Public access to environmental information is an important right and essential support to effective environmental policy. An informed public can contribute meaningfully to decision-making on environmental issues. Moreover, an informed public can act as a watch-dog supplementing governmental environmental management and supervision efforts. Where possible and necessary, an informed public can also act to supplement government enforcement efforts. None of this is possible without access to environmental information.

The principal legal instrument in this area, the EU Directive, has initiated a process of making environmental information more accessible. Instruments to provide access to documents now also apply to the EU institutions. Beyond the EU itself, the ECE Guidelines and draft Convention are the most promising measures for extending the public's right of access to environmental information.

Making public access to environmental information work effectively is primarily a task for public authorities, in which the European Environment Agency can play an important supporting role. In particular, there is a need for improvements in the quality of the data collected and therefore for strengthening the sampling, monitoring and reporting requirements of environmental laws. Organising information for public access is also a priority task which the Agency can support. Moreover, thought should be given to the kinds of provisions which will meet tomorrow's needs in the information society. Finally, account should also be taken of the danger of a division of society into the information-poor and information-rich. Such divisions can arise not just among individuals but also among authorities within states and among states themselves.


Ralph Hallo
Co-ordinator International Program
Stichting Natuur en Milieu
Donkerstraat 17
The Netherlands



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