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Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee makes clear that the COVID-19 pandemic cannot justify any restriction of the public’s rights to information, participation and justice in environmental matters

Published: 07 September 2020

On 2 September 2020, the Compliance Committee to the Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters (Aarhus Convention) adopted a statement on the application of the Aarhus Convention both during the COVID-19 pandemic, and in the subsequent phase of economic recovery.

In its statement, the Compliance Committee expresses its concern that Parties may attempt to justify restrictions on the rights guaranteed under the Convention by reference to the COVID-19 pandemic or the need for a rapid economic recovery due to the consequences of the pandemic.

The Compliance Committee makes clear that even in a crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent economic recovery phase, the binding rights in the Convention cannot be reduced or curtailed. Rather, if the established practices for ensuring access to information, public participation in decision-making or access to justice in environmental matters cannot be used, any alternative means must fulfil the requirements of the Convention.

The Compliance Committee’s statement welcomes the constructive approach taken by some Parties in exploring ways to ensure that the Convention’s requirements are met during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Committee encourages the Parties to learn from good practices in meeting the Convention’s standards during the pandemic and in the subsequent economic recovery phase and to seek advice from the Committee if needed.

The Compliance Committee also reminds the Parties that any shortcoming in ensuring effective access to information, public participation in decision-making or access to justice under the Convention during the COVID-19 pandemic or in the subsequent economic recovery phase may be subject to challenge by members of the public in accordance with the provisions of article 9 of the Convention. Any shortcoming may also be subject to communications, submissions and referrals to the Committee in accordance with decision I/7 of the Meeting of the Parties.

By way of background, the Aarhus Convention is the only global legally binding instrument that gives the public broad and concrete rights to participate in decision-making and to have access to information and justice regarding the environment. In doing so, the Convention links environmental and human rights and aims to protect the rights of both present and future generations to live in a healthy environment. The Convention connects government accountability, transparency and responsiveness with environmental protection and sustainable development. Its cross-cutting rights are thus fundamental for the attainment of the 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Of all SDGs, Goal 16 is particularly closely connected to the overall objective of the treaty as the Convention plays a central role in promoting peaceful and inclusive societies, and good governance.

The compliance mechanism of the Aarhus Convention is one of the few mechanisms in international environmental law which allows members of the public to communicate their concerns about a Party’s compliance directly to a board of independent experts, the Compliance Committee, which has the mandate to examine the merits of the case. The Compliance Committee adopts findings and, in the case of non-compliance, may make recommendations to the Party concerned in order to ensure the non-compliance is addressed. It also provides advisory support to Parties upon request. The Compliance Committee thus plays an important role in assisting Parties to meet their obligations under the Convention.

More information about the Aarhus Convention can be accessed at:

http://www.unece.org/env/pp/welcome.html

Additional information on the Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee is available at:

http://www.unece.org/env/pp/cc.html

Note to editors

The Aarhus Convention was adopted in Aarhus, Denmark, in June 1998 and entered into force in October 2001.

The Parties to the Convention include the European Union, the vast majority of countries in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, all of the countries in the Caucasus and South-Eastern and Northern Europe, and all of the European Union’s Member States. The Aarhus Convention is open globally to accession by any United Nations Member State.


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