to for redress and remedy, when conflicts arise. That is where Grievance Redress Mechanisms (GRMs) come in. Much has been written on the IRM web page about GRMs, suffice it to say they are set up by the project implementing organizations with a view to providing an avenue for addressing complaints and grievances of those impacted by their projects.

GRMs provide an alternate form of justice that communities can access. Most public interest law organizations who assist communities with project related conflicts are either unaware of such GRMs or don’t trust them to deliver remedies. Many advice communities to take the conflicts to national or international courts and tribunals. While national judicial systems must always remain open to communities for redress, GRMs afford a much cheaper and often quicker way for communities to obtain remedies – at least partial remedies. Besides, many international financial institutions that fund projects are either immune from lawsuits or are much better resourced than a community to fight legal actions. As such, public interest law groups and lawyers are encouraged to explore and use the alternate GRM system that is increasing becoming available in the public, private and even civil society sectors. They are also encouraged to familiarize themselves with alternative dispute resolution methods, including through GRMs. The more communities are assisted to use these alternate justice systems, the more they strengthen them, and allow remedies to be obtained by communities.