The Aarhus Convention is a milestone in environmental democracy, granting procedural rights to the public with respect to access to environmental information held by public authorities, public participation in decision-making and access to justice in environmental matters.
Large development projects, such as the construction of an airport or of a dam for a hydroelectric power plant, very often result in a substantial environmental impact. While this affects the local population, meaningful participation in the decision-making process of large-scale projects can be difficult or is often not guaranteed at all. From the outset, citizens may lack access to information and may not being involved in the decision-making process at a time when their input can still be considered. Moreover, they may not have proper access to justice to appeal against the violations of their rights to participate, or against breaches of existing environmental law.
Environmental democracy laws, such as those resulting from the Aarhus Convention, require public authorities to grant citizens access to information, public participation in procedures such as Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) and Strategic Environmental Assessments (SEA), and in general to all processes leading to decisions which can have an impact on the environment. Beyond that, such laws must also ensure access to justice. The Aarhus Convention is thus a key instrument for citizens seeking to protect the environment to in order to make his or her voice heard. The rights granted under the Aarhus Convention contribute to “the protection of the right of every person of present and future generations to live in an environment adequate to his or her health and well-being.”
The EEB believes wholeheartedly that citizens have a major role to play in promoting environmental policies and influencing the behaviour of public authorities, businesses and consumers. Ambitious implementation of the Aarhus Convention is essential to empower citizens. The EEB pushes for proper implementation of the Aarhus Convention in the EU, and for environmental democracy at the global level.
Siebe Riedstra, Secretary-General of the Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment (The Netherlands) explains in 1 minute what he expects from the 5th session of the MoP to the Aarhus Convention, organised in Maastricht. Protecting whistleblowers and social media users are some of his top priorities, as well as access to product information.
number of Parties to the Convention (as of 1 Jan 2017)
number of complaints to Compliance Committee (as of 1 Jan 2017)