Access to Information

Articles 4 and 5 of the Aarhus Convention provides for broad rights of access to information in environmental matters.

Any person, regardless of nationality or place of residence, can ask to obtain environmental information held by public authorities. The person requesting the information does not need to state a reason for his request. The authorities are required to help people with requests, for instance by making practical arrangements for obtaining information or by passing a request to the authority thought to hold the information if the first authority approached does not hold it.

Public authorities may make a charge for supplying information, but such a charge should not exceed a reasonable amount. People have to be informed about these charges before the public authority supplies the information.

The environmental information should be made available as soon as possible, at the latest within one month after the request has been submitted. If this timeframe is impossible due to the volume and the complexity of the information, authorities may take up to two months after the request, but they will have to notify the person requesting the information why they need more time than one month to provide the information.

A request for information may only be refused if the disclosure of the information would negatively affect public security, national defence, the course of justice, intellectual property rights, or the confidentiality of commercial and industrial information.

If a request for information is ignored, wrongfully refused, or inadequately answered by authorities, the person requesting the information can go before a court or other independent and impartial body to appeal to the court to override the claim of an exception

Authorities should possess and update environmental information relevant to their functions, and make sure the information is easily accessible and free of charge. This can be done by providing publicly accessible lists, registers and electronic databases, as well as by strengthening the authority’s capacity to inform the public. The Convention requires Parties to encourage businesses to inform the public regularly of the environmental impact of their activities, using where appropriate voluntary eco-labelling or eco-auditing schemes. Parties are also obliged to develop mechanisms ensuring that sufficient product information is made available to the public in a manner which enables consumers to make informed environmental choices. The public should also be immediately informed in the event of any imminent threat to human health or the environment, whether caused by human activities or due to natural causes, so that they can take measures to prevent or mitigate harm arising from the threat.

In order to ensure the implementation of the Convention, the Meeting of Parties can establish subsidiary bodies in the form of working groups, task forces and/or expert groups. For the information par t of the Convention the Task Force on Electronic Information Tools was set up. The role of this body  was to facilitate the implementation of the Convention by more effective use of electronic information tools to provide public access to environmental information. It was also tasked with identifying capacity building needs, barriers and solutions, facilitating partnerships in capacity-building activities, supporting the maintenance and further development of the clearing-house mechanism, including the development of the Convention’s online reporting system and surveying relevant national electronic access to information strategies. The lead country of the task force was the United Kingdom. At the MOP-4 in Chisinau in June 2011, Parties agreed to change the name of this task force to the Task Force on Access to Information under the authority of the WGP with extended scope of activities to cover more broadly the first pillar of the Convention and certain areas of the Strategic Plan. The lead country of this Task Force is Republic of Moldova.

After a quite slow start, three Task Force meetings have taken place:

7 - 8 February 2013
16 - 17 December 2013
3 - 5 December 2014

 


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