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Major New Index Ranks Environmental Democracy in 70 Countries


WASHINGTON (MAY 20, 2015)–
World Resources Institute (WRI) and partners in the Access Initiative launched the Environmental Democracy Index (EDI), the first publicly available, online platform to track countries’ progress in enacting national laws to promote transparency, accountability, and citizen engagement in environmental decision making. The index evaluates environmental democracy in 70 countries, including 75 legal and 24 practice indicators, based on recognized international standards.

“With a number of critical moments in environment and sustainability in 2015, advancing good governance and environmental rights are essential. This index is a powerful lever that will help governments to become more transparent and ordinary citizens to advocate for more rights,” said Mark Robinson, global director, Governance, WRI. “For the first time, we have an objective, common index to understand the state of environmental democracy for countries around the world, which is essential to strengthen laws and public participation around environmental issues.”

The Environmental Democracy Index draws on national laws and practices that were assessed and scored by more than 140 lawyers and experts around the world.

The top ten countries based on national laws are: Lithuania (EDI rank #1), Latvia (2), Russia (3), United States (T-4), South Africa (T-4), United Kingdom (6), Hungary (7), Bulgaria (8), Panama (9) and Colombia (10).

“Environmental democracy isn’t just about making environmental information available to the public; that’s an essential first step, but governments must also allow citizens to be a meaningful part of the environmental decision-making process,” said Avi Garbow, general counsel, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Key findings from the index include:


* Being part of a legally binding convention on environmental democracy matters. Five of the top ten countries are signatories to the Aarhus Convention.

* Most countries assessed (93%) have established the right to environmental information. However, almost half of these countries (45%) do not have strong protections to ensure that access to information is affordable and timely.

* Laws on public participation lag behind: the vast majority of countries assessed (79%) earned only fair or poor ratings for public participation.

* But, many countries lag on providing citizens basic environmental information. Nearly half (46%) of countries assessed do not provide any ambient air quality data online for their capital cities.

* In most countries assessed (73%), courts will hear environmental cases. But very few countries assessed have assistance for marginalized groups. For example, few countries assessed (14%) have legal mechanisms that help women access courts to obtain redress when their environmental rights are violated.

Full text of the press release

justice-2European Court of Justice rulings [1]  from January 13, 2015 on a number of cases [2] related to the EU’s implementation of the Aarhus Convention are a sorry step backwards for environmental democracy, public accountability and access to justice with respect to the EU institutions at a time when the EU needs to be proving its democratic credentials. For many, it will confirm the existence of a serious democratic deficit in the EU institutions.

In the cases in question, the Commission had denied NGOs the right to make a ‘request for internal review’ of decisions taken by the Commission on the grounds that the challenged acts could not be considered as acts of "individual scope". The NGOs then invoked the Aarhus Convention and the corresponding EU Aarhus Regulation to appeal against the Commission‘s decisions before the European General Court, which found in favour of the NGOs. The Commission, Parliament and Council then appealed the judgements of the General Court before the ECJ, which today upheld the appeals and set aside the judgments of the General Court.

The Aarhus Convention is designed to provide individuals and environmental groups with wide access to justice on environmental matters.

The EU, which is party to the Aarhus Convention, attempted to apply the provisions of the Aarhus Convention to EU institutions by adopting the so-called Aarhus Regulation in 2006. However, the Regulation offers a very limited scope to those wishing to take advantage of the provisions in the Convention, namely by limiting the access to an internal review procedure only where the acts being challenged were “measures of individual scope”. As a result, the Aarhus Regulation is currently only applicable to a very few decisions adopted in environmental matters.

Jeremy Wates, Secretary General of the European Environmental Bureau, expressed his regret at the ECJ judgements. “Today´s ECJ judgements raise serious questions about what it means for the EU to be a party to an international treaty. We remain of the view that the relevant provision of the Aarhus Convention is sufficiently precise to rule out any limitation of acts that may be challenged to ’measures of individual scope‘, and that the EU’s Aarhus Regulation is not in compliance with the Aarhus Convention. We therefore intend to see that this is pursued through the Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee and Meeting of the Parties.“

Anais Berthier of ClientEarth EU Aarhus Centre added: “These judgments simply avoid the legal issue that was at stake, that is the non-compatibility of the Aarhus Regulation with the Aarhus Convention with regard to access to justice rights. The Court missed the opportunity to bring about compliance of EU law with the Aarhus Convention, to ensure access to justice to NGOs and thus increase environmental protection. As long as citizens and NGOs will not be able to challenge decisions of EU institutions before the EU courts, the EU will not be fully democratic.“

The fact that the EU institutions have used public money to resist greater public accountability can only play into the hands of Eurosceptics, who already regard the EU as a fortress of arrogant and unaccountable bureaucrats.

Link to rulings:

[1] http://curia.europa.eu/juris/document/document.jsf?text=&docid=161324&pageIndex=0&doclang=EN&mode=lst&dir=&occ=first&part=1&cid=178340 and http://curia.europa.eu/juris/document/document_print.jsf?doclang=EN&text=&pageIndex=0&part=1&mode=lst&docid=161323&occ=first&dir=&cid=178413

[2] Cases C-404/12 P and C-405/12 P were appeals before the Court of Justice of the EU from Stichting Natuur en Milieu (Dutch NGO) and Pesticide Action Network Europe against a General Court's ruling which annulled two Commission decisions rejecting as inadmissible the applications lodged by the NGOs seeking to have the Commission review its Regulation No 149/2008 setting maximum permitted pesticide residues; Case C-401/12 P to C-403/12 P were appeals before the Court of Justice of the EU from two Dutch NGOs, Vereniging Milieudefensie and Stichting Stop Luchtverontreiniging Utrecht against a General Court's ruling which annulled a Commission decision rejecting as inadmissible the NGOs' request for review of its decision to grant the Netherlands a temporary exemption from the obligations laid down in Directive 2008/50/EC on ambient air quality and cleaner air for Europe, to comply with the annual limit value for the air pollutant nitrogen dioxide.
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 file000771864376 wPress release – Strasbourg, 16 January 2013

Belgian nuclear reactor shutdown
EU must put pressure on
Belgium for transparency; wider EU issues must be addressed

The Belgian nuclear safety authority yesterday announced that it is postponing a decision on the restart of two reactors (Doel 3 and Tihange 2) that were shut down over the summer due to the discovery of fissures in their cores. The authority has asked for more information before any decision to reopen the damaged reactors can be taken. Last week, a study commissioned by the Greens/EFA group (1) underlined some of the outstanding safety issues (notably steel deficiencies) that have not been addressed with the two reactors, with Greens/EFA co-president Rebecca Harms calling on the Belgian authorities to address these issues before approving any restart. Commenting on the latest announcement, Rebecca Harms said:

"The decision by the Belgian authorities is the only option given the available evidence. These risky reactors cannot be restarted so long as doubts persist about their safety, notably as regards defects in the steel used in the core and the risk of the fissures continuing to grow.

"The whole situation is unfortunately still plagued by a lack of transparency, with vital documents having been withheld so far. There is a need for all documents and test reports to be brought into the public domain. EU energy commissioner Günter Oettinger and EU governments must put pressure on the Belgian authorities to ensure full transparency and that the very real concerns about the safety of these reactors are addressed.

"The issue raises wider implications for the EU. The next step must be to assess which other reactors in the EU require further fundamental testing in light of the problems uncovered in the steel of the reactors in Tihange and Doel."

1) Study by Dr. Ilse Tweer can be found at the following URL (pdf):


Richard More O'Ferrall,
Press and media officer,
Greens/EFA group in the European Parliament
Mobile: +32-477-443842 - Ph. +32-22841669 (Brussels); +33-388174042
www.greens-efa.eu - http://twitter.com/GreensEP

court of justice of the european union emblem

 

.... In its judgment delivered today, the Court notes first of all that a national procedural rule cannot call into question the discretion of national courts to submit a request to the Court of Justice for a preliminary ruling in cases where they have doubts as to the interpretation of EU law. The national court therefore retains that option – even though a national rule obliges it to follow the legal position of the Slovak Constitutional Court – and it must set aside the assessments made by that latter court if they prove to be contrary to EU law. As a supreme court, the Najvyšší súd Slovenskej republiky is even required to submit a request for a preliminary ruling to the Court of Justice.

The Court states, next, that the urban planning decision on the establishment of the landfill site at issue is one of the measures on the basis of which the final decision whether or not to authorise that installation is taken. Moreover, it includes information on the environmental impact of the project, on the conditions imposed on the developer to limit that impact, on the objections raised by the parties to the urban planning decision and on the reasons for the choices made by the competent authority to issue that decision. It thus includes relevant information on the authorisation procedure to which the public concerned must be able to have access in accordance with the Aarhus Convention and the IPPC Directive setting out its provisions. In that context, the Court of Justice states that the refusal to make the urban planning decision available to the public cannot be justified by invoking the protection of the confidentiality of commercial or industrial information. ...

 

 

Full text of the Court of Justice of the European Union Press Release No 1/13 - Luxembourg, 15 January 2013 

The full text of the judgment in Case C-416/10 - English, French, Slovak

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