The Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters adopted on 25 June 1998 in the Danish city of Aarhus (abbreviated to: Aarhus Convention) is the treaty under international law that assigns rights to every individual regarding environmental protection. The purpose of the Convention is to make public access to environmental information easier and to enable the general public to get involved in decision-making processes and also to take legal action against environmental law infringements. The Convention consists of three essential core components:
ACCESS TO ENVIRONMENTAL INFORMATION
An essential prerequisite for participation in decision-making processes is knowledge of the state of the environment. Therefore, according to the Aarhus Convention, information on the environment is to be made available to the public at any time upon request. The Convention defines what information must be made available, which institutions are obliged to provide information and which grounds may result in refusal of the application.
The Aarhus Convention provides that the citizens affected can become involved in environmental decision-making procedures. It determines the conditions under which individuals can participate in environmentally relevant decisions and plans. This allows them to participate in decision-making processes for the approval of certain industrial plants and other individual projects, the development of environmental plans and programmes, the preparation of executive regulations and other applicable legally binding instruments.
ACCESS TO JUSTICE IN ENVIRONMENTAL MATTERS
The Aarhus Convention guarantees that every individual's right to information and participation can also be legally enforced. Furthermore, the public concerned also has the right to have actions and omissions by private individuals and public authorities reviewed in regard to infringements of environmental protection regulations. This instrument allows the public to prevent the implementation of incorrect administrative decisions.
CONTRACTING STATES AND IMPLEMENTATION
In the meanwhile, 46 countries have signed the Aarhus Convention. The Contracting States meet every three years to discuss the direction of the work and its implementation. The European Union, like the Member States of the EU, is one of the Contracting Parties to the Aarhus Convention. In order to adapt European legislation to the Convention, it adopted various legal acts:
- Directive 2003/4/EC of 28 January 2003 on public access to environmental information and the repeal of Council Directive 90/313/EEC (Environmental Information Directive)
- Directive 2003/35/EC of 26 May 2003 providing for public participation in respect of the drawing up of certain plans and programmes relating to the environment and amending with regard to public participation and access to justice Council Directives 85/337/EEC and 91/61/EC (Public Participation Directive),
- Directive 2001/42/EC of 27 June 2001 on the assessment of the effects of certain plans and programmes on the environment
- Regulation (EC) No 1367/2006 of 6 September 2006 on the application of the provisions of the Aarhus Convention to Community institutions and bodies (Aarhus Regulation). The Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee (ACCC) consists of nine independent persons and monitors possible infringements of the provisions of the Convention. Organisations and individuals can lodge complaints directly with the ACCC. The ACCC drafts recommendations and reports to the Meeting of the Parties (MoP).
Germany has incorporated the Aarhus Convention into national law. Thus, the Environmental Information Act (Umweltinformationsgesetz) came into force on 14 February 2005, allowing citizens access to information on the environment. All public administration bodies as well as certain private bodies are obliged to provide such information. The Public Participation Act (Öffentlichkeitsbeteiligungsgesetz) and the Environmental Appeals Act (Umweltrechtsbehelfsgesetz) were adopted on 9 December 2006. According to the Public Participation Act, the general public is to be given the opportunity to participate in approval procedures subject to environmental law and the adoption of certain environmental plans and programmes. After the public announcement of planned projects, members of the public may submit opinions during the approval procedure. These are to be taken into account in the decision-making proecess.