The Aarhus Convention is an international agreement intended to regulate access to information, the right to participate in decision procedures, and access to courts of law in all matters connected with the environment.
The Convention was negotiated under the aegis of the United Nations (UN) within the framework of the UN/ECE (United Nations Economic Commission for Europe), and accepted during the Fourth Pan-European Conference of Ministers in the Danish city of Aarhus on 25 June 1998.
Environmental NGOs, including some from Eastern Europe, were closely involved in the negotiations, which made a process of participation in a “spirit of Aarhus” possible. The political leitmotiv of the Convention was and is to strengthen principles of democracy and the rule of law, particularly in the countries of Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Institutions independent of the state such as environmental NGOs should be able to represent environmental interests and actually take a stand on behalf of these.
On 30 October 2001 the Aarhus Convention came into force. As of August 2011, 44 states had ratified it, including all the EU Member States (except Ireland) and the European Union.
The content of the Convention is structured in 3 pillars. The rights it provides comprise
- public access to information about the environment,
- civic participation in certain decisions with environmental relevance, and
- access to courts of law or tribunals (see download).
In 2001, as part of the discussion of options for implementing the Aarhus Convention in Austria, a study group was set up within the >> Austrian Society for Environment and Technology (ÖGUT) on behalf of the >> Ministry for Agriculture and Forestry, Environment and Water Supply and produced a >> discussion paper (available in German only).
Aarhus and ordinary citizens
Under the Aarhus Convention ordinary citizens acquire rights enabling them to take a stand for environmental interests. The Convention makes it easier for any citizen to obtain information about the environment, to make himself or herself heard vis-à-vis the authorities in decision procedures and to take legal action against damage to the environment. Since environmental conservation interests are often represented by groups and organizations independent of the state (environmental NGOs) and by grassroots initiatives, these have a special part to play under the Convention.