The Parties to the Aarhus Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters opened their second meeting in Almaty on 25 May 2005.
Among the key topics addressed by the Meeting were:
The controversial issue of genetically modified organisms (GMOs): the Parties adopted an amendment to the Convention extending the rights of the public to participate in decision-making on GMOs.
Draft recommendations on electronic information tools and the clearing-house mechanism of the Convention were adopted and the mandate of the task force on e-tools renewed.
Continuation of work on the Convention’s access to justice pillar: the Meeting renewed the mandate of the task force on access to justice.
A decision on how Parties should apply the principles of the Aarhus Convention in other international environment-related forums was adopted. 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. The Meeting further established a task force to enter into consultations regarding the guidelines with relevant international forums.
Implementation and compliance: the Meeting reviewed the first set of national reports on implementation, providing an opportunity for all concerned to see whether and how the goals of the Convention are applied in practice. In the first test of the Convention's compliance mechanism, the Meeting also considered and upheld the findings of the Compliance Committee that three countries - Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Ukraine - had failed to comply with certain provisions of the Convention. The compliance mechanism is unique 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 Committee.
A high-level segment was held on 27 May, which consisted of two panel discussions addressing “Successes, failures and lessons learned: key challenges in implementing the Convention” and “Global and regional developments on issues related to principle 10 of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development.” In connection with the latter topic, the Meeting reiterated its invitation to non-ECE member States to accede to the Convention and asked the secretariat to provide support to initiatives aimed at promoting principle 10 in other regions.
Ms Brigita Schmögnerová, UNECE Executive Secretary, delivered a message to the Meeting from the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mr Kofi Annan, before giving her own opening speech for the high-level segment. In his remarks, the Secretary-General noted that "[...] the success of the Convention will depend not only on the political will of governments but also on the readiness of the public to exercise the rights that the Convention seeks to guarantee" and welcomed “the active participation of civil society organizations in the Aarhus processes...[to] ensure that the Convention remains a living, evolving instrument.”