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Sixth session of the Meeting of the Parties to the Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters (Aarhus Convention) – general segment

 

Daily Summary
Tuesday, 12 September 2017

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) continued on Tuesday, 12 September, in Budva, Montenegro.

Opening the General Segment, Ms. Ivana Vojinović, Deputy Minister of Sustainable Development and Tourism of Montenegro reminded, in her welcoming address, the requirements of the Aarhus Convention and their implementation by Montenegro, which, as an Ecological State, always gives great importance to sustainable development and its responsibility towards the generations to come.

Regarding the status of ratifications, the Aarhus Convention secretariat informed that there were no new ratifications since 2014, keeping the number of Parties to the Convention at 47. The number of ratifications of the Amendment on Public Participation in Decisions on the Deliberate Release into the Environment and Placing on the Market of GMOs (GMO Amendment) increased from 28 to 31 with ratifications by Georgia, France and Malta. This brought the number of ratifications required for its entry into force to just two Parties. In an intervention, a European ECO Forum representative expressed regret over the fact that the Russian Federation had not yet acceded to the Convention. The representative of Guinea-Bissau, Mr. Mário Batista Camala, informed that his country was already applying all the principles of the Aarhus Convention and expressed hope that other African countries would also follow.

Turning to substantive issues, the MOP first addressed access to information, including electronic information tools. The representative of the European ECO Forum, 

Ms. Mara Silina, delivered a keynote speech on access to information pointing out several challenges but also stressing the crucial role of the continuous work of the Task Force in improving the access to, dissemination and re-use of environmental information. After Belarus shared information on the work it undertook, a draft decision on promoting effective access to information was provisionally adopted by the MOP. Several delegations, including the European Union, Norway and Switzerland also made statements.

Moving to the second pillar of the Aarhus Convention, Ms. Loredana Dall’Ora (Italy), Chair of the Task Force on Public Participation in Decision-making, presented the highlights of the Task Force’s activities since MOP 5, notably its vital role in bringing together the authorities and stakeholders from number of countries and creating a platform for dialogue, aiming to practically address the challenges related to the implementation of public participation in environmental decision-making. In an ensuing keynote statement, Ms. Anke Stock, representative of the European ECO Forum, shared a few concerns related to speeding up the public participation process in some of the countries and the participation of representatives of marginalized groups. Many delegations spoke on this item including Belarus, the European Union, Norway, Switzerland, REC CEE, a representative of Aarhus Centre Sarajevo and a number of NGOs, stressing the critical importance of effective public participation and of sharing good practices and problems in this area. Then, the MOP provisionally adopted a draft decision on promoting effective public participation in decision-making.

As regards to access to justice, Mr. Jan Darpö (Sweden), Chair of the Task Force on Access to Justice, presented its main accomplishments since the last MOP, including the development of a jurisprudence database. He stressed the importance of keeping back to back meetings with lawyers, judges and other important stakeholders, developing training material and enriching the database of cases. In an ensuing keynote speech, Mr. Miroslav Gavalec, judge of Supreme Court of Slovakia, observed the substantial positive impact that the Convention had in judicial context. Followed statements were from the Judge Beibut Shermukhmetov (Kazakhstan) and other delegations, including Armenia, the European Union, Norway, OSCE Mission in Serbia, REC CEE, the European ECO Forum and several NGOs, who shared experience from their respective countries and areas of expertise, as well as those who affirmed their support to the draft decision on promoting effective access to justice, which was later provisionally adopted by the MOP.

With regards to genetically modified organisms (GMOs), Mr. Helmut Gaugitsch (Austria), Chair of the second joint round table on public awareness, access to information and public participation regarding living modified organisms/genetically modified organisms (LMOs/GMOs) delivered a report on the activities in this area since the previous session of MOP. He listed recommendations on concrete steps for a way forward, notably the development of a “pocket guide” describing the benefits and challenges to promoting transparency and public participation in LMO/GMO related matters. A representative of the secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity delivered a statement, in which she stressed the close collaboration between the secretariats of the Aarhus Convention and the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety and how the joint activities help to better promote public awareness, education and participation concerning the safe transfer, handling and use of LMOs.

Followed reports on the status of ratification of the GMO amendment and activities were from the delegates from Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Ukraine, as well as interventions by representatives of the European Union and the European ECO Forum. 

The MOP then addressed the procedures and mechanisms facilitating the implementation of the Convention, starting with the reporting mechanism. The Chair presented a summary of the synthesis report on the status of implementation of the Convention, outlining progress made and identifying significant trends, challenges and solutions. Following interventions by Switzerland and the European Union and by a representative of NGO Landvernd, the Chair invited the MOP to consider a draft decision on reporting, which the delegates provisionally adopted. 

As to the compliance mechanism, Mr. Jonas Ebbesson, the Chair of the Compliance Committee, reported on the Committee’s activities since the last MOP, focusing on the findings and recommendations adopted, the issues of compliance as well as the measures taken to make the Committee’s work more effective. Following interventions from Belarus, Romania, Ukraine, the European ECO Forum and a number of NGOs, the MOP Chair presented draft decisions on compliance regarding Armenia, Austria, Belarus, Bulgaria, Czechia, European Union, Kazakhstan, Romania, Slovakia, Spain, United Kingdom and the draft decision on general issues of compliance, all of which, except for the European Union, were provisionally adopted on Wednesday. As for the draft decision concerning compliance by the European Union, the Meeting saw a strong stand against the EU's efforts to prevent the MOP adopting this decision endorsing findings that the EU was in non-compliance with the Convention for its failure to allow members of the public to have access to justice to challenge acts and omissions by EU institutions that contravene EU law relating to the environment. Faced with a situation that could have seriously jeopardised the authority of the MOP and the integrity of the Convention’s compliance mechanism, the strong resistance by several Parties together with environmental NGOs and other stakeholders ultimately saw the United Nation's spirit of consensus prevail and the discussion on the decision on compliance by the European Union has been postponed until the next ordinary session of MOP. Norway, Switzerland and the NGO Client Earth, also speaking on behalf of the European ECO Forum, expressed their deep regrets to the position taken by the EU. 

As for capacity-building, the Chair stressed the importance of partner organizations in assisting in the promotion and implementation of the Convention at local, national and subregional levels through capacity-building activities. Several organizations shared their views on outstanding needs for capacity-building and provided information on the activities undertaken. Finally, the Chair summarized the conclusions of the discussion, on which the MOP agreed. 

Several side events completed the programme of the day, focusing on the Aarhus Convention Index, new rights and procedures for strengthening environmental democracy in France, public participation in international forums, access to justice, monitoring progress of the implementation at national levels, and empowering citizens to better tackle climate change and implement the Paris Agreement.