Århus Convention:  access to information, public participation, access to justice in environmental matters (United Nations, European Union)

‘Århus Convention 1998 in force since 30 October 2001, is based on the premise that greater public awareness of and involvement in environmental matters will improve environmental protection. It is designed to help protect the right of every person of present and future generations to live in an environment adequate to his or her health and well-being. To this end, the Convention provides for action in three areas: a) ensuring public access to environmental information held by the public authorities; b) fostering public participation in decision-making which affects the environment; c) extending the conditions of access to justice in environmental matters’ [Source: http://eur-lex.europa.eu].

  • Transposition of the Århus Convention into Community law

‘The Community has undertaken to take the necessary measures to ensure the effective application of the Convention. The first pillar of the Convention on public access to information was implemented at Community level by Directive 2003/04/EC on public access to environmental information. The second pillar, which deals with public participation in environmental procedures, was transposed by Directive 2003/35/EC. A proposal for a Directive published in October 2003 is intended to transpose the third pillar which guarantees public access to justice in environmental matters. Finally, a Regulation adopted in 2006 is intended to guarantee the application of the provisions and principles of the Convention by Community institutions and bodies’ [Source: http://eur-lex.europa.eu].

The Aarhus Convention establishes a set of rights of the public (individuals and associations) with regard to the environment: a) the right to access to environmental information; b) the right to participate in environmental decision-making; c) the right  to review procedures to challenge public decisions that have been made without respecting the two aforementioned rights or environmental law in general (access to justice). More info here: http://ec.europa.eu/environment/aarhus/

[First pillar of the Århus Convention: access to information]

Directive 2003/4/EC ‘adapts national laws to the 1998 Aarhus Convention [inserire link] on access to information. It guarantees the public access to environmental information held by, or for, public authorities, both upon request and through active dissemination. It sets out the basic terms, conditions and practical arrangements where access upon request may be exercised’ [Source: http://eur-lex.europa.eu].

[Second pillar of the Århus Convention: public participation]

  • European Union, 2005/370/EC Council Decision of 17 February 2005 on the conclusion, on behalf of the European Community, of the Convention on access to information, public participation in decision-making and access to justice in environmental matters

‘This Decision approves the Århus Convention 1998 [inserire link] (signed by the European Community and its Member States in 1998) on behalf of the Community’ [Source: http://eur-lex.europa.eu]

[Third pillar of the Århus Convention: access to justice]

Regulation 1367/2006 ‘requires the EU’s institutions and various bodies to implement the obligations contained in the Århus Convention. These obligations guarantee the public access to information, participation in decision making and access to justice on environmental issues. (…) EU institutions and bodies must [among others]: grant the public access to justice on EU environmental matters; avoid any discrimination based on citizenship, nationality or domicile when treating a request for environmental information. (…) Environmental databases or registers must contain: authorisations given which could affect the environment; environmental impact studies and risk assessments’ [Source: http://eur-lex.europa.eu]

C(2017)2616 final is an ‘Interpretative Communication on access to justice in environmental matters (…). By bringing together all the substantial existing CJEU case-law, and by drawing careful inferences from it, it would provide significant clarity and a reference source for the following: national administrations who are responsible for ensuring the correct application of EU environmental law; national courts, which guarantee respect for EU law and are competent to refer questions on the validity and interpretation of EU law to the CJEU; the public, notably individuals and environmental NGOs, who exercise a public-interest advocacy role; and economic operators, who share an interest in the predictable application of the law’ [Source: Para. 9].