The Aarhus Convention
"Although regional in scope, the significance of the Aarhus Convention is global. It is by far the most impressive elaboration of Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration, which stresses the need for citizen's participation in environmental issues and for access to information on the environment held by public authorities. As such it is the most ambitious venture in the area of 'environmental democracy' so far undertaken under the auspices of the United Nations."
The UNECE Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-Making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters — known as the Aarhus Convention, named after the Danish city, came into force October 31, 2001.
It seeks to strengthen the role of members of the public and environmental organizations in protecting and improving the environment for the benefit of future generations.
While the Convention is an instrument to protect the environment, it may also be seen as an instrument promoting democracy. Specifically, it aims to:
- Allow members of the public greater access to environmental information held by public authorities, thereby increasing the transparency and accountability of government;
- Provide an opportunity for people to express their opinions and concerns on environmental matters, and ensure that decision makers take due account of these;
- Provide the public with access to review procedures, when their rights to information and participation have been breached, and, in some cases, to challenge more general violations of environmental law.
In practical terms, this means, for instance, that local residents must be given a say in new road schemes or in the siting of household-waste incinerators. Members of the public also have a right to know what state their environment is in and, in some circumstances, to sue governments or polluters that attempt to cover up environmental disasters.
For more information contact the Secretariat.
The following publications are available both as hard copies and online from the Secretariat’s website:
- The Aarhus Convention Implementation Guide;
- Handbook of Good Practices in Public Participation at Local Level;
- Layperson’s Guide to the Convention;
- Aarhus Convention: News in Brief (news bulletin, 4–6 issues a year).
The Aarhus Clearinghouse is a global resource for information about public access to information and participation not just in the European region but also globally. Users can click on a variety of search words to access regional developments.
Aarhus Clearinghouse at http://aarhusclearinghouse.unece.org/
The Public Participation Campaign has been involved in drawing up the Aarhus Convention. They have been demanding better access to private sector information, better noncompliance mechanism and more comprehensive participation in decision-making on genetically modified organisms. Visit the Public Participation Campaign website.
Public Access to Information and the Right to Know. Download fact sheet (.pdf)