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UNECE supports countries in promoting effective access to justice in environmental matters

Access to justice is an essential safeguard for the environment, sustainable development and human health and well-being. Members of the public in a number of countries in the UNECE region are increasingly seeking to access justice, in particular in cases relating to air quality, due to concerns linked to exposure to air pollution and its effects on human health.

This situation reconfirms the critical role of the Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters (Aarhus Convention), as highlighted in the recent report of the Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment.

At its recent twelfth meeting (28 February-1 March 2019), the Task Force on Access to Justice under the Aarhus Convention provided a platform for representatives of States, members of the judiciary, international organizations, international financial institutions, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and other stakeholders to discuss practical measures to enable effective access to justice in air-related cases and to remove existing barriers in that regard. Participants also shared experiences of how access to justice supports provision of information, public participation in decision-making procedures and enforcement of environmental legislation. In addition, they identified different tools to promote effective access to justice, discussed recent developments and challenges related to standing, the scope of review, effective remedies, costs and collective redress, in order to further advance the implementation of the third pillar of the Aarhus Convention.

The meeting was preceded by the 2019 Judicial Colloquium (27 and 28 February 2019), which brought together representatives of the judiciary, judicial training institutions and other review bodies. Participants discussed the role of the Aarhus Convention and its linkages with other UNECE multilateral environmental agreements in enforcing environmental law in the context of environmental constitutionalism and sustainable development. Participants in the meeting also considered challenges and successful experiences regarding the effective handling of cases related to environmental matters and the application of constitutionally entrenched environmental rights.

The Judicial Colloquium was convened by UNECE, in cooperation with the United Nations Environment Programme, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the International Union for Conservation of Nature World Commission on Environmental Law, the Global Judicial Institute on the Environment, the European Union Forum of Judges for the Environment and the Association of European Administrative Judges.

The outcomes of both meetings are expected to strengthen the capacity of governmental officials, members of the judiciary, NGOs and other stakeholders to promote effective access to justice in environmental matters. The meetings were particularly timely, given the ongoing in-depth review of Sustainable Development Goal 16 (peace, justice and strong institutions) and its target 16.3 on promoting the rule of law and ensuring equal access to justice for all at the Regional Forum for Sustainable Development for the UNECE Region (21 and 22 March 2019) and the upcoming High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development.

Meeting web pages:

Task Force on Access to Justice under the Aarhus Convention: www.unece.org/index.php?id=50570

2019 Judicial Colloquium: www.unece.org/index.php?id=50741