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Joint High-level Segment under the Meetings of the Parties to the Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters (Aarhus Convention) and its Protocol on Pollutant Release and Transfer Registers

 

Daily Summary
Thursday, 14 September 2017

The Joint High-Level Segment of the sixth session of the Meeting of the Parties (MOP 6) to the Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters (Aarhus Convention) and the third session of the Meeting of the Parties to the Protocol (MOPP 3) on Pollutant Release and Transfer Registers (PRTRs) convened on Thursday, 14 September, in Budva, Montenegro.

Following a short musical introduction, the Joint High-Level Segment (JHLS) began with a welcome address by H.E. Mr. Pavle Radulović, Minister for Sustainable Development and Tourism of Montenegro, who chaired parts of the meeting. Mr. Ivan Brajović, President of Parliament of Montenegro, informed that in its decision-making related to economic development, Montenegro was aiming to protect the natural assets of the country and to harmonize measures of environmental protection with long-term national social and economic interests. Then, the Chair of the JHLS, Ms. Olga Algayerova, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), made an introductory statement, in which she stressed the global relevance of environmental democracy and the efforts that were made to protect environmental activists and whistle-blowers. 

Further to the adoption of the provisional agenda for the JHLS, the Parties approved the report on the credentials with regard to the Protocol’s Parties presented by the Vice Chair of the Bureau of the Meeting of the Parties to the Protocol on PRTRs, Mr. Øyvind Hetland in which he informed that quorum for decision-making was reached.

The thematic session on the role of the Convention and its Protocol in implementing the Sustainable Development Goals was chaired by the Executive Secretary of the UNECE, Ms. Olga Algayerova. Held in “Davos style”, the first panel discussion included H.E. Mr. Pavle Radulović, Minister of Sustainable Development and Tourism of Montenegro; Mr. Harry Liiv, Deputy Minister of the Ministry of the Environment, Estonia; H.E. Ambassador Vuk Žugić, Co-ordinator of Economic and Environmental Activities, OSCE; and Mr. Jeremy Wates, representative of the European ECO Forum and Secretary General of the European Environmental Bureau. Invited by the Chair, the panellists shared their experience related to implementing the Aarhus Convention principles in decision-making related to the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals, the outcomes achieved, any good practices, challenges and lessons learned that might benefit other Parties.

H. E. Mr. Pavle Radulović started by evoking the establishment of the first regional park “PIVA” as an example of a participatory approach adopted to sustainable development decision-making. This proved that public participation leads to acceptable agreements and solutions, and that transparency forms the basis for the success of any initiative. Mr. Harry Liiv elaborated on how access to environmental information and public participation contributed to the implementation of water-related SDGs in Estonia. Mr. Vuk Žugić outlined the activities of the Aarhus Centres’ network in the 15 years that have passed since their establishment. He stated that addressing environment and security challenges required dialogue between countries and active involvement of stakeholders in decision-making. Mr. Jeremy Wates started by reminding the audience of the current unfavourable political context for environmental policies, and underlined the importance of successful implementation of the SDGs. He further emphasized the crucial role of the public and the NGOs in this ambitious process.

Followed interventions from the floor, starting with a speech by the United Nations Resident Coordinator and UNDP Representative in Montenegro, Ms. Fiona McCluney, on the implementation of the SDGs. Ms. Nino Gokhelashvili, representing Georgia, underlined that the Aarhus Convention was helping achieve almost all the SDGs and confirmed the commitment of Georgia to pursue the implementation of the Convention. Mr. Florian Wild, delegate from Switzerland, confirmed the great emphasis placed by his country on the issue of sustainable development and viewed the Budva Declaration's commitment to promote environmental democracy as essential precondition for achieving the goals of the 2030 Agenda and for building a sustainable future. Finally, Ms. Eija Lumme, representative of Finland, informed that the country had actively started to take national measures to implement the 2030 Agenda. She stressed the importance of translating the global goals to national policies and measures to help different actors to understand what global goals mean to the country, and enable commitment and ownership for action. 

The second panel discussion gathered Mr. Per Ängquist, State Secretary of the Ministry of the Environment and Energy, Sweden; Mr. Mykola Kuzio, Deputy Minister for European Integration, Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources, Ukraine; Mr. Mihail Dimovski, Executive Director, Regional Environmental Centre for Central and Eastern Europe and Mr. Stanko Zloković, Vice President of the Chamber of Economy of Montenegro.

Mr. Per Ängquist presented the ongoing Swedish initiatives aiming to achieve the SDGs using public access to environmental information through educational tools. Mr. Mykola Kuzio, Deputy Minister for European Integration, Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources, Ukraine, presented the initiatives “the Black Sea Save Book” and ecomapa.gov.ua, whose purpose was not only to raise awareness, but also to create a space where everyone could contribute. Mr. Mihail Dimovski, Executive Director of the Regional Environmental Centre for Central and Eastern Europe then summarised the work carried out in South-Eastern Europe to improve access to justice with wide support from a number of stakeholders. Mr. Stanko Zloković, Vice-President of the Chamber of Economy of Montenegro then informed that the authorities in Montenegro aimed to implement the three pillars of the Aarhus Convention in their daily activities, encouraging entrepreneurship to follow the same path and address several SDGs.

