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20th Anniversary of the Adoption of the Aarhus Convention

Twenty years after its adoption in 1998, the UNECE Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters (Aarhus Convention) remains a model example of the application of the concept of “environmental democracy” as enshrined in Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development.

When the Convention entered into force in 2001, the former Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, called “The Aarhus Convention […] the most ambitious venture in environmental democracy undertaken under the auspices of the United Nations. Its adoption was a remarkable step forward in the development of international law.” 

Today, twenty years later, the Convention still demonstrates how environmental democracy can promote transparency and transboundary cooperation; how it can help environmentally-sound management of resources; and lay the foundations for peaceful, inclusive and just societies. 

At the same time, the anniversary serves as a reminder to recall the significance of democratic values for our societies and for sustainable development more broadly. This is especially important in a context where some societies are experiencing trends moving away from these values and towards greater restrictions on civil and political liberties. Environmental activists are increasingly the targets of repressive measures and retaliatory actions. It is crucial that people exercising their environmental rights do so free from fear. 

The Budva Declaration adopted last year at the sixth session of the Meeting of the Parties to the Convention addresses this critical issue and demonstrates strong commitment by Parties to the Aarhus Convention to promote environmental democracy throughout efforts to deliver on the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development.

Democracy, good governance, participation and the rule of law are at the heart of sustainable development. They are enshrined in SDG 16 that impacts the achievement of all SDGs. They are also prerequisites for addressing cross-cutting global challenges, such as climate change, environmental impacts on health, and availability of clean water. All stakeholders must work together if we want to overcome these challenges. This is why the Convention promotes wide involvement of NGOs, the private sector, the public at large and other stakeholders in environmental decision-making, alongside the government. 

Please read the following outreach material on the Aarhus Convention Anniversary by clicking on the picture. This includes:

  • Speech Bubbles / 3 Words – What the Aarhus Convention stands for in your opinion
  • Aarhus in Practice – How the Aarhus Convention made a difference in your country
  • What others say – Statements on the Aarhus Convention: Its relevance today and for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda