According to UNECE, empowering people to protect the planet can contribute to the achievement of multiple SDGs.
The majority of UNECE countries have established institutional and legislative frameworks related to the environment, and use ICT to promote access to information and justice and engage the public in environmental decision making.
The roundtable showcased examples from countries on how they addressed challenges related to promoting the environmental dimensions of SDG 16.
22 March 2019: Participants shared experiences on promoting the environmental dimensions of SDG 16 (peace, justice and strong institutions) at a roundtable on the topic. The peer learning roundtable convened during the 2019 Regional Forum on Sustainable Development (RFSD) for Europe, convened by the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE).
The Secretariat of the UNECE Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters (Aarhus Convention) organized the roundtable in cooperation with the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Office for Europe. The roundtable convened in Geneva, Switzerland, on 22 March 2019.
According to UNECE, the rights of the public to timely access information and to participate in decision making on biodiversity loss, air and water pollution and climate change is essential for an effective response to these challenges. UNECE argues that empowering people to protect the planet can contribute to the achievement of multiple SDGs. The majority of UNECE countries have established institutional and legislative frameworks related to the environment and use information and communications technology (ICT) to promote access to information and justice and engage the public in environmental decision making. Despite this progress, challenges remain related to access to justice (SDG target 16.3), access to information (SDG target 16.10), effective participation in decision making (SDG target 16.7) and safeguarding fundamental freedoms and enabling a safe space for all members of the public (SDG target 16.10).
The rights of the public to timely access information and to participate in decision making is essential for an effective response to environmental challenges.
The roundtable discussed how to overcome these challenges, and showcased examples from countries on how they have addressed them. Hungary’s Ombudsman for Future Generations incorporated the outcomes of stakeholders’ consultations into new legislation on groundwater availability. Kazakhstan worked to increase the capacity of judges to handle environmental cases. Ukraine increased the effectiveness of public participation procedures in an environmental impact assessment (EIA) through a smartphone application and an online portal.
Participants also shared how they ensured access to information and public participation, despite growing security concerns. Following a terrorist attack, France ensured effective participation of civil society at the Paris Climate Change Conference. Norway promoted the protection of human rights defenders through bilateral agreements and international instruments.
On the way forward, the roundtable identified a number of priority actions to reinforce governments’ ability to further the environmental dimensions of SDG 16, including promoting greater political support for accountability, effective and inclusive public participation in decision making, rule of law and transparency. Participants supported promoting effective and independent administrative and judicial review procedures, encouraging innovative approaches to managing data, promoting the use of modern technologies, and taking measures to promote a safe and enabling space for the public and ensure zero tolerance to threats to environmental defenders. The roundtable also emphasized the importance of strengthening capacity of authorities and relevant stakeholders and allocating sufficient resources.
The European RFSD shared experiences, and discussed concrete solutions for achieving five SDGs that will be reviewed at the July 2019 session of the UN High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF): SDGs 4 (quality education), 8 (decent work and economic growth), 10 (reduced inequalities), 13 (climate action) and 16. [UNECE Press Release] [SDG Knowledge Hub Story on UNECE RFSD]