Ireland ratified the Aarhus Convention on 20 June 2012. The GMO Amendment to the Convention and the Protocol to the Convention on Pollutant Release and Transfer Registers were also ratified at this time. The Convention is legally binding on those States that have chosen to become Parties to it.
The Convention has its origins in Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development of 1992, which proclaimed that environmental issues are best handled with the participation of citizens, that individuals should have access to information concerning the environment and the opportunity to participate in decision-making processes. Access to remedial measures and redress should also be provided.
The Aarhus Convention lays down a set of basic rules to promote citizen’s involvement in environmental matters and improve enforcement of environmental law; its provisions are broken down into three Pillars:
- Access to information on the environment - this allows members of the public access to a wide range of information on the environment, including information on the state of the environment, associated policies and measures, and on the state of human health and safety, where this can be affected by the state of the environment.
- Public participation – requires that parties to the Convention facilitate public participation in decisions about the environment; public authorities must have mechanisms in place to enable the public affected and environmental NGOs to comment on, for example, proposals for projects affecting the environment, or plans and programmes relating to the environment.
- Access to justice – provides that the public have access to independent review procedures that are timely, equitable and not prohibitively expensive, to challenge decisions relating to the environment.
The Convention has been implemented in the EU by two Directives; Directive 2003/4/EC on Access to Information on the Environment, and Directive 2003/35/EC on Public Participation in Environmental Decision-Making and Access to Justice.
Prior to ratification of the Aarhus Convention, Ireland was required to have implemented its provisions in national law. In total, over 60 pieces of legislation have been used to implement the Aarhus Convention in Ireland. One of the most significant legislative instruments, the Environment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2011, introduced new costs rules to apply in certain environmental cases, as well as a requirement that Judicial Notice be taken of the Convention.
Further details on the Aarhus Convention in Ireland can be found on the Aarhus Convention webpage ; for information on the Irish access to information on the environment regime, see the website of the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government and for general information on the Convention see the website of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE).
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