Ten years after its adoption, the Parties to the Aarhus Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters have agreed to strengthen environmental democracy within the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) region and to promote its principles worldwide.
At their third meeting in Riga, the Parties concluded three days of deliberation with the approval on 13 June of a strategic plan that will set in place the future course of the Convention. In the plan, the Parties maintain that “the serious environmental, social and economic challenges faced by societies worldwide cannot be addressed by public authorities alone without the involvement and support of a wide range of stakeholders, including individual citizens and civil society organizations.”
Among the other key outcomes of the Meeting are:
- 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 certain provisions of the Convention. 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.
- Public participation : The Meeting committed to strengthening 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.
- 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.
- Expansion 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 Communication Technology in support of increasing public participation in environmental decision-making.
- Promotion of the Aarhus principles globally: the Parties reaffirmed their willingness to support the promotion of Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development at the global level and in countries outside the UNECE region.
- Early entry into force of the PRTR Protocol : the Parties approved a statement calling on Signatories to ratify the Protocol on Pollutant Release and Transfer Registers in order to bring about its entry into force by 2009.
The Aarhus Convention is widely viewed as the foremost legally-binding instrument protecting the public’s environmental rights. A ddressing the high-level segment of the Meeting on the closing day, Mr. Marek Belka, Executive Secretary of UNECE, said the Convention’s core principles “empower ordinary members of the public to hold governments accountable and to play a greater role in promoting more sustainable forms of development.”
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