Environmental democracy is critical to strengthening environmental standards, holding polluting industries accountable, and ensuring that infrastructure and other development projects are not implemented at the expenses of local communities. The Aarhus Convention is the strongest international legal agreement that protects access to information, access to public participation, and access to justice in environmental matters, protecting the rights of over 650 million of people in Europe and Central Asia.
Building on international recognition at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit that environmental democracy is a foundation of sustainable development, European and Central Asian states negotiated a legal treaty to ensure that the rights of residents in these areas are effectively protected. Adopted in 1997, the Aarhus Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation, and Access to Justice has been ratified by 47 parties: nearly all of Europe (except Russia and Turkey) and many of the post-Soviet republics in Central Asia.
The Convention is particularly effective in enabling individual citizens to file complaints to an independent compliance committee when their governments have failed to protect their rights effectively. In the context of shrinking civil society space and pressures to deregulate the economy/promote business interests at the expense of all else, the Aarhus Convention and the rights that it seeks to guarantee is more important than ever.
The Convention also establishes the legal obligation of its parties to promote access to information, public participation, and justice in international forums that have an impact on environmental policies, thereby enabling it to contribute to strengthening environmental democracy beyond Europe/Central Asia.
UPDATE: September 2017
The 47 states that are parties to the Aarhus Convention will gather in Montenegro for a triennial high-level meeting. The objective is to review the implementation of the convention and to set direction and priorities for the next three years (the formal name is MOP-6 for 6th Meeting of the Parties). The stakes at the meeting are particularly high because some state parties have reacted strongly to conclusions reached by the compliance committee – in particular in relation to access to justice in the EU. The effective implementation of the Convention has relied until now on the respect for the integrity and authority of the committee, and any attempt by governments to undermine the work of this committee would be a serious threat to the Convention.