UNUnited Nations Economic Commission for Europe

Press Release


Governments reach agreement on public participation in decision-making on genetically modified organisms

Geneva, 26 May 2005 - An agreement to extend the public’s legal right to participate in decision-making on the release and placing on the market of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) was reached on Wednesday by the Parties to the UNECE Aarhus Convention holding their second meeting in Almaty, Kazakhstan.1 The Parties agreed on the text of an amendment to the Convention aimed at extending the role of the public in decisions involving GMOs.

The breakthrough in the negotiations brings to an end a protracted attempt to find a legally binding means of bolstering public participation under the Convention, which is widely viewed as the world’s most far-reaching instrument promoting environmental democracy. Earlier, the Parties had been deadlocked as a result of their differing needs and perspectives.

The compromise text brokered during three days of intensive negotiations in the run-up to the Meeting of the Parties is expected to establish a new legal norm for the Convention‘s Parties once it enters into force. Under the terms of the Convention, amendments enter into force only following ratification by at least three quarters of the Parties2 and are binding only upon those that have ratified them.

The amendment to the Convention would require the Parties to inform and consult the public in decision-making on the deliberate release and placing on the market of GMOs. The public would have the right to submit comments and the public authorities would be expected to take these into account in the decision-making process. Once made, the decision taken should be publicly available together with the reasons and considerations upon which it is based. Excepting cases of commercial confidentiality, information associated with GMO decisions would be made available to the public. In no cases could Parties withhold as confidential information on the intended uses of the release or assessment of environmental risk, however. It would not foreclose the right of its Parties to adopt more extensive measures expanding the public’s right to participate in GMO decisions.

The Meeting also reviewed the implementation of the Guidelines on access to information, public participation and access to justice with respect to GMOs, which the Parties had adopted as a voluntary instrument in 2002. A report on their implementation by the Convention’s secretariat found that, in countries lacking biosafety legislation, the Guidelines provided inspiration for developing detailed provisions on public participation in activities with GMOs in legislation.3

For further information, please visit www.unece.org/env/pp or contact:

Environmental Information Management Officer
Aarhus Convention Secretariat
UNECE Environment and Human Settlements Division
Palais des Nations
CH - 1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland

Phone: +41 (0) 22 917 23 84
Mobile: +41 (0) 79 477 08 42
Fax: +41 (0) 22 917 01 07
E-mail: michael.stanley-jones@unece.org


1 The Aarhus Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE). The UNECE region encompasses the whole of Europe and five Central Asian countries, as well as Canada, Israel and the United States.

2 There are 35 Parties to the Convention: Albania, Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Hungary, Italy, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Moldova, Romania, Slovenia, Spain, Tajikistan, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, United Kingdom, and the European Community.

3 The Report on the implementation of the Guidelines on access to information, public participation and access to justice with respect to genetically modified organisms (ECE/MP.PP/2005/5) is available in English, French and Russian: see http://www.unece.org/env/pp/mop2/mop2.docII.htm


Ref: ECE/ENV/05/P06