Marking a decade since the entry into force of the Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters (Aarhus Convention), the Meeting of the Parties to the Convention last week adopted a decision encouraging the accession by States outside the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) region and a simplified procedure for doing so — thus encouraging the propagation of the important and unique protections offered by this international environmental rights treaty on a fully global scale.
The move is widely recognized as a timely one: in a message delivered to the session, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon noted that the Aarhus Convention “is more important than ever”. The “treaty’s powerful twin protections for the environment and human rights can help us respond to many challenges facing our world, from climate change and the loss of biodiversity to air and water pollution. And the Convention’s critical focus on involving the public is helping to keep Governments accountable,” the Secretary-General stressed.
A letter from Mongolia stating its interest in acceding to the Convention, which arrived during the meeting, further underlines the timeliness of the decision to encourage wider membership.
The event featured a High-level Segment on the role of the Aarhus Convention in promoting sustainable development, chaired by Mr. Gheorghe Salaru, Minister of Environment of the Republic of Moldova. Ministers, high-level officials, representatives from non-governmental organizations and international organizations debated the Convention’s successes and failures to advance sustainable development in the UNECE region, and the Convention’s role in inspiring the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) for delivery on Principle 10 beyond the region. Although the Convention has now been in force for a decade, its principles go back much further, to Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration, which was adopted at the 1992 Earth Summit by 172 Governments.
At the conclusion of the meeting, Parties adopted the Chisinau Declaration as a lead-up to the Rio+20 Conference to be held in Rio de Janeiro in June 2012, thus bringing one of the fruits of the Rio Declaration back to the city in which it was born. Parties offered to share their experience with all countries that wish to join the Aarhus family or to replicate its achievements. The Parties consider that the preparations for Rio+20 and its deliberations should serve as a model of how to implement Rio Principle 10 and that the participants in the Rio+20 Conference take into account the Aarhus principles in their consideration of the institutional framework for sustainable development to be adopted there. In particular, citizens should be invited to participate in defining and implementing green economy programmes and in choosing the most appropriate road maps to sustainability.
Parties also called for the Convention to continue the work (led by France) in promoting the Convention in international forums and building synergies with other conventions and international organizations involved in environmental matters.
Monitoring Parties’ compliance
A special feature of the Aarhus Convention is its compliance mechanism, which allows members of the public to bring their concerns regarding a Party’s compliance to the Convention’s Compliance Committee based in Geneva. The Meeting adopted decisions on specific cases of non-compliance concerning Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, the Republic of Moldova, Spain, Turkmenistan, Ukraine and the United Kingdom, as well as a decision on issues of compliance generally. To date, all findings by the Committee have been endorsed by the Meeting of the Parties and all Parties concerned demonstrated their consent with the decisions.
Furthering Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-Making and Access to Justice
In adopting the Convention’s work programme for 2012–2014, the Meeting decided the Task Forces on Public Participation in Decision-making (led by Ireland) and Access to Justice (led by Sweden) will continue with renewed mandates. A third task force has been given a new mandate as the Task Force on Access to Information (to be led by the Republic of Moldova) to, inter alia, promote exchange of information and identify barriers and solutions concerning public access to environmental information, including with regard to products and the promotion of the accessibility of environmental information held by the private sector. The Meeting also agreed that the Task Force and relevant bodies under the Protocol on Pollutant Release and Transfer Registers should engage with the process for the Eye on Earth Summit (Abu Dhabi, 12–15 December 2011) so as to share the region’s experience globally.
Note to editors: The Aarhus Convention was adopted in 1998 in the Danish city of Aarhus. It entered into force in October 2001 and currently has 44 Parties from around the UNECE region, including 43 countries and the European Union. The Convention’s Protocol on Pollutant Release and Transfer Registers was adopted in 2003 in Kyiv (Ukraine) and it entered into force in 2009. It currently has 27 Parties, including 26 countries and the European Union. The Protocol is open for accession to all Member States of the United Nations and to regional economic integration organizations.
For further information, please visit www.unece.org/env/pp or contact:
Secretariat of the Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and
Access to Justice in Environmental Matters (Aarhus Convention)
UNECE, Environment Division
Palais des Nations, 8-14 avenue de la Paix, 1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland
tel: +00 (0)41 22 9172376/fax: +00 (0)41 22 9170107
United Nations Economic Commission for Europe
Palais des Nations,
CH-1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland
Tel.: +41 (0) 22 917 44 44
Fax: +41 (0) 22 917 05 05
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