"Information is a vital element in the protection of our environment. Not only does it raise awareness among decision makers and the public at large about the problems and issues that should be tackled, but it also makes it possible to take appropriate action when something goes wrong. The recent example of the cyanide spill in Baia Mare shows how poor communication and a lack of information can aggravate an ecological catastrophe and cause widespread confusion among the population. The communication technology exists, it is now up to the people working in the field of environment to use it," says Kaj Brlund, Director of the Environment Division of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE).
The UNECE Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters* (the Aarhus Convention) aims at securing the active participation of civil society as a prerequisite for meaningful progress towards sustainability. To promote and facilitate the involvement of the public, the Convention's Signatories are now exploring the possibilities offered by the latest information and communication technologies and have set up a task force to this end.
The first meeting of the Task Force took place in Arendal, Norway, on 8-9 March, and was attended by more than 60 environmental information professionals, policy makers, NGOs and IT experts from more than 30 UNECE member countries. At the meeting, it became obvious that not all countries have the same possibilities and infrastructures and that traditional means of communication (e.g. television and radio) should also be on the agenda. The event was chaired by Austria (Federal Environment Agency), hosted by the Norwegian Environment Ministry and streamed via the Internet by the organizers, UNEP/GRID-Arendal (www.grida.no).
The Task Force decided that the efforts in environmental information should concentrate on:
- Building the capacities of public authorities in the use of electronic tools;
- Developing common approaches and tools for disseminating environmental information via the Internet;
- Establishing environmental gateways as user-friendly access mechanisms;
- Using the electronic media to raise awareness about the Convention and the opportunities it offers to citizens;
- Working together with NGOs, the mass media and other users to improve the quality of environmental information and access to it; and
- Promoting public access centres in countries with inadequate electronic infrastructures.
The Task Force is itself setting an example, as it will continue its work in a virtual environment via an electronic discussion forum hosted by the Regional Environmental Center for Central and Eastern Europe (REC) at http://archive.rec.org/e%2Daarhus/, where a gallery of case studies also can be found.
The Task Force was established in July 2000 based on a proposal by the REC, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the ECO Forum. The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe hosts the secretariat for the Convention and the Task Force.
For more information, please contact:
Sofie H. FLENSBORG
UNECE Environment and Human Settlements Division
Palais des Nations, office 315
CH - 1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland
Phone: (+41 22) 917 26 50
Fax: (+41 22) 907 01 07
* The UNECE Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters was signed by 39 countries and the European Community in June 1998 in Aarhus, Denmark. Ten countries have ratified it. More information about the Convention is available at: www.unece.org/env/pp
United Nations Economic Commission for Europe
Palais des Nations,
CH-1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland
Tel.: +41 (0) 22 917 44 44
Fax: +41 (0) 22 917 05 05
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