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Aarhus Convention: empowering citizens 10 years on

Ten years after the signature of the Aarhus Convention, access to environmental information remains a priority. Combating climate change demands a huge involvement from citizens, not just from policymakers and businesses. In order to promote changes leading to better environmental protection, "the public needs to be properly informed and empowered to participate in political debates at all levels, as well being empowered to change their own way of living", says Professor Jacqueline McGlade, EEA Executive Director.

The public needs to be properly informed and empowered to participate in political debates at all levels, as well being empowered to change their own way of living.

Professor Jacqueline McGlade, EEA Executive Director

Climate change is only one of the environmental challenges for which there is an increasing demand from the public for information —and where the EEA is committed to deliver relevant outputs that meet the needs of European policy makers and the public. Speaking at the International Conference to mark the 10th Anniversary of the Aarhus Convention, Professor McGlade commended the agreement as a "cornerstone in our ability to respond" to global environmental challenges, saying the Convention "has paved the way for a strengthened participation in environmental protection".

The EEA is developing tools to bridge the gap between researchers, decision-makers and citizens. The Global Citizen’s Observatory for Environmental Change launched by the EEA earlier this year is an example of useful data to the public, and of involvement of the public. The observatory provides near-real time information on bathing water quality, and lets the public voice their own opinions on the quality of beaches and bathing water.

The Aarhus Convention gave citizens from 35 European countries the right to receive information on the state of the environment and on the state of human health and safety where this is a consequence of environmental deterioration. In practical terms, a citizen’s inquiry should be satisfied within one month of the request and without having to say why they require it. In addition, public authorities are obliged, under the Convention, to actively disseminate environmental information they hold.

 

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Background

In June 1998, at a pan-European ministerial conference in Aarhus, 35 states and the European Community signed the UNECE Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters.

The Convention gives the right to participate in environmental decision-making and the right to review procedures to challenge public decisions that have been made, known as "access to justice".

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European Environment Agency (EEA)
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