UNECE The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (ECE or UNECE) is one of the five regional commissions under the jurisdiction of the United Nations Economic and Social Council The United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC; french: ...

Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters, usually known as the Aarhus Convention, was signed on 25 June 1998 in the Danish city of
Aarhus Aarhus (, , ; officially spelled Århus from 1948 until 1 January 2011) is the second-largest city in Denmark and the seat of Aarhus municipality. It is located on the eastern shore of Jutland in the Kattegat sea and approximately northwest ...
. It entered into force on 30 October 2001. As of March 2014, it has 47 parties—46 states and the
European Union The European Union (EU) is a political and economic union of member states that are located primarily in Europe Europe is a which is also recognised as part of , located entirely in the and mostly in the . It comprises the wester ...

European Union
. All of the ratifying states are in Europe and Central Asia. The EU has begun applying Aarhus-type principles in its legislation, notably the
Water Framework Directive The Water Framework Directive 2000/60/EC is an EU directive which commits European Union member states to achieve good qualitative and quantitative status of all Body of water, water bodies (including marine ecosystem, marine waters up to one na ...
(Directive 2000/60/EC). Liechtenstein and Monaco have signed the convention but have not ratified it. The Aarhus Convention grants the public rights regarding access to information,
public participation Public participation, also known as citizen participation or patient and public involvement, is the inclusion of the public in the activities of any organization or project. Public participation is similar to but more inclusive than stakeholder en ...
and access to justice, in governmental decision-making processes on matters concerning the local, national and transboundary environment. It focuses on interactions between the public and public authorities.


The Aarhus Convention is a multilateral environmental agreement through which the opportunities for citizens to access environmental information are increased and transparent and reliable regulation procedure is secured. It is a way of enhancing the
environmental governance Environmental governance is a concept in political ecologyImage:Terrace field yunnan china denoised.jpg, 400px , alt=A picture of rice fields: evidence of the interaction of culture, economics and the environment , Political ecology studies the ...
network, introducing a reactive and trustworthy relationship between civil society and governments and adding the novelty of a mechanism created to empower the value of
public participation Public participation, also known as citizen participation or patient and public involvement, is the inclusion of the public in the activities of any organization or project. Public participation is similar to but more inclusive than stakeholder en ...
in the decision making process and guarantee access to justice: a "governance-by-disclosure" that leads a shift toward an environmentally responsible society. The Aarhus Convention was drafted by governments, with the highly required participation of
NGOs A non-governmental organization, or simply an NGO, is an organization An organization, or organisation (Commonwealth English The use of the English language English is a of the , originally spoken by the inhabitants of ...
, and is legally binding for all the States who ratified it becoming Parties. Among the latter is included the
, who therefore has the task to ensure compliance not only within the member States but also for its institutions, all those bodies who carry out public administrative duties. Each Party has the commitment to promote the principles contained in the convention and to fill out a national report, always embracing a consultative and transparent process

General features

The Aarhus Convention is a rights-based approach: the public, both in the present and in future generations, have the right to know and to live in a healthy environment. A distinction is made between "the public", all the civil society's actors, and the "public concerned" precisely, those persons or organisations affected or interested in environmental decision-making (e.g. environmental NGOs). " Public authorities" are the addressees of the convention, namely, governments, international institutions, and privatized bodies that have public responsibilities or act under the control of public bodies. The private sector, for which information disclosure depends on voluntary, non- mandatory practices, and bodies acting in a judicial or legislative capacity, are excluded. Other significant provisions are the "non-discrimination" principle (all the information has to be provided without taking account of the nationality or citizenship of the applicant), the international nature of the convention, and the importance attributed to the promotion of
environmental education Environmental education (EE) refers to organized efforts to teach how natural environments function, and particularly, how human beings can manage behavior and ecosystem An ecosystem (or ecological system) consists of all the organisms ...
of the public.

The Three Pillars

# Access to information: any citizen should have the right to get a wide and easy access to environmental information. Public authorities must provide all the information required and collect and disseminate them and in a timely and transparent manner. They can refuse to do it only under particular situations (such as national defence); UNECE, 2006 # Public participation in decision making: the public must be informed over all the relevant projects and it has to have the chance to participate during the decision-making and legislative process. Decision makers can take advantage from people's knowledge and expertise; this contribution is a strong opportunity to improve the quality of the environmental decisions, outcomes and to guarantee procedural legitimacy UNECE, 2006 # Access to justice: the public has the right to judicial or administrative recourse procedures in case a Party violates or fails to adhere to
environmental law Environmental law is a collective term encompassing aspects of the law that provide protection to the environment. A related but distinct set of regulatory regimes, now strongly influenced by environmental Legal doctrine, legal principles, focus ...
and the convention's principles.

