The EEB defends people’s right to access environmental information, participate in decision-making and access justice in environmental matters. The Aarhus Convention is a milestone human rights agreement that ensures the protection of such procedural rights which are crucial for environmental governance and democracy.
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 such 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 be involved in the decision-making process at a time when their input can still be considered. Moreover, they may not have proper access to the courts to appeal against the violations of their democratic rights, or against breaches of existing environmental law.
Environmental democracy laws, such as those resulting from the Aarhus Convention, require public authorities to inform and involve the public in processes leading to decisions and laws that impact the environment, for example, Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs). Beyond that, environmental democracy laws must also allow the public to challenge decisions that harm the environment and ensure access to justice. The Aarhus Convention is thus a key instrument for people seeking to protect the environment and make their voices 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 Aarhus Convention also calls for the protection of environmental defenders, such as lawyers, journalists and community activists, who are constantly under attack all over the world for exercising their rights. To this end, the parties to the Convention created a rapid response mechanism (RRM) to safeguard defenders, and a Special Rapporteur with the authority to approach public authorities in all Aarhus Parties directly and issue immediate protection measures to prevent the harassment and persecution of environmental defenders.
The hard-won rights provided by the Convention need to be constantly defended by civil society organisations, as many governments fail to comply with the Convention and push back against further ambition. The EEB believes wholeheartedly that people 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 people and fulfil the goals of the European Green Deal.
Environmental democracy and public engagement is under increasing threat across the globe, and the EU is no exception. One particular threat is the legal bullying known as “Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation”, or “SLAPPs”. Powerful people or companies target NGOs, activists and journalists with baseless lawsuits to intimidate them, drain their resources and ultimately silence them against exposing injustices. The EEB is part of a broad civil society coalition called The CASE which advocates for robust laws in the EU and beyond against SLAPPs. Please visit their website for more information about SLAPPs and support.
The EEB pushes for proper implementation of the Aarhus Convention in the EU and coordinates the engagement of NGOs at the level of the Aarhus Convention meetings within the European ECO Forum, the coalition of NGOs that participate in the UN processes of the Aarhus Convention.
Jeremy Wates, former Secretary General of the EEB, explains how the Aarhus’ rapid response mechanism works and expresses the EEB’s hopes for the Special Rapporteur. This election was a historic moment for the protection of environmental defenders and the preservation of the universal right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment.
number of Parties to the Convention (as of 1 Jan 2022)
number of complaints to Compliance Committee (as of 1 Jan 2022)