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January 20, 2020
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The Aarhus Convention in Cyprus: Access to Information, Public Participation & Access to Justice

Environmental law and policies constantly evolve as an integral part of processes worldwide. Given the ongoing course of globalisation, a carefully balanced exercise is required by all stakeholders to comply with environmental regulation.

The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-Making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters (“Convention”) was adopted on 25 June 1998 at Aarhus, Denmark during the Fourth Ministerial Conference as part of the "Environment for Europe" process. It entered into force on 30 October 2001. Cyprus ratified the Convention in 2003

The Convention was adopted following the 1992 World Summit where governments adopted the Rio Declaration Principle 10 which provides that “Environmental issues are best handled with participation of all concerned citizens, at the relevant level.” However, all citizens and organized groups have the right to access environmental information, without having to invoke or prove any interest. In turn, every public authority is obligated to provide environmental information, subject to  certain exceptions where public authorities may refuse to do so.

The Convention establishes a number of rights of the public (individuals and their associations) with regard to the environment. The Parties to the Convention are required to make the necessary provisions so that public authorities will contribute to these rights to become effective.

Access to Information: the right of everyone to receive environmental information that is held by public authorities
Public Participation in Environmental Decision-making: the right to participate in environmental decision-making
Access to Justice: the right to review procedures to challenge public decisions that have been made without respecting the two aforementioned rights or environmental law in general.

On 10 October 2019 the Commission published a report on EU implementation of the Convention in the area of access to justice in environmental matters. The report delivers a key part of the Commission’s commitment to developing a response to critical positions taken by an international body, the Convention Compliance Committee and the EU. These critical positions are to the effect that the EU does not provide members of the public, including environmental associations, with enough possibilities through administrative or judicial review to legally challenge acts of the EU institutions for violations of EU Environmental Law. You can view the full report at https://bit.ly/2NJLRGR.

Directive 2003/4/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 28 January 2003 regulates public access to environmental information and, for its purposes, defines “Environmental Information” as any information in written, visual, aural, electronic or any other material form on:

  1. the state of the elements of the environment, such as air and atmosphere, water, soil, land, landscape and natural sites including wetlands, coastal and marine areas, biological diversity and its components, including genetically modified organisms, and the interaction among these elements
  2. factors, such as substances, energy, noise, radiation or waste, including radioactive waste, emissions, discharges and other releases into the environment, affecting or likely to affect the elements of the environment referred to in (a);
  3. measures (including administrative measures), such as policies, legislation, plans, programmes, environmental agreements, and activities affecting or likely to affect the elements and factors referred to in (a) and (b) as well as measures or activities designed to protect those elements
  4. reports on the implementation of environmental legislation
  5. cost-benefit and other economic analyses and assumptions used within the framework of the measures and activities referred to in (c)
  6. the state of human health and safety, including the contamination of the food chain, where relevant, conditions of human life, cultural sites and built structures inasmuch as they are or may be affected by the state of the elements of the environment referred to in (a) or, through those elements, by any of the matters referred to in (b) and (c)

As a member of the European Union since 2004 and the Eurozone in 2008, Cyprus aligned this Directive through implementation on the Law on Public Access to Environmental Information (Law 119(I)/2004). The environmental legal framework must be strategically used to combat critical environmental problems, in the best interest of current and future generations.

K. A. Kourtellos & Co LLC is an independent, Cyprus-based law firm. We are trusted counsel to individuals, families, and businesses worldwide.

Our areas of expertise are Corporate & Commercial, Private Client, Real Estate & Infrastructure, Energy, Banking & Finance, Technology, IP & Data Protection, Dispute Resolution, Reputation & Crisis Management, Environmental and Shipping.

 

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