Further reflections

The Aarhus convention is a "proceduralisation of the environmental regulation", it focuses more on setting and listing procedures rather than establishing standards and specifying outcomes, permitting the parties involved to interpret and implement the convention on the systems and circumstances that characterize their nation. This model embodies a perfect example of a
multi-level governance Multi-level (or multilevel) governance is a term used to describe the way power is spread vertically between many levels of government and horizontally across multiple quasi-government and non-governmental organization A non-governmental or ...
. The risk could lay in a loss of time and resources that could be otherwise invested in defining the outcomes, notwithstanding the fact that it renders the convention vague, weak and open to multiple interpretations. Other critiques note the fact that private bodies are excluded from the mandatory procedures (Mason, 2010), and that, moreover, it can also be debated whether the NGOs involved are faithfully representing environmental interests, ordinary citizens often do not have the financial means to participate effectively and are therefore have no choice but to be represented by these larger organisations. The relative differences between the participants and social groups' resource inequalities also suggests the possibility for irregular and imbalanced
environmental protection Environmental protection is the practice of protecting the natural environment The natural environment or natural world encompasses all and non-living things occurring , meaning in this case not . The term is most often applied to the or s ...

Compliance Committee

The Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee was established to fulfill the requirement of Article 15 of the Convention on review of compliance to establish arrangements for reviewing compliance with the Convention. The Convention has a unique Compliance Review Mechanism, which can be triggered in four ways: # a Party makes a submission concerning its own compliance, # a Party makes a submission concerning another Party's compliance, # the Convention Secretariat makes a referral to the Committee, or # a member of the public makes a communication concerning the compliance of a Party. The Compliance mechanism is unique in international environmental law, as it allows members of the public to communicate concerns about a Party's compliance directly to a committee of international legal experts empowered to examine the merits of the case (the Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee). Nonetheless, the Compliance Committee cannot issue binding decisions, but rather makes recommendations to the full Meeting of the Parties (MoP). However, in practise, as MoPs occur infrequently, Parties attempt to comply with the recommendations of the Compliance Committee. As of August 2009, 41 communication from the public – many originating with non-governmental organizations – and one submission from a Party had been lodged with the Convention's Compliance Committee.

Pollutant Release Protocol

The Kyiv Protocol on Pollutant Release and Transfer Registers to the Aarhus Convention was adopted at an extraordinary meeting of the Parties on 21 May 2003, in
Kyiv Kyiv ( uk, Київ) or Kiev . is the capital and most populous city of Ukraine Ukraine ( uk, Україна, Ukraïna, ) is a country in . It is the in Europe after , which it borders to the east and north-east. Ukraine also share ...
, Ukraine. 36 States and the
European Community The European Economic Community (EEC) was a regional organization and Turkey Turkey ( tr, Türkiye ), officially the Republic of Turkey, is a country straddling Southeastern Europe and Western Asia. It shares borders with Greece ...

European Community
signed the Protocol. As of May 2016, 34 states plus the European Union have ratified the Protocol. The Kyiv Protocol is the first legally binding international instrument on
Pollutant Release and Transfer Register A pollutant release and transfer register (PRTR) is a system for collecting and disseminating information about environmental releases and transfers of hazardous substances from industrial and other facilities. PRTRs were established in several co ...
s (PRTRs). PRTRs are inventories of pollution from industrial sites and other sources such as agriculture and transport. The objective of the Protocol is "to enhance public access to information through the establishment of coherent, nationwide pollutant release and transfer registers (PRTRs)." The Protocol places indirect obligations on private enterprises to report annually to their national governments on their releases and transfers of pollutants. Parties to the Protocol need not be Parties to the Convention. The Protocol is in this sense a free-standing, international agreement. The Kiev Protocol on PRTRs will enter into force 90 days after the sixteenth State ratifies or accedes to the agreement. An amendment to the Aarhus Convention on "Public Participation in Decisions on Deliberate Release into the Environment and Placing on the Market of Genetically Modified Organisms" was adopted at the Second Meeting of the Parties on 27 May 2005, in
Almaty Almaty (; ; cyrl, Алматы), formerly known as Alma-Ata and Verny (russian: Верный), is the largest city in Kazakhstan, with a population of about 2,000,000 people, about 11% of the country's total population, and more than 2.7 milli ...

