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Aarhus Convention

Information, public participation and access to justice - useful tools for WECF and its members


Countries: International
Donors: European Commission DG-Environment; Ministry of Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment (VROM), The Netherlands
Partners: European Eco-Forum
Issues: Gender & Rights
Duration: 07/2005 - 07/2011

In 1998 the UNECE Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters, the so-called Aarhus Convention (list of parties and signatories to the Convention) was adopted. It is the first legally binding instrument guaranteeing access to information, public participation in decision-making and justice in environmental matters.

The Convention is a new kind of environmental agreement linking environmental and human rights. Thus it contains a rights based approach which is represented by a three pillar structure within the Convention:

  • the information pillar (articles 4 and 5)
  • the public participation pillar (articles 6, 7 and 8)
  • the access to justice pillar (article 9).

The governing body of the Aarhus Convention is the Meeting of the Parties. It meets every 2-3 years to review progress in the ratification and implementation of the Convention and to decide on future work programmes. In between the meetings of the Parties, the Working Group of the Parties oversees the implementation of the work programme. Furthermore, a Compliance Committee has been established to address issues of alleged non-compliance with the Convention.

There also other Working Groups and/or Task Forces which work on specific issues:

  • Working Group on Genetically Modified Organisms;
  • Working Group on Pollutant Release and Transfer Registers;
  • Task Force on Electronic Tools;
  • Task Force on Access to Justice;
  • Task Force on Financial Arrangements;
  • Task Force on Public Participation in International Forums.

All these bodies are serviced by the Secretariat of the Aarhus Convention. For the dates of the meetings of the different working groups etc. please see the calendar of meetings.

At the extra-ordinary meeting of the Parties on 21 May 2003 in Kiev, Ukraine, the Protocol on Pollutant Release and Transfer Registers was adopted. 36 States and the European Community signed the Protocol in Kiev (see here for list of signatories and ratification). The Protocol will enter into force on the ninetieth day after the date of deposit of the sixteenth instrument of ratification by a member State of the United Nations.

The Protocol is the first legally binding international instrument on pollutant release and transfer registers. PRTRs are inventories of pollution from industrial sites and other sources. The aim of the protocol is "to enhance public access to information through the establishment of coherent, nationwide pollutant release and transfer registers (PRTRs) ...". The protocol is expected to exert a significant downward pressure on levels of pollution, as no company will want to be identified as among the biggest polluters.

WECF takes actively part in observing the Aarhus process by participating in the work of several task forces/working groups and by co-operating with other NGOs on the issues of public participation. E.g. WECF is a member of the Eco-forum which is an open platform facilitating the co-operation of environmental NGOs in the framework of the Environment for Europe Process, of which the Aarhus Convention forms a part.

WECF participated in the second Meeting of the Parties in Almaty from 25 - 27 May 2005 and in the first meeting of the Task Force on Public Participation in International Forums in Geneva from 24 – 25 November 2005. WECF also takes part in the discussions about the implementation of the Aarhus Convention and related EU directives into German law.

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