UNUnited Nations Economic Commission for Europe

Press Releases 2000

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Aarhus Convention starts count-down to entry into force

Geneva, 9 August 2001

The Aarhus Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters will come into effect on 30 October 2001. This comes as a result of the recent ratification of the Convention by Armenia and Estonia, which became the sixteenth and seventeenth countries to do so.1

The Aarhus Convention was negotiated by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) as part of its pan-European environmental legal framework. It is generally intended to lift the veil of environmental secrecy and strengthen citizens’ environmental rights. It has now been ratified by Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Denmark, Estonia, Georgia, Hungary, Italy, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, the Republic of Moldova, Romania, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Ukraine.

Recent ozone peaks have again highlighted the need for people to have timely information about the environment so that they can take precautions and keep their vulnerable children indoors, for instance. The Aarhus Convention aims to ensure that everyone has access to this type of information and to prevent Governments from covering up environmental disasters. This should prevent any repetition of the denials and confusion that followed the Chernobyl disaster in 1986.

The Convention also gives ordinary citizens a voice in any decision-making that affects their environment, such as the siting of toxic waste dumps. Finally, the Convention is intended to ensure that public authorities and polluters that break the rules can be challenged in court either by individuals or by non-governmental organizations.

Welcoming the relatively swift progress made towards entry into force since the Convention was adopted in 1998, the Secretary to the Convention, Jeremy Wates, noted the particular importance of the Convention to the countries with economies in transition: "The Convention is not only a powerful weapon in the struggle to protect the environment but also a tool for democracy. Especially in countries which have recently introduced democratic systems, it is of crucial importance to establish principles of transparency, accountability and involvement of civil society to ensure stability and security."

However, this does not mean that western countries are turning their backs on environmental rights. Several are known to be putting the final touches to legislation to comply with the Convention and will, no doubt, be on board by the time the Parties hold their first meeting. The European Union has also vowed to apply the Convention to its institutions.

The Convention is the most far-reaching instrument promoting environmental democracy under the auspices of the United Nations. As a result, its entry into force could prove to be an important input to the so-called Rio + 10 Conference in Johannesburg in 2002. The UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, has suggested that the Rio + 10 Conference would be "a timely occasion to examine the relevance of the Aarhus Convention as a possible model for strengthening the application of principle 10 [of the Rio Declaration] in other regions of the world".2

For more information, see the Convention’s web site http://www.unece.org/env/pp
or contact:

Jeremy WATES
Secretary to the Aarhus Convention
UNECE Environment and Human Settlements Division
Palais des Nations, office 332
CH - 1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland

Phone: (+41 22) 917 23 84
Fax:    (+41 22) 907 01 07 or 917 06 34
E-mail:
jeremy.wates@unece.org

 

Note: A public information brochure on the Aarhus Convention is available in English (ALL involved for a better environment) and French (TOUS pour un environnement meilleur) from the UNECE secretariat.

 

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1 According to its article 20, the Convention will enter into force on the 90th day after the date of deposit of the 16th instrument of ratification with the UN Secretary-General. The 16th instrument was deposited by Armenia on 1 August 2001 and the 17th by Estonia on 2 August 2001.  

2  In his foreword to the Aarhus Convention Implementation Guide – see http://www.unece.org/env/pp/publications.htm

 

 

Ref:  ECE/ENV/01/06