, Kazakhstan. As of August 2009, it had been ratified by 21 countries. The GMO amendment will enter into force 90 days after at least three-quarters of the Parties to the Aarhus Convention ratify it. United Nations Secretary-General
Kofi Annan Kofi Atta Annan (; 8 April 193818 August 2018) was a Ghanaian diplomat who served as the seventh Secretary-General of the United Nations The secretary-general of the United Nations (UNSG or SG) is the chief administrative officer of the Uni ...

Kofi Annan
(1997–2006) has said, "Although regional in scope, the significance of the Aarhus Convention is global. It is by far the most impressive elaboration of principle 10 of the
Rio Declaration The Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, often shortened to Rio Declaration, was a short document produced at the 1992 United Nations "Conference on Environment and Development" (UNCED), informally known as the Earth Summit. The Rio Decla ...
, which stresses the need for citizens' participation in environmental issues and for access to information on the environment held by public authorities. As such it is the most ambitious venture in the area of environmental democracy so far undertaken under the auspices of the United Nations." The influence of the Aarhus Convention also extends beyond the environmental field. At the 2nd
Internet Governance Forum The Internet Governance Forum (IGF) is a multistakeholder governance Multistakeholder governance is a practice of governance that employs bringing multiple stakeholders together to participate in dialogue, decision making, and implementation of ...
, held on 12–15 May 2007, in
Rio de Janeiro Rio de Janeiro (; ), or simply Rio, is the List of largest cities in Brazil, second-most populous city in Brazil and the Largest cities in the Americas, sixth-most populous in the Americas. Rio de Janeiro is the capital of the Rio de Janeiro (s ...

Rio de Janeiro
, the Convention was presented as a model of public participation and transparency in the operation of international forums.

See also

Freedom of information legislation Freedom of information laws allow access by the general public to data held by national governments and, where applicable, by state and local governments. The emergence of freedom of information legislation was a response to increasing dissatisfa ...
Participatory monitoring Citizen Participation or Public Participation in social science refers to different mechanisms for the Public consultation, public to express opinions—and ideally exert influence—regarding political, economic, management or other social de ...
Action for Climate Empowerment Action for Climate Empowerment (ACE) is a term adopted by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). It refers to Article 6 of the Convention's original text (1992), focusing on six priority areas: education, training, publi ...


External links

UNECE Aarhus Convention website

UNECE Aarhus Convention Clearinghouse website

Case Law of the Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee (2004–2008)

2nd Edition of the Case Law of the Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee (2004–2011)

For the Second Meeting of the Parties to the Aarhus Convention. 2005

For the Third Meeting of the Parties to the Aarhus Convention. 2008

For the Fourth Meeting of the Parties to the Aarhus Convention. 2011

For the Fifth Meeting of the Parties to the Aarhus Convention. 2014

The Aarhus Convention: A Legal Guide
{{Social accountability Pollutant release inventories and registers Environmental treaties United Nations Economic Commission for Europe treaties Treaties concluded in 1998 Treaties entered into force in 2001 2001 in the environment Freedom of information legislation Treaties of Albania Treaties of Armenia Treaties of Austria Treaties of Azerbaijan Treaties of Belarus Treaties of Belgium Treaties of Bosnia and Herzegovina Treaties of Bulgaria Treaties of Croatia Treaties of Cyprus Treaties of the Czech Republic Treaties of Denmark Treaties of Estonia Treaties of Finland Treaties of France Treaties of Georgia (country) Treaties of Germany Treaties of Greece Treaties of Hungary Treaties of Iceland Treaties of Ireland Treaties of Italy Treaties of Kazakhstan Treaties of Latvia Treaties of Lithuania Treaties of Luxembourg Treaties of Malta Treaties of Montenegro Treaties of the Netherlands Treaties of Norway Treaties of Poland Treaties of Portugal Treaties of Moldova Treaties of Romania Treaties of Serbia Treaties of Slovakia Treaties of Slovenia Treaties of Spain Treaties of Sweden Treaties of Switzerland Treaties of Tajikistan Treaties of North Macedonia Treaties of Turkmenistan Treaties of Ukraine Treaties of the United Kingdom Treaties of Kyrgyzstan Treaties entered into by the European Union 1998 in Denmark