Guidance on the Practical Application of the Espoo Convention
The need for systematic approaches in applying the Convention
The Convention in the context of international environmental law
The UN Convention on Environmental Impact
Assessment in a Transboundary Context, the so-called Espoo
Convention, hereafter the Convention, was signed in 1991. It
requires that assessments are extended across borders between Parties
of the Convention when a planned activity may cause significant adverse transboundary
impacts. The Convention was a response to a growing concern about
transboundary emissions and the emergence of environmental impact assessment
as a tool to reduce the negative environmental effects of new activities.
The Convention came into force in 1997. Since then the number of Parties and
the practical application of the Convention have increased steadily. This
guidance document has been written for competent authorities in the Parties
to the Convention. It provides hints and suggestions that can improve the
practical application of the Convention and that may be used in forming
bi-and multilateral agreements
among Parties that have to deal with transboundary impacts on a regular
basis. The overall approach taken in this guide is that the application
of the Convention can and preferably should be part of a systematic way
of managing international environmental requirements. In practice this
means that all procedural stages should be documented and that clear responsibilities
should be identified in advance for all the stages of the application of
The guide may also be useful to the
national Points of Contact regarding the notification as well as other
local, regional, state or national authorities and to Non-Governmental
Organisations (NGO), International Financing Institutions (IFI) and the
public who are likely to become involved in the practical application of
the Convention. The guide goes through each of the steps in the application
of the Convention and identifies good practices based on accumulated experiences
from the different Parties to the Convention.
The focuses on issues that
- have been identified to cause difficulties when applying the Convention or that
- are important to take into consideration when developing bi- or multilateral agreements to support the application of the Convention.
TheSecond Meeting of the Parties (Sofia, February 2001) to the Convention
on Environmental Impact Assessment
in a Transboundary Context - the Convention, decided to include the elaboration
of guidance on practical application of the Convention and on bilateral
and multilateral agreements and arrangements in the work plan for
2001-2004. The Netherlands, Finland and Sweden took the responsibility
of acting as lead countries of the activity. The lead countries contracted
the Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE) to co-ordinate the practical work.
Previous work under the work plan for 1998-2000 of the Convention has provided material to support
the practical implementation of the Convention.
The reports Practical
Application of the Espoo Convention (Report
of the second Meeting of the Parties, Annex II),
and Multilateral co-operation in the framework of
the Espoo Convention (Report of the second
Meeting of the Parties, Annex I) and Current
Policies, Strategies and Aspects of Environmental
Impact Assessment in a Transboundary Context
(Environmental Series No. 6, UN/ECE, 1996)
give background information and additional suggestions.
This guide provides a compilation of practical ideas
for those involved in transboundary EIAs according
to the Convention.
The need for systematic approaches in applying
Transboundary assessments according to the Convention have proved worthwhile. The transboundary
approach ensures that assessments analyse entire spatial scale of impacts.
In addition, transboundary assessments mitigate tensions between concerned
Parties by providing information before rumours develop and by letting
citizens in the affected Party present
their opinions on activities that may have an impact on their environment.
impact assessments (EIA) are multidisciplinary in nature. The issues
that arise are also affected by the knowledge and values of the different
stakeholders and the public. EIAs in a transboundary context (henceforth
transboundary assessments) are even more complex. In neighbouring Parties
the EIA-process may be differently structured in legislation or carried
out in practice in different ways depending on the historical and cultural
background. Differences are commonly seen in criteria for identifying activities
that should be subject to EIA, in the criteria for what is regarded as
a significant environmental impact and in the philosophy of EIA including
issues such as the role of EIA in decision making and the role of the public
in the EIA.
reduce difficulties that arise due to differences in legislation and practice
by increasing the exchange of information on legislation and practices.
Difficulties in applying the Convention have also arisen due to too complicated
or poor organisation within a Party. Clear rules of procedure and with
clearly identified responsibilities to organise the transboundary assessments
have proved to help in carrying out the assessments.
those Parties that frequently apply the Convention, bilateral
or multilateral agreements/arrangements may be a practical way to
overcome difficulties due to discrepancies between legislation and practice
of the Parties. Henceforth the term "agreement" will be used to mean any
kind of "bilateral and multilateral agreement or other arrangement"
for transboundary assessments. Such agreements can provide a tailored framework
for running the assessment procedure between the two Parties. These agreements
are also important in regions where joint
EIA´s are common.
The Convention in the context of international environmental law
The Convention introduced a new way of dealing with transboundary
impacts: the transboundary environmental impacts assessment (EIA).
Environmental impact assessment existed in the national legislation of
most Parties and thus it was technically possible to extend the assessment
across the border under the Convention. This extension had also been made
Council Directive on the assessment of the effects of certain public
and private projects on the environment (No. 85/337/ECC, 03 2175, 5.7.1985,
p. 40) as amended by Council Directive (No. 97/11/EC, 03 273, 14.3.1997,
p.5) of the European Union and with the Convention this demand has been
extended to cover all Parties to the Convention.
Although the Convention is the most specific
piece of international legislation for transboundary impacts it is not
the only one. For example the
Convention on long-range transboundary air pollution (1979), the
Convention on early notification on nuclear accidents (1986) and the
Convention on the control of transboundary movements of hazardous wastes
and their disposal (1989) also deal with related issues. There
are also three UN/ECE environmental conventions that refer to the Convention.
These are the Convention on the
Transboundary Effects of Industrial Accidents, The
Convention of the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and
International Lakes and the
Convention on Access to Information, Public
Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental
Matters. Many general environmental global conventions such as the
Biodiversity Convention (1992) set requirements for environmental
impact assessments and explicitly encourage also transboundary assessments.