Key outcomes of the third Meeting of the Parties
The Riga Declaration: The Meeting adopted the Riga Declaration, which recognizes the accomplishments of the Convention’s first 10 years and the main challenges remaining to its successful implementation. The Declaration recommits the Parties to achieving environmental democracy in the UNECE region and beyond.
Charting the Convention’s future: The Meeting approved a strategic plan that will set in place the future course of the Convention (decision III/8 ENG). Through the Plan, the Parties reaffirm their commitment to implementation of the Convention among the existing Parties as their first priority while expressing their ambition to expand the geographical scope of the Convention by encouraging other countries, including countries from outside the UNECE region, to accede to it.
They also commit to the goal of further developing the provisions and principles of the Convention where necessary to ensure that it continues to achieve its objectives.
Finally, the Plan encourages Parties to share their experiences with the Convention with other forums interested in using them as a basis or a source of inspiration for further strengthening participatory democracy in their respective fields.
Implementation: The Meeting debated implementation of the Convention, drawing upon a set of thirty-five national reports on implementation, which provided an opportunity to see whether and how the goals of the Convention are applied in practice. The reports, prepared in most instances with input from the public, reveal that the Parties have made significant progress in applying the Convention but also continue to face obstacles to implementation.
Compliance: The Meeting approved decisions calling on six of the treaty’s forty-one parties – Albania, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Lithuania, Turkmenistan and Ukraine – to take measures to bring their countries into compliance with the Convention (decisions III/6 and III/6/a through f).
The Meeting’s review of compliance drew upon the findings and recommendations of the Convention’s independent Compliance Committee made in the period 2005–2008. It is the second test of the Convention's compliance mechanism, which is distinctive in that any member of the public having concerns about a Party’s compliance with the Convention may trigger a process of formal review by the Compliance Committee.
The Meeting issued conditional cautions to both Turkmenistan and Ukraine, both of which had already been found to be in non-compliance at the previous Meeting of the Parties. Unless certain steps are taken by the end of the year, and then verified by the Compliance Committee to have been taken, these cautions will take effect from 1 May 2009.
Public participation: The Meeting committed to take steps to strengthen the implementation of the public participation provisions of the Convention. This was in response to the findings under the compliance and reporting mechanisms that a number of member States face significant challenges in establishing detailed procedures ensuring meaningful public involvement.
Ireland offered to lead a future Task Force on Public Participation. For procedural reasons, the Meeting agreed to start with an ad hoc expert group on public participation and upgrade this to the status of a task force as soon as possible and at the latest by the next ordinary meeting of the Parties.
Continuation of work on the Convention’s access to justice pillar: the Meeting agreed to renew the mandate of the task force on access to justice, having identified this ‘pillar’ of the Convention as the one continuing to pose the greatest challenges (decision III/3 ENG).
Extension of the work on electronic information tools: The Meeting agreed to renew the mandate of the task force on electronic information tools to promote the use of Information and Communications Technology in support of increasing public participation in environmental decision-making (decision III/2 ENG).
The Meeting encourages countries “to develop and implement e-government and e-participation applications at all levels, thereby furthering access to government information and services and enabling the public to participate electronically in environmental decision-making.”
Promotion of the Aarhus principles in other international forums: the Parties reaffirmed their willingness to support the promotion of the Convention's principles in other international environmental decision-making processes and within the framework of international organizations in matters related to the environment (decision III/4 ENG). They agreed to extend the mandate of the task force, with the principal focus being on assisting the Parties to implement article 3, paragraph 7, of the Convention.
Early entry into force of the PRTR Protocol: the Parties approved a statement (Protocol ENG) calling on Signatories to ratify the Protocol on Pollutant Release and Transfer Registers in order to bring about its entry into force by 2009. In the Riga Declaration, the Parties identified pollutant release and transfer registers as “effective tools contributing to the prevention and reduction of pollution of the environment, promoting corporate accountability and enabling the public to know about immediate sources of pollution in their neighbourhood.”
Clarification of amendments procedure: The Meeting clarified the conditions for the entry into force of amendments under the Convention in such a way as to accelerate the entry into force of the amendment relating to genetically modified organisms adopted at the previous meeting, and any future amendments (decision III/1 ENG).
Adoption of the Work Programme 2009 - 2011: The Parties adopted a programme of work to guide activities during the intersessional period up to the fourth meeting of the Parties. Decision III/9 ENG reiterates the priority given to five substantive issues:
- the Protocol on PRTRs
- Access to justice
- Public participation
- Application of the principles of the Convention in international forums
- Electronic tools and the clearinghouse mechanism.
Among the new mandates contained in the 2009-2011 Work Programme, it was agreed to launch an expert group on a communication strategy.
Election of the new Bureau: The Meeting elected the Czech Deputy Minister for the Environment, Mr. Jan Dusik, as the new Chair of the Meeting of the Parties. Ms. Maud Istasse (Belgium) and Ms. Zaneta Mikosa (Latvia) were elected to serve as Vice-chairs of the Meeting of the Parties.
Fourth Meeting planned: The Parties welcomed the offer of the Government of Moldova to host the fourth Meeting of the Parties in 2011.
Celebrating the 10th Anniversary of the adoption of the Convention: At the invitation of the Government of Latvia, an anniversary concert and reception celebrating the Convention’s accomplishments was held in the historic center of Riga. The honoured guest speaker at this special event was Mr. Willem Kakebeeke of the Netherlands, who chaired the negotiation of the Convention and later served as Chairman of the First Meeting of the Signatories.
Top Left : Charlot De Waal (secretariat), Brita Bohman (volunteer), Andrea Hegedus (secretariat), Fiona Marshall (secretariat), Monika Linn (secretariat), Marianna Bolskakova (secretariat), Cathrin Zengerling (volunteer), Petra Beikert-Evers (secretariat)
Inner Row Left : Maricar De la Cruz (secretariat), Leonie Evers (intern), Zaneta Mikosa (Latvia), Dace Dravniece (Latvia)
Lower Left : Michael Stanley-Jones (secretariat), Willem Kakebeeke (Guest of honour), Jeremy Wates (secretariat)