 

Continuing with the agenda, H.E. Mr. Pavle Radulović opened the discussion on the Budva Declaration on Environmental Democracy for Our Sustainable Future. H.E. Mr. Kęstutis Navickas, Minister of Environment, Lithuania welcomed the Budva Declaration and informed on the actions undertaken in the country. H.E. Ms. Graţiela-Leocadia Gavrilescu, Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Environment of Romania, noted the improvement of access to information in the country, but recognized the need to train officials, which was an on-going process. H.E. Mr. Goran Trivan, Minister of Environmental Protection, Serbia, started by inviting all the countries from the region to achieve the SDGs, and to do so, he stressed the need to ensure effective communication and cooperation between stakeholders, including the civil society. H.E. Mr. Antonio Serifo Embalo, Minister of Environment and Sustainable Development, Guinea-Bissau, pointed to the expansion of democratic principles in the field of environmental matters in his country, but also recalled vulnerability to the effects of climate change. He confirmed the country’s strong will to accede to the Aarhus Convention. Mr. Norbert Kurilla, State Secretary of the Ministry of Environment of Slovakia, stated that the Budva Declaration symbolically opens the door for a better and more sustainable future and he stressed that in spite of the differences between national goals and priorities, the ultimate goal of nations remains the same: ensuring decent quality of life in harmony with nature. Mr. Nicolas Fairise, representing France, affirmed that the Aarhus Convention and its Protocol usefully contribute to sustainable development and further described how France recently strengthened its measures for environmental democracy, which is at the core of the Budva declaration. Mr. Harry Liiv, speaking on behalf of the European Union and its Member States, expressed the Union’s support to the Budva Declaration, which resulted from a constructive discussion between Parties, signatories and stakeholders and reaffirmed the Union’s continuous commitment to implementing the principles of the Convention and the Protocol. Ms. Haykanush Parsamyan, representing Armenia, stated that the Budva Declaration was a starting point for environmental democracy and a crucial step for the implementation of the Aarhus Convention by promoting equality, freedom, human rights and the rights of nature. Mr. Milos Popovic, Head of the UN Resident Coordinator’s team, delivered a statement on behalf of Mr. John Knox, Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment, in which he stated that the three pillars of the Aarhus Convention were at the forefront of environmental efforts and that the MOP 6 had accomplished another milestone in this endeavour. To conclude, he added that the protection of environmental activists should be addressed as a priority. Mr. Robert Diderich, Head of the Health and Safety Division at OECD, welcomed the Budva Declaration and confirmed the organization’s readiness to play a role, in close collaboration with UNECE, as a source of expertise, data, and good practices in establishing and implementing PRTR. Ms. Sulhiya Sodiqova stated, on behalf of all Aarhus Centres, that despite the fact there were sixty centres in different cities and countries, they had a lot in common when it came to environmental protection. By providing a link between civil society and authorities they have been contributing to environmental democracy. Mr. Vadim Ni, delivered a statement on behalf of the Ecoforum of NGOs of Kazakhstan and Crude Accountability, focusing on the issue of harassment of environmental activists, without which, the principles of the Convention would just remain on paper. Ms. Tatsiana Novikava, representing the NGO ECOHOME, urged to respect the environmental human rights and expressed regret over the fact that Belarus did not comply with the Convention. The Draft Budva Declaration on Environmental Democracy for Our Sustainable Future was then adopted by the Parties, accompanied by a surprise cultural event, The MOP then adopted the decisions that were provisionally adopted at the general segment. 

The Chair of the JHLS chaired the following agenda item on review and adoption of decisions of the Meeting of the Parties to the Convention. She invited the Meeting of the Parties to the Aarhus Convention to review the draft decisions that were provisionally adopted at the general segment. Based on the discussions under the preceding agenda items, the Meeting of the Parties formally adopted all decisions with the exception of the draft decision VI/8 (f) on compliance by European Union (ECE/MP.PP/2017/25), which was postponed to the next ordinary session of the Meeting of the Parties to be held in 2021. The Meeting of the Parties adopted the other major outcomes presented at the meeting (contained in ECE/MP.PP/2017/CRP.9) and requested the secretariat, in consultation with the Chair of the Meeting of the Parties, to finalize the session’s report and to incorporate the adopted outcomes and decisions.

In his closing remark, Mr. Jeremy Wates, speaking on behalf of the European ECO Forum, expressed his deep regret over the non-compliance of the European Union with the provisions of the Convention. He noted, however, that the integrity of the Compliance Committee was maintained. To conclude, he urged the European Union to take into account the recommendations and take necessary actions. Another representative from the European ECO forum called on the Parties to take the necessary steps, and give priority to cases of harassment of environmental activists which took place, for instance in Belarus and Bosnia and Herzegovina. The representative concluded that for the Budva Declaration to have a meaning, it was important to turn words into action.

The Executive Secretary of UNECE, Ms Olga Algayerova, in her closing remarks, expressed her gratitude to the Government of Montenegro for its generosity of hosting the meetings, and to UNDP and OSCE for their seamless support to the organization of the event.

Then, the Chair of the JHLS, H.E. Mr. Pavle Radulović, closed the meeting mentioning the challenges we face and the role of the Budva Declaration in the promotion of environmental democracy. 

A number of side events throughout the day covered a variety of topics such as: judicial cooperation to safeguard the environment and sustainable development, role of the public in supporting implementation and compliance with international water mechanisms, PRTR Module for the IOMC Toolbox for Decision-Making in chemicals Management, the celebration of the 15 years’ anniversary since the establishment of Aarhus Centres, promotion of the principles of the Aarhus Convention and Principle 10 globally and in other regions, and the Aarhus principles and the Principle 10 in the chemicals management.