The European Environment Agency's central concern is to put information to work in support of environmental policy-making. Public access to environmental information supports good environmental decision-making. But in order to be able to contribute meaningfully to environmental decision-making, the environmental information must be both accessible and of useful quality.
This report offers an overview of the principal instruments for providing the public with access to environmental information. The report covers the 15 EU member states as well as takes account of the situation in countries of the European Economic Area and Central and Eastern Europe. This report does not deal with the other legal instruments that enable the public to get access to and be provided with environmental information, such as the Seveso Directive concerning Hazardous Installations, and the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive.
The most significant law concerned with public access to environmental information is EU Directive 90/313/EEC on freedom of access to environmental information. The Directive, which has been in effect since 1993, establishes a general right of any person to environmental information held by public (and quasi-public) authorities subject to specified exceptions. The Directive represents a dramatic change for most member states, introducing openness where secrecy was the rule. Four years of experience have shown however that the process of change is a gradual one and that continued progress, both in terms of the quantity and the quality of the information available, is still desirable.
Developments in other fora indicate the broad interest in this area. This report considers in particular the developments at the level of the EU institutions and the UN ECE efforts to elaborate a Convention on Access to Environmental Information and Public Participation in Environmental Decision-making.
The real challenge ahead is not just putting the terms of the Directive and similar legal instruments to use, as important as that is. The real challenge lies in anticipating and adjusting to future demands and technological innovation. The paper paradigm of Directive 90/313/EEC appears increasingly archaic in today's world of modems and megabytes, where monitoring, retrieval and transmission of data can take place with a precision and rapidity not commonly known even a few years ago. This is also the challenge for the Agency: to help the parties concerned - governments, researchers, industry, environmental organisations and citizens - to develop effective systems of data collection, storage, retrieval, transmission and availability while working with a multitude of diverse systems (and languages) so that the data that enters the system can emerge as useful information.
For references, please go to www.eea.europa.eu/soer or scan the QR code.
This briefing is part of the EEA's report The European Environment - State and Outlook 2015. The EEA is an official agency of the EU, tasked with providing information on Europe's environment.
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