Rio Principle 10 states, inter alia, that at the national level, each individual shall have “appropriate access to information concerning the environment that is held by public authorities, including information on hazardous materials and activities in their communities,” and states shall “facilitate and encourage public awareness and participation by making information widely available.”
Although these days Brazil is in the centre of the world’s attention, for reasons other than people taking the necessary steps towards a more sustainable future for us all, I want to use the occasion to remind us of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development. In particular, Rio Principle 10 states, inter alia, that at the national level, each individual shall have “appropriate access to information concerning the environment that is held by public authorities, including information on hazardous materials and activities in their communities,” and that states shall “facilitate and encourage public awareness and participation by making information widely available.”
The Protocol on Pollutant Release and Transfer Registers (Protocol on PRTRs) is an important part of those steps towards appropriate access to information concerning the environment, and, since its entry into force in 2009, starts to bring Principle 10 to life. It is the first legally binding international agreement on the release of pollutants and the transfer of hazardous and non-hazardous waste, and offers a solid legal framework for enhancing public access to information and for pursuing international cooperation on PRTRs.
In this context, the first results of the implementation of the Protocol on PRTRs will be discussed at the upcoming second session of the Meeting of the Parties. The Meeting will be held back-to-back with the fifth session of the Meeting of the Parties to the Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters (Aarhus Convention), both being organized in Maastricht, the Netherlands, at the kind invitation of the Dutch Government, from 30 June to 4 July 2014, with a joint high-level segment on 2 July.
While there is still much work ahead of us, today many countries in the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) Region, as well as from other regions all over the world, make available data on pollutants emissions into air, water and soil under the common scheme of a national and international PRTR system. These systems provide direct access to information on pollutants through maps and listings of referenced data.
In that way PRTRs provide policymakers as well as the private sector with the opportunity to make informed choices related to matters of risk for human health and the environment, and more efficient use of resources.
Further, PRTR data can be used to study effectiveness of public policies as well as management choices in the private sector, and adjust them according to the findings of research groups working in the field of pollutants. The transparency inherent to PRTRs established under the Protocol, together with the potential of good support in the use of the PRTR data, helps those directly affected by the doings of their governments and economic leaders to build trust in the measures taken by the relevant decision makers.
As we all know, the current global environmental situation remains characterized by eco-toxic releases that significantly impact environment and human health, and have far-reaching consequences for the sustainability of life. Even in light of efforts, the volume of pollutants released in the last year is much greater than the Earth’s capacity to absorb those pollutants.
Parties to the Protocol on PRTRs recognize that the objectives of an integrated approach to minimizing pollution, and the amount of waste resulting from industrial installations and other sources, are to achieve a high level of protection for the environment as a whole, to move towards sustainable and environmentally sound development, and to protect the health of present and future generations.
The Protocol requires each Party to establish a PRTR which:
• Is publicly accessible through the internet and free of charge;
• Is based on mandatory reporting by the operators on a yearly basis;;
• Is searchable according to separate parameters (facility, pollutant, location, medium);
• Is multimedia, distinguishing among releases to air, land and water and including data on off-site tranfers of waste;
• Covers releases and transfers of at least 86 pollutants covered by the Protocol, including greenhouse gases (GHGs), acid rain pollutants, ozone-depleting substances, heavy metals, pesticides, polychlorinated biphenyls (i.e., PCBs), volatile organic compounds (i.e., compounds that can easily evaporate in room temperature conditions, such as formaldehyde) and dioxins;
• Accommodates available data on releases from diffuse sources; has limited confidentiality provisions; and allows for public participation in its development and modification; and
• Does not affect the right of a party to maintain or introduce a more extensive or more publicly accessible PRTR.
Open to accession by states throughout the world, and in dialogue with all interested stakeholders, the Protocol and its parent instrument, the Aarhus Convention, have established a new benchmark in promoting transparency and accountability in the sphere of the environment.
In Maastricht, parties to both the Aarhus Convention and the Protocol on PRTRs will further renew their valued ambitions related to transparency and Principal 10 of the Rio Declaration, among other important matters, in a joint declaration.
The participation of an informed public is vital to the development of a more sustainable future. Let us use what is in our hands and take the necessary steps towards a sound economic and human development built on trust and mutual respect.
Further related information: http://www.unece.org/env/pp/welcome.html
The Global Round Table on PRTRs (19 November 2013, Geneva, Switzerland): http://www.unece.org/prtr_grt2013.html
For more information on the upcoming meetings and draft Maastricht declaration: http://www.unece.org/env/pp/aarhusmop5&prtrmopp2/main.html