25 June 2014
Achieving Sustainable Development: The Power is in Your Hands
story highlights

Information is power, and environmental information in the hands of public enables them to play a meaningful role in shaping a sustainable future.

Information is power, and environmental information in the hands of public enables them to play a meaningful role in shaping a sustainable future. Too often, people are left in the dark about decisions that may lead to environmental disasters and degradation and thus affect their lives and those of the generations to come.

Linking environmental protection and human rights

The UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters, or Aarhus Convention, is the environmental agreement that awards rights to members of the public, in relation to decisions that may affect their lives and well-being. It is a convention about government accountability, transparency and responsiveness. States party to the Convention commit to grant the public the right to access environmental information, to participate in decision-making processes and, if need be, to challenge related decisions to courts; and to access to remedies if there are decisions/omission of public authorities and private entities that may have a negative impact on the environment. Notably, such rights are to be granted without discrimination as to citizenship, nationality or domicile (or registered seat or effective centre of activity for legal persons).

The Convention thus links environmental protection and human rights; it acknowledges that we have an obligation to future generations; and it establishes that sustainable development can be achieved only through the involvement of all stakeholders. The Convention, which was adopted in 1998, now has 47 Parties, including the European Union. It is the world’s only international legally binding instrument enshrining Principle 10 of the 1992 Rio Declaration on Environment and Development adopted by 178 Governments.

Furthermore, it supports Government policies to tackle poverty and inequality by ensuring that all persons, including the poorest segments of society and rural communities, have access to reliable information and are able to participate in decisions that impact on their lives.

What is the relevance of the Convention today?

Ensuring people-centred post-2015 development agenda

As the international community embarks on charting the way for an ambitious post-2015 development agenda with new Sustainable Development Goals, the Convention and its Protocol on Pollutant Release and Transfer Registers (PRTRs) already provide an essential framework for Governments to effectively engage different stakeholders in decision-making, thereby offering solutions to truly sustainable governance.

With this in mind, I would like to mention the upcoming fifth session of the Meeting of the Parties to the Aarhus Convention and the second session of the Meeting of the Parties to the Protocol on PRTRs. The events are being organized in Maastricht, the Netherlands, at the kind invitation of the Dutch Government, from 30 June to 1 July and from 3 to 4 July 2014, respectively, with a joint high-level segment on 2 July.

At these meetings, Parties are expected to discuss global promotion of the two treaties and agree on a number of decisions to guide their implementation in the next intersessional period, including future strategic plans and work programmes.

The two upcoming sessions will also feature a joint high-level segment where delegations will reaffirm their political commitment to the principles of participatory environmental democracy by adopting a joint Maastricht declaration. This declaration, calling for greater transparency, will be yet another milestone in the Aarhus journey towards environmental decision-making that makes a truly positive difference for the living conditions of present and future generations. The document can be regarded as a regional contribution to a people-centred post-2015 development agenda.

Achieving that sustainable development and green economy meet their intended environmental aims will require wide support from a well-informed public, both in their role as voters, consumers, shareholders and otherwise.

With Aarhus Convention provisions, the power is in our hands.

For more information on the Convention: http://www.unece.org/env/pp/welcome.html

For more information on the upcoming meetings and draft Maastricht declaration: http://www.unece.org/env/pp/aarhusmop5&prtrmopp2/main.html

related events