Aarhus convention on environmental democracy

The government believes that improved access to information and wider participation of the public in decision-making processes are essential for building trust within communities, increasing public authority accountability and making better environmental policy. Backed by access to justice, this will create greater transparency and openness in environmental matters, and will contribute towards society's goals of more sustainable and environmentally sound development.

On 24 February 2005, the UK ratified the UNECE Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-Making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters (The Aarhus Convention). In line with the Convention’s procedures the UK became a full Party to the Convention 90 days after this date, in May 2005. The Convention is an important measure to ensure 'environmental democracy' throughout the UNECE region.

The European Community as whole is also a signatory to the Convention, and ratified it on 17 February 2005.

Access to environmental information

Directive 2003/4/EC (Europa website) on public access to environmental information was adopted on 28 January 2003. This Directive has been transposed by the Environmental Information Regulations 2004 - SI 2004/3391, which replace the 1992 Regulations.

Public participation in decision-making

Directive 2003/35/EC (Europa website) providing for public participation in respect of the drawing up of certain plans and programmes relating to the environment was adopted on 25 June 2003. The Directive is predominantly a technical measure. It amends public participation rights in the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Directive (85/337/EEC) and the Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control (IPPC) Directive (96/61/EC). It also lays down rules for public participation in plans and programmes drawn up within other existing Directives:

  • 1975 framework waste Directive (75/442)
  • 1991 batteries Directive (91/157)
  • 1991 agricultural nitrate pollution Directive (91/676)
  • 1991 hazardous waste Directive (91/689)
  • 1994 packaging Directive (94/62)
  • 1996 ambient air quality Directive (96/62/EC)
  • 1999 waste landfill Directive (99/31)

The Directive is in course of being implemented in the UK by means of several statutory instruments covering the particular policy areas affected by it.

Access to justice in environmental matters

In October 2003 the European Commission published a final package of proposals relating to the Aarhus Convention. Among them was the Directive on Access to Justice in Environmental Matters.

The proposed Directive will be subject to the co-decision process, i.e. it will have to be agreed by both the Council of the European Union and the European Parliament. Further information about co-decision can be obtained from the European Union including helpful flow charts summarising the different stages. The Commission has also produced a Regulation which will apply Aarhus to the European Community Institutions and Bodies, as well as a Council Decision, which will conclude the Convention on behalf of the Community and enable the Community to become a full Party to the Convention.

  • Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council (PDFon Europa website) - Regulation on on the application of the provisions of the Aarhus Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters to EC institutions and bodies.
  • Council Decision (PDFon Europa website) - Proposal for a Council Decision on the conclusion, on behalf of the European Community, of the Convention on access to information, public participation in decision making and access to justice regarding environmental matters.

Meeting of the Parties

As a signatory to the Convention, the UK is required to prepare a National Implementation report for the third Meeting of the Parties. The meeting is expected to review the achievements over the first ten years and to adopt a long-term strategic plan for the Convention. The report sets out the necessary legislative, regulatory or other measures that the UK has taken to implement the provisions of the Convention; and their practical implementation.

 Prior to submitting the report to the Aarhus Secretariat, the UK Government conducted an informal 2-month public consultation on a draft version. The consultation applied to England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland. Copies of the responses received are available through the Defra Information Resource Centre, Lower Ground Floor, Ergon House, 17 Smith Square, London, SW1P 3JR.  Where appropriate, stakeholder views have been reflected in the finalised version.

Further information

See also

Page last modified: 26 November 2009