There is a world of environmental information out there.

This report covers the current status of public access to environmental information in accordance with Directive 90/313/EEC in Europe and how we have advanced to this point1. But this report is not just a review of where we stand. It is also a preview of developments to come as the world of public access to environmental information adjusts to new technologies and other pressures for change and improvement.

The Directive on Freedom of Access to Environmental Information, adopted by the European Union in 1990 has led to the adoption or reinforcement of legislation on access to environmental information in the 15 member states of the EU. Other measures, such as the access to documents rules of the European Commission and Council of Ministers, fill in features the Directive doesn't cover. Beyond the boundaries of the European Union, the Guidelines on Access to Environmental Information and Public Participation in Environmental Decision-making, adopted at the Ministerial Environment for Europe Conference in Sofia, in October 1995, create a wider framework for public access to environmental information.

A distinction is often made between "active" and "passive" rights to environmental information. "Active" information is meant, information which the authorities must provide to the public at their own initiative. Examples include requirements to supply information concerning the possible environmental impacts of a proposed project or information on the potential hazards of an industrial facility for its workers and residents of the surrounding area. "Passive" information refers to the right of the public to obtain information upon request. The focus of this report is on this latter type of access to environmental information. It therefore does not consider the reporting requirements which exist, for example, in several EU environmental directives and which require the member states to submit information to the European Commission.

It may also be useful to specify more clearly what is meant by certain terms. For example, what is environmental information? In this report, environmental information is, in the first place, the information generated by environmental legislation and measures at all levels of government and which is held by public authorities.

Environmental information, however, can also include information held by private actors, such as companies. Moreover, some consider that environmental information includes all information relevant to decision-making that concerns the environment: thus financial, social, economic data can also be environmental information.

In short, a great deal of environmental information is being generated and collected as a result of environmental law and regulations or in connection with applications for governmental licences. Some environmental information is generated for purposes of monitoring and control or government oversight generally; sometimes research is the reason for its generation or collection; public awareness and participation can also be a motivation.

Finally, this report addresses the question of whether environmental information laws and systems are keeping up with developments in technology and public needs.

1 Elements of this report are drawn from R. Hallo (ed.), Access to Environmental Information in Europe: The Implementation and Implications of Directive 90/313/EEC, Kluwer Law International (London, 1996). That volume covers, country-by-country, the legislation and practice concerning access to environmental information for 23 European states, including all 15 EU member states. Material supporting the overview presented here can be found in that volume which includes more detailed information than it is possible to present in this short report.
This report has also been written with the respective roles of the Agency and the European Commission in mind. It is intended to inform rather than advocate - as far as Directive 90/313/EEC is concerned, it is the task of the Commission, in the first instance, to produce a report on the experiences so far and to propose amendments, if any, to the Directive.



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