Public Participation

The Second Pillar of the Convention deals with the Public Participation in Environmental Decision-Making and is reflected in Articles 6, 7 and 8.

Public participation makes decision-makers more accountable and environmental decision-making more transparent, and can improve the quality of decisions made. People should be given the opportunity to express their concerns and opinions, and public authorities should take these into account. The Convention sets minimum standards for public participation when authorities make general plans or license specific projects that could affect the environment. The Convention rules that non-governmental organisation promoting environmental protection are to be seen as having an interest by definition.

If the public is informed early, it can help developers and the government to avoid mistakes in decision-making. Public participation when all options are open gives a possibility to influence a decision in a way that protects everybody’s interests. Early notification also gives the public enough time to prepare and participate effectively.

The public participation provisions of the Convention are divided into three parts, according to the kinds of governmental processes covered. Specific Activities: Article 6 concerns public participation in decision-making by public authorities on whether to license or permit certain types of activity (such as production or storage installations, infrastructure, mines, etc) listed in Annex I to the Convention: e.g. in the energy sector, the production and processing of metals, the mineral industry, the chemical industry, waste management, etc. These are activities with a potentially significant effect on the environment. The decisions can include the Spatial-planning, construction and operation of facilities. Activities serving national defence purposes may be exempted. Decision-making on GMOs is not included on the Annex I list. However, Parties are required to apply the provisions of this article to decision-making on the deliberate release of GMOs to the environment 'to the extent feasible and appropriate'. And in 2005 a “GMO amendment” was adopted to at least partially fix this problem.

Plans and Programmes: Article 7
requires Parties to make appropriate practical and/or other provisions for the public to participate during the preparation of plans and programmes relating to the environment. These include sectoral or land-use plans, environmental action plans, and environmental policies at all levels.
Finaly preparation of laws and rules: Article 8 establishes obligations to involve the public into preparation of generally applicable rules (regulations, decrees, etc.). While the adoption of such regulations as such is outside scope of the Convention, this article sets rules for preparation (drafting) process, in particular by requiring to: establish public participation timeframes, publish draft rules or regulations, and provide the public with opportunity to comment.

What information about a proposed decision should be available to the public? It should include information about:
·    the proposed activity and its possible effects on the environment, including emissions;
·    a description of measures envisaged to prevent or reduce negative impacts;
·    the possible decision;
·    an outline of main alternatives;
·    the public authority responsible for decision-making;
·    opportunities for the public to participate;
·    the time and place of public hearings;
·    the public authority from which necessary information can be obtained;
·    the public authority to which comments, questions and proposals can be submitted.

The public should be promptly informed about any decision made by a public authority. The text of the decision, including all reasons and considerations on which the decision is based, should be open to the public.

For implementation of this part of the Aarhus Conventionn the Task Force on Public Participation in Decision-making was established. At the MOP in Riga in 2008, lobbying by European ECO Forum and other ECOs as well as the support from several Parties to the Convention led to the establishment of the Ad Hoc Expert Group on Public Participation. This group was mandated to coordinate information-sharing on public participation in decision-making among the Parties and other stakeholders, including through the collection of good practice examples, and to advise the WGP on the terms of reference for a Task Force on Public Participation. In July 2009, these terms of reference were agreed by the WGP and the Task Force on Public Participation in Environmental Decision-making was established at an extraordinary meeting of Parties on 30 June 2010. The Task Force was led by Ireland and has to undertake activities leading to improved implementation of public participation provisions. That included collecting and sharing expertise and experience as well as good practise on public participation, identifying common difficulties in implementation and the main obstacles to effective public participation as well as exploring capacity-building needs and measures in this area. The Task Force also developed Recommendations on Public Participation in Environmental Decision-making.

The mandate of the Task Force was further extended by the Meeting of the Parties to the Convention in Maastricht(the Netherlands), 30 June and 1 July 2014. The Task Force is currently led by Italy and chaired by Ms. Loredana Dall'Ora. 

Five meetings of the Task Force have taken place:

The first meeting of the Task Force -  25-26 October 2010

The second meeting of the Task Force -  6-8 June 2012

The third meeting of the Task Force - 29-30 October 2012

The fourth meeting of the Task Force - 12-13 March 2013 in Luxembourg with the focus on nuclear issues

The fifth meeting of the Task Force - 23-24 February 2015

The European ECO Forum participated in all meetings.


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