Environmental rights treaty body pushes forward environmental democracy agenda
On the concluding day of the second meeting of the Parties to the Aarhus Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters, United Nations Secretary-General, Mr Kofi Annan, highlighted the way in which the Convention’s principles “empowered citizens to hold governments accountable and to play a greater role in promoting more sustainable forms of development.” The Secretary-General’s remarks were delivered before the high-level session of the meeting by Mrs Brigita Schmögnerová, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE).
The Meeting concluded three days of deliberation with the adoption of decisions aimed at breathing new life into the global environmental democracy movement. Among its key outcomes are:
- Adoption of an amendment to the Convention extending the rights of the public to participate in decision-making on genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
- The adoption of Guidelines on how Parties should apply the principles of the Aarhus Convention in other international environment-related forums. The Guidelines are expected to lead to greater transparency and accountability in a wide range of international bodies and processes dealing with environmental issues in which the Parties to the Convention have a strong influence.
- Implementation and compliance: the Meeting reviewed the first set of national reports on implementation to see whether and how the goals of the Convention are applied in practice. The reports reveal that the Parties have made important progress in applying the Convention but also that significant obstacles to implementation remain, especially in Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia, and South Eastern Europe.
- In the first test of the Convention's compliance mechanism, the findings of its Compliance Committee that three countries -- Turkmenistan, Ukraine and the host country Kazakhstan -- had failed to comply with certain provisions of the Convention were upheld by the Parties. The compliance mechanism is unique in that any member of the public having concerns about a Party’s compliance with the Convention may communicate their concern to the Compliance Committee.
- Continuation of work on the Convention’s access to justice pillar: the Meeting renewed the mandate of the task force on access to justice, having identified this ‘pillar’ of the Convention as the one posing the greatest challenges.
- Adoption of recommendations on electronic information tools to increase public access to environmental information.
- Promotion of the Aarhus principles globally: the Parties pledged their support for the drawing up of appropriate regional instruments on access to information, public participation in decision-making and access to justice in other regions, as well as extending an invitation to States outside the UNECE region to accede to the Convention.
The high-level session, which was chaired by Ms. Aitkul Samakova, Minister of Environmental Protection of Kazakhstan, opened with a panel on "Successes, failures and lessons learned: key challenges in implementing the Convention.” Participants debated ways to overcome political, institutional and cultural barriers to the successful application of the Convention and the role of civil society in promoting its implementation. In his message of support to the Meeting, the Secretary-General welcomed the active participation of civil society organizations in the Aarhus processes, stating that their involvement “would ensure that the Convention remains a living, evolving instrument.”
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