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The Good Society 11.2 (2002) 46-56

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Citizen Involvement in the Environmental Policy Process in Korea

Hoi-Seong Jeong



Effective environmental policy-making requires citizen participation. Governments are confronted with numerous difficulties in their efforts to effectively handle environmental issues, and this makes citizen involvement critical. Not only is environmental governance a matter of dealing with the conflicting or competing interests of stakeholders, governments are challenged in their efforts to protect the environment by financial and technical resource shortages, information gaps, and monitoring and enforcement problems. Citizen groups can facilitate environmental management tasks. Environmental issues, moreover, are associated with high levels of scientific uncertainty that may require the making of value judgements. Public involvement in value-laden decision-making is critical. It is also the case that there has been a shift in focus in pollution mitigation efforts from an almost sole focus on the production process to greater attention to consumption issues. Since consumption-related pollution issues are tied to the lifestyle choices of the public, there is a need for links between the government and citizens if these issues are to be addressed. For all these reasons, citizen's involvement can be considered as one of the most important conditions for effective environmental governance.

Although the environmental consciousness of the Korean people is very high, their actual participation in the environmental policy process has been very limited until recently. Along with the processes of democratization and localization that began in the early 1990s, however, citizen participation in the environmental policy process has developed very rapidly. Central and local governments have introduced various types of participation mechanisms, including advisory committees for environmental policy-making and reward systems for monitoring and reporting of environmental violations. Particularly, the spread of Local Agenda 21 (LA21) movements since the mid-1990s has promoted the evolution of diverse participation models. With the inauguration of the Kim Dae-Jung administration's "People's Government," residents have had many more opportunities to participate in the environmental policy-making process from design stages to implementation.

This article examines the development of citizen involvement in environmental governance in Korea. First, a typology of citizens' participation is presented. This is then related to the Korean case. The article concludes with some comments on the implication of the evolution of citizens' participation upon the development of a green democracy in Korea.

Citizen Involvement in Environmental Governance

Abraham Lincoln called for a democratic polity "of the people, for the people, by the people." Indeed, the essence of democratic politics is societal participation. The idea of "citizen participation" in policy making rapidly disseminated in Europe and America in the 1960s with the proliferation of liberal democratic thought. It is a more recent development in Korea.

"Citizen participation" is an ambiguous term. This study defines citizen's involvement as general participatory activities by citizens who seek to influence directly or indirectly upon the policy-making process. (Lee, 1994:23). The objective of environmental citizen participation is generally to improve the lives of citizens and the actions of government. The functions of citizen participation are diverse: 1) to educate the public about environmental (or other) issues and to inform citizens of governmental decisions, 2) to collect information from citizens or about citizens in order to incorporate public values into decision making, 3) to improve the substantive quality of administrative decisions, plans, projects, and services, 4) to facilitate the approval of administrative decisions, plans, projects and services so as to induce citizen compliance with administrative decisions, and 5) to complement the weak points of administrative activities and to achieve cost-effectiveness in environmental management. However, it should also be recognized that citizens' involvement may have unintended consequences. It can distort the political power structure and resource distribution or serve to protect the specific interests of small active groups at the expense of the general public. Citizens groups may also lead administrative authorities to avoid or delay difficult decisions (Beier, 1998; Oh, 1999; Kim, 1987: 465-467). [End Page 46]

There are several means by which citizens can participate in environmental governance